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Lasso (2018)
9/10
Fun take on the generic slasher
15 November 2018
This movie is for fans of the slasher genre. If you aren't one of those to begin with, then you might not care for it. But if you are a fan of the genre, then LASSO delivers the goods in terms of suspense and plentiful well-executed gore scenes. It also messes with some of the formulas in a fun way. Rather than hapless oversexed teens being dispatched by the bloodthirsty cowboys, we have a tour bus full of old folks. There's something extra fun about seeing old people fight back. There were a couple of scenes where I found myself clapping in my chair. This isn't CITIZEN KANE, but as far as modern slasher films go, it gets very high marks from this fan. A solid 9 out of 10.
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Livescream (2018)
9/10
Unique viewing experience
30 May 2018
I had the opportunity to screen Michelle Iannantuono's feature film debut LIVESCREAM at the Crimson Screen Film Festival and was blown away. It's an interesting concept for a film, taking the "found footage" concept into a new dimension of "real time events" unfolding as a livestream of videogame play. Gunnar Willis shines as the gamer who is forced to play a haunted game that kills off players and viewers. For this role, he learned 75 pages of dialogue and delivered the entirety as a monologue which was done in 3 takes. The most unique aspect of the experience is that as a viewer you are constantly scanning back and forth between the gameplay window, the videochat window, and the text window. It's pretty groundbreaking that there are VERY emotional moments in the film that are the result of simple text being typed into a chat window. Audience members at the screening were tearing up over one particular scene where a photograph puts a face to one of the faceless texters. It's WEIRD how much power a simple photograph of a person holds in the context of the film. I'm not a gamer and I was moved by LIVESCREAM. I suspect hardcore gamers that "get" all the references that were lost on me will enjoy this movie on an entirely different level.
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Blonde Death (1984 Video)
10/10
Amazing, overlooked low-budget classic.
16 March 2018
Blonde Death is a minor masterpiece. James Robert Baker's dialogue style is like Faulkner writing for a John Waters film. This is a very entertaining character study, and if it were a bigger budget production, shot on film, it would be considered one of the great indie films of the 80s. The Angry Samoans soundtrack is also fantastic and fitting. More people should see this.
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Spent (2017)
8/10
Independence Day
13 November 2017
I had an opportunity to see Spent at a festival screening and found myself laughing out loud through much of the film. The story concerns the wife and son of a miserly old man who is dying from a brain tumor. The two have been planning ways to spend the old man's money after his death, only to find that their "Independence Day" is actually a "Fourth of July Miracle," when the old man's tumor goes into remission. Unable to cope with the return of this unwanted family member and his miserly hoarding of the family's finances, the two, along with their gold-digging love interests, all individually plan his demise with a lethal dose of rat poison. There are a few unexpected twists and lots of downright funny dialogue. The dialogue is the best part of the entire film by first-time director Lisa Mikitarian and I look forward to seeing what she is capable of for future films. The cinematography and production values far exceed the film's meager budget. If I had to offer any criticism, it would be that the pacing could have been tightened just a bit, but that's a minor quibble. If you get the opportunity to catch this, do yourself a favor.
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8/10
What if they made an 80s slasher in the 1920s?
29 June 2017
Austrailian director Zeda Müller gets one of the cardinal rules of rising above the no-budget indiefilm muck: if you're going to do something on the cheap, you need to make it memorable and you need to have an angle.

13 Dolls in Darkness stands alone in the world of horror films because of its unique take on the genre tropes of 70s giallos and 80s slashers. It is shot in the style of German expressionist silent film, complete with title cards in lieu of recorded dialogue.

The film will be challenging to some viewers in the same way that watching (real) old silent films can be challenging: the contrasty, flickering images can be a bit washed out (in this case, intentionally), and the lack of dialogue and diegetic sound make it difficult to follow unless you are paying close attention -- in other words, you can't put this thing on as background noise -- it demands attention. In the case of this film, I'd say the attention is warranted. The camera angles and composition are compelling and the story, while intentionally trope-heavy, is interesting if you are a giallo fan.

It's pretty fun to see these tropes and actual gore played out as if it were shot in the early 20th century. The only differences between this film and a 20s era film are the use of some pre-recorded sound effects (church bells, trains, door creaks, etc -- not unlike what you may have heard in an old radio show from that era), and much of the music has a more modern "sound-design" feel -- more typical of modern horror than anything from the silent film era. That might be one of my few criticisms of this film: I found myself wishing for a melodramatic piano score, more in line with what you would associate with silent film. Additionally, I would have liked to have seen this done in period costumes as opposed to some of the more modern costume choices, but I'm assuming Müller was being intentionally anachronistic.

Müller is a new filmmaker and certainly one to watch. I'd love to see what she could do with a real budget. 13 Dolls in Darkness is worth your time if you are a fan of giallos and slashers, but have no interest in watching your one-millionth no-budget Friday the 13th clone. This film is truly something unique and, while possibly challenging for some viewers, is a perfect example of how clever ideas always trump inflated budgets.
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