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Cross Cut (2015)
Chuck Jones Meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Michael Fredianelli returns to comedy with CROSS CUT. In some ways, it's an interesting change of pace for the director because it has a much different sense of humor than we've come to expect from irreverent tour de-farces like THE BIG SLEAZE. It's a witty film that is highly self-referential and brings to mind works like the Ted Post directed TWILIGHT ZONE EPISODE "A World of Difference" and the famous Chuck Jones cartoon DUCK AMUCK. As with those pieces, CROSS CUT is a meta movie with actor characters that are being manipulated by the crew in charge of them. It's a highly suspenseful film and director Fredianelli keeps up the pace with plenty of amusing twists and turns. The cast is a solid ensemble built around Maralynn Adams, Jeremy Koerner, and Fredianelli himself as the leads. All give good turns in their roles, but Adams comes off as most memorable in her first starring role. Female leads are somewhat less common among Fredianelli's oeuvre and Adams nails her character's Marilyn Monroe type routine and demeanor. Other movie highlights include a first act full of gloriously sleazy 70s art direction (easily rivaling much of the aesthetics of Fredianelli's real 70s set film THE BLACKFACE KILLER!), scenic ski lodge locations, and a wonderful appearance by canine star Martini. Somehow Martini seems right at home in front of the camera and is almost disgustingly cute in this. There's also a killer climax full of brutal (and yet still darkly hilarious in tone) wanton gun violence. While the filmmaker characters on screen are humorously slipshod indie types, the movie might have benefited from a Hollywood location or two as did HIERARCHY (yep, another past Fredianelli film!) as it would have given the movie making subject matter a bit more credence. This is a minor gripe however and CROSS CUT plays as a unique piece of indie filmmaking that entertains in spades!
Hunter and the Hunted (2016)
Nihilistic Character Study
With his latest directorial effort, Michael Fredianelli tackles the backwoods thriller subgenre. At first glance (particularly if you've seen the trailer), the movie might look like familiar territory. Do we really need another movie about hunters or campers finding themselves ambushed in the woods by killers? Well in fact, HUNTER AND THE HUNTED has more depth than it might initially appear to have. At its heart, it's a character study and the character's motivations are much more complex than what you may expect them to be in what would seem like a simple cat and mouse game of survival. As the protagonists, we've got a group of predominately "bro" like characters who binge drink and converse about GAME OF THRONES and THE DARK KNIGHT while playing hand-held video games. They're rather unlikable people save for lead character Mark (played by Michael Fredianelli in an understated performance) who is the most relatable. There's purposely little revealed about this character and he plays a little like the viewer's playable video game character for them to project themselves onto. While the "bro" characters are over the top, it's through the lens of Mark that the filmmaker's (Todd Jurgess and Jeremy Koerner being the other story crafters here) are able to say things about modern US society and culture in a way that is even at times quite humorous. When you put these show-offy "bros" in a hunting trip scenario, conflict ultimately ensues and there are more than a few well realized twists and turns along the way.
As a film, HUNTER AND THE HUNTED is a step up technically from a lot of what Fredianelli has been producing lately. There's ambitious camera work on display from cinematographer Tyler M. Manzo that gives a sense of scope and awe absent in most micro-budget indie productions. The effects are achieved practically and the use of squibs and blank ammunition go a long way in upping the film's action movie chops. Throw in a stunning car chase that rivals most of Hollywood's set pieces in the last decade and you've got a hell of a ride. Aaron Stielstra achieves high marks for a score that punctuates the film's suspenseful moments while actor Jeremy Koerner is outright terrifying as the loose cannon in the group of the hunters. Mike Dinsmore is pitch-perfect as the fanatical leader of a group of hillbilly antagonists (rivaling the inbred redneck cannibals in Fredianelli's BLACKFACE KILLER no less!) that the hunters inevitably encounter. Overall, a solid Fredianelli feature that ranks up there with THE SCARLET WORM and BLACKFACE KILLER as one of the best films in the man's body of work.
Seven Dorms of Death (2015)
Hilarious Spoof of 80s Slashers, Late Late Show Horror Broadcasts
While the title SEVEN DORMS OF DEATH might bring to mind director Richard Griffin's earlier film MURDER UNIVERSITY (ok, it might bring to mind THE BEYOND too if you like your Italian horror), don't be fooled. SEVEN DORMS is a completely different animal. In fact there aren't many other films like it (though for tone, it easily rivals Giffin's ACCIDENTAL INCEST for dark humor and sheer madcap lunacy). The movie is a post-modern take on the slasher genre with a unique catch. It's framed as a faux 1980s Late Late Show TV broadcast (complete with ghoulishly eccentric horror host!) of a lost Z-grade horror movie! Of course the lost movie in question is Satanic themed slasher SEVEN DORMS OF DEATH itself. Together with this main feature, the movie will cut back to this Late Late Show wrap-around along with commercials and fake trailers. So from the get-go we have a movie that is very self-aware and tongue-in-cheek. Similar to what is done in movies like GRINDHOUSE or BLACK DYNAMITE, the movie includes intentional technical "goofs." However with the Late Late Show framing, this movie's goofy, meta nature manages to feel much more organic. Unlike the main pitfall of many a genre pastiche, SEVEN DORMS doesn't come off as obnoxiously "wink-wink" and the humor more often than not hits the mark. It's a rare kind of film in that it manages to pull off "bad on purpose" quite successfully. There is much in the film that really is "so bad, it's good." Despite being intentionally schlocky, SEVEN DORMS is an incredibly well made film. Heck, the movie begins with a colorful, RE-ANIMATOR inspired title sequence accompanied by a powerful synth theme that sounds like a lost work from horror composing legends Claudio Simonetti or Fabio Frizzi! There's some gorgeously effective lighting, slick camera-work, and a bevy of costumes and props that really sell the 1980s setting. The effects are created practically and there's even the inclusion of some glorious stop-motion creature effects! When it comes to acting, there are some real stand-out performances of truly over the top characters. Michael Thurber is hilarious (and nearly unrecognizable caked in makeup) as horror host Baron Von Blah (who even has an evil puppet sidekick!). Meanwhile, Aaron Andrade and Dan Mauro are great as a pair of tough as nails detectives who look like they escaped off the set of a 1980s Golan-Globus production! Another standout is Laura Pepper who unleashes comedy gold as a Transatlantic accented ace reporter who seems to have leaped out of a 30s or 40s Frank Capra picture. Everything about the movie is just so wacky and makes for an incredibly entertaining watch. If you're a fan of horror/comedy hybrids, you will love SEVEN DORMS OF DEATH!
Flesh for the Inferno (2015)
Fun little horror film in the Fulci spirit
With his prolific indie film career, New England filmmaker Richard Griffin is best known for his work in the horror genre. As a director, Griffin's forte is the horror/comedy hybrid. It's a type of film he has refined to near perfection recently with his previous horror film THE SINS OF Dracula which also came infused with a delicious helping of biting satire. With his latest horror feature FLESH FOR THE INFERNO, Griffin re-teams with writer Michael Varrati and the results are once again extremely satisfying. Unlike SINS, FLESH FOR THE INFERNO is not a subversion or melding of genres. Instead, the movie is a love-letter to 70s and 80s fright flicks. More specifically, FLESH takes cues directly from the Italian "Godfather of Gore" Lucio Fulci. The film has a vintage Euro-horror flavor from the religious themed storyline (recalling European nunsploitation films with the movie's demonic, killer nun antagonists), stylized lighting, practical (and extremely over-the-top) blood and gore special effects, and a pulse pounding synth music score (courtesy of Griffin's frequently employed composer Timothy Fife) that brings to mind the likes of John Carpenter, Fabio Frizzi, and Goblin. Actually in a way, it's somewhat ironic the film is set in modern times (unlike Griffin's 80s set SINS or MURDER UNIVERSITY) as it might come the closest in feel of Griffin's films to a genuine 80s Italian horror flick. Heck, take out the present day backstory, swap in some vintage stock sound effects and dubbed in dialog and you'd probably be able to fool some people.
FLESH FOR THE INFERNO is a tightly paced, constantly suspenseful, engaging 85 minutes of horror. The plot centering around demonic nuns terrorizing a group of unsuspecting young people is simple and not terribly original, but Griffin takes the premise and makes one hell of an entertaining film out of it. As a film, FLESH plays most like Griffin's non-horror outing FUTURE JUSTICE in that it's a straight forward genre piece instead of a comedy. Even so, the movie is loads of fun (and like FUTURE JUSTICE) is peppered with some good comedic relief moments. The movie's cast performs well and Griffin regulars like Michael Thurber and Jamie Dufault are charismatic as usual. The ultra-gorgeous (even when plastered in fake blood!) Anna Rizzo has perhaps her largest role to date in a Griffin film and is plenty likable and fun to watch as well. Moreover, Jamie Lyn Bagley is brilliantly bitchy as a fanatic Catholic girl who entertains in spades. On the side of the movie's antagonists, the trio of evil nuns are all effectively creepy and sinister while Aaron Andrade turns in what is perhaps the movie's best performance (playing the Devil no less!). If there's one nitpick to made be made it's that it would have been nice to hear actor Steven O'Broin's clearly native Irish accent outright instead of the southern tinged thing he sounds like he's putting on. For a New England horror film, an Irish accented Catholic priest would probably have felt more authentic than not.
As it stands though, some of FLESH'S biggest stars are its great practical blood and gore effects. Some are so excessive and cartoony they work as great black humor. There are some key gross-out moments that are certainly memorable and pack a real punch. While there are also some CGI visual effects on display, they are all tasteful, well utilized, and kept to a minimum. All in all, FLESH FOR THE INFERNO is an indie horror film of the highest caliber. It's short and sweet, no-nonsense B-movie goodness and is prime Halloween season viewing!
Accidental Incest (2014)
Daring, Sleazy, and Strangely Uplifiting
ACCIDENTAL INCEST is a hilariously entertaining dark romantic-comedy. If you haven't gathered from the title, the film is anything but "safe" and is full of content that will make you cringe as well as laugh. It's irreverent humor at its absolute finest. From the warped minds of director Richard Griffin and writer Lenny Schwartz (based on his off Broadway play no less!), the film very seldom (if ever) lets up with the amount of on-screen insanity. Not only does incest figure into the plot, but also crime and violence, cuckolding, leather garbed gimps, and (without giving away too much), Nicolas Cage! The fact that the film is almost entirely in black and white aids tremendously in conveying the film's bleaker moments and manages to well, make the experience feel even dirtier! Did I mention there are musical numbers? Yes, by the time the movie has ended, you'll have figuratively had multiple kitchen sinks thrown at you. One musical sequence in particular is so well done that it rivals (or even surpasses) Griffin's infamous "Jesus Song" from NUN OF THAT. The filmmakers deserve a lot of credit for not playing it the least bit safe with this one. There are few movies that can be so fun while also making you uncomfortable, but ACCIDENTAL INCEST is definitely one of those films. The cast of Griffin regulars all perform well, but Johnny Sederquist stands out foremost as the male lead. He's got an intensity that matches Kinski or Nicholson levels and he is perfect in the role of Milton (coming complete with a creepy level 3 offending tongue tic no less!). Despite being much more understated in comparison, Elyssa Baldassarri is also great in the female lead role of Kendra (Milton's sister). It's nice to see her and Sederquist as main players for a change and Baldassarri has got quite a bit of charisma as well as beauty. In sum, ACCIDENTAL INCEST is an extremely satisfying film that will make you smile as much as want to take a shower! You'll be hard-pressed to find many movies like it.
The Riven (2014)
Topical and Intense
Michael Fredianelli's film THE RIVEN is a tense drama centered around the all to common practice of rape on college campuses. In fact as of this writing, a prestigious university has suspended fraternity activities due to the issue and many are proclaiming that a "rape culture" exists in the US. THE RIVEN tells a story about a campus rape and deals with the effects such a crime can have on college students. The trauma, the reluctance to report, the victim-blaming, the impact on social life and relationships... THE RIVEN puts it all on film. And while stories like the one depicted might be discussed and examined through the news and other media, it's odd that there doesn't seem to be (at least to my knowledge) a bigger, more mainstream film that seriously examines the subject of campus rape as its main focus.
In many ways, THE RIVEN is a different film to see from director Fredianelli. The film is more grounded than some of the director's other work and the characters and situations feel very real. Sure there are some plot points that feel contrived (it's a movie, it needs to tell the story) and a performance or two that's maybe a bit over-the top, but the film depicts plenty of the regular moments of college living that many can relate to.
Overall, it's nice to see Fredianelli succeed with a serious drama instead of the genre-film route he's better known for going. Even if the director's exploitation style films often come peppered with social commentary themselves, it's nice to see that same real-world relevancy come in more of a straightforward manner. And then done so powerfully at that. It's a poignant film that needs to get noticed.
I Am the Edge (2014)
Well Made, Suspenseful Thriller
As a film, I AM THE EDGE doesn't bring forth anything that's particular new to the thriller genre. The plot is relatively straightforward and there's a lot that we've seen elsewhere. Mainly it's the idea of a successful, but currently struggling author brought into a situation that resembles the thrilling nature of their novels. Think of the times Stephen King has explored a similar theme for instance. Aside from the plot being more on the "safe" side (at least in terms of what director Michael Fredianelli tends to deal with), I AM THE EDGE is such an entertaining, suspenseful, and just generally well-made film (especially for a lower-budgeted indie) that its abundance of genre conventions throughout do not detract. In fact, the film's more straightforward nature is maybe one of the film's best assets as it's expertly executed and paced. It's less about what the story is here than how well it's told.
Serving as the film's director of photography again, Fredianelli makes a nice looking film with some really moody black and white cinematography. With the choice of color perhaps aiding in this, the film's special effects are virtually flawless and there are some real grizzly shots that played much more effectively than those used in a lot of massively budgeted Hollywood pics. The film is pretty consistently well acted with frequent Wild Dogs collaborator Jeremy Koerner getting his most screen time yet as the lead. Koerner's performance is a bit more understated than what we're used to seeing from him, but he carries the film well.
As a film, I AM THE EDGE is one of Fredianelli's best looking and best made movies. It's also the director's most successful go at telling a mystery type story in a suspenseful manor and delivering the plot-twists in a way that's satisfying to the viewer (MONEY FOR ANGELS and the hunter vignette in COIN come to mind as examples to the contrary). I AM THE EDGE will no doubt keep you entertained from beginning to end and ultimately leave you feeling satisfied.
Horror Anthology Done Right
In recent times there has been a surge of independently made horror anthology films. A lot of the time these films employ multiple directors (each for a different vignette) and make use of some kind of gimmick or vaguely defined theme. Many of these films are just too episodic in nature and really fail at making any impact with their empty bits of shock value. EREBUS however is very different from this mold as it has more in common with the likes of classic horror anthology movies made by British studio Amicus Productions than a contemporary film of the likes of V/H/S. With the entire film being helmed by director Rick Laprade, EREBUS has a cohesion that's missing from a lot of the modern takes on the horror anthology sub-genre. Erebus' vignettes and wraparound story take place across a few different decades, but there's enough of an overarching narrative to make each vignette compliment one another and create something that comes together quite nicely in the end.
As a movie, EREBUS is quite atmospheric and genuinely terrifying. Shot on location in Block Island, the film makes prime use of a historic hotel as its main setting. The hotel's signature facade along with some very dark and stormy New England weather does a lot for the film. Coupled with the subtext of Block Island's real-life haunted history, the movie is all the more eerie. EREBUS doesn't need cheap "jump out at you" thrills to be legitimately creepy and it employs clever editing and other tricks to play its on-screen paranormal encounters to maximum effect.
One thing that's impressive about EREBUS is just how well it captures the different time periods it depicts on a meager budget. This is particularly true of the second vignette called "Exposure" that is set in the 1970s. The cars, costumes, and props appear spot-on and vignette lead actor Marc Vos looks like he walked off of a time-machine onto the set. And then there's the hotel itself and all the creepy furnishings that come with it. Without spoiling too much, a stand out is a vintage portable television that is utilized in a more terrifying manner than whatever type of lame shot-on-video gimmick you'll see today.
It's hugely impressive in general how EREBUS is able to achieve so much with very little and it's straightforward and "old school" in the best possible way. If there are any real glaring flaws it's that some of the film's slicker aspects do detract a bit. An HBO style motion graphics title sequence headlines the film along with some use of snappy jump cuts during the first few minutes. A minor gripe related mostly to taste, but these stylistic choices don't really feel in tune with the rest of the film either. All in all, EREBUS is a stand-out entry in today's high volume of indie horror (and more specifically, horror anthology) releases.
The Sins of Dracula (2014)
Griffin's Best Film Since MURDER UNIVERSITY
In 2012, director Richard Griffin made one of the most entertaining low-budget horror flicks in recent times with MURDER UNIVERSITY. It's a film full of black humor, satire, and is a loving tribute to 80s slashers. After that, the director followed with DR. FRANKENSTEIN'S WAX MUSEUM which was a nice love letter to Hammer horror films (and SCOOBY-DOO) that is highly entertaining (if a bit less polished and smaller in scope than MURDER U). Then we have this year's SINS OF Dracula which could almost belong to a loose, unofficial "triology" with the other two movies given their common casts (predominately focusing on young protagonists), subject matter and themes (horror, dark humor), and setting (loosely, the 1980s). And while MURDER U and WAX MUSEUM were tributes to certain sub-genres and cinematic movements, SINS is perhaps most interesting for being a biting satire of Christian scare films. Yes, the no-budget cautionary propaganda tales probably produced by your local church in the 1970s and 80s (even if films of the type have never really disappeared). Plenty is taken from the great popular and cult cinema of the 70s and 80s too with the film feeling a lot like 85's FRIGHT NIGHT at times. In addition, the film makes nods to everything from one the most famous horror films of the 70s to blaxploitation movies. Oh yeah, and if you couldn't tell by now, the film just so happens to involve Dracula and a satanic thespian intent on raising that Prince of Darkness from the dead. Some might be disappointed by how little this movie actually has to do with 'ol Fangface, but you should know what you're getting into if you've seen the film's trailer (or watched the film's first act).
As a film, SINS is considerably well crafted. Easily one of Grifin and co.'s best looking films and perhaps the closest one aesthetically to the 70s/80s exploitation films it's trying to ape (without needing the added dust or scratches of THE DISCO EXORCIST). There's great camera-work (among it a crane shot, and lots of stylish zooms) and excellent practical effects by New England gore-wizard Jordan Pacheco. Sure there's clear use of plaster mannequins played for laughs, but there's plenty of stuff that feels like it belongs right smack in a Hammer made Dracula movie. Furthermore, the film is headlined by great music consisting of hilarious diegetic numbers and a fantastic Euro-cult flavored score by Timothy Fife. Fife's pounding synth score is (for lack of a better word) quite sexy and brings to mind the work of Italian maestro Riz Ortolani (with a pinch of Italian prog rock band Goblin).
Plenty of Scorpio Releasing regulars line the cast and many of the leads from MURDER U return to star. Jamie Dufault has lots of charisma in the lead role of Billy while NUN OF THAT'S Sarah Nicklin gives a memorable (and hugely adorable) turn as his girlfriend (probably ranking as my favorite of her roles). Also returning is Samantha Acampora who gives plenty of zest to her role of Traci-- a D&D nerd. Supporting actors are great as well with Carmine Capobianco being hilarious as Billy's pastor, and Steven O'Broin (FUTURE JUSTICE) once again making a superb villain. Michael Thurber (who already excelled at playing Dr. Frankenstein) is a great presence as Dracula and brings to mind the best of old school Dracs Christopher Lee, John Carradine, and Bela Lugosi in his (mostly silent) performance. Everyone seems to be having fun here and Michael Varrati's script is extremely witty and plays with cinema tropes and societal stereotypes to maximum comedic effect.
In sum, SINS is a hugely entertaining film that will no doubt make a killer triple feature with Griffin's earlier MURDER U and FRANKENSTEIN'S WAX MUSEUM. See it!
Future Justice (2014)
Entertaining Post-Apoc Sci-Fi Action!
With zombies being so big in pop-culture these days it's not much of a surprise that most people think of the creatures when it comes to media focusing on the apocalypse and its aftermath. Coupled with the fact that horror always seems to be the go-to thing for most indie genre filmmakers, it's really nice to see director Richard Griffin make an 80s inspired (of the likes of action classics like the MAD MAX films and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) post-apocalyptic sci-fi action film in 2014. While FUTURE JUSTICE owes elements to the movie ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, it's actually closer in structure to John Carpenter's earlier film ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. So in that sense, FUTURE JUSTICE plays very much in the vein of classic siege and survival movies. The film even has a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD vibe to it too as it has the subterranean shelter element with a group of protagonists that have to deal with conflict amongst themselves along with a larger threat. Aesthetically though, the movie owes less to some of the larger scale US and Australian post-apoc movies than it does to the relatively short-lived fad of Italian post-apoc movies that capitalized on those other movie's success. And in that regard, FUTURE JUSTICE has the feel of Enzo G. Castellari's BRONX films in terms of the abandoned city block exteriors and dusty, concrete interiors. Also when it comes to the movie's gangster antagonists, they have a very mishmash look to their weaponry and costuming not unlike the scavenging gangsters of a lot of the Italian films. Even looking at some of the military characters in FUTURE JUSTICE, they wear the black riot helmets that seemed mandatory for whatever evil Fascist troopers would be employed to take on the heroes in the Italian films. Also of note is the film's pounding, 1980s-esque, synthy music score by composer Daniel Hildreth. Definitely brings to mind 70s/80s John Carpenter music predominately, but is also reminiscent of some Italian composers of the likes of Claudio Simonetti. The music definitely fits the film well and aids in giving it the really cool retro vibe that it has.
As a film, FUTURE JUSTICE gets quite a bit of mileage out of its low-budget. The film doesn't utilize a whole bunch of different physical locations, but has much more scope than what the meager budget might lead many to believe it has. One of the best assets of the film are the visual effects. The filmmakers employ a good mix of practical and CGI effects, and the CGI never feels overbearing or excessive like a lot bigger budget Hollywood productions. While it's difficult to explain exactly why, an obviously CGI spaceship featured early on actually brought on more of a miniature (original STAR WARS trilogy, first two ALIEN films in particular) vibe. In any case, that type of tasteful and limited use of CGI is what sets the film's look apart from a lot of the manufactured looking Hollywood films that employ dozens of VFX artists. Along with the well utilized practical effects (Griffin and his crew clearly have this down after making so many horror films on the cheap), FUTURE JUSTICE has a rawness to it that makes it suspenseful and exciting. The only real nit-pick to make would be some of the CGI blood spatter that shows up (albeit briefly) as it has an empty feel to it.
As far as the performances go, there are definitely actors and characters that stand out the most. Steven O'Broin as the villain Gazeebo is probably the most memorable and well acted role. He comes off as tough and brutal throughout (even to the point of being armed with a crossbow that shoots exploding arrows) while the pairing of a villain named Gazeebo facing off against a hero bearing the ridiculous (but insanely badass) name of Python Diamond is a funny touch. Diamond (Nathaniel Sylva) isn't quite as imposing or memorable, but he makes for an interesting lead nonetheless (especially with the whole "terrorist or freedom fighter?" back story he's given). Another standout is Aaron Andrade as Uxbridge-- a character that's such an over-the-top asshole he's just incredibly fun to watch. There are some good supporting roles as well with Pat Hawkridge playing sort of a motherly character to Gazeebo and his two grizzled henchmen Rag and Tag (kind of like post-apocalyptic versions of Coffer and TC from THE WILD BUNCH). A lot of these supporting roles are very comedic and Michael Thurber is hilarious playing a tuxedo clad caricature of pretentious, full-of-themselves thespians. If I had to pick a character I didn't really enjoy it'd have to be Meg (Casey Wright) as her dialog just got a little too weird and on the annoying side of things after a while. It's mostly a minor detraction though in what is a pretty good ensemble cast/group of characters.
FUTURE JUSTICE is a highly entertaining flick with a good amount of action scenes. While it might be missing a real signature shootout of Peckinpah or Castellari quality, it's peppered with plenty of exciting skirmishes and fights throughout its running time. It's a well paced film and one that certainly seems like it would have a great deal of re-watch value. If you like old-school action flicks (particularly of the 80s sci-fi variety), you will no doubt enjoy FUTURE JUSTICE!