Comic Book Review: Blood & Gourd (2015)

Comic Book Reviews

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The beauty of horror is that it caters to all moods: out of all the genres, horror has all different colours for us to paint its tapestry with.  For many of us, it’s been a lifelong obsession since our childhoods, having grown up on Saturday morning cartoons, EC comics, Goosebumps books and video store B movies that would shape our tastes for the rest of our lives.  Dead Peasants newest comic, Blood & Gourd, is a throwback to the days of being a 10 year old kid in front of the television, growing up on the films of Fred Dekker while reading Tales From The Crypt.  At least for me, that’s the nostalgia it invoked.  Inspired by Night of the Creeps and Return of the Living Dead, but not a zombie tale in the slightest, it retains the essence of what made those times special to us; yet the concept is so original and fresh it’s a breath of fresh air for modern horror.

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A summary of Blood & Gourd: It’s Devil’s Night in Olympia, WA- and out at Henderson Farms, the festivities are reaching a crescendo. Young and old have gathered to pick their own pumpkin, drink hot apple cider, and partake in the usual pumpkin farm fare. However, something has awakened from deep within the fertile soil. After years of abuse and humiliation, the pumpkins… are ready to pick us. You can beg! You can plead! You can scream! But these Hell’s lanterns are lit only with the burning desire to watch you die.

That’s only a brief teaser of all the delights in store in the first part of Blood & Gourd, but trust me when I say there’s more going on than pumpkins on a bloody rampage, hellbent on destroying a Washington farm festival.  Co-creators, Jenz K. Lund and D.H. Shultis, have created their own unique myths and monsters in a wonderfully original and offbeat story that leaves questions unanswered, planting the seeds for something much bigger, while leaving us begging for more.

The core of any good story, no matter what medium, is the characters we’ll be spending time with and storytelling.  In Blood & Gourd, even the most minor characters are interesting.  In contrast to the ridiculousness to the situation they find themselves in, every single one of them is well crafted and humorous; whether it’s reading about the mundane frustrations of family life; the dastardly plotting of corporate scum or the jealously of angry pumpkin farmers, it all contributes to creating strong identities.  Even the characters whose purpose is to feed the pumpkins leave an impression.  The dialogue, as frequently hilarious as it is, never feels forced and it brings a sense of realism and authentic humanity to the madness.

Credit has to be given to the artists involved in bringing this wacky story to life: not only is every detail successfully accomplished, but they give it a vibrant cinematic quality that made me feel like I was watching it on a television screen.  It takes talent and imagination to successfully pencil, colour and ink unrelenting chaos and these guys have it all in abundance.

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Blood & Gourd has made quite the first impression and left me wanting more; if you long for the days of lighthearted mayhem without resorting to re-runs, this is the modern day equivalent you’ve been waiting for.  This is a comic that will turn children into budding horror fanatics and remind their parents of what they loved about the genre in the first place.  A strange story reveling in fun and imagination, anybody who enjoys laughter and captivating storytelling owes it to themselves to read this.  ”Go forth and germinate.”  10/10

You can order your copy Here for just $6.99.

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Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

Arthouse, Crime, Movie Review

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Only God Forgives is the follow-up to Danish director Nicolas Winding’s 2011 critically acclaimed, Drive – a cultural phenomenon that made you want to buy a leather jacket and drive around at night listening to synthwave music.  A stylish retro thriller with minor arthouse furnishings, Drive was a commercial success and mainstream breakthrough for Refn; now a director with the world at his feet, his next movie was highly anticipated by cinephiles and causal moviegoers alike; when it was announced he’d be teaming up with Ryan Gosling again excitement was in the air, with many hoping for Drive’s unofficial sequel.  Instead, Refn opted to release a bloody arthouse picture as a tribute to Chilean surrealist master, Alejandro Jodorowsky.  It was an artistic statement which divided audiences like black and white; at its Cannes premier it received both a standing ovation and booed hysteria from the polarized audience.  Needless to say it’s a very ”love or hate”, if Drive was the cocaine, Only God Forgives is the acid – it might not be a good trip for some, but for others it might just take them on a journey of the conscience.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a drug smuggler who runs a Thai boxing club as a front for his criminal activities on behalf of his criminal family; after his brother murders a prostitute, which results in ruthless cop Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).  Given that his brother was murdered for raping and killing an innocent woman, Julian has no desire to take it any further.  However, his domineering mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) demands retribution and her actions send Chan, also known as the Angel of Death, on a bloody mission of justice.

Only God Forbids is a strange movie; labelled pretentious and self-indulgent by its critics, they do have a point as it favours style over substance, but that doesn’t mean it contains none of the latter.  It’s a film that’s waiting to be dissected and interpreted in different ways.  The line between reality and symbolism is a blur; characters are merely caricatures in a hallucinogenic exploration of existentialism.  Just like Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970), it’s a Western that abandons a traditional narrative to explore themes that are difficult to decipher right away; at this moment in time I’m still not sure what to make of it all quite yet: all I know is I want to study it more.  There’s nothing wrong with not being able to understand what the hell is going on, I sure didn’t.  But it’s a thought provoking piece of art that makes me want to decipher its meanings.

The score by Cliff Martinez is the films dark beating heart; ominous synth drones draw us into Bangkok’s hellish underbelly and eerie Eastern instruments give us a feeling that there’s much spirituality at work; perhaps even the supernatural.  In a film where dialogue is sparse, the score is relied on heavily for mood and emotion; it’s a triumphant soundtrack to any journey into the abyss – and it makes for great background listening on a dark, rainy day.

Only God Forgives is a flawed movie, but anything that’s so personal to its creator is always going to boast some self-indulgence; that being said, it’s a flawed masterpiece.  Any movie that divides people so passionately is worth seeing if you ask me.  10/10

Written & Directed By:

Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring:

Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

Genre:

Crime, Arthouse

Running Time:

90 mins

Movie Review: A Lonely Place To Die (2011)

Action, Movie Review, Thriller

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A Lonely Place To Die is proof that you should never judge a book by its cover; at first glance, it could easily be mistaken for another backwoods survival horror – only set in the Scottish Highlands: a group of city slickers on a hiking expedition find a young girl trapped in a hole in the woods and must escape the wilderness to get her to safety as they’re pursued by the men who put her there.  Sounds like a fairly standard cat-and-mouse horror fare, doesn’t it?  Well I’m happy to report that it’s so much more.  It starts off like our assumptions would assume, only to unfold into a more complex crime thriller involving various parties looking for the girl.  It accelerates at cheetah pace, shifting gears like a Formula One car, to make for one hell of a suspenseful ride.

Fun story: When director Julien Gilbey set out to find funding for A Lonely Place To Die, he was given 3 million pounds to make anything, as long as it was set in the Scottish Highlands and showed lots of scenery.  Basically, he could have handed in any old piece of crap as long as it had shots of mountains and forests.  The scenery is certainly seductive; if this comprised solely of shots of Munro’s it’d still be amazing due to how stunning the North of Scotland is.  However, thankfully there’s a story to it – a very original crime story.  The scenery is used as an antagonist to give a sense of isolation and danger; mountain ridges and rapid rivers prove to be as dangerous a foe as military trained assailants with guns.  It gives off the impression that sudden death could lurk behind every rock and tree, while making it a priority to avoid the majority of genre cliches.

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For any survival thriller to be effective, the characters must have some substance, in my opinion.  The reason Eden Lake surpasses mediocrity like Preservation et al, is because the heroes are people we can empathize with.  A Lonely Place To Die’s characters aren’t perfect human beings; there are even moments where they discuss ditching the little girl to save their own keisters – like most normal people would.  The people we’re supposed to root for are far from a group of saints: Ed (played by Ed Speleers) is a selfish insensitive twat who becomes a heavily flawed anti-hero.  The lead villain, Mr. Kidd (Sean Harris, at his slimy best), is well fleshed out and not just you’re typical one dimensional gunner.  We spend quite a bit of time with every party involved, which elevates it above and beyond a formulaic thriller.  Melissa George is a likable enough lead with a good heart who shows bravery throughout.  It’s a very physical role and she nails it.

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The less you know about A Lonely Place To Die the better; it’s better if you go in knowing as little as possible and allow it to take you by surprise.  It’s on Netflix US currently, so if you have it drop everything you’re doing and watch it.  For me, it’s up there with Kill List as the best British film of the 21st century that isn’t part of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy.  A smart crime story with the suspense and tension of the best horror films, you’d be foolish not to give it a whirl.  10/10.

Directed By:

Julian Gilbey

Written By:

Julian Gilbey & Will Gilbey

Starring:

Melissa George, Sean Harris, Ed Speleers, Alec Newman

Genre:

Thriller

Running Time:

99 mins

Movie Review: August Underground (2001)

Horror, Movie Review

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”Crime”, ”atrocity” and ”fucked up” are the terms most associated with Fred Vogel’s infamously notorious August Underground series, and sometimes they’re meant as compliments.  Some would even go as far to call it art, where as others would dismiss it as exploitation trash from a demented hack with murder fantasies.  It was curiosity that led me to watch the first of the three movies more than anything; pseudo snuff films aren’t to my taste at all, but after reading so much about them for years, I decided to finally take the plunge.  Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy it at all; in fact, I didn’t feel anything.  As nasty, brutal, disgusting and realistic as the events taking place are, the lack of plot, character development and engaging dialogue make the atrocities ineffective.  However, to dismiss its artistic merit is something I don’t agree with.

August Underground documents two serial killers as they go around causing havoc; getting in fights, torturing captives they have looked in their basement and being all round cunts is just their daily routine.  One of them films their activities at all times, whether it’s going to concerts, assaulting people or viciously killing them.  That’s the plot in a nutshell, or lack thereof.  Not that it matters because the intention of this movie is to provide a realistic account of the activities of evil people, and in those regards, it does.

The characters are completely authentic: the two killers converse and laugh like 2 young men would, sharing an undeniable camaraderie and affinity for their actions.  The day-to-day video diaries of their antics feels homemade and everyone they encounter, whether a victim or a passer by, seems true to life.  On top of that, the special effects don’t look fake in the slightest, so if you showed it to somebody who wasn’t in the know, it’s highly possible they’d believe it was a real life snuff film.  Once again, kudos to those involved.  Fred Vogel set out to make a nasty film which depicted serial killers how they really are: it is supposed to be a dirty documentation of sick people committing vile atrocities that’ll make the viewer feel uncomfortable.  The message is to remind us that there is real violence out there and it isn’t ”fun.”  As horror fans, we’re used to finding glamour in wickedness and this is a reminder that there are deviants out there who we should not adorn.  That’s the artistic merit of August Underground; it sets out to make a statement with brute force, and while not being to most peoples tastes (including my own), it succeeds with its message.

That being said, there’s only so much women being force fed their own feces and brutality I can take before I stop caring.  Personally, I’m only disturbed by movies if I form an emotional attachment to the characters somehow.  If I didn’t know this was fake it’d be another matter, but amazing special effects aside, I knew it wasn’t real and the lack of any real substance made it a chore to sit through.  Out of all the negative comments I’d have for this movie, I didn’t expect boring to be one of them.  I went in to test my endurance for vile atrocities, not for seeing how long I could watch without falling asleep.

If curiosity leads you to August Underground, be prepared: if curiosity did kill the cat then this movie ensured it was subject to torture before it died.  Through boredom or induced vomit killing you depends on your stronghold, whiskers.  Not without its merits, I’d say avoid this unless you’re a fan of simulated snuff.  Fred Vogel has evolved as a filmmaker since, making gore flicks with drama, characters and storytelling narrative.  I look forward to seeing those because his talent is evident.  5/10.

Directed By:

Fred Vogel

Written By:

Fred Vogel & Allen Peters

Starring:

Fred Vogel, Allen Peters, Andrew Lauer

Genre:

Extreme Horror

Running Time:

70 min

Movie Review: Spring Breakers (2012)

Comedy, Crime, Movie Reviews

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Harmony Korine is a very polarizing filmmaker and Spring Breakers is a divisive movie, despite being his most commercially successful and mainstream appealing movie to date; it’s also his best movie.  While not shying away from ogling the female leads bikini clad bodies with the camera like a peeping perv and exploiting their curves for the millions of dollars that they’re worth, Korine has empowered his characters to create the ultimate 21st century female anti-hero movie while also satirizing a quasi-religious American event; Spring Break has become such a cultural phenomenal that it’s exceeded its geographical borders to become known among all continents and cultures.  Spring Breakers is an exaggerated looking glass of America’s youths favourite annual past time; presented like a surreal fever dream, Korine both mocks and celebrates it in a manner only he could envision.

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Disney starlets have to grow up some time, but very few could have imagined this; marketed as a ”party” movie, it turns out to very misleading. Trailers and posters would lead you to believe that it was all beaches, bosoms, booty and Skrillex bass, and while it is a lot of the time, it’s only the surface.  The story revolves around 4 girls who rob a store to fund their cocaine and alcohol fueled getaway when during a raucous party they get arrested and bailed out by the gangsta rapper Alien (James Franco); what ensues afterwards is a crime spree as they plot the murder of Alien’s ex-home/now nemesis Archie (Gucci Mane).

Spring Breakers is viewed by some as a work of art, and by others as a trashy piece of pulp exploitation.  It’s a little of both: while not promoting rap culture like many of its critics have said about it, Korine has no qualms about flaunting the assets of his young starlets while making them act like teases?  Is it a declaration of female empowerment?  I believe so, as the four leads are very much dictated by their own motivations and remain firmly in control throughout the movie; male characters eat out of their hands and fall under the spells prepared to be crushed like ants.  There’s a scene where James Franco’s character deep throats a handgun at the behest of 2 of the girls; if that isn’t a symbol for matriarchal power I don’t know what is.

The ritual of Spring Break itself is completely mocked; the girls talk about it like it’s some sort of spiritual awakening that’s made them new women while Alien preaches how its the very definition of a sole reason to exist; the exaggerated presentation of the claims is a big joke, and no doubt intended to poke fun at the people the movie was falsely marketed to target.

Visually, the best way to describe it is hypnotic; at times it feels like you’re in a state of trance just watching it.  Vibrant colours, repeated dialogue, slow motion frames and surreal imagery give it a dreamlike quality.  Watching 2 young actresses wearing bikinis and pink balaclavas as they dance with guns to the tune of, ”Everytime” by Britney Spears is quite mesmeric; it also makes for one of the greatest segments in the history of cinema.

Spring Breakers is a movie a lot of people will continue to either love or hate for the rest of time; for that reason alone I rank it as a masterpiece that has to be viewed at least once.  10/10

Written & Directed By:

Harmony Korine

Starring:

Selena Gomez, James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson

Genre:

Crime, Comedy

Running Time:

94 mins

Book Review: American Gods (2001)

Book Reviews

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To me, a good book is akin to a good holiday or time spent away from home: a place where your new surroundings become your temporary reality; it’s a time where you meet new people, friends or otherwise, and embark on a journey so escapist from your mundane routines that any semblance of your normal life is a foggy memory in those moments.  Neil Gaiman’s Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker and Locus Awards winning American Gods is such a tale: a fantasy grounded in a reality we all know in some way or another; it takes us on a dangerous journey through the heartland of modern America, a place where both ancient and modern Gods live and breathe, and danger, excitement, revelation and imagination lurk at every turn.  One doesn’t have to be American to understand American Gods; Gaiman’s looking glass is so expertly manifested on the pages that it immerses you in the world he takes us too.  However, despite being a commentary on middle America, many of the themes in his tale are universal; not to mention it’s also good old fashioned storytelling at it’s most grandiose and genius.

The story follows a man named Shadow; having just been released from prison to find out his wife is dead, he accepts a job from a mysterious man he meets on a flight called Mr. Wednesday, who knows all about Shadow.  He claims to be the ”king of America” and a survivor from an Old War. It turns out he’s Odin, a God from Norwegian folklore.  He informs Shadow that a war is imminent between the gods of old and new. With nothing to go home to, Shadow takes up Wednesday’s offer and they embark on a journey across America, meeting odd characters and avoiding the dangers that pursue them.

For a novel so huge in scope, ideas, concept and ambition, American Gods manages to come across as natural and has us believing every single word.  Furthermore, it’s as smooth as silk to read despite clocking in at over 600 pages.  Gaiman’s inventive pros are absolutely mesmerizing, and his story is more addictive than heroin or True Detective season one.  I haven’t tried heroin, nor do I intend to: but from what I understand it’s addictive.

The old Gods are representative of many different cultures and symbolic of modern immigration.  They live in squalor and poverty, waiting for America to notice them to regain past prominence.  Here, Gaiman is making a statement that immigrants are forgotten and left behind by the American Dream.  American Gods also has messages about the advancement of technology, the rise of the internet and the role of media.  Moreover, it deals with themes such as love, loss, heartbreak and self-discovery and small town life.  It’s symbolic, haunting, funny and steeped in imagination; hyperbole it is not when I call it the most enriched reading experience I have ever had the joy of experiencing.  It made me laugh, it left me cold, it gave me closure then left me aching for more.  When it was all over, I felt lost and sad that my journey had ended.

Is American Gods the best book ever?  Probably.  But even if it’s not, it’s still an essential book that will nourish your soul.  10/10

Interview: Carl Smith & Jeffrey McLaurin (Tales of a 5th Grade Zombie Slayer)

Interview

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As a blogger who does this solely because I find it fun, it’s a real treat for me when talented filmmakers whose work I enjoy not only share their work with me, but also allow me to pick their brains.  Carl Smith and Jeffrey McLaurin are 2 such filmmakers; after falling in love with their shorts for their web series Tales of a 5th Grade Zombie Slayer (reviewed here), I got the opportunity to sit down with both of them via email to discuss their projects, influences and how a mutual love of film brought 2 people together and inspired them to make their own.  It’s an insightful interview and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it as much as I did.  Carl and Jeffrey aren’t just incredible filmmakers, they’re incredible guys too, and that really shines through in the interview.  Enjoy.

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1) Hey guys.  Tell us about yourselves and how you hooked up.

CARL SMITH: Oddly enough we initially met on a social media site. I was reading some blogs Jeffrey had written about wanting to make the move to California to work in the film industry.

JEFFREY MCLAURIN: Yeah, I was writing a lot of blog posts about my life at college, my plans for after graduation, and my plans for getting started in a film career. I guess Carl stumbled across my profile, read all my blog posts, and decided to contact me to talk film.

CS: I decided to email him really just for encouragement.

JM: We discussed our favorite films, my moving plans, and just became online friends with no intention of meeting or working together. It was literally just two guys that met online to discuss their love of film.  After I moved to L.A. the person I was supposed to room with bailed, so I was staying in a hotel blowing through all my cash. As my luck would have it, the writers strike also hit and the film industry tanked. I wasn’t sure what to do and I was running out of money quickly.

CS: I have a production designer friend who lives in L.A. and set it up for Jeffrey to stay with him until he could get on his feet.

JM: With no productions happening I wasn’t really getting work, so I contacted a guy I knew in San Diego and he got me some gigs operating the RED camera. This was particularly exciting because this was back when the RED One was all the rage and no one really had access to them. I was able to travel the world sort of operating/babysitting this magical machine.

CS: It would still be some time later before we actually met in person.

JM: Yeah, we still hadn’t met. Then I was talking about how I needed to go to the dentist, but I had no insurance. Carl told me that he had a friend of the family that would see me where I could make cash payments, which was perfect!  So we actually met in person so he could take me to a dentist.

CS: Yeah, kind of funny looking back on it now.

JM: The possibility of us making a film was still low on the radar. I kept being sent out of country to help others make their films, but it wasn’t really as satisfying as making my own.

CS: Yeah, and here I had dabbled in some film productions off and on over the years, but mainly helping out others as well.

JM: It was while I was on a three month job in Kazakhstan in 2008 that Carl and I started really discussing getting serious, about making a film of our own.

2) For those who haven’t seen Tales of a 5th Grade Zombie yet, how would you describe it to them and what makes it different to other zombie projects?

CS: Hmmm, I’m not the greatest when it comes to pitching, but it’s simply a series of different zombie short films that were created for a web series.

JM: To take a quote directly from your review “It’s The Sandlot meets Dawn of the Dead.”

CS: Yes, that was great! I think what makes ours different to other zombie projects though, is that it’s set in a world of children only.

JM: We’ve all seen how adults handle this situation, we wanted to throw all that out the window.

CS: Yeah, all the adults are completely wiped out by the virus, they just die and do not resurrect.

JM: We wanted it to be the kids that are alone, which is horrifying in and of itself to both parents and kids. We’re talking about kids that are approximately 9-11 years in age. Not having an adult present in a scary situation amplifies the intensity for the kid.

CS: For some of the children the virus has no affect on them at all, and than those that are infected, they become zombies. Then you have those that also become zombies after being attacked by infected children. With adults out of the equation, this leaves you with kids vs. kid zombies.

JM: Yeah, so its how would they handle these situations where it’s literally kill, or be killed?  How will they find food and protection at this age when it’s always been provided to them? Those were the questions we wanted to explore with this series.

3) Watching it, I thought it had the spirit of what I like to call ”treehouse movies”, which is a phrase I stole from Jason Eisener.  But it was like watching kid adventure movies like Monster Squad and The Goonies with some much darker elements.  What were some of your main inspirations behind Tales of a 5th Grade Zombie?

CS: Jason Eisener’s ‘Treevenge,’ I loved his short! I hadn’t heard his phrase “treehouse movies” before? I like the sound of it though. But wow, to even be mentioned with the likes of Monster Squad and The Goonies, what a compliment that is, seeing as those are two of our favorite movies.

JM: Growing up I was Mikey from The Goonies, or Gordie Lachance from Stand By Me. Those kind of outsider kids, yet bad ass in our own way, off on awesome adventures with their friends.

CS: Yeah unlike kids these days, where it seems for the most part many are indoors, missing out on that outdoor adventure of growing up.

JM: We had initially wanted to make a drama, something a little more serious with some depth, to say something to the world. But as we talked we kept circling back to horror and how much it means to the two of us. I think part of that is because often this love of the horror movie community consists of us outcasts. We sort of form our own family and cover each others backs no matter what. So we gave in and decided to shoot a horror film, but not zombies.

CS: We felt zombies had already kind of run their course.

JM: Once we started discussing all of the sub-genres of horror, and based on our minimal budget we were going to have to go with slasher, haunting, or zombies.

CS: Hah, in the end zombies won.

JM: We laugh about it now, but we actually made the film we didn’t want to make. We both love horror though, and it’s really a go to genre for indie filmmakers because it’s easier.

CS: Yeah, in the sense of getting recognition.

JM: But yeah, subconsciously I would say that you’re spot on with the mention of The Goonies, Monster Squad, even a Stand By Me. But we never decided those were the films we wanted to emulate, although we’re extremely pleased that it happened that way.  Our main source of inspiration was really trying to do something different. We knew we were living in the world of zombies, a world that had been inhabited by filmmakers a thousand times before. We wanted to make sure we did something that people hadn’t really seen before.

CS: Yeah, you could say zombies have been done to death, but then think about the opening to the 2004 Dawn of the Dead reboot, with the opening where that little zombie girl is coming into the bedroom that early morning. That was some scary shit, and it was different!

JM: Obviously there are elements that every zombie movie ever made will show, but we felt if we weren’t able to think of a new way to show it to the audience, then it was tabled. We felt that would be disrespectful to an audience that’s giving us their limited time.

4) Speaking of inspirations, who are some of your favourite filmmakers and what are some of your favourite movies?

CS: Oh this is always one of the toughest questions, ha ha.

JM: Yeah this is a really tough question for me too because I never know what the asker really wants to know.

CS: For me I’ve always found it so hard to pinpoint favorites. If I was to go off the top of my head, first would be Steven Spielberg. He has done such a broad range of filmmaking from terrifying like Jaws, to adventures like Indiana Jones, and just amazing dramas like Empire of the Sun.

JM: Yeah, when I look at the landscape of filmmakers obviously I’d love to have the respect and ability to call the shots that Steven Spielberg, or Christopher Nolan has. If I were not me, and I had to live the life of another filmmaker and die with their catalogue representing my life’s work, I’d always choose John Hughes every time.

CS: Yeah John Hughes is another director I admire dearly, and it was such a shame the day he walked away from the business. I don’t feel another director has yet to capture the world of teenagers like he did.

JM: Although Hughes only directed 8 films, they were the soundtrack of a generation and will continue to be relevant to kids long after his passing. That’s the kind of legacy I would want to leave the world.

CS: I agree. But if were talking the horror side of movies, I’d say director’s like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, George Romero, and Sam Raimi are just a few of my favorite directors. For movies, oh gosh, that’s endless! Carpenter’s Halloween, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Fulci’s Zombie, An American Werewolf in London, Cronenberg’s The Fly, The Devil’s Backbone… I could just go on and on.

5) A web series is a great approach for a story like Tales of a 5th Grade Zombie Slayer.  What’s the likelihood of it becoming a full series in future and how can we support it?

JM: Currently we have 8 episodes filmed. You actually got a preview of quite a bit with Day 1 and Day 57, which will both be broken down into two parts when we release them online.

CS: We initially started Tales of a 5th Grade Zombie Slayer as just a single short film. We had a moderate film festival experience, but the discouraging part I found with those was that you’re really reaching a small audience, and most of that audience is other filmmakers pushing their own films. A friend of mine asked why didn’t we take it to the internet, rather than film festivals. That’s when we were like, duh, why didn’t we? So we regrouped, and that’s when we decided to expand on it and make it into a web series.

JM: Both of us are really passionate about 5th Grade Zombie Slayer and want to expand the world much larger than it is.  We have additional episodes written, feature film script outlines, comic books and possible novellas.

CS: Since this was all self financed, the funding limitations on this project have challenged us with hurdles to say the least. It has taken us much longer than we had anticipated.

JM: We both understand the power of crowd funding, but we’re both really uncomfortable with the idea of asking people for their money on a project they know so little about.

CS: Yeah and now we’re in the final stages of editing the remaining episodes, and we decided we’re just going to throw it out there to see what kind of response we get.

JM: Once the web series goes live, we’ll encourage people to share it with their friends and let us know what they think about the episodes.

CS: Yeah, we already have the other completed scripts that were never produced.

JM: First we want to make sure people have the opportunity to really see who we are as filmmakers. What stories we’re trying to tell with the web series before asking for any sort of funding, which would allow for better production value.

CS: If people want more, I’m pretty certain will be back.

6) What has the reaction been like so far?

JM: So far the reaction has been really positive which has been a sigh of relief.

CS: We had one of our best experiences at our last festival, the Horrible Imaginings Film Fest in San Diego. It was actually a diverse audience of regular attendees and filmmakers. That was our most positive festival, and we premiered Day 57 to a sold out audience. We were a bit shocked when we walked away with Second Place as voted by the audience in our category; Short Film: Zombie & Creature Feature. It’s a tight festival unlike others we participated in, and the festival director Miguel Rodriguez was on point. I believe he’s begun accepting submissions for this years festival, I highly recommend this fest to other filmmakers.

JM: Yeah, it’s tough when you make a project that you really believe in and then send it out to the world to be judged. I know it sounds completely cliché and I feel terrible for saying it, but it really is like sending your kid to school on the first day.  You worry that the shots aren’t just right, or that the acting is a bit stiff, or any of the other million small details that go into a completed film.

CS: Really our best reaction has been from reaching out to the online audience like the Scream Factory and Horror Block contests. Both of those experiences have been great.

JM: We also had the additional fear of the internet reacting negatively to our young actors. We went back and forth about disabling all comments on the episodes when they’re all released online.  It might sting, but we can both take criticism of our work, and we can use that criticism to make us better filmmakers. But the internet can be a nasty mean place, and we want to protect all the kids who busted their asses helping make this web series.

CS: Yeah, we just don’t want their experience ruined by some anonymous internet jerk saying things that no one should say to any human being.

7) The young actors were all fantastic.  Where did you find them?

CS: Oh I can’t speak highly enough about our talented cast from both DAY 1 and DAY 57, and the ones you haven’t seen yet.

JM: We got extremely lucky with our cast. All of them were relatively new to filmmaking. Some had been extras or had done some stage work, but most were pretty green.

CS: As you’ve seen two of the episodes, you know that the cast varies with each one. No cast will be the same for it’s selected DAY. For DAY 1 our cast was comprised solely from auditions that we held with postings on craigslist.

JM: Yeah, we really laid it out that this was a casting call for kids only, however the content could be considered objectional for some. We were honest with the parents up front that some scenes could be brutal at times, and that the kids would have to be comfortable with it themselves. We weren’t looking to cause any nightmares just to get the episodes made.

CS: If you’re unaware, talent agents look at craigslist too, and they will forward you more talent than you can handle. It was tough to narrow it down, but boy did we make the right choices. With DAY 57, we again went to Craigslist, had a couple former zombie cast members from DAY 1, and then also cast some of our friends children as well.

JM: Fortunately we had a huge response.

8) What have been your biggest challenges when filming Tales so far?

CS: Money!

JM: Money has always been our biggest challenge. We love the web series, and we’re proud that it turned out to be what it is.  But we both know that it could have been better had we been able to have a larger budget.

CS: Our biggest expense has always been food to feed the cast and crew, followed by make-up and blood, plus plenty of other expenses along the way as well. Because we were a very indie production with a limited budget, the best deal we could work with most all of our talent and crew was well stocked craft services and a credit. This truly has been a labor of love by everyone who has worked on this production.

9) Tell us about the comic book companion to the story.  Is it available for purchase yet?

JM: Issue 1 of the comic book is nearly the same story as the DAY 1 episode. It is unfortunately not for sale yet though.

CS: Yeah, we had the story and hired an outside artist to bring the comic to life. We were pleased with the first issue, but again budget came into consideration.

JM: Issue 1 has some slight variations, but it follows DAY 1 pretty closely.

CS: The comic book artwork is completed, but finances for physically printing our comic have been the current obstacle. I actually held a couple of yard sales last year to help raise some money, but we’re still short the printing costs. We had our fingers crossed for winning some of the cash prize money from the Horror Block Monstrous Movie Contest, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

JM: Once the web series is out there for all to see, if the response continues to be positive, we’re considering a crowdfunding campaign for the remaining printing costs.

CS: Yeah, we have a completed product, now we just need the rest of the finances to bring it to life in print. If that’s well received we would love to expand on the comic book as well.

JM: We’ve started looking at new artists who will work at a reasonable price. If you know of anyone, please feel free to give them our contact info.

CS: Or any artists reading this looking to do a comic, contact us!

10) What do you guys have in store for the future in terms of projects?

CS: Of course we would love to have the opportunity to come back to Tales of a 5th Grade Zombie Slayer, but right now we’re looking to do our first feature come this summer.

JM: Assuming everything goes as planned that is.

CS: Hah, yeah.

JM: We have some of the roles for that already cast. It’ll be a coming of age drama about high school aged kids this time.

CS: Even more exciting is we’ll be working with some of our same Zombie Slayer cast of kids, so we look forward to teaming up with them again. This story is set in the summer time and will also have some superheros. It’s a bit of a change from zombies, but again we think we have something a little different to offer with this script.

11) Thank you for the interview.  Any final words before we wrap up?

JM: First we’d like to thank you for the interview, and for giving us this platform to share a bit about us in your space. This has been really awesome and something we greatly appreciate.

CS: Yeah, I’d like to say thank you Kieran for taking the time to sit down with us, you brought some great questions to the table. For your readers, we hope we were interesting enough for you to want to come give us a look.

JM: Other than that we would love for people to go follow our Twitter and Facebook accounts, give us some of your feedback on the webseries.

CS: I’d like to give a shout out to our makeup supervisor Yoni Baker! This guy has been with this production since its early phases and we appreciate him immensely. Plus all of our talented kids need a holler too, we love you all!

JM: We’re both very passionate about film, especially the indie community, and we always look for opportunities to help out other filmmakers.

CS: Oh! And all those parents who came with us on this journey too! And the comic book artist Dustin Parr!

JM: Anyone else?

CS: Actually yes, a remembrance to Ryan Carter and Micki Forsyth Phillips who worked with us on this project.

JM: Yeah… Okay here are the plugs.

Follow us on twitter @5thGradeZombies

Like us on Facebook at Tales of a 5th Grade Zombie Slayer

Watch us on Vimeo at Zombie Slayer Films

CS: Hah, THANKS EVERYONE!

Movie Review: Lost River (2014)

drama, fantasy, Movie Review

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Ryan Gosling has forged quite the career from marching to the beat of his own drum; his acting roles are picked based on what interests him as opposed to coasting on his looks and charms all the way to the bank, and now, with his first directorial feature, he’s created a bamboozling piece of arthouse cinema in the vein of his mentor Nicolas Refn, and idols like David Lynch, Dario Argento and Gaspar Noe.  Film buffs are sure to have a ball playing spot the influence; Gosling proudly wears Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive on his sleeve, through the lens of Only God Forgives.  Like his acting roles, this isn’t concerned about pleasing the mainstream; in fact, judging by its Cannes reaction and Rotten Tomatoes score it isn’t pleasing anybody.  Critics are writing it off as a collage of influences on a canvas with no originality of its own; and while it is a collage of influences, to write it off as nothing more is lazy journalism.  Whilst displaying images reminiscent of its idols, it contains enough of its own symbolism and messages to warrant some respect in regards to its originality.

Gosling tackles issues like small town life, poverty, bullying, family, coming of age, and the environment in his first outing; Christina Hendricks plays the mother who goes to desperate lengths to support her family, leading her into a dark underworld overseen by Ben Mendelsohn’s Dave, a sleazy Luciferian-like scumbag with a fondness for karaoke.  Saoirse Ronan plays Rat, the young love interest of Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who spend their time ducking bullies led by the appropriately named Bully, played by Doctor Who himself, Matt Smith, in  career best performance thus far.  Their town is decaying as a result of the economic crisis, and the setting makes for a desolate urban fairytale.

Water plays an important part in Lost River; in a town where water is hard to come by, all the characters still seem to be drowning in one way or another.  Social commentary is playfully used to suggest that industrial and commercial growth has replaced reservoirs to the point nobody knows what they are any more, despite being necessary in order to survive.

Lost River does come off as a love letter to avant-garde cinema Gosling is inspired by, but to dismiss it as only that is unfair; although viewed through the lens of Refn, with the imagery of Lynch, Mallick, Noe and Argento splashed across the screen throughout, this urban fairytale has strong characters and enough moral, societal and self-empowering messages to stand on its own 2 legs.  Overall, it’s a visually striking treat that could suck you in based on that alone, but Gosling is a director with a voice who shows great promise, even if he does need a little confidence to speak louder without his influences whispering in his ear.  7/10

Written & Directed By:

Ryan Gosling

Starring:

Christina Hendricks, Ben Mendelsohn, Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith

Genre:

Fantasy, Drama

Running Time:

95 mins

Tetherball: The Movie (2010)

Comedy, Movie Review

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Tetherball is one of those movies that you could easily dismiss as just another dumb sex comedy by reading the synopsis; a group of slackers become tetherball stars and as a result they’re up to their nuts in beer, babes and boobies, and to an extent it is just that. It never tries to be anything else than a mindless good time; a movie to stick on when you’re inebriated with friends is what it’s perfect for. But don’t write it off just yet, because it’s more than that: while containing all the typical dick gags and frat humour you’ll expect, it also manages to create a few unexpected laughs out of nowhere that take you by surprise, as well as riff on the sports world to create some hilarious satire. Although not quite the ingenious masterpiece Baseketball is (nothing is for me though, that movie is in my all time top 10), it does provide a worthy companion piece to it. If Baseketball is the daddy of sports satire, Tetherball is its delinquent the son; still in college, impregnating women and living with alcoholism, but it still has his daddy’s genes and wit. Mark my words, Tetherball is a funny movie, if you’re a fan of slacker, sex and sports comedies. If the guys from Porky’s were amazing backyard athletes, then they’d fit right in with the Tetherball guys. It reminded me of a good 80’s sex comedy; not only are all the characters womanizing drunks, but even the fat guys get laid with ease. In most modern sex comedies Chubby has to work for it, and if some unfortunate women is feeling pitiful, he might just score.

The cast features some known names too; Ron Jeremy plays the sleazy man of power to demands sexual treats in exchange for granting wealth and fame for a start. Although it’s not hard to hire Ron Jeremy, he’s always a lot of fun and here he plays one of his better roles in awhile, up there with Bloody Bloody Bible Camp and One Eyed Monster. Dustin Diamond, who we all know as Screech from Saved By The Bell also gets a good portion of screen time as the down-on-his-luck coach with more casualties under his supervision than success stories. Lastly, Lloyd Kauffman lends his voice as a commentator; always a pleasant voice to hear, but let’s hope he didn’t stiff these guys for money. Cameos aside, it’s the cast of unknowns who steal the show – Rick Dawson, Brian Titus, Rob Fender, and Jon Alderman – and they all demonstrate natural comedic chops that could see them go places, together and apart.

14 year old me would have loved this movie, but 25 year old me still really enjoyed it and laughed regularly from beginning ’til end. If you can find it anywhere, check it out (it’s available on Amazon and other VOD outlets). It’s much funnier than any typical dumbfounded assumption would ever give it credit for, and you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised. Comedies are supposed to make us laugh and Tetherball provides more laughs than you’d get having your nutsack tickled by a clown falling down some stairs. 7/10

Director:

Chris Nickin

Writer:

Rick Dawson

Starring:

Rick Dawson, Brian Fender, Brian Titus, Ron Jeremy

Genre:

Comedy

Running Time:

90 min

Movie Review: Applecart (2015)

Horror, Movie Review

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The artistic evolution of Dustin Mills so far has been somewhat similar to Bjork. While both apply their trade to different fields of art, they share an uncompromising tendency never to repeat themselves, creating outside the box works, with consistently excellent results. Not many filmmakers working today compete with Dustin’s unpredictability and tireless work ethic; with an average of 4 projects a year and each of them being different to the others, he’s an exciting talent to follow if you’re an indie horror fan, but even his most long-term die-hard followers couldn’t have predicted a film like Applecart. Needless to say, there aren’t many films out there like Applecart.

Applecart is an avant-garde portmanteau film comprising of 4 shorts: ”The Sleepover,” ”Caretaker,” ”Dad” and ”Let Me Show You Something”, all of which are shot in the style of a 1920’s black and white silent film, with the only sounds being a recorded audience track and burlesque style photoplay music. All of the characters wear white masks at all times; a symbol for their deepest, darkest secrets, and their emotions are impressively conveyed through body language. Throughout the film, the only food eaten by the characters is apples; this is a representation of forbidden fruits as we watch them indulge in sheer depravity.

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Applecart is not a film for the faint of heart; running at approximately 56 minutes, Mills is somewhat a merciful towards his audience, because despite being an excellent accomplishment, it isn’t the easiest of content to stomach. Tackling themes such as domestic abuse, abuse of the elderly, abuse of women and sexual perversion, it’s an unfortunate mirror of the real world we live in as opposed to mindless exploitation fodder that would be easier to digest if we didn’t think our neighbours might be capable of such acts. Despite portraying such themes in the extremist of manners, reality has proven time and time again they aren’t necessarily hyperbole. Applecart represents fear of normalcy; who knows what goes on behind closed doors when it comes to our colleagues, friends, neighbours and even family? Putting madness on the screen is easy. Having meaning behind it is something else entirely, and Mills most certainly has a message.

The cast consists of Mills’ regulars Erin R. Ryan, Allison Egan, Haley Madison and Dave Parker.  Kudos to every single actor and actress for not only for their bravery to be a part of something so bold, but to carry a film without words and convey every emotion with a body movement is an outstanding accomplishment.  This is not a film that’ll cater to all tastes; the most open minded viewers might find it too odd and perplexing, and the most jaded extreme aficionado’s might find the content to be too grim and disturbing.  But if there’s one thing any objective viewer could agree on it’s that the cast delivered.

All in all, Applecart is not for everybody: it’s as extreme as it is beautifully shot; easy to digest storytelling is replaced with arthouse sensibilities and a style of film not seen since the 20’s, and it’s as bizarre and challenging as they come.  I loved it, personally.  Filmmaking so brave, bold and free is a breath of fresh air, even for independent horror.  With output as frequent and magnificently strange as it is, Mills could very well give Shion Sono and Takashi Miike a run for their money in the frequency of strange department if he had their resources; but nevertheless his work is just as good as our Japanese maestros in its own right.  Mills is a keeper, and Applecart is the best horror film of 2015 thus far.  9/10

Written & Directed By:

Dustin Mills

Starring:

Erin R. Ryan, Allison Egan, Dave Parker, Haley Madison

Genre:

Horror

Running Time:

56 mins