Horror Comedy

Camp Death III in 2D!

camp

Camp Crystal Meph has developed a bit of a reputation. After a crazed woman going on a killing spree, then her murderous son returning to exact revenge, many have died on the property. When an overly-optimistic man decides to reopen the camp as a rehab center for mentally ill adults, it doesn’t take long for the body count to rise. Has the killer returned, or is there a copycat on the loose?

Camp Death III in 2D! is a horror comedy written and directed by Matt Frame (GGG: One Night Stab). It is an intentionally outlandish and campy spoof of Friday the 13th Part III in 3D. The film even begins in a similar fashion to the F13 films where the first few minutes recap the previous film, although in this case it is a film that doesn’t really exist. There are other similar plot points connecting Camp Death to the F13 films in fun and creative ways. That being said, this film is intentionally out there, campy with ridiculous effects and acting, and can be a bit abrasive at times. This is all on purpose. Some of the taglines for the film read “This movie is stupid,” “This movie is super stupid,” and “The most horrible movie ever made!” It clearly caters to a specific group of horror fans that not only enjoy the F13 franchise, but also loves the ridiculous, low-budget B-movie style the film has.

While it’s not the most horrible movie I’ve ever seen, despite what the taglines suggest, it definitely isn’t my cup of tea. I appreciated the nods it gave not only to F13, but other popular films as well. There is one scene specifically that I got a kick out of that is a hilarious nod to the Star Wars films. There is also a bit with a squirrel utilized in a few scenes throughout the film that I found very entertaining, and part of that is because of how ridiculous and low-budget it looks. There were times the jokes leaned a bit towards the offensive side. The laughs are centered around gross-out humor, sexual humor, and jokes that are aimed at the mentally ill campers. There are definitely people who will find these jokes funny, but it is not the kind of humor that I am entertained by.

This is the kind of film that is incredibly hard to accurately critique various elements. Acting is one of those elements. The performances in Camp Death III in 2D! are intentionally over the top, ludicrous, and just plain bad. If you take into consideration the fact that bad acting was the goal of the film, then in that respect the entire cast actually did a fantastic job. There is a lot of humorous overacting and some that is less humorous, but just as overacted. This also makes it more difficult for me to pinpoint any single performance because of how “bad” everyone was (even though that was the point). Instead I will throw nods to some of the performances I enjoyed watching even with the insanity. I will send shout outs to Dave Peniuk (The Coroner: I Speak For the Dead), Angela Galanopoulos (Michelle’s), and Katherine Alpen (Cubicle the Musical) for all being ridiculous yet still fun to watch.

As with the acting, the effects from Camp Death III in 2D! are incredibly hard to critique. The bizarre mash-up of CGI, practical effects, puppetry, green screen, close-up fisheye camera work, and interesting color choices will definitely grab your attention. The problem is that it might not grab your attention in a good way. Most of the effects are rather cringe-worthy in how poorly done they are, but as I’ve said multiple times in this review that low-budget look is intentional. Each of these different effects and tricks used have different levels of success. The scene I mentioned previously that relates to Star Wars is surprisingly well done. Most of the puppetry is also good for a laugh. This includes the scenes with the squirrel, which may have once just been a stuffed animal. Much of the CGI is hard to look at and even many of the practical effects are laughable, which is most likely on purpose.

There is definitely a subset of horror film fans who will get a lot of enjoyment out of Camp Death III in 2D! I simply was not one of those horror fans. The filmmakers are very successful in the sense that they created the outlandishly insane and cheesy film they set out to make. It ticks all the boxes for a low-budget B horror film, especially ones from the 80’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if this film eventually gained a cult following in the way that films like Troll 2 did over the years. Will I watch it again? Probably not, but it was definitely a memorable hour and 20 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 2/10

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Mandao of the Dead

mandao

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

Slay Belles

slay belles

On Christmas Eve three friends decide to explore an abandoned holiday theme park for their online adventure show. Their fun is interrupted by a large, murderous, hairy beast known as Krampus. As the three women try to hide, they come across a man who claims to be the real Santa Claus. It’s up to these friends, Santa Claus, and a park ranger to defeat Krampus to save Christmas and the world.

Slay Belles is by co-writers Jessica Luhrssen and SpookyDan Walker, with Walker also directing the film. Both have worked on films in the past in other capacities, but this is the first feature film either has headed. The duo worked to create a campy, fun, low-budget holiday horror comedy mash-up. This film will likely appeal to many horror fans and individuals who frequent conventions. Two of the three leads are women who dress up in cosplay and go on adventures for their website and fans. This is what leads them to the abandoned holiday theme park on Christmas Eve. The characters feel like real people because they fit in so well with geek culture.

Another interesting and fun aspect of the plot is the new Christmas mythology it creates. Everyone knows Santa Claus, and by now, most people (or at least most horror fans), know Krampus as well. Slay Belles gives audiences a new image of what Santa is up to in this day and age. It paints a unique picture of Santa not as the holly jolly fat old man we know and love, but instead he is a bit of an eccentric hermit who looks like he could be part of a biker gang. It gives audiences something they haven’t seen before. The updated mythology for both Santa and Krampus lead to some hilarious and bloody shenanigans. There are even a few unexpected twists sprinkled throughout.

The film has an array of performances ranging from hilarious to not so great. Luckily, the three leading ladies of Slay Belles all gives highly entertaining performances.  Kristina Klebe (Tales of Halloween) stars as Alexi. She’s the hardworking, more practical friend in the group and the only one not technically part of the “Adventure Girls.” Despite the relative cheesiness of the film, Klebe delivers a solid performance. Susan Slaughter (Ouija House), a well-known paranormal investigator, plays the sassy Dahlia. Slaughter is part of the horror culture so her portrayal of Dahlia feels very authentic. Hannah Wagner (The Devil’s Carnival) plays Sadie, who is a bit ditzy and very spunky. The fact that Wagner has experience as a YouTube personality likely helped her to play Sadie in an entertaining yet realistic way. The trio not only act well individually, but their dynamics work great together as well. Of course, what would a Christmas horror film be without Santa Clause? I want to give a very special shoutout to Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror Picture Show) for giving audiences one of the most unique portrayals of Santa I’ve ever seen.

A holiday B-horror film would be nothing without some memorable effects. For the most part, the film utilizes practical effects to create Krampus (as well as some delightful blood and gore). The Krampus makeup does a great job of creating the more classic look. He’s a hairy, horned, cloven-foot beast that wants to attack all the naughty children of the world. The overall look of Krampus is very well done, although there are a couple spots where it is obviously a hairless human arm that is simply painted. The most shocking aspect of the Krampus makeup design is the giant realistic penis. I had to rewind to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. While this practical effect would be over the top in other films, it fits in well with the overall theme of Slay Belles. One artistic aspect that detracts a bit from the film is that some of the climactic night scenes are too dark. It is one of the most exciting parts of the film, but it’s very difficult to see what’s going on.

Slay Belles isn’t the best holiday horror film, but it is still a riotous good time. The film boasts one of the more fun and original Santa and Krampus mythologies I’ve seen. All three leading ladies (and Bostwick) deliver strong performances, but there are other smaller characters who aren’t quite as good. The blood, guts, and Krampus practical effects bring thrills and laughs, although at times these effects also highlight the film’s small budget. Those looking for a more “refined” holiday horror film will likely want to steer clear of this film, but fans who enjoy campy B-horror movies will be delighted by Slay Belles.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Secret Santa

secret santa

A large family comes together for Christmas. Like many other families, this one is broken and estranged and dysfunctional. As they all come together around the table for Christmas dinner the fighting begins. But these aren’t your ordinary family arguments. The fights turn violent and this average holiday get-together becomes a bloody, chaotic massacre.

Everyone believes they have a weird family. Some family members you love and others you can’t stand. Writer/director Adam Marcus (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Texas Chainsaw 3D) and co-writer Debra Sullivan (Conspiracy, Texas Chainsaw 3D) take something we are all familiar with and amplify it. This family has deep seeded issues due to divorce, remarriage, success, failure, and of course a large dose of sibling rivalry. When something happens that turns the family members into crazed, bloodthirsty killers the excitement really kicks in. The dynamics between various family members are some of the highlights of the film because many audience members will see themselves and their families in the film. The hilarious dialogue helps to highlight those strained relationships and it even carries into some of the kill scenes. As truths are revealed and the non-crazy family members try to fight for their lives, things get very thrilling and hilarious.

There are a few breakout performances in this film that will stick with you long after the credits roll. A early standout is Nathan Hedrick (Art of War, Seven Deadly Sins) as Jackson, the outspoken horndog half brother. Hedrick’s performance is totally over the top, but it works for his character. He’s loud, he’s crazy, and when he becomes violent he has some hilarious scenes. A Leslie Kies (The Newsroom, Jane the Virgin) shines as April. April is the perfect child among all the siblings. On the surface she seems too perfect, but as the film progresses Kies shows April’s hidden flaws and secrets in a compelling way. The true star of this film, in my opinion, is Ryan Leigh Seaton (NerdGirls, Dogs & Me) as Penny. Penny is the black sheep of the family and Seaton plays her as the sarcastic sibling who hates everyone incredibly well. Seaton also has some of the most hilarious lines and her delivery will leave you in stitches. While the entire cast is really fun to watch, Seaton is likely the one who will be remembered the most.

It’s safe to say that there is a lot of blood in this film. Fans of gore will not be disappointed. On top of that, there are some really unique kills. The film even opens with a fight from the point of view of a snow globe, which ends up being used as a weapon. This allows the filmmakers to show some very creative effects. All the attacks, from severed heads to cut Achilles tendons, are grotesque and thrilling.  Not only are these kills creative and even funny at times, but the practical effects look amazing as well. There is a level of campiness with the amount of blood and gore, but it fits in very well with the tone of the film.

Secret Santa is the holiday horror film to watch when you want to see a family that is more dysfunctional than your own. It is equal parts carnage and laughs, with outrageous characters that have you laughing and screaming from start to finish. This is the kind of film that you go into knowing it is meant to be humorous, gory, and campy. Slasher horror comedies with this kind of humor and gore can be an acquired taste, but they can also be some of the most fun experiences you’ll have in watching a film. This film will clearly become a holiday staple for horror fans.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Lowlife

lowlife

El Munstro is the latest in a long and proud line of famed luchadors. While El Munstro had always been a symbol of hope for the Mexican people, this El Munstro works for his thug father-in-law named Teddy who meddles in underage prostitution and organ harvesting. Crystal is a recovering addict. She struggles with running her motel while also trying to keep her alcoholic husband alive, with Teddy’s help. Keith is Teddy’s accountant who picks up his best friend, Randy, from jail. Except Randy walks out of the prison doors with a giant swastika covering his face. These people don’t have much in common, but their worlds are about to collide.

This is director Ryan Prows’ first feature film, which he cowrote. The film was also written by Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, and Maxwell Michael Towson (Towson being the only one to have written a feature length film before). Lowlife is broken into different sections, allowing you to get to know each of the main characters. The segments are titles “Monsters,” “Fiends,” and “Thugs.” People will immediately be reminded of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, mostly due to the way the film is broken into separate subplots that all intertwine. While that connection is justifiable, Lowlife seems to take that concept and perfect it. The individual stories for each character feel complete, and with each segment more and more is revealed. The filmmakers designed it so the audience can understand more about what is happening with each segment, while also showing what is happening from different points of view. When the different subplots finally come together, it makes the climax of the film all the more intense and enthralling.

What pushes this film beyond being a typical suspenseful (sometimes comedic) drama with a bunch of unsavory characters is how much heart this film has. For the most part, all of the characters are truly horrible people. Yet, somehow, the filmmakers still make you care about what happens to them. The character arcs also show some interesting changes and growth from beginning to end that isn’t normally seen from these types of characters. There are also so many layers, not only to the plot but also to each character, that show no one is perfect. Each individual just tries to live their life the best they know how to.

The multidimensional characters would not have been as fascinating without the work of some fantastic actors. Ricardo Adam Zarate (Deadly Films) makes his feature film debut as El Munstro. This character speaks entirely in Spanish and is never seen without his luchador mask on. Zarate perfectly portrays how El Munstro straddles the line of being the noble fighter he believes he is, and the somewhat unstable madman he truly is. The way Zarate is able to emote through the luchador mask is also outstanding. Nicki Micheaux (The Shield, Animal Kingdom) shines as motel owner Crystal. Micheaux’s performance stands out because she brings the most heart and emotion of all the characters. It is impossible to watch her performance and not feel a strong sense of empathy for Crystal. Jon Oswald (Mata Hari, Boomerang Kids) plays the now ex-convict Randy. As soon as Randy appears on the screen with a swastika on his face, audiences will expect to hate him. Surprisingly, the writing combined with Oswald’s performance make Randy the most enjoyable character. He is funny without trying to be, and he is probably the only one of the characters who could be considered a wholly good person, despite what his appearance would suggest. Finally, there is the character Teddy, played by Mark Burnham (Wrong Cops, Hidden in the Woods). Burnham’s look in the film at first seems over-the-top, but his performance of the despicable and soulless Teddy brings all the flash and color back to earth. All of these actors, as well as one not mentioned here, will make you remember this film.

This is not a horror film, yet I am still writing this review for it. It may defy being placed in any one genre, but I would say it is mostly a thrilling crime drama with comedic elements. After watching this film at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, it was clear to me that I couldn’t see it without spreading the word about it. Lowlife gives a riveting snapshot into a world filled with criminals, yet it chooses to focus on the good within that deranged world. It weaves through multiple different plot lines, then sews them together seamlessly by the end of the film. The entire cast is outstanding, the writing is phenomenal, and it is incredibly well directed. If the fact that I wrote a review for this film on my horror site doesn’t make it explicit enough, let me make it more clear: go see this film.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Rock Steady Row

rocksteady

In the not so distant future, college campuses become survival of the fittest. Two warring fraternities have taken over Rock Steady University campus leaving the rest of the student body to fend for themselves. On his first day of college, Leroy’s bike is stolen by one of the fraternities. Leroy attempts to get his bike back leading to fights, conspiracies, and a very strange freshman year.

This film is very difficult to fit into a specific genre. There are both dramatic and comedic elements, and at times there is action. An argument could be made that it is post-apocalyptic, and the film even feels like watching a video game in certain scenes. The film is definitely a hodge-podge of many different genres all rolled into one, and that is part of its charm. This is the first feature film directed by Trevor Stevens and written by Bomani Story. The pair took a simple concept, a freshman’s bike being stolen on campus, and turned it into an epic tale. While the universe created in the film is an extreme caricature of the real world, it is still something relatable and accessible to any viewer who spent time going to college. The plot simultaneously makes fun of fraternities, points out the capitalist habits of many universities, and shows that it often takes more than just intelligence to get a higher education.

The cast features many caricatures of people you likely encountered in college. Heston Horwin (Run, Speechless) plays freshman Leroy. In a way he is a typical college freshman, completely self absorbed and only concerned with himself and his bike. As his arc progresses, Horwin brings more heart to the character. Leroy goes through some fairly elaborate schemes to get his bike back, and watching Horwin portray this character through all his trials and tribulations is quite entertaining. Two of the most fun characters to watch throughout the film are the two fraternity leaders, Andrew Palmer and Augustus Washington III. Andrew is played by Logan Huffman (Final Girl, Lymelife). Huffman plays the caricature of the ultimate bro frat boy who thinks he can get whatever, and whoever he wants.  He is everything a person could hate in a frat boy, and Huffman plays Andrew so well he will make you laugh while your skin is crawling. Augustus is played by Isaac Alisma (Ready Set Blahe, The Arabian Warrior). Augustus is a different type of frat boy. He is the leader of the intelligent, borderline geeky, but still hip and cool frat. Alisma does a great job of making it unclear who Augustus is loyal too, although it is no secret that his own fraternity is always number one. Diamond White (Boo! A Madea Halloween, F*&% the Prom) plays Piper. We all know that person on college campus who is the perpetual activist, trying to expose the truth and make the campus a better place. Piper is that person in Rock Steady Row. White portrays Piper in a way that makes her straddle the edge of being too perfect, but she is still the most grounded and heart-filled character of the bunch. All of these actors and characters work well together on camera, making for scenes that run the gambit of emotions for the audience.

Of all the films I saw at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, this was probably the one with the most unique visuals. The film start with a fun animated back story, allowing the audience to get to know this somewhat futuristic world they are about to witness. From there the film focuses on a lot of really fascinating uses of color and light. Most of the color pallet is desolate beiges, greys, and other muted colors. Only the frat brothers wear bright colors; red for Andrew and his frat brothers, blue for Augustus and his frat brothers. When Leroy is traveling back and forth, trying to find a way to get his beloved bike back, the “travel” is shown by backlighting Leroy on a sound stage so all you see is his silhouette and whatever color is being projected in the lights. These scenes are where audiences will really get a sense of the video game and comic book style of the film. The film is really stunning to watch and  feels somewhat reminiscent of films like Turbo Kid and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but with its own unique flare.

Rock Steady Row is a film that defies definition, as well as expectations. Its a genre bending tale that will surely become a cult classic, especially with the unique imagery and storytelling style. The fact that there are so many different genres thrown into this melting pot can be a bit overwhelming, especially since there are so many different styles going on throughout the film. This means the film won’t be for everyone, but it is hard to deny how much fun this film is. It is sure to win the hearts of many cinephiles because of its unique content and style.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Cynthia

cynthia

Robin and Michael are the perfect couple. The only problem is, they can’t seem to get pregnant. The couple resorts to fertility injections mailed in from over seas. After months of trying they finally get pregnant, but along with the baby there seems to be a large cyst. The baby is born healthy, and the doctor removes the cyst. Everything seems fine, but the cyst isn’t just a cyst, and it will do whatever it takes to get back to mommy.

This is a very unexpected film. This is the first film written by Robert Rhine (Road Lawyers and Other Briefs) in almost twenty years. His recent focus has been on his magazine, Girls and Corpses, and this film is a great way for him to make his return. His plot is equal parts ridiculous, hysterical, and gory. Rhine’s script is combined with the directing powers of Devon Downs (Anarchy Parlor) and Kenny Gage (Anarchy Parlor). Fertility issues are something that many women go through, so creating a fun horror film around it not only makes the film relatable, but it also makes it more fun. It is almost as if some of the pressure of trying to get pregnant is taken away by being able to laugh about it in this film. There is an extra layer of hilarity when it comes to seeing such a perfect couple unravel after they get the baby they have always wanted, and seeing how a mother will care for her child no matter what. The film is definitely filled with campiness and dark humor that won’t be for everyone, but horror fans that enjoy a healthy dose of comedy with their gore will likely love this flick.

Cynthia has a cast filled with horror royalty doing what they do best, as well as giving us a few surprises. The leading lady of this film is Scout Taylor-Compton (Halloween, Halloween II) as Robin. There isn’t anything Robin wouldn’t do to have the family she’s always wanted. Taylor-Compton perfectly shows the change in Robin when her family unit doesn’t turn out quite like she planned. Another standout performance of this star-studded film is Sig Haig (The Devil’s Rejects, Razor) as Detective Edwards. This was a very different role for Haig, since fans are used to seeing him as the bad guy, yet he plays a detective very well. Despite his good-guy performance being different than what fans are used to, he still manages to inject a little bit of the classic Haig we know and love. Other noteworthy performances come from Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects), Robert LaSardo (Anarchy Parlor), Kyle Jones (The Boonies), and Rebecca Marshall (Raze). Each and every one of these actors is guaranteed to make you laugh.

The best part of this film is Cynthia herself. The creature design is absolutely brilliant because the filmmakers managed to create something that is both disgusting and cute at the same time. They make you love Cynthia, despite her appearance and the horrific things she does. This design feels slightly reminiscent of the evil baby from Dead Alive, except it is somehow more grotesque and lovable. She was created entirely with practical effects and puppeteers, which makes her all the more endearing. The filmmakers wisely were slow to reveal Cynthia. It is just the right amount of delayed gratification for the audience, because when the full reveal finally happens we are already emotionally invested in this character. The audience becomes attached to her sweet little baby sounds and farts, bringing out our paternal instincts, before seeing how horrific looking she truly is. After seeing this film I can only imagine fans will want their own Cynthia to cuddle with at night.

Cynthia is a campy delight with the most hideously adorably creature ever made. It is really a perfect storm of different horror elements. The film has a fantastic cast, superb creature design, and it is hilarious. The only downside to the film is some of the medical scenes and terminology are off, but since the rest of the film involves a strange baby-creature these inaccuracies are easy to overlook. This film isn’t for everyone, and there are many who will not appreciate the camp or the gore. Still, the comedic approach to telling a story about a couple struggling with fertility will delight audiences everywhere. If this film is coming to a film festival near you, then be sure to check it out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10