Short Film Review: A Black Heart In White Hell (2015)

Arthouse, Extreme Horror, Horror, Short Film Review

Blackheart_20cover_400w

”A Black Heart In White Hell” is the brand new short film from restless indie horror director Dustin Mills and Crumpleshack Films.  If you aren’t aware of Dustin’s work yet then you’re missing out on one of the most exciting and hard working independent filmmakers working today, whose body of work is of a consistent level of high quality and refreshingly original.  ”A Black Heart In White Hell” sees Dustin in full experimental mode, dragging the viewer into hell with the films victim and – if you dare stick around – forcing us to endure her plight with her.

”Not Sorry” are the words The Woman (Reagan Root) writes on the mirror before she takes her own life in the bath tub, assuming that she’s leaving this world unpunished for crimes we later learn she committed.  However – when she wakes up in a white room, a series of events unfold which force her to face the consequences of her sins.  What ensues is a bloody nightmare involving monsters and tormenting imagery as she’s punished in some gross, unsettling ways.

There were 2 movies which sprung to mind when watching ”A Black Heart In White Hell”: ”Eraserhead (1977)” and ”Begotten (1990)”.  My comparison is not based on the content contained within either of those movies, as they’re both completely different; what I’m getting at is they both share an ability to evoke a strong visceral reaction and psychologically pummel your senses at the same time.  ”A Black Heart In White Hell”, like those 2 movies, unsettled me through imagery, sound and it’s own original content.  I guess another comparison to those movies you could make is that it’s like nothing else out there, but that’s always been the case with Mills’ work anyway.  However, Lynch and Merhige’s movies are ugly experiences which suffer from too much self-indulgence.  ”A Black Heart In White Hell” is a visually stunning spectacle to look at, with an interesting story and additional fun factor.  Sure, it’s gross and distressing, but it’s also highly enjoyable and oozing with immediate rewatch value.

The film contains absolutely no dialogue, but the story is cohesive:  The nightmares of the lead and her crimes appearing on a television screen give us all of the information we need to understand what’s going on and why she’s being punished.  Credit must be given to Reagan Root for being able to portray a convincing character through actions, expression and body language alone.  She’d still be a joy to watch even if she wasn’t always naked.  The supporting cast consist of Dave Parker (with the awesome Youtube channel), Brandon Salkil and Jeremy Ryan, who serve as a reminder of why her soul is being ripped apart.

”A Black Heart In White Hell” is Mills’ best work to date and continues to showcase the evolution of a boundary pushing auteur making a name for himself in the world of underground cinema.  You can pick this up along with Dustin’s other movies over at Dustin Mills Productions, or stream it on VOD for pocket change.  Not only would you be supporting indie film by checking it out; you’d be treating yourself to some unique, original horror.

Writer & Director: Dustin Mills

Starring: Reagan Root, Dave Parker, Brandon Salkil, Jeremy Ryan

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 30 min

Movie Review: Screamplay (1985)

Arthouse, Comedy, Horror, Horror Comedy, Movie Reviews

screamplay

Troma, the company which is known for specializing in copious amounts of sleaze, nudity, low brow humour and shock value has been a household name for over four decades now.  So it’s to be expected that some of their releases will float under the radar from time to time.  One such release was ”Screamplay”, the one and only feature from Rufus Butler Seder, who wrote, directed, edited and starred in this offbeat murder mystery.  

screamplay-edgar-allan

”Screamplay” is a unique entry in Troma’s catalog and a one-of-a-kind movie if there ever was one.  Filmed entirely in black and white, with set designs purposeful recreations of films from the 1920-30’s, it’s all very artsy; especially compared to the trash the company is known and beloved for.  The story focuses on a young writer named Edgar Allen who moves to Hollywood with dreams of writing murder mysteries for the big screen.  But when the murders in his screenplays start happening in real life,  he must confront an odd array of characters ranging from washed up actresses, rock stars, the police and off-kilter tenants as the mystery unfolds.

screamplay (1)

While watching ”Screamplay”, I drew comparisons to the early Sam Raimi oddity ”Crimewave (1985)”, as they both adopt the stylings of a classic era of film, with the similar over-the-top caricature characters and set pieces, dialogue and filmmaking techniques.  However, they use them in such a way that hasn’t been done before, to create darkly comic horror films ripe with manic energy and 80’s violence.  If someone told you this was a Sam Raimi creation without prior knowledge, you’d believe them.

Bob White as Lot in Screamplay

Taking inspiration from German Expressionist cinema, Hollywood’s silent films, Italian giallo, Gothic horror and the classic whodunnit?, it condenses them into the form of an 80’s B movie to create an engaging mystery that is also a satirical commentary on the dark side of Hollywood.  It chronicles the actors and actresses who are hot one day and but a memory the next; the aspiring artists who leave their normal lives behind with dreams of making it, only to find their hopes dashed and dreams broken; the greedy money men willing to exploit anything in order to make a quick buck and the madness that comes with it.  Every character has succumbed to madness in some way and they each provide strange melodrama between murders.

katy-bolger-screamplay

”Screamplay” is an oddity only a niche audience will enjoy, so if you appreciate the surreal, avant-garde, strange and experimental cinema you’ll no doubt find a special place in your heart – and on your shelf – for this weird little gem.  Rufus Butler Seder has never made, wrote or starred in another film since: let’s hope this isn’t his one and only, but if it is, what an innovative legacy to leave behind.  9/10

Director: Rufus Butler Seder

Writers: Rufus Butler Seder & Ed Greenberg

Starring: Rufus Butler Seder, Katie Bolger, George Kuchar

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Running Time: 90 min

Short Film Review: Steps (2015)

Arthouse, Comedy, Short Film Review

steps

Steps, a self-proclaimed ”staircase fetish art film”, is the latest short from Floridan avant-garde sleaze maestro Tyler Hosley; a polarizing filmmaker if there ever was one.  With a creative thought process that operates in defiance of good taste and normalcy, Hosley’s shorts up until now have been strange beasts to say the least, and you’ll either want to run from these beasts as fast as you can or stay and pet them.  With Steps, he’s delivered a delightfully perverse oddity of escalator erotica that’ll make you laugh as much as it’ll make you feel weird about watching it.  That being said, it might just motivate you to rub your genitalia all over a staircase, like you’ve always wanted to do.

Tyler’s shorts are all zero budget, homemade productions, but they demonstrate the raw potential of a filmmaker with unique ideas who deserve a chance to work with a substantial budget and show what he can really do. Steps is my favorite one yet and I hope it either entertains you as much as it did me.  Check it out below.  7/10

Written & Directed By:

Tyler Hosley

Starring:

Tyler Hosley, Andrea Hosley

Genre:

Comedy, Surreal

Movie Review: Toad Road (2012)

Arthouse, drama, Horror, Movie Reviews

download (9)

Toad Road is an urban legend of American folklore, about a road in Hellam Township, Pennsylvania, where the Seven Gates of Hell are said to reside in a wooded area.  If one passes through all seven gates, they are said to enter Hell itself.  In Jason Bankers movie Toad Road, it serves as a metaphor for the plight of drug addiction for a young group of friends.  It follows a group of slackers (played by a group of real life friends the director found on Myspace) as they float through life bored and without purpose; they spend their days and nights abusing alcohol and drugs without any signs of direction apart from down.  When James meets Sara, he tries to warn her of the side effects of drugs and the life she’s getting herself into, but Sara disregards his warnings and becomes addicted and obsessed with embarking on a journey through Toad Road to find Hell; to Sara, she believes finding Hell would equal peace and sanctuary, and after persuading James and the gang, they drop acid and set out on the road.  As they pass through each gate, the lines between reality and what’s in their minds become a blur as months go by.

The lead actress, Sara Anne Jones, who played the titular character of the same name died of a drug overdose shortly after the film was complete; the characters here play authentic versions of themselves, molded to fit the story.  The scenes of drug use are 100% real, as are their interactions.  It’s a loose documentary in a way, but Bankers still manages to create a story and narrative that’s coherent and raw.

The journey into Hell is a variety of things: the first is the physical place they set out to find at the end of the road; another Sara’s nihilistic goal to either find something greater, or the peace of escaping the world she knows.  The third is the downward spiral into the self-destruction brought on by addiction; Sara describes each gate through narration and the feelings of guilt, shame and hope they bestow on her.  It’s a surreal fairytale about seeking something otherworldly, but ultimately finding death: a metaphor for how drugs are a quest for a transcendental high at the risk of a harrowing reality.

Toad Road is hallucinogenic and it gets more surreal as it progresses; reality and fantasy become one; the supernatural and reality are too vague to differentiate.  In summary: it’s a mind fuck.  The story plays out like a documentary, a mumblecore drama and a campfire fairytale, but it’s a movie that’s more about the message – which is the dangers of drug addiction without being preachy.

This is one of the most haunting, harrowing and honest movies you’ll ever see, but it’s not for everyone. The actors involved were a real group of friends doing real drugs in the movie, yet director Jason Banker managed to mold their real personas into autobiographical characters to create a fairytale about self-destruction and a journey to find something better and otherworldly. It’s a strange movie, it’s nihilistic and it’s an essential document of disenchanted youth culture.  9/10

Written & Directed By:

Jason Banker

Starring:

James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitley Higuera

Genre: 

Drama, Horror

Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

Arthouse, Crime, Movie Review

movies-only-god-forgives-poster

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: Starry Eyes (2014)

Arthouse, Body Horror, Horror, Movie Reviews

Starry_Eyes_2014_film_poster

While horror has always been an acquired taste for film fans, Starry Eyes is sure to polarize even the most ardent lovers of the gruesome and the macabre.  Taking inspiration from David Lynch and Roman Polanski, as well as the Satanic cinema boom period of the 70’s – and the body horror of David Cronenberg, Starry Eyes is an ambitious effort that revels in its own nihilism; thus making it a stylish, unpleasant watch that explores the dark underbelly of Hollywood and the lengths people are prepared to go to if it means getting their face on the big screen.

Sarah (Alex Essoe) is a waitress and wannabe actress who can’t catch her big break; that’s until she gets an offer of a lead role in the upcoming production of a horror movie by a reputable film company.  However, with fame and fortune comes a price, and achieving a dream means compromising your values and making a deal with The Devil himself.

If Mulholland Drive (2001) taught us anything, it’s that Hollywood is an evil place where corruption reigns supreme.  Starry Eyes runs with this notion and applies it to a Faustian psycho drama that is sure to give conspiracy theorists a field day, and horror fans a fresh take on a tale as old as celluloid itself.  In the film, the producer of the movie our protagonist is chasing how it’s an exploration of the darker side of the human condition: Little does she know that she’s about to become a pawn subject to such moral degradation; sexual exploitation; and far more sinister forces at work.

The film focuses on how far one goes to chase a dream: even if it means risking the stability of your survival.  Sarah has a steady job that helps pay the bills, but her obsession makes her feel above it; and her delusions of grandeur are so great she suffers from disturbing nightmares and panic fits during her daily life.  We often hear of those who succeeded after taking a chance, but Sarah is a prime example of the thousands of actresses who become victims of it.  Not too dissimilar from the girls you see on casting couches on Pornhub.

download (52)

Starry Eyes has occult/Illuminati overtones, which as I said earlier, is sure to give conspiracy theorists a field day.  I love movies that explore dark underbellies and secret societies, and Starry Eyes pours fuel on the fire of the possibility of such sects existing among Hollywood’s elite.  However, more than anything, this is a middle finger to studio systems and the mechanics of Hollywood.

Fuck_Hollywood_by_Slaro001.png

Starry Eyes is occult arthouse body horror with satirical overtones and it’s easy to see why it’s garnered so much critical acclaim: It preaches without becoming propaganda and never compromises story or scares to enforce its message gratuitously.  This is a grounded horror film set in an alien world, with strong characterization and enough visceral violence to turn your stomach.  For me, this is horror at it’s finest.  8/10

Directed By:

Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Wydmier

Written By:

Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Wydmier

Cast:

Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Pat Healy, Noah Segan

Run Time: 

96 mins

Genre:

Horror