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Proving that his productions are unpredictable and wildly different
from one another, Dustin Mills' latest low budget shocker is a totally
different kettle of fish to his previous movies.
Shot in beautiful monochrome, Applecart is Mills' homage to the silent movie. Think The Artist, but with gratuitous nudity, violence and a prosthetic penis that is startlingly realistic (thanks to Marcus Koch's outrageous talent). Divided into a quartet of short fables / modern morality tales, the film is experimental, daring and, at times, uncomfortable viewing. Not since Douglas Buck's A Trilogy of America have I felt so exposed to the dark underbelly of modern suburbia.
Whilst I prefer the more conventional storytelling contained within Mills' earlier offerings, Applecart is a solid film. It managed to make me flinch, jump and wince, not an easy feat.
Hats off to the team for their bravery. It's a reflection on Mills as a director that he manages time and time again to bring out outstanding and memorable performances from his cast. They trust him and the results are sheer brilliance. I'm gobsmacked at the candid nature of the Crumpleshack productions. Yet, despite the nudity and adult themes, Mills' always manages to retain a sense of morality. There's no glorification of violence (unless it's killer rabbits running amok) and sensitive topics are handled with the appropriate care.
8 out of 10. Not my favourite offering from Dustin Mills but the bar's set so high, my favourites will take some beating. If you're new to this director, I'd recommend Her Name Was Torment, Kill That Bitch, Easter Casket or Skinless to begin with. This is more of a palette cleaner between his more traditional genre movies and more art house than independent horror.
Headless is Found's perfect sister film, a much anticipated tie-in that
has so much to live up to. Scott Schirmer's Found (2012) took the
horror world by storm, sweeping up dozens of awards at film festivals
and gaining an instant cult following. Headless is Found's "film within
a film", a no- holds barred, '80s nasty that pushes the envelope of
good taste and has a lasting impression on at least one of its viewers.
To produce a stand-alone, full-length movie of Headless is no easy feat. Headless needed to shock on a visceral level whilst maintaining the original film's dark psychological edge and taboo themes. With expectations high, the potential for failure and disappointment was very real. The good news is that Headless delivers the goods. Scott Schirmer passes the directorial reins this time around to Found's special effects director, Arthur Cullipher, whilst maintaining co- producing responsibilities with Kara Erdel. The Found army can breath a collective sigh of a relief. The combination of talent here is a winning formula.
Headless is fast-moving, bloody beyond belief, boundary-pushing (there's one particular act of carnage that I've never on screen in such candid and unflinching detail before), psychological, hallucinatory, surreal and unpredictable. It manages to honour the themes of its predecessor whilst adding something new to boot.
The entire cast is excellent but special mention must go to young Kaden Miller for his chilling performance as the Skull Boy. The character's physical presence takes the movie to another level. It's a jaw-dropping pièce de résistance. With the presence of this character, we witness the killer's (played by a truly believable Shane Beasley) ride into a hellish insanity.
As an aside, I hadn't expected to see this movie so soon. At around 1.00am on a cold February morning, I realised I'd received an invitation to catch a preview screener of the film. Sleep was put on hold until the film had been devoured. In a way, this is how Headless should be viewed. It is a midnight movie, through and through. Perfect entertainment for a gathering of gore- hounds or the genre enthusiast who needs something new to rekindle his love of the modern horror movie.
Whilst being released in 2015, the '70's (and early '80's) atmosphere is soaked into every frame. With faux print damage, big hair, cheesy dialogue and zero political correctness, this is like uncovering a hidden gem in a filmmaker's cupboard. If The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left married and had a child, its name would be Headless.
9.5 out of 10. Close to indie perfection, this is unmissable. From the moment the credits start, your senses are reeling from the physical insults delivered to the characters from the original Headless footage. Nasty but nice.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I confess, I felt a little worried, a few minutes into this indie movie
from Dustin Mills Productions. The film had sat unwatched for months on
my shelf, something of a treat for when I needed a new fix of Mills'
trademark celluloid insanity. However, as time ticked away, I had a
moment of trepidation. Had the infant terrible misjudged the content,
the pace or the mood? The fixed camera and long monologue seemed flat
in comparison with the start of his previous productions.
Such doubts were soon forgotten, brushed aside as the script, direction and performances clicked safely into second gear. The opening scenes of Snuffet are a precursor to the cloth bound carnage that follows. They act merely as an introduction, to position the viewer in a world where puppets are walking, talking, living beings. It's a slow burn, a contrast to the kaleidoscope of cruelty which will soon be unveiled.
From being relaxed and blasé about the content, I was soon perched on the edge of my seat, finger poised above the "stop" button of the remote. Yes, this is one of those films where you don't want to be surprised by somebody walking in on you. You know exactly what I mean. "You're seeing this out of context," is not going to wash when your wife / partner / mother-in- law walks in and sees the stark naked Giggles Mouthworthy (Allison Egan) copulating enthusiastically with a well endowed puppet, accompanied by the king of all sleazy adult soundtracks. My gods, this puppet guy has rhythm in his hips and lust blazing in his ickle button eyes. He could teach a human being a thing or two.
Ahem, back to the review. Mills directs the movie with a straight poker face and the actors clearly trust his judgement. In lesser hands, this could be a mess of ideas and genre. However, Snuffet is the noughties version of Man Bites Dog. There are uncomfortable scenes of protracted puppet abuse, violation and, ultimately, death. Perhaps the most disturbing scenes are those of infanticide and home invasion. Whilst the victims may resemble Bert and Ernie, their pleas for mercy are all too human.
The ending is sublime, a minor stroke of genius, and I genuinely hope there's a volume two somewhere in the pipeline. Mills always saves something up his sleeve for the final act and this is no exception.
8 out of 10. While it doesn't hit the heights of Her Name Was Torment or Kill That Bitch, Snuffet is a brave and unique addition to what is already an amazing, colourful and kinky library of bizarre delights from this outrageously talented filmmaker. Easter Casket's lovely Janet Jay makes a welcome return to this studio, delivering a memorable performance as the "mad as a box of frogs", Melissa Schweine. Fittingly, Schweine wears a purple pig mask that compliments her wardrobe and her name. Allison Egan and Brandon Salkil are as reliable as always. Whilst they're familiar faces (probably not the right expression as they're masked in some productions), they always hone their performances for each tale. A Dustin Mills film is a little like a Carry On production, you know who you're likely to see on screen but the subject matter is going to be different each time. Snuffet is, then, Carry On Aftermath or Carry On Killing.
This is really very, very good. Unexpected, unpredictable and bloody good fun. Miss it at your peril. If you don't like this movie, you've less heart than a butchered puppet. I dearly have my fingers crossed for a Part 2 (Silence of the Hands?) but Mills is the master of surprises and has little need to repeat himself.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's a little known fact that Dustin Mills, the director of The
Hornet's Sting, doesn't sleep. In fact, I'm guessing he doesn't eat or
have comfort breaks, either. In the space of less than a year, Mills
has released four low budget genre movies. I've yet to see the third
movie, Snuffet, but this latest offering is another incredibly
accomplished piece of guerrilla filmmaking.
Actually, the term "guerrilla filmmaking" is a disservice to Mr. Mills. Time and time again, he somehow, almost impossibly, rises above the expectations the viewer has for a zero budget film and delivers a powerhouse of a chiller that blows away 95% or more of fare from his peers.
Mills has an eye for talent, his ever moving camera capturing great performances from the small cast. There's no doubt that Mills creates fantastic roles for the female actor. Like in the earlier horror tale, Her Name Was Torment, the main protagonist is a woman. Here, Minnie Grey (who played a nun in Easter Casket) delivers an unnerving performance as the psychopathic photographer, Rose. Horror regular Joni Durian plays Rose's latest victim, Freya.
I've seen so many blink-and-it's-over productions that when the titles for The Hornet's Sting appeared on the screen, I actually thought (for a moment) that the film had ended. I'd gone into this film completely cold and didn't know if it was an experimental short or a full movie. The pre-title sequence is incredibly professional, managing to evoke a jump from me by its use of sound alone.
There are a few similarities with Her Name Was Torment but The Hornet's Sting is a very different movie. This is largely devoid of Mills' trademark puppetry although he does manage to squeeze in a very effective animated sequence around half way through the proceedings.
With a soundtrack that juxtaposes happy, clappy songs with the most atrocious on-screen violence, this is not for the squeamish. The movie's wall-of-sound music is hallucinatory at times, placing the viewer in the centre of the action and creating a sense of discord.
There's nudity aplenty in Hornet but this isn't cheap titillation. Rather than being an erotic or sleazy experience, this is genuine horror. About thirty minutes into the movie, I realised I'd not been this excited about a young filmmaker since the original releases of Jörg Buttgereit. What's more, Mills is the more accomplished director, and the more prolific. He's like a Cronenberg for the next generation.
9 out of 10.
I've always had a soft spot for the original Maniac, directed by Bill
Lustig in 1980 and starring the legendary Joe Spinell as Frank. It's
probably due to my appreciation of the original genre movie that I
delayed watching Franck Khalfoun's remake for nearly two years. Maniac
seemed like an unnecessary film to remake. The original is the stuff of
horror history and infamous for its bloody special effects, courtesy of
Tom Savini and an uncredited Rob Bottin.
From the opening moment, it was clear to me that Maniac (2012) was faithful to its predecessor in terms of style and mood. Like Lustig's movie, this remake is dark, grim and seedy. Unlike Lustig's film, however, the new Maniac uses the killer's POV for the majority of the running time. The effect of this is disturbing. You are seeing through Frank's (played by Elijah Wood) eyes and the sights are unpleasant and uncompromising.
An electronic score by Robin Coudert is reminiscent of the '80s music and suits the film perfectly.
Wood is excellent as Frank. He plays psychopaths well (Sin City first demonstrated this when he appeared as Kevin). It's a brave choice for this young actor but it pays off. He's convincing and appears appropriately disturbed throughout the grisly goings-on.
Not a feel-good film, Maniac (2012) is a movie that's difficult to love as it's a cold ride. The film doesn't take any prisoners. It's brutal and vile, gritty and nasty but, at the same time, it's beautifully shot and edited.
There are many nods to the original and the horror genre in general. Frank's mother is played appropriately by Neighbor's America Olivo. When Frank has a date, the girl says she imagined him as fat and spotty, perhaps a wink at the original killer played by Spinell.
8 out of 10. This movie is faithful to the original in its intentions. Not one that many will love but decent nonetheless.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
V/H/S is an entertaining and genuinely eerie anthology movie. Whilst
the film has a long fuse and the viewer isn't treated to shocks and
surprises early on, V/H/S rewards patience.
Like any anthology, some tales stand out more than others but there's an overall sense of unity in the production. The cast is cute, the dialogue is fun and natural, and the pace is just about right. The wrapping tale is creepy and sets the mood beautifully.
For me, though, Hannah Fierman's intense, wide-eyed character in Amateur Night is the real treat. Whilst she's largely quiet for much of her performance, I think most viewers will remember her most of all. Lily is a treat for horror fans and Fierman's physical performance is top notch.
There's a smörgåsbord of attractive young actors in this production. The great thing is, the acting is excellent and I couldn't fault any of the performances. In the short time that the actors appear on screen, they engage the viewer and you genuinely care for them.
It's rare for a film to put me on edge like this one did. V/H/S really does refresh the found footage medium, plunging the viewer into one nightmare after another. Some stories are satisfyingly complete whilst others left me wanting just a little more closure.
8 out of 10. V/H/S isn't a perfect genre film but it's great entertainment. Perhaps a little trimming wouldn't have harmed the movie but I enjoyed the ride, long as it may be. It's stylish, scary, funny and bloody.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As Under the Skin began, I felt a rare tingle of excitement. Watching
this film took me back to viewing the likes of Nicolas Roeg's movies as
a youngling. However, Under the Skin is more than just today's
equivalent of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Like one of the characters in the movie, I felt I had to pinch myself during the proceedings. The fact that Under the Skin exists is quite surprising in itself. We have Film4 to thank for backing this production, this is so far removed from Hollywood as the main protagonist is from her home.
And yet...we have the mind boggling sight of Scarlett Johansson's character touring around Scotland in a white transit van, propositioning real people as well as actors. When I read a brief summary of what this film was about, I imagined something low-res and cheap on the screen, all grain and poor hidden camera footage. The film delivers instead a remarkably visual extravaganza of sight and sound whilst contrasting scenes of the incredible with those of the everyday reality. I never, in a million years, thought I see Scarlett Johansson wandering around a shopping centre, passing the likes of Claire's and Boots on her quest for her next victim.
The film could have been a disaster, a caffeine fuelled idea that failed dismally when the concept was transferred to the screen. Instead, it's a stroke of genius and a genuinely unnerving experience. There is one moment in particular that had my skin crawling, a horrific and yet surreal death that made me jump and shudder.
Beautiful, moving, gritty, surprising and totally hypnotic, Jonathan Glazer's movie is unmissable. It's not your average horror movie and some genre fans will hate it but, for me, this is an instant classic and one that will be well regarded in years to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Her Name Was Torment is the latest release from Dustin Mills, one of
the most talented and hardworking horror directors. Having started with
the ambitious and entertaining The Puppet Monster Massacre, Mills has
built his reputation around his unique style. There's been a gradual
shift to darker material in his movies, with less puppets and more
psychological (and physical) pain on display. With Kill That Bitch,
Mills entered a whole new territory but the setting up of his sister
studio, Crumpleshack Films, is a bold flag in the sand. Crumpleshack is
Mills' label for tough, unflinching offerings. There's little, if any,
elements of his traditional "comfortable" horror films contained here.
Her Name, then, is the first of the Crumpleshack Films and it's strong stuff. Mills had warned fans that this production may not be to everybody's taste. It's not cute or amusing; there's no relief from the madness that swiftly descends.
Mills' regular, Brandon Salkil, delivers a tremendous performance as Torment's latest victim. He's a very physical performer and is perfectly cast here. The viewer is an unwilling spectator as Salkil is tortured slowly and methodically by the masked female psycho. You know in your heart from the start that this isn't going to end happily ever after.
Allison Fitzgerald is another Mills regular. Here, she plays her most memorable role to date as Torment. Despite the fact that we never see her face, Fitzgerald delivers an absolutely terrifying performance in her bizarre mask. She's a brave lady - this film required an actor that wasn't afraid of nudity and sexual situations and it's quite obvious that she threw herself into the movie; mind, body and soul.
The Doctor, whose chilling commentary is genuinely riveting, is played by none other than Mills himself. His questioning of Torment is the stuff of nightmares.
In a lesser director's hands, this could have been just "torture porn". There are many scenes of physical abuse that will make many viewers look away from the screen but Mills' direction steers away from cheap hardcore insert shots or scenes of castration, instead concentrating on other forms of unpleasantness. The special effects will not disappoint gorehounds but this is only one layer of the proceedings.
For me, the actual graphic horror was not what seated this film at the table of horror greats. Having viewed thousands of horror movies, graphic violence is now no longer of interest (although it can be conspicuous by its absence and there's a difficult balance to maintain) but Her Name is more than an exhibition of physical insults delivered to a bound young man. What the film delivers is an audio and visual assault on the senses. You may note I mention the audio side of things before the visual and there's a reason for this. The film hits you with a wall of inventive sound from the very beginning and manages to do something I've never experienced before outside demonstrations of spacial sound effects. The movie delivers what can only be described as an audio hallucination.
The film's soundtrack is in good old fashioned stereo and, as a purist, I viewed Her Name in its intended state, without applying any additional sound processing bells and whistles. There's one scene, I won't give it away, where the sound field generated became genuinely three dimensional and I felt I was sat in the centre of a pulsating hailstorm of electronic noise. It was nightmarish stuff but exhilarating at the same time, the cacophony of auditory madness matched by the bizarre inkblot-like image on the screen.
The inventive use of colour in Her Name Was Torment is another layer of bloody icing on this perverse cake. Like Spielberg in Schindler's List, colour is used sparingly and jolts the viewer's attention to the many ghastly spectacles unveiled by a gleeful Mills (who's clearly had the time of his life making this indie gem). It's clever stuff, very effective and the style ensures the viewer is kept on edge for the duration of the film's 50 minute running time. It could be argued that the film is an extended short but this doesn't matter. Quality is always more welcome than quantity and anything longer than this would have been exhausting.
I have only a minor criticism of the film and I may need to revisit it as the viewing experience is still sinking in. The mysterious Overlord (arguably the only element of "old" Mills) feels slightly out of kilter with the rest of the production and I struggled to hear his dialogue. However, I think I would miss this character if his presence was not seen and I may well feel differently on a second viewing. In no way does this deter me from giving this movie 10 out of 10. Jackie McKown's Angel is one of the scariest creations I've ever witnessed and the film's vibe occasionally feels like The Bunny Game meets Boy Meets Girl crossed with Hellraiser, with a mild sprinkling of A Field in England and Paranormal Activity. Oh, and there's a head shaking scene that makes Jacob's Ladder look positively tame by comparison. My gods, that's a fine cocktail of horror and Her Name is a sharp kick in the balls for those who are expecting something safe from this unpredictable director.
KTB remains my favourite Mills movie, However, Her Name is hot on its paws with its blend of the strange, the surreal and the downright petrifying. I have fingers and toes firmly crossed that we see Her Name Was Agony in the not too distant future. This film has threads that are begging to be unwound and exploited. It would be a shame to provide any real, substantial answers to some of the film's mysteries but there's a mine of terror just waiting to be explored.
A low budget masterpiece to dissect, disassemble, dispose...place in a bucket or bin...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tonight, We Stay Indoors is Joseph Larsen's latest film and his most
accomplished. Like his previous project, When the Sidewalk Ends, this
film is shot from a fixed camera viewpoint, reflecting a disciplined
approach and following the low (or no) budget Kino style of
The film is narrated brilliantly by Larsen himself. His narration is slow, dry and captivating, covering the minutiae of everyday life in conjunction with the main storyline, the fictional serial killing spree and eventual death of Donovan Doring, aka The Umbrella Killer. More importantly, this documentary focuses on the sole survivor of Doring's murderous rampage, a girl who also ended up killing him in self defence and thus becoming an overnight local hero.
This is a fantastic twist on the traditional serial killer film. In a way, the film is working in reverse to what we expect from the horror genre. We begin with a blank screen and music, eventually focussing in on the main character, the survivor, Davi (played by Natalie Sosnay). Sosnay's role is purely visual. For the entirety of the film's 55 minutes, we do not hear her speak. We know that she's survived, and we can relax with this knowledge, but the full details of that fateful night when events came to a head take a while to be explained.
With the exception of the narrator's voice-over, dialogue is scarce; only a few lines spoken by Davi's friend, Jack (David Saladin). Jack regrets missing the live coverage of 9/11. He seems more concerned with this than what has happened in his community. He's a strange character, a part of the background rather than being emotional support for Davi.
Davi is naturally traumatised by the encounter with Doring and she becomes reclusive, having to shop 190 miles away at America's second largest mall. Here, she has anonymity and can, for the most part, relax. At night, she stays indoors. Similarly, when it rains, she seeks privacy inside her apartment. The sight of brollies chills her to the bone, an unwelcome reminder of The Umbrella Killer.
What I love about this film is the narrator's dry wit. He's more than a little obsessed with Pepsi Cola and provides the viewer with all kinds of trivia about this beverage.
Overall, this is a stunning film and one that I was sad to see finish. Experimental and unique, I've never seen anything quite like Tonight, We Stay Indoors.
9 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Following an unnamed apocalyptic event, a lone girl travels the country
in search of food, shelter and entertainment. On her travels she sees
death but experiences hope for a better tomorrow.
Joseph Larsen's film is slow moving and almost hypnotic. Unlike his later film, When the Sidewalk Ends, this is shot on the move, although there are some locked off shots. Again, it is shot on Mini-DV and looks fantastic. There's a grey hue to the proceedings that feels oppressive and cold.
Unlike other movies of this nature, the girl (played by Jennifer Bahe from When the Sidewalk..) makes the most of her time alone. She's a risk taker, not letting any chance to climb go unchallenged; adventurous and kind-natured. It would appear that a virus has eliminated most of the human population as the buildings and wildlife remain, seemingly unaffected by whatever has wiped out mankind. This allows the survivor a chance to play amongst the animals and buildings and explore the empty and deserted landscape around her.
This young survivor has learnt to deal with her isolation and solitude. Despite her predicament, she fills in her time in many ways, not giving up hope or showing signs of depression. She takes joy in the simplest of pleasures.
It's a quiet movie, without dialogue, and I found it a very relaxing viewing experience. Jennifer Bahe carries the film with her understated performance; she is especially impressive in this movie where, for the most part, she has the stage all to herself.
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