Month: January 2019

The Golem

golem

A remote Jewish village is threatened by a plague and dangerous outsiders. While the men of the village believe prayer is the best course of action, one woman believes the village has to stand up for itself and fight. She performs a ritual to bring forth an ancient being that can protect those she loves. Yet this entity is something that cannot be controlled.

Brotherly directing duo Doron and Yoav Paz (Jerusalem) take the intriguing script by Ariel Cohen (Take Mama) and turn The Golem into a stunning film. The plot focuses on Hanna, a woman ahead of her time in this small Jewish village. She is a unique character because she is very independent and eager to learn more about her religion from books women are not allowed to read. As the film progresses it becomes clear she wants to read these texts as a way to grieve her deceased son. Her grief, independence, and unwillingness to have another child for fear of losing them drives her actions throughout the film. When the people she loves are threatened by outsiders bringing in the plague, she takes what she learns from those texts to bring forth an ancient entity known as a golem. These plot elements allow the filmmakers to create an external conflict (the outsiders and the plague) as well as an internal conflict (grief over the loss of a child).

From the moment Hanna creates the golem there is a sense of impending doom. The feeling of dread is carried out through to the end of the film. As a result, audiences know things are not going to end well, but it is the way events play out that keeps them interested in what happens next. There is an opening scene that sets the tone of the film, but there is one instance in this opening that doesn’t quite match the mythology established later in the film. It can lead to a bit of confusion regarding the rules surrounding the golem’s existence. The end of the film also leaves me with some unanswered questions, specifically about the fates of certain smaller characters, which are never resolved. These issues are subtle, making them easier to overlook, but I still believe they are worth pointing out.

As far as the performances go, the entire cast blew me away. Hani Furstenberg (The Loneliest Planet) is absolutely extraordinary as Hanna. There are many layers to Hanna that Furstenberg stunningly conveys. She shows the audience how Hanna finds strength in her grief in order to do the impossible, yet that grief may also be her downfall. Furstenberg commands your attention every time she is on screen. Another standout performance comes from Ishai Golan (Prisoners of War) as Benjamin, Hanna’s husband. Benjamin is very supportive of Hanna, despite what others think about her and their relationship. When things go from bad to worse in the village, Golan’s performance really shines and shows his character’s depth. The pair have great onscreen chemistry, and they are a joy to watch. I also want to give a special shoutout to Alex Tritenko (When the Dawn Comes) who plays the film’s villain in a way that makes you loathe him while also empathizing with his character.

Artistically, there are highs and lows throughout the film. The best bit of artistry in the film is the cinematography. Many shots are framed and lit in such a way that draws the audience’s eye and creates stunning imagery. Along with the cinematography, the set and costume design is fantastic. Not only do these elements add to the beauty of the film, but they also transport you back in time.

One of the less successful elements of The Golem is the special effects. The filmmakers implement practical effects which are enhanced by CGI. The problem arises in some of the bloodier scenes where the effects take on a Tarantino-esque level of blood spewing into the air. It looks quite out of place with the overall look of the rest of the film. Similarly, the score by Tal Yardeni (Noble Savage) doesn’t mesh well with the film’s somber look and feel. The score itself is very nice and is especially beautiful in the more melancholy scenes. Yet the score in the thrilling scenes stands out for all the wrong reasons. To my ears, the music in these scenes sounds more like what one would hear in a suspenseful action movie, not a gloomy horror film. Unfortunately, the music in these scenes takes me out of the moment because of how mismatched it sounds.

The Golem delivers a unique story rooted in Jewish tradition that is both beautiful and disturbing. The internal and external conflicts Hanna experiences provide a dynamic and intriguing plot for audiences. Furstenberg’s portrayal of Hanna drives the film while giving it a lot of heart, and the entire ensemble cast shines. The Golem is quite gorgeous to look at. Even the visual and musical elements that detract from the film are well done, they just don’t go along with the overall tone of the film. If you’re looking for a horror film that doesn’t center around Catholicism, demons, and the devil, then The Golem will be the breath of fresh air you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

 

Favorite Things: Birthday Movies Pt 3

Today is my birthday! To celebrate I wanted to create some fun movies lists for you all. I couldn’t decide what the basis for my list should be so I’m giving you not one, not two, but THREE movie lists! This list features my favorite films that came out the year I was born, 1988. There were a lot of great films that year so it was difficult to narrow down to just a few favorites.

Here are my top five favorite horror films that were released in 1988 (in no particular order):

1. KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE

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Killer Klowns from Outer Space isn’t just one of my favorite movies from 1988, but it’s also one of my favorite movies ever. It has a space ship that looks like a circus tent, cotton candy cocoons, living balloon animals, dangerous popcorn, and alien clowns who want to drink us dry. It’s really a recipe for an 80’s masterpiece. The film is definitely out there, but it’s campy and fun and the design for the clowns is amazing. There was so much clever thought put into all the clown details and how they could be made deadly that it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy this flick.

2. NIGHT OF THE DEMONS

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I only saw Night of the Demons for the first time a couple years ago, but it became an instant favorite. A group of kids go to an abandoned funeral home to party on Halloween night and accidentally unleash ancient demons that possess and kill the kids one by one. The practical effects are to die for, and the plot is surprisingly good for how campy the film is overall. There is one specific practical effect alone that makes the film worth watching (and if you’ve seen the film you know what I mean). This is a must-watch every October.

3. WAXWORK

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Of all the horror films on this list, Waxwork I have the oldest memory of. I remember finding it on TV one day when I was very young and instantly being mesmerized. The film brings a creative story in which a mysterious wax museum comes to town and when a group of kids explore it they find the exhibits come to life, sucking the kids into the scene. This film also has many recognizable faces from other horror films such as Zach Galligan (Gremlins), Deborah Foreman (April Fool’s Day), and David Warner (In the Mouth of Madness). This isn’t an 80’s film that gets much recognition, but it is one worth seeking out.

4. POLTERGEIST III

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Poltergeist III scarred me for life as a child. To this day I refuse to have mirrors anywhere in my house (except the bathrooms) and my dislike/fear of mirrors started with this film. Carol Anne moves in with her aunt and uncle into a fancy high-rise, only to have Kane try to come after her through mirrors and any other reflective surfaces from the other side. This is honestly the weakest film in the Poltergeist franchise, but it is the one that effected me the most as a child and remains a favorite of mine.

5. SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA

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A group of sorority girls and frat boys break into a bowling alley. They accidentally break open a trophy and unleash an imp set on mischief and carnage. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. I only saw this film for the first time last year (thanks to Joe Bob Briggs) and it is so bizarre and hilarious that I couldn’t help but fall in love. As shocking as it may sound, this is the most ridiculous and outlandish 1988 films on this list. If that doesn’t convince you to see Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, I don’t know what will.

Favorite Things: Birthday Movies Pt 2

Today is my birthday! To celebrate I wanted to create a fun movies list for you all. I couldn’t decide what the basis for my list should be so I’m giving you not one, not two, but THREE movie lists! This list features my favorite films released in the month of January (my birthday month). January is generally considered a “dump month,” which sucks for me, but I found a surprising number of awesome horror films that were released during this month.

Here are my top five favorite horror films that were released in the month of January (in no particular order):

1. TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT (1995)

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Demon Knight is an awesome Tales from the Crypt horror comedy starring Billy Zane (Titanic) and Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix Reloaded). Zane plays a demon trying to get a relic to end the world, and Pinkett Smith is one in a group of unfortunate souls trapped in an old church turned boarding house. This film has awesome creature design for some of the demons, and Zane shows yet again that he can play one hell of a bad guy. This is arguably my favorite film on this list.

2. CLOVERFIELD (2008)

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This is one of the better found footage style films. During a going away party New York is attacked by a giant monster and a small group of parygoers has to try to find their friend and escape the city before it’s completely destroyed. The film is really tense and I love that the filmmakers managed to take a Japanese-inspired giant monster movie and translate it into the not always love found footage format. Cloverfield has a killer creature design and keeps me at the edge of my seat from start to finish.

3. FORM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)

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Two bank robbers hijack a family in their RV to cross the Mexican border and meet a friend at a remote bar. Unfortunately for them, the bar is infested with vampires. The group has to band together to stay alive until the sun comes up. This was the first Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) film I had ever seen, and he quickly became a favorite director. This film has copious amounts of gore, amazing creature design and practical effects, plus several great actors. It’s hard not to love this movie as you’re watching the limbs fly and laughing at the dark humor.

4. PHANTOMS (1998)

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Phantoms has a really unique plot that still gives me chills to this day. Based on the novel by Dean Koontz, it follows a group of people as the enter a remote town where everyone has disappeared. From there it only gets more dark and twisted as an evil entity threatens them. Many of the cast members were just starting to become household names when the film came out, and their performances are stellar. The evil in this film is really anyone’s worst nightmare, and the film conveys that so well. No matter how many times I watch the film it still freaks me out.

5. DEEP RISING (1998)

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Imagine going up to a fancy cruise ship with the intention of robbing the place, only to find a giant sea creature has already taken over and eaten everyone on board. That is what you get when you watch Deep Rising. This is a criminally underrated film that is probably one of the best water monster movies to date. It has a great cast and does a good job of bringing some fantastic scares and gore. This is a monster you wouldn’t want to meet, but it’s definitely a movie you should see.

Honorable mention: The Relic, Split, House on Sorority Row, Tremors, My Bloody Valentine (2009).

Favorite Things: Birthday Movies Pt 1

Today is my birthday! To celebrate I wanted to create a fun movies list for you all. I couldn’t decide what the basis for my list should be so I’m giving you not one, not two, but THREE movie lists! First up is a list of horror films that take place on or around a character’s birthday.

Here are my top five favorite horror films that take place during a birthday (in no particular order):

1. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

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While a birthday is only really mentioned in passing, there was no way I could not include Friday the 13th on this list. The killings that take place at Camp Crystal Lake happen on what would have been Jason Voorhees’ birthday. This is a classic slasher flick that made way for numerous sequels. All the kills in this film are as awesome as in the subsequent films, yet this first installment stands apart for one specific reason (which I won’t mention even though by now you should know the spoilers). Friday the 13th is a film every horror fan needs to see.

2. MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010)

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This was Wes Craven’s penultimate film he directed and the last feature film he wrote. My Soul to Take revolves around a group of kids all born on the same day. The night they were born a serial killer with multiple personalities was killed, so the townsfolk believe one of his personalities went into each kid. It’s a really great concept, but for some reason the film was not liked by critics and moviegoers alike. I personally love this film. It’s a great story with a wonderful cast and an amazing performance from Max Thieriot (Bates Motel).

3. DEMONS 2 (1986)

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If you’ve seen Demons and thought that was crazy, just wait until you see Demons 2. This sequel takes the insanity and gore from the first film and injects it with steroids. There are crazed demons, a dog creature, and tons and tons of gore all inside a 10-story high-rise. It all starts with a teenage girl’s birthday where she ends up possessed, and the “plot” continues to go nuts from there. In terms of quality the first film is probably better, but Demons 2 is still gory and unintentionally funny. If you love campy films, you’ll love this one.

4. HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)

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This is a film that really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. The basic premise is a college student who gets repeatedly killed on her birthday, only to wake up and restart the same day. Happy Death Day is one of the most successful horror films that uses the gimmick made famous by Groundhog’s Day. It has a really great mystery, it’s fun, and it had me laughing the entire time. This is a film I definitely recommend, especially with the sequel coming out this year.

5. CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

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Child’s Play is a double-whammy because it takes place during a birthday AND it came out the year I was born. As I’m sure you all know, the film tells the tale of a serial killer who uses a spell to put his soul inside a Good Guy Doll in order to escape the police. Then a woman buys that possessed doll for her son’s birthday, which leads to murder and mayhem. Like Friday the 13th, this is another classic horror film that spawned several sequels. I personally love villains with a lot of personality, so Chucky is one of my favorite bad guys to watch.

Dry Blood

dry blood

Brian is an addict. After a particularly rough night, he decides it’s time to get clean. He travels to his remote mountain cabin in the hopes of detoxing himself in seclusion. Brian’s stay at the cabin forces him to face withdrawals, hallucinations, possible ghosts, and a bizarrely sinister cop. He has to discover what is real and what is fantasy, or else he might just lose his sanity.

Dry Blood is written by Clint Carney and directed by Kelton Jones. While the two have plenty of credits to their name, this is the first feature film in their respective roles as writer and director. The plot woven throughout the film is quite intricate. Every turn seems to add a new layer of mystery and intrigue, forcing the audience to follow different clues. The plot becomes more and more complicated, leading up to the shocking final act. For a first feature film, Jones and Carney deliver a compelling story that takes some brain power to figure out. There is a ton of potential here, but it there is a high likelihood it will leave audiences unclear about certain aspects. There are times when it is obvious that Brian is hallucinating, and other times where he could be seeing ghosts. By the end of the film there is one big reveal that allows the audience to have a sort of “aha” moment. It allows the audience to make certain deductions about what they have witnessed, but there are still too many unanswered questions because of how many layers there are to the mystery.

Brian’s reasoning for going to the cabin in the first place is clear enough, yet things get quite complicated for him almost immediately. It starts with an odd cop who either has sinister motives or is really obsessive about being Brian’s friend. This leads to some conversations that are simultaneously creepy and humorous. There is one schtick that happens in practically every conversation between these two that manages to make me laugh while also being somewhat uncomfortable to watch. Aside from these interactions, the film has a very dark tone in both content and style. The dramatic themes of addiction, mental illness, and death run rampant. It creates a very haunting tale as Brian’s hallucinations (or ghosts) become more prevalent, making his road to recovering more and more difficult.

Not only did Jones direct and Carney write Dry Blood, but they also starred in the film. Carney takes the leading role as Brian, this also being his first acting role in a feature film. For the most part Carney excels in his performance. There are a few more dramatic moments when Brian is particularly terrified and Carney’s portrayal turns a bit towards caricature. Jones also makes his feature film acting debut in this film as the cop. The cop is this ominous presence always looming over Brian, and Jones does a great job playing him. Between his odd behavior and the sometimes comical conversations, the cop is a character audiences will remember. Yet another feature film acting debut comes in the form of Jaymie Valentine as Brian’s friend, Anna. Anna comes to the cabin to try to help Brian get over his addiction. Unfortunately, I found Anna’s character and Valentine’s performance distracting. Valentine comes across as monotone and doesn’t really show any strong emotions, even when her character is in the face of danger. For some reason Anna’s character also wore a disastrous wig. While this is not the actor’s fault and it doesn’t have anything to do with her performance, the wig was so dreadful it took my attention away from the film itself.

Aside from the wig, the various visuals are actually the strongest aspect of the film. There are some fantastic practical effects that really bring terror to the audience. Most of these are used to create what could be hallucinations or they could be ghosts. These entities are created primarily with stunning practical effects, but they are enhanced with some exceptionally well done CGI work. The result is brutal, haunting, and stunning imagery. After finishing the film these effects are what is likely to stand out in your mind.

Jones and Carney create a complex, chilling tale with Dry Blood that shows the filmmakers’ potential, but it falls just short of being truly successful. The film has wonderful special effects, especially for a low-budget indie film, and weaves an interesting plot that will keep you guessing. Unfortunately, the film ends with too many unanswered questions, and the performances deliver a mixture of results from successful to monotone. If nothing else, I would recommend this film for the effects. Either way, the film displays Jones and Carney have the building blocks to create something special as filmmakers and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Lifechanger

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A shapeshifter has the ability to transform into another person, but only at the expense of that person’s life. After existing in different forms for decades, the bodies he takes over are decaying at a much more rapid rate. This shapeshifter’s time is running out. Yet he goes through body after body in an attempt to reconnect with the woman he loves.

Writer and director Justin McConnell (Broken Mile, Collapsed) brings audiences an interesting take on shapeshifters, love, and morality in Lifechanger. There have been films in the past about shapeshifters and things that need to take over the body/life of another human in order to survive. There are aspects of this plot that help to differentiate it from those other films. One way is that the plot is told from the point of view of the shapeshifter, giving us a more empathetic look into the mind and life of this being. The shapeshifter has to kill in order to live, and there is a moral question nagging at the audience as to whether or not he should continue living. Another way this film is different is that the shapeshifting itself isn’t the focus of the story. It does play a very important role, but the film is more about the shapeshifter’s loneliness and desire to be with the one he loves. This plays into the morality issue as well. Is what he does okay because he is doing it for love?

In the third act the film takes a bit of a turn. Without giving too many details, this act changes your perspective of the shapeshifter a bit and makes the audience realize his motives might not be quite what we are lead to believe. I have mixed feelings about how the final moments of this film plays out. Part of me loves it because the end left me with a feeling similar to how the end of The Mist left me. Whether you enjoyed the end of that film or not, you have to admit it packed quite a punch that stuck with you long after the film ended, and Lifechanger ends with a similar impact. It won’t appeal to all viewers, but it is at least thought-provoking. On the other hand, I found the last half of the film, including the final act, almost romanticizes stalking and abusive relationships. I don’t think this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers, but it stands out in my mind when I think about some of the shapeshifter’s actions throughout the film.

Considering how many different actors played the shapeshifter in Lifechanger, there are a number of great performances in this film. While each actor did a great job as the shapeshifter, the standout performances come from Rachel VanDuzer  in her first feature film and Jack Foley (Fugue). We spend the most time with the shapeshifter in these bodies, and both VanDuzer and Foley portray the character in a way that is a combination of cold, lonely, loving, and frightening. The character is able to take on the memories of its victims when he transforms so the portrayals are meant to be a mix of who the person was and who the shapeshifter is. My one qualm is that I wish there had been some personality trait or tick that made a more obvious connection between all the actors playing the shapeshifter. There is an internal voice the audience hears, the love he feels for a woman, and a marble we see him play with in a few scenes. While those help to connected the different actors, they feel external or separate. Another great performance comes from Lora Burke (Poor Agnes) as the love interest, Julia. Burke portrays Julia in a way that she comes across as broken yet extremely personable. She is someone who could become a best friend overnight. It makes it easy to see why the shapeshifter fell in love with her.

There are many interesting visuals throughout the film. The opening sequence has some gorgeous cinematography. There are many scenes shot beautifully, but the opening stands out the most. The filmmakers opted to use primarily practical effects. This works very well and gives the film a timeless look. The effects themselves are used to create the bodies of the shapeshifter’s victims. They go through a bizarre transformation that is somewhat grotesque, but it is also quite eye-catching. The cinematography and the effects work well together in a way that shows the filmmakers took care to make sure the film had quite a bit of visual interest. They also help set the bleak tone of the film.

Lifechanger is a film that holds nothing back as it takes the audience on an unexpected journey with a shapeshifter. The stunning cinematography and the practical effects help to build the dreary reality of a very unique character. Compelling performances from an array of actors allow the audience to understand the shapeshifter on a more human level with an equally compelling performance from Burke as the love interest. Lifechanger has a fascinating plot with a few rough patches, but the only aspect that truly bothers me is the way stalking is used in the film. An element of the unknown will leave some things unanswered in a way that works well. This is a thought-provoking film that is definitely worth checking out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Mandao of the Dead

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Jay lives a simple life, but that all changes in the days around Halloween when the veil between worlds is thinnest. A series of strange events leads him down an unbelievable road. Jay discovers he can astral project, and he inadvertently witnesses his nephew Jackson’s ex-girlfriend murder a man. Because of Jay’s newfound abilities, he is able to see and speak to the ghost of the murdered man. The clock is running out of time for Jay to save the man – and his own sanity.

The masterful Scott Dunn (Schlep) not only wrote the screenplay for Mandao of the Dead, but he also directed and starred in the film. At first glance, this film looks like any other low-budget indie horror movie that might have a few laughs, but is overall a crass and forgettable film. Yet Dunn’s film actually has an intricate and compelling plot, hilarious characters, and more than a few heart-felt moments. The film ends up being a strange mix of elements that end up working well together. It’s one-part supernatural horror, one-part vampire movie, one-part murder mystery, and one-part buddy comedy. Somehow, all of these elements work well together.

One of the aspects of the plot that works surprisingly well is the lack of explanations. We don’t know why Jay is suddenly able to astral project, except for a few hints here and there. It is suggested that Jackson’s ex-girlfriend is a vampire, but it’s a bit ambiguous as to whether she just think she’s a vampire or she actually is a vampire. It leaves the viewers as ignorant to the truth as the characters, which works well in this film. It also forces the audience to simply accept things as being the way they are. This is important in how the film tends to go through different dimensions and different timelines. If you simply accept these parts of the plot as being this way, without further question, it makes for a humorous adventure.

Each character – and the actors playing the characters – manage to make me laugh in this film. Dunn shines wearing one of his many hats as the star of the film, Jay. He is probably the most practical and pragmatic character, which leads to some humorous interactions when he discovers his new abilities. It is amazing to see Dunn perform so well in the role that he also wrote and directed. Sean McBride (Schlep) offers an interesting juxtaposition to Dunn’s performance as Jay’s adult nephew, Jackson. Jack is a loser who sleeps in a tent in Jay’s living room, and he is only Jay’s nephew in the loosest sense of the word. McBride gives a hilarious, dimwitted, yet likeable portrayal of this goofy character. These two actors play off each other in a way that makes the film even more entertaining. Other equally entertaining performances can be found in Gina Gomez (Schlep), David Gallegos (2-Headed Shark Attack), Marisa Hood (The Post Relationship), and Sean Liang (2Survive).

For the most part, the visual effects in Mandao of the Dead are reserved for the scenes when Jay is astral projecting. There are three methods used to create a distinct look: lighting, distorted sound, and the use of haze or smoke. When Jay is astral projecting the world loses a lot of its color, resulting in a grey, monotone look. The only time more vibrant colors are used in these scenes is through neon lighting – or when the point of view switches to the real world. Not only does this add a lot of visual interest to the film, but it also ensures the viewers can tell the difference between the real world and the dream-like world where ghosts and astral forms dwell.

Mandao of the Dead is a surprisingly well-made indie horror comedy that has heart and delivers plenty of laughs. Dunn proves with this film that he can excel at any role, whether it be director, writer, or actor. The intricate and humorous story he creates gives viewers something that will keep them entertained from start to finish. It has its cheesier and over-the-top moments, but they work quite well with the overall tone of the film. The performances, the plot, and the visuals all lend themselves to a fun flick. While you should catch this film as soon as you can, I would wager it will end up on many horror fans’ “31 Days of Horror” film lists this year.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10