Comedy

Nightstream Capsule Review: Dinner in America

Another smash hit from Nightstream Fest from writer and director Adam Rehmeier (Jonas, The Bunny Game) is Dinner in America. Readers who have followed my reviews might be surprised to see this film on my website as it’s definitely not a horror film. The fact I saw it and felt compelled to write this review should be an indicator of how much I adored it. Dinner in America follows a punk-rocker who unwittingly seeks the help of a young woman, who is obsessed with his band, for help in hiding from the cops.

The entire film is quirky, raunchy, and delightful. Both of the leads, Kyle Gallner (The Haunting in Connecticut, Jennifer’s Body) as Simon and Emily Skeggs (Mile 22, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) as Patty, deliver phenomenal performances and are a joy to watch. It’s impossible not to fall in love with both of them as they fall in love with an “us against the world” attitude. Some of the language may be off-putting to some viewers as there are racial, homophobic, and other slurs used, but for the most part they are said by characters the audience is meant to hate and this only strengthens that hatred. In the beginning of Dinner in America, Gallner’s character uses some of this language as well, but it becomes clear Simon says it to get a rise out of people and distance himself from others. Once those walls are broken down, his language changes.

Since this is a punk rock film, it’s only natural that it would have appropriate visuals and music. The Midwestern, suburban backdrop where it’s almost impossible to tell if it’s 1990 or 2020 emphasizes the fact that Simon and Patty are outsiders in this place. Everyone else is pristine in clean-cut outfits, track suits, and pastels, but the lovers are dressed in uncoordinated and grittier clothes. Then there is the music. Let’s just say, the music is so great that I immediately went online after watching the film to see if I could buy it anywhere (I couldn’t find it yet, in case you were wondering). Between the performances, the plot, and the music, I couldn’t stop smiling during this fantastic film. Dinner in America is charming, hilarious, and the perfect love story for outcasts everywhere.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Fantasia Review: The Columnist

After a columnist’s article goes viral, she gets a great book deal. The downside is, now she has trolls constantly harassing and threatening her on social media. The columnist decides to take matters into her own hands and exacts revenge on those trolls.

Hailing all the way from the Netherlands, Fantasia International Film Festival brings the darkly comedic horror film, The Columnist. The film is directed by Ivo van Aart (Quantum Zeno, Zes Dates) and written by Daan Windhorst (Quantum Zeno, Zes Dates). Together, this duo deliver a black comedy that is both hilarious and humorous. As a writer, this is a story that really hits home. Femke Boot is a columnist who writes a controversial piece that sets some of the more conservative readers on the attack. Trolls hound her on social media by threatening her, calling her names, and so on. It’s unfortunately all too common for the anonymity of the internet to embolden people to say whatever they want without fear of repercussions. Yet Famke isn’t going to take this harassment anymore. She begins tracking down some of the more vicious trolls and getting her revenge.

The plot of The Columnist is very straight-foward, if not a bit too on-the-nose, but still brings the laughs. Femke gets up to some very bloody and violent antics tinged with dark humor. What makes her violent acts even more hilarious is that they seem to help her break any writers block she runs into while writing her new book. It’s very clear how the filmmakers feel about internet trolls. They address it in a comedic way, but it also doesn’t leave a lot of room for complexity within the plot. The only thing driving the story, aside from Famke trying to finish her book by killing trolls, is whether or not she will be caught. It leads to a rather predictable end, but the film is still a fun watch.

Each actor in The Columnist plays the role relatively straight, which makes their performances even funnier. The characters seem so normal on the surface, but their actions prove otherwise. Katja Herbers (Westworld, The Leftovers) stars as Famke Boot. Famke seems like the most normal, mild-mannered woman. Herbers does a great job of giving off that persona for the character, while also showing Famke becoming more unhinged the longer she scrolls through social media. It makes her murderous actions shocking, yet still plausible. Despite these violent methods, Herbers still shows Famke as a sympathetic character. Bram van der Kelen (Centraal, 4Jim) plays another writer, Steven Dood. At first Steven seems like he’s against Famke, but he eventually reveals he is simply playing a spooky persona to match his books. He’s an interesting character who is surprisingly sweet and van der Kelen’s performance adds a bit more commentary on the roles we play in the public eye. Herbers and van der Kelen are not only great together on screen, but they also perfectly show two opposing types of writers.

Despite the generally lighthearted tone of The Columnist, it still has a fair amount of gore. Each time Famke kills, the murder scenes become a bit more elaborate and violent. The best part is the “souvenir” she takes from each victim. The practical effects are disturbingly realistic. They are all the more disturbing because of the juxtaposition between the murders and the otherwise cheery Netherlands setting.

The Columnist is a delightful revenge fantasy for anyone who has dealt with internet trolls, despite it being a bit gauche. Windhorst and van Aart have a clear message they are sending to Fantasia International Film Festival audiences. There could have been a bit more subtlty, but the bloody dark comedy is still incredibly entertaining to watch. Both Herbers and van der Kelen deliver delightful performances. It’s an almost therapeutic watch that will hopefully make at least a few trolls think twice before posting hate on the internet.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Fantasia Review: Fried Barry

Barry is a piece of shit. He’s a drug addict, he’s violent, and he’s a horrible husband and father. After a bender, he’s abducted by aliens. They return his body back to Earth, but it’s being controlled by an alien who explores human life through human eyes.

When you think of strange films you might discover at Fantasia International Film Festival, Fried Barry perfectly fits the bill. While he has created dozens of short films, this is the feature film debut for South African writer and director Ryan Kruger. Inspired by his short film of the same name, Fried Barry is a strange sci-fi/horror/comedy mash-up. Kruger makes sure the audience immediately dislikes Barry, which makes his eventual abduction and probing (yes, I said probing) simultaneously disturbing and humorous. It’s when the alien goes back down to Earth using Barry’s body that things really get strange. The alien gets a front row seat to the underbelly of human civilization as Barry goes from one misadventure to the next, often resulting in violence, sex, and psychedelic drug-induced insanity.

Fried Barry is the kind of film that will likely be polarizing. Audiences will either love it or hate it. The one main plot is simply the alien navigating through South Africa and learning about humans. Yet again and again alien Barry finds himself in increasingly strange and dangerous predicaments. It results in multiple subplots that make the film, at times, seem like an anthology with Barry as the connecting thread. Many of these misadventures show the seedy underbelly of South Africa. Part of me wishes there had been a bit more to the plot, such as a clearer motivation for the alien controlling Barry or something else driving the film forward, but it is still a film that sticks with you.

While Fried Barry has a rather sizable cast, there is one performance that takes over the film. Gary Green (Escape Room, Three Suspects) plays the titular character, Barry. As Barry, Green does a great job of making the character unlikeable. It’s when Barry is controlled by the alien that Green’s performances truly shines. Green already kind of has an alien appearance to him. He’s quite gaunt and skeletal, has penetrating eyes, and has an intensity about him. Alien Barry doesn’t talk much, so Green has to rely on his physicality to convey what the character is thinking and feeling at any given moment. It’s really a phenomenal performance and a large part of why I enjoy the film.

From start to finish, this film assaults the senses. Fried Barry has a general griminess to it. Each scene feels dirty enough to make your skin crawl, which fits the overall tone of the plot. Yet this griminess is broken up by scenes of vibrant, hallucinatory colors and images to convey Barry’s more drug-fueled moments and the abduction itself. Then there is the musical score by Haezer (The Experimental Witch, Nobody Dies). Much like the visuals, the music is gritty and vibrantly synth in turn, fitting perfectly with each image on the screen.

Fried Berry takes audiences on a strange journey that will make you laugh while also making you feel like you need a shower. This film is an incredibly strong feature film debut from Kruger that truly shows his filmmaking prowess. Green’s portrayal of Berry definitely helps to make the film a standout at Fantasia International Film Festival. While it won’t appeal to every viewer, it is guaranteed to be a memorable viewing experience that makes audiences laugh and cringe in turn.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Scare Package

What’s better than seven tales of horror wrapped in one package? Seven meta tales of horror filled with laughs, gore, up-and-coming filmmakers, and familiar faces wrapped in one package. This and more awaits viewers in the new horror anthology, Scare Package.

Scare Package brings together a host of talented writers and directors. They all used their individual segments to hone in on various horror tropes and either subvert them or highlight those tropes. Viewers will no doubt watch the seven short films and see numerous nods to classic horror films, some more obvious than others. Sometimes the plots take a back seat to the visual aspects, but these aspects often tell a story of their own for the trained horror fan’s eye. Through all the meta filmmaking and Easter eggs, the filmmakers still manage to tell stories that are as funny as they are unique.

“Cold Open” hilariously honors the characters in horror films that are briefly seen and don’t get enough credit for setting up the film, while also honoring one of the most popular horror films of all time. “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium” is not only a place I wish I worked, but it’s also the overarching story that ties everything together as each segment is presented like a rental at Rad Chad’s. “One Time in the Woods” is probably the goriest segment that also throws as many horror subgenres at you as it can. “M.I.S.T.E.R.” is likely going to piss off a few male viewers, but I mean that in the best way possible because it perfectly plays with the idea of what makes a real man. “Girls’ Night Out of Body” can be found in the post modern feminist slasher revenge body horror section at Rad Chad’s, and that honestly sums it up perfectly. “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” plays into the classic horror trope of the masked killer that somehow always comes back, no matter how you kill him! “So Much to Do” exemplifies how important shows are to some people and the dangers of revealing spoilers. And finally, “Horror Hypothesis” takes everything you know about slashers and puts it to the test.

The performances in Scare Package are all fantastic, many of them being highly satirical and sure to make viewers laugh. Because many of the segments are meant to a mockery of horror tropes, some of the performances come across as intentionally cheesy. That might not appeal to all viewers, but definitely made me laugh. A clear standout performance from the beginning is Jeremy King (The Pale Door, Sinister Seduction) as none other than Rad Chad himself. King perfectly embodies all the good and bad aspects of hardcore horror lovers. His portrayal will make you love Chad as much as you also can’t help but roll your eyes at him. Another great performance comes from none other than Noah Segan (Knives Out, Mohawk) who stars as the husband in the segment he also co-wrote and directed, “M.I.S.T.E.R.” Segan does a fantastic job of acting as a typical nice guy with an underlying creepiness. Toni Trucks (Grimm, Franklin & Bash) stars in the “So Much To Do” segment as Franchesca. Trucks really shines in this role mostly because she kicks some serious ass. She has one of the most physical roles of all the segments, and she definitely delivers. Really all the performances are delightful and horror fans are sure to see more than a few familiar faces.

One thing I can promise viewers is that there is a lot of gore in Scare Package. The film relies on practical effects to create creative kills, gruesome monsters, and devious killers. There is definitely no shortage of blood, guts, and goo. While all of these segments utilize great practical effects, the most memorable in that regard is definitely “One Time in the Woods.” Not only does it have a high body count and unique kills, but it also has a fantastic melting character that looks absolutely amazing. If lots and lots of blood is more your speed, then “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” is definitely the segment for you. The effects have a little something for everything horror fan.

Scare Package hilariously highlights the good, the bad, and the ugly of horror films. It’s clear this anthology was put together by horror fans for horror fans. Each segment is a hilarious take on various horror tropes, but there are still delightfully unique stories to be seen. At times it might be a bit too meta and tongue-and-cheek for some viewers. I for one scared my pets multiple times by bursting into laughter. Scare Package showcases the beginnings of promising careers for these writer and directors. Fans will also be laughing along with the fresh new actors and cheering for the horror favorites that pop-up. It might be a bit goofy at times, gory horror anthology that viewers are sure to adore.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

A Really Nice Guy (Short)

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Sean believes he has seen the girl of his dreams – she just doesn’t know it yet. With the help of his friend, Milo, Sean makes a series of unfortunate attempts to connect with this dream girl. Yet from the dream girl’s perspective, Sean’s “romantic” gestures are anything but.

This unique film was co-written and directed by Christina Przada and Paul Hibbard. What makes A Really Nice Guy feel different is the fact that it feels like two completely different style films combined in one short. On the one hand the short is a goofy buddy comedy. It follows two men, one of whom happens to see the girl of his dreams while out and about. The friends hatch a plan to try to get the dream girl’s attention and ask her out on a date. Then there is an entirely different film from the dream girl’s perspective. A woman, weary from going on dates with losers and creeps, is just trying to go about her day. Then she notices two strange men following her.

There are multiple aspects of this short film that make it a compelling watch. The most obvious is the poignant plot. It not only shows the things women are forced to endure from men, but it also helps to convey to men how some of their “nice guy” behavior can be anything but nice to a woman. The difference between the two perspectives is shown through changes in acting style, tone, cinematography, etc. It begins by showing the man and woman both getting ready for the day in seemingly similar ways, but gradually the differences become much more apparent.

From the man’s perspective everything is just a bit goofier. The most obvious ways this is conveyed is the color palette and the performances. All of the colors are very bright and cheery. When it comes to the performances, they are slightly over-the-top, but it works with the formatting of the short. Clayton Bury (Safe and Happy, Confined) stars as the self-proclaimed “nice guy,” Sean. His best friend, Milo, is played by Pete Papavlasopoulos (The Blair Trump Project, Time of Death). Both men are equally misguided in their quest to get Sean’s dream girl and the performances from both Bury and Papavlasopoulos are ridiculous and goofy. Within the context of this film, this kind of performance works well to help tell the story of how the men are completely oblivious to how unsettling their behavior truly is. It also allows for some comedy to break up an otherwise very serious topic.

From the woman’s perspective, everything is different. The most immediate difference is in the look and feel of her perspective. Her point of view takes on a slightly more monochromatic look with a bit of a gritty edge to it. Carlie Lawrence (Supermen: World War) plays Courtney. What makes her performance especially interesting is how she conveys the things a woman will often go through in order to find the perfect man, only to grab the attention of the creeps, weirdos, stalkers, and men who claim to be “nice guys.” Lawrence also perfectly conveys how women have to always be alert when we are out just trying to go about our lives. This important part of daily life as a woman coupled with how Courtney’s POV is filmed allows for a lot of tension to be built. We as the viewer may know that she is not in any real danger, but it is easy to see why she would think she is.

A Really Nice Guy is a short film that manages to tell the same story from two completely opposing perspectives in very different styles. The way Przada and Hibbard blended the two together works very well to show the differences between how men and woman experience the dating scene. I believe this short also wisely uses humor to not only show those different points of view, but to also make the message being send more palatable. Guys don’t want to hear that their actions can be construed as creepy. Yet by adding some laughs into the mix, along with the more suspenseful aspects, the message becomes more palatable and less preachy. There are times when the humorous parts are a little too goofy, but overall the performances, style, and plot mesh together to create an enjoyable short film.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

Book of Monsters

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When Sophie was little she thought she saw her mom get killed by a monster. Now, on the eve of her 18th birthday, Sophie and her friends are throwing a party. Her mom’s old monster book resurfaces only to be used by a mystery woman to conjure up some terrifying monsters to wreak havoc on the party guests. It’s up to Sophie and her friends to stop the monsters before they are unleashed on the world.

This gory monster comedy feels like a love letter to horror films of the 80’s. Written by Paul Butler (Nothing Man, The Creature Below) and directed by Stewart Sparke (The Creature Below), Book of Monsters brings campy fun with what appear to be nods to The Evil Dead films while also delivering an interesting and unique plot. The cold open of this film introduces the audience to a young Sophie as her mom reads her a bedtime story from a rather odd book filled with drawings of strange monsters. Sophie then witnesses a monster kill her mother, but of course no one believes her. This quickly sets the tone for the film while also establishing the main character, Sophie. As a teen she is a bit of an outsider; she has a couple close friends, is shy and quiet, and it quickly becomes apparent that she is interested in girls. Her birthday party is the catalyst for the carnage which ensues on the unsuspecting guests.

On the surface Book of Monsters is simply a splatterfest where people are killed left and right and the monsters are a bit on the cheesy side. There are also some odd choices in terms of character development, such as a mean girl who is a bit over-the-top in her mean ways and Sophie quickly goes from meek to warrior woman at the drop of a hat. While some of these aspects can take away from the film, I believe they ultimately have a purpose. It all goes back to paying homage to horror films of the 80’s. The book filled with monsters and spells is reminiscent of The Evil Dead, the monsters themselves can be a throwback to many older films, the mean girl reminded me of Judy from Sleepaway Camp, and Sophie herself is like most virginal final girls of that time who fight for survival. Even the cast, who are all supposed to be teenagers, look like they are between the age of 25-30 just like in 80’s films. What makes Book of Monsters stand out from other films that honor the films of the past is the mythology it creates. Not only are the monsters unique, but the filmmakers gradually build on Sophie’s connection to them in an interesting way that moves the plot forward while also giving plenty of opportunity to create a sequel (or even a prequel) with this mythology.

The performances are a bit of a mixed bag, some being very good and others being over the top. That being said, I believe the range of performances as a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to stay in-keeping with the 80’s nostalgia. Lyndsey Craine (The Creature Below) stars as Sophie. While her character arc is a bit abrupt, Craine’s performance as Sophie stays true to the character. She starts out very shy and sweet, but when her friends are in danger she turns into a monster killer. Craine is also the most believable as a teenager. Two actors who are not believable as teenagers are Michaela Longden (The Creature Below, Audax) as Mona and Anna Dawson (1921, The Creature Below) as Arya. Mona is one of Sophie’s best friends and a bit of a rebel. What I enjoy most about Longden’s performance is her ability to play multiple characters and the way she injects humor into her performance. Arya is the bully of the film. She is so over the top in how terrible she is to Sophie, and others, that Dawson’s performance also comes across as out there. This seems intentional as many of the bullies of 80’s films act quite similarly to Arya. No matter where the performances fall on a scale of good to not so great, it is still easy to see that the actors had fun making this film.

Between the monsters and the gore, it is impossible to ignore the effects in Book of Monsters. Remembering that this film is meant to be like a campy 80’s horror flick, the practical effects definitely pay homage to that era. The filmmakers wisely avoided using CGI. The heavy use of blood and severed body parts is both disgusting and humorous at the same time. When it comes to the monsters themselves, there are some interesting choices made. A couple of the creature designs rely heavily on cloaks to mask much of the body, allowing the SFX team to focus more on the faces of the monsters and the weapons or body parts they use to kill the teens. It can be a bit unfortunate looking at the monsters and realizing the bodies are mostly ignored in the design process, but it still fits with the low-budget 80’s aesthetic. There is one creature the team clearly took more time and money to create, and the design is very unique. The only creature design I don’t like is for the “djinn.” Instead of having a true monster look, the djinn looks more like a ghost from a J-horror film. This could potentially be another nod or homage to that subgenre of horror film, but it seems out of place with the rest of the 80’s style.

Book of Monsters certainly delivers on the monsters and gore with a classic 80’s aesthetic, while also giving audiences a fun and compelling story. The plot feels reminiscent of other films while still including new elements. The actors may not all deliver the best performances, but there is obviously a lot of heart and fun that went into the film. Book of Monsters certainly isn’t a film for everyone, but if you appreciate classic 80’s horror films with campy practical effects then this is the film for you. It is definitely a love-letter to the misfits and monster lovers.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Dead Ant

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80’s metal band Sonic Grave is trying to make its big comeback. In a desperate attempt to write a brand new hit song, the band buys some special peyote called “the Sun” and heads out to Joshua Tree in hopes of getting inspired. There is just one catch to the drug: the band can do no harm to a living thing while on the Sun, otherwise there will be dire consequences. Of course, they do not heed the warning.

Writer and director Ron Carlson (All American Christmas Carol) shows he knows how to bring the rock and the laughs in Dead Ant. The film manages to successfully make fun of and pay homage to 80’s glam rock at the same time. These guys are washed up, but they can’t seem to accept it. They are so desperate to make a big comeback they resort to taking drugs in the middle of nowhere, hoping the psychedelic visions will lead to their next hit song. The band definitely fulfills the stereotype of a once famous glam rock band that is trying to relive the glory days; the outfits, the hair, the makeup, the drugs and alcohol use, the hook-ups. The addition of a horror element, in the form of ever-growing giant killer ants, adds to the humor of the film. There is a combination of mysticism with the “do no harm” condition of doing the special drug and creature feature as the band members are hunted down by giant ants. They start out on the small side, but as the film progresses the ants get bigger and bigger. Turning a creature that is generally looked at as small and harmless and turning it into a massive killing machine is a nice comedic touch.

A lot of what makes this film so enjoyable is the performances. Each actor gives a memorable performance in their own way and they all are able to make the audience laugh. One of my favorite performances comes from Jake Busey (The Frighteners, Starship Troopers) as the lead singer, Merrick. Merrick looks a lot like a Bret Michaels impersonator, and he is all about the rock and roll lifestyle. Busey truly commits to the role and ends up delivering some of the most hilarious lines. The band’s guitarist, Pager, is played by Rhys Coiro (Entourage, Straw Dogs). Pager is the most desperate to regain fame, and that leads to some very funny hijinks as music remains the focus even as the ants are on the attack. One of my favorite performances comes from Leisha Hailey (Fertile Ground, The L Word) as the band’s drummer, Stevie. She comes across as the most grounded and the most intelligent of the group. Stevie doesn’t take shit from anyone and Hailey brings some sass to the character. Honorable mention goes to Michael Horse (Twin Peaks), Danny Woodbury (Mirror Mirror), Sean Astin (The Goonies), and Tom Arnold (True Lies).

There are definitely some low-budget style effects in Dead Ant, but they don’t detract from the film at all. If anything they might add a bit of charm to the indie B-movie plot. The ants are all created with CGI. The filmmakers had an understandably low budget to create these big bugs, but the CGI looks no better or worse than many of the films shown on the Syfy Channel. The practical effects are slightly less successful. Although they are used sparingly, there is one effect in the climax of the film that is very cheesy looking. This may have been an intentional choice as the scene is also very comical, but it is hard not to cringe at it. When it comes to the band members, the costume design is spot on for what you would imagine a glam metal band would wear. Each actor also wears a wig to enhance the look of their characters. Although, the wig worn by Astin is absolutely atrocious and is very distracting every time he is on screen.

Dead Ant is a somewhat cheesy, but delightfully funny film that shows a has-been band pitted against giant killer ants. Carlson does a great job of showing his love for 80’s glam metal, while also making fun of the band members as they attempt to make their comeback. He is great at conveying that duality, the same way he is able to combine comedy and horror into one film. The performances are surprisingly entertaining and the big name actors who appear are even more surprising. The effects aren’t particularly amazing, but they are good enough to keep me entertained. Dead Ant is definitely campy and satirical, resulting in a fun popcorn flick that captures the spirit of 80’s horror/music in a modern day film.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Happy Death Day 2U

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Tree thought she had broken the loop that forced her to relive the same day (and her death) over and over again. She thought she had defeated her killer. Yet that brief happiness is interrupted when a series of events throw her into another time loop. This time it’s different. She will not only have to keep dying and reliving the same day, but now she will also have to make an impossible decision that could change the rest of her life.

Writer and director Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day, Paranormal Activity 3) is at it again with this sci-fi/horror/slasher/comedy mashup. This sequel picks up almost immediately where the first film left off. Poor Tree didn’t even get a full day to enjoy being out of her time loop. Not only does she get stuck in a time loop again, but she is accidentally thrown into an entirely different timeline. It’s up to Tree and her friends, none of whom remember her, to stop the loop. The more difficult decision is whether she will stay in this timeline or go back to her own.

The first film was more of a straightforward slasher-comedy, while this film incorporates even more genres. The most obvious and most important addition is the sci-fi element. In Happy Death Day the film focused on figuring out who the baby face killer was, but in Happy Death Day 2U the focus is on stopping the loop by more scientific means. While some fans of the first film may be disappointed by this change, I think it is brilliant. In a film franchise where the entire premise has to do with reliving the same day over and over, it is important to keep the story fresh so audiences don’t feel like they are watching the same film for the second time in a row. The shift to the sci-fi aspect allows the filmmakers to focus on a new set of characters and a new set of problems. Without giving too much away, this change allowed the film to have an emotional depth that wasn’t present in the first film. Not only do we get to know Tree and other vital characters on a deeper level, but we also watch as Tree is faced with an impossible decision. It tugs at the heartstrings, while still giving plenty of opportunity for humor in the form of Tree’s many deaths and horror in the form of the baby face killer (albeit less horror and baby face than we saw in the previous film).

As a result of the change in tone with the sequel, the performances in Happy Death Day 2U are also much more emotionally driven. Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day, Forever My Girl) is absolutely dazzling as Tree. What makes Rothe such a joy to watch is how well she balances humor with the more heartfelt moments. She is really hilarious, especially with her reaction to reliving the same day and her many deaths, but this film allows the audience to see a side of Tree we haven’t seen before. Tree is a character I would love to see more of, and Rothe is perfect in the role. Israel Broussard (Happy Death Day, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) is also enjoyable to watch as Carter. There is something about Broussard and his portrayal of Carter that is instantly endearing and lovable, and his chemistry with Rothe is fantastic. Honorable mention goes to two actors who bring a lot of comedic relief to the film and their roles: Phi Vu (Happy Death Day, Logan) as Ryan and Rachel Matthews (Happy Death Day) as Danielle.

This PG-13 franchise does a really good job of conveying gore without actually showing anything graphic. With each time Tree dies, the death happens just out of sight or the audience isn’t shown the exact moment of her death, but we see when she wakes up and restarts the day. For example, when Tree dies from electrocution, she wakes up when the day restarts to her hair standing up on end. In another scene Tree plummets to her death. We hear the splat and see others react to the carnage, but it happens just out of frame. This method allows Happy Death Day 2U to have a lot of death to appease older audiences while still keeping a low MPAA rating so more moviegoers can enjoy the film.

Happy Death Day 2U has all the fun of the first film while also incorporating new genres and more depth. Considering this is now one of two films that involves reliving the same day on repeat, the filmmakers manage to keep the plot fresh by adding new danger, new twists, and new drama. There will likely be some moviegoers who will not enjoy the subtle genre changes from the first film, but I for one think these changes are a brilliant way to breathe new life to the story. It makes me interested to see what could be done with a third film, and Rothe’s performance makes me want to see much more of Tree. This entertaining and emotionally driven genre-bending flick is one you can even watch with your non-horror loving friends and family.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

(I saw the first film, but didn’t ever review it. If I did I would have also given it an 8/10)

Camp Death III in 2D!

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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

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