Comedy

Cynthia

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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

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Dave Made a Maze

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Dave never finishes anything. He picks up hobby after hobby trying to create something, but he never finishes. One day he decides to build a cardboard labyrinth in his living room while his girlfriend is out of town. As he’s building, he accidentally traps himself inside. When his girlfriend gets home she gathers friends to go in and find Dave. What they don’t realize is that the labyrinth is much bigger on the inside, and the creatures and traps Dave built have taken on a life of their own.

Dave Made a Maze is the single most original film I have seen in years. Most people growing up built some kind of fort or maze out of whatever is in the house as a child. Most people also pretend that what is inside is real. The filmmakers create a cardboard world that is beautiful and nostalgic all at the same time. They quite literally bring to life a childhood that many people experienced. The maze Dave builds doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s just a bunch of cardboard boxes taped together in the middle of a living room. Yet the maze has a TARDIS-like quality (Doctor Who reference for those who don’t know) in that it becomes a full-size labyrinth once inside. To add to the sense of whimsy in this film even the booby traps and creatures that are made from paper and cardboard come to life including giant heads, origami cranes, and the legendary Minotaur.

In many ways the maze itself represents Dave’s lack of focus. It is just another unfinished project and the many traps within are the things that distract him from completing anything. There is even one scene where Dave and his girlfriend get stuck in what looks like their apartment in this odd continuous daily loop of monotony. While this scene is up for interpretation, I see this as yet another trap in Dave’s maze. This trap locks Dave back into the life he is currently living and never achieving greatness like he so desperately desires. This is why, even when his friends enter the maze and they are all being chased by the Minotaur, Dave insists that the only way to escape the maze is by completing it. Yet again, this is a representation of Dave being forced to break out of the cycle he has created for himself. This metaphor is something that many viewers can relate to and will empathize with.

The world created in this film manages to be both whimsical and somewhat terrifying all at once. The set design is breathtaking, each part of the maze being made almost entirely out of cardboard. What’s even more impressive is that each set was built and disassembled in one day and filming time only took 22 days. The amount of work and artistry the filmmakers put into these sets is truly amazing. Even the various traps are made out of cardboard and when someone meets their end in a trap instead of blood, red streamers pour out of their body. It makes the death scenes absolutely hilarious and allows the filmmakers to have a certain level of gore without any actual blood or guts. The creature design is also primarily cardboard and paper, which is beautiful when the creatures come to life. Unfortunately this is where I find one negative about the film. Dave made everything out of cardboard, and most of the creatures are cardboard, yet the Minotaur doesn’t quite follow that rule. His head is a gorgeous cardboard design, yet the head sits atop of big, buff, shirtless human body. If the Minotaur had been made fully in cardboard it would have been more effective and stayed within the continuity of the film.

This fantastical world would not be as compelling without the characters who venture through it. Nick Thune (Urge, Dreamland) plays the builder, Dave. His character has a very interesting story arc and Thune does an excellent job of portraying Dave as he goes on this unique adventure. Thune makes the audience initially think Dave is just kind of a loser, but as the story progresses he manages to change how Dave is perceived. Much of the supporting cast is excellent as well. Meera Rohit Kumbhani (The Engagement Clause, Weird Loners) is delightful as Dave’s girlfriend, Annie. She stands out because she is tolerant of her boyfriend and tries to support him in his endeavors, even when his actions seem a bit on the crazy side.  Adam Busch (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Colony) is also great as Dave’s best friend, Gordon. Much like Annie, Gordon tries to be supportive of Dave, but he is also great at making fun of Dave’s shortcomings in a friendly way. While watching the film you really get the feeling that these people are relatable friends reacting in honest ways, and that is all due to the acting.

Dave Made a Maze is a bizarrely perfect blend of horror and whimsy. It is almost as if we enter an alternate universe where Jim Henson makes horror films. The gorgeous sets and fantastical creatures create a beautiful new world. The fact that the filmmakers were able to achieve this in 22 days of filming is still baffling to me. My biggest complaint is simply the Minotaur. While the head is a gorgeous cardboard creation, it doesn’t make sense to me that it would have a normal human body. This film is truly one of the most stunning and unique films made in years and it breaks the barriers of the horror genre, providing something for everyone to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The Night Watchmen

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A group of night watchmen and their new recruit keep watch over the offices of a newspaper. One night, when everyone is staying late to do inventory, a coffin is accidentally delivered to the building. Little do the night watchmen know that the late great Blimpo the clown is in that coffin and he met an untimely death in Romania. Blimpo is now a vampire and soon the night watchmen find themselves fighting for their lives as people in the office are turned into bloodthirsty monsters.

Of all the films at the Phoenix Film Festival and International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, I can say without a doubt that The Night Watchmen is the most fun horror film they programmed. This film really has everything one could want from a gory horror-comedy; lots of laughs, awesome practical effects, hilarious actors, and a fun story. The filmmakers managed to combine different things that scare people in order to create a spooky, hilarious hybrid. Clowns and vampires can be terrifying on their own. When you join them into one “clownpire,” then you get absolute insanity. The filmmakers also make the vampires in the film almost more zombie-like until they become a bit older and have more blood. This is smart because it allows them to create more carnage and excitement because the young vampires are essentially feral, wild animals.

Obviously the entire concept of this film is hilarious, but there are smaller details that elevate it to a higher level of humor. The three night watchmen and their new hire make up quite the team. The leader of their team is the typical buff ex-military guard. He is more experienced than the others so he naturally takes the lead. This character is hilarious because he fits into a certain stereotype, until the craziness begins and then you see that he isn’t quite the macho man he appears to be. The leader’s best friend and fellow night watchman is described in the film as “the worst black guy ever.” He commonly says common phrases incorrectly and enjoys things a stereotypical black man would not enjoy. This is a trait that can be seen in most of the main characters. The filmmakers do a great job of introducing caricatures and stereotypes of different people, but then show that they actually do not fit into that mold at all. It adds a more subtle layer of humor amidst all the fart and sex jokes.

The interesting and complex characters would be nothing without the actors who play them. The Night Watchmen is filled with laugh out loud performances from the lead characters all the way down to the smallest roles. All of the watchmen deliver performances wrought with humor and even a certain level of complexity not typically seen in this kind of horror-comedy. Ken Arnold (Men in Black 3, Lovely Molly) plays tough-guy leader, Ken. Arnold adds many layers to his character’s personality making him much more engaging and lovable. Kevin Jiggetts (Concussion, Won’t Back Down) plays the equally lovable Jiggetts, Ken’s best friend and the aforementioned “worst black guy ever.” Jiggetts does an amazing job of acknowledging the stereotypes people expect his character to fall into and then he completely shatters that stereotype. Max Gray Wilbur (Thrill Kill) is yet another example of breaking expectations in his portrayal of the rookie who is fondly known as “Rajeeve.”  One would expect him to be the hero of the story since he is the young fresh face, but the audience quickly learns that is not the case. Then there is Kara Luiz (Jerks with Cameras, American Poltergeist 3) as the strong female lead of Karen. I love the character of Karen and Luiz’s portrayal of her because she is not a damsel in distress. In the workplace she ranks higher than the male leads and she takes charge and refuses to be the helpless victim. Other great performances come from Dan DeLuca (Crazy Eights), Tiffany Shepis (Tales of Halloween), James Remar (Unnatural), and of course Gary Peebles as the great Blimpo.

This is a very gory, bloody film. It would have failed miserably without those who create the amazing practical effects. Every wound and bit of gore is very well done. It is definitely over the top at times when looking at the amount of blood and guts, but it works in this kind of film. The creature design for the vampires is one of the best aspects of the practical effects. I appreciate that, instead of the usual two elongated fangs and alluring demeanor, the filmmakers broke the vampire mold (much like with the main characters) by having a mouth full of sharp teeth and rabid behavior. The vampires are feral, wild beasts instead of the usual calm and composed sex symbols. It makes them more frightening and dangerous, especially as they slowly begin to gain more intelligence with each drop of blood they drink. I also love that they make Blimpo stand out as the leader by making him the strongest, most intelligent, and making him appear larger than everyone else. Blimpo is not a clown you would want to meet in a dark alley.

The Night Watchmen is an insanely fun and bloody ride that is sure to tickle the funny bone of horror fans everywhere. In this film you get lots of gore, excitement, and laughs. While the fart jokes may go on a little too long, the filmmakers make up for it by giving the audience surprisingly complex characters. Those complex characters are portrayed by an all-around fantastic cast that has electric chemistry between them. I not only want to see more of these characters, but I also can’t wait to see what the filmmakers come up with next.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

XX

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XX is a unique horror anthology in that not only stars women, but all of the shorts are also written and directed by women. Since women writing and directing in the horror genre tend to be few and far between, it is refreshing that these talented females collaborated to create this film. The anthology starts with what could be called an overarching story, but really it is simply a bizarre string of stop motion images to set the eerie tone for what’s to come. While there didn’t seem to be much of a purpose to the stop motion animation other than to act as a visual intermission between segments, it was still quite beautiful in a disturbing way. In order to properly review the rest of the film I will divide by each segment in order of how they were shown.

The Box: This segment was written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic. Her work has primarily been in short films up to this point, and you can see from this segment that it is something she does very well. The Box is about a boy who looks into a gift box belonging to a man on the subway. From that moment on he completely loses any desire to eat for no apparent reason. The rest of the film focuses on the mother, played by Natalie Brown (The Strain, Channel Zero), as she watches her family wither away into nothingness. The makeup and practical effects used to make the son look like he’s starving to death are disturbingly realistic. This short is a slow burn into darkness that is atmospheric and somewhat melancholy. It is a beautifully done short that is also well acted, but I found myself wanting just a little more from the ending.

The Birthday Party: A woman finds her husband dead the morning of her daughter’s big birthday party. Trying not to ruin the celebration, the woman does what she can to keep the body out of sight. This short is written and directed by Annie Clark (also known as St. Vincent). While Clark is known for her music, this is her first attempt at writing and directing a short film. One of my favorite things about this short is the twisted sense of humor about it. Additionally, it had a strange, brightly-colored mid-century modern look to it that reminded me a bit of Edward Scissorhands. I also thought Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness, Up in the Air) was hilarious and relatable as the mother, Mary. This is probably the most visually stunning of the shorts in this anthology, and the most fun.

Don’t Fall: Of all the shorts in XX, Don’t Fall feels the most like a classic horror film. Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), this short follows a group of friends going on a hiking and camping trip in the desert. After the four friends find ancient cave paintings, one of the friends becomes possessed by a creature that was depicted in those paintings. This is by far the most frightening of the shorts, as well as the most action-packed. There are some excellent shots set up in such a way that the possessed girl appears to be doing things that should be impossible. It is easy to see how the filmmakers achieved these scenes, but it doesn’t take away from the visual impact.

Her Only Living Son: This short is written and directed by Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Jennifer’s Body) who is probably the most well known of these four women due to her previous work in horror. The story follows a mother preparing for her only son’s eighteenth birthday. In the days leading up to this we learn that her son has some sociopathic tendencies that get worse as his birthday approaches. The main aspect of this short that I really enjoyed was the sense of impending doom. Also, one could easily look at the story as an unofficial sequel to Rosemary’s Baby (and perhaps that was the intent). I thought Christina Kirk (Love is Strange, Taking Woodstock) performed the role of Cora, the mother, quite well. Despite this I still didn’t love the character. She is a bit too meek throughout most of the film and can’t muster the strength to control her son’s dangerous actions.

The aptly named XX (so named because the XX chromosomes determine female sex) is a celebration of women creating bewitching works of horror. These shorts result in a highly entertaining anthology focusing on different areas of horror. While each of them are marvelous in their own way, I would have to say my favorite segment of XX is The Birthday Party. It is quite fitting this anthology would be released during the eighth annual Women in Horror month. By watching this film you are lending your support to women who want to make a name for themselves in the horror industry by working behind the camera rather than in front of it. This is a trend I hope to see more of in the future.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: Re-Animator (1985)

A medical school student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is trying to find a classmate to be his new roommate. When a mysterious new student answers his add, Dan’s world gets turned upside down. This new student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), is obsessed with finding an agent that can re-animate dead tissue. Dan slowly gets sucked into Herbert’s work. It doesn’t take long for things to go awry, with some dire consequences that the two students may not be able to get themselves out of.

I know this may come as a shock to many horror fans, but this was my first time seeing Re-Animator. I know, I know! It’s shocking. There are many classics that I need to catch up on (which is why I do Throwback Thursday reviews). This is a film I’ve always wanted to watch. I see clips of it here and there on different horror TV networks, plus it has quite the reputation as a cult classic horror film.

Going into this film, the one thing I was the most excited about was the practical effects. Luckily the film lived up to my expectations. Eighties horror and scifi films always have the most creative and elaborate practical effects. Re-Animator doesn’t use as many practical effects as I was expecting, but the ones they do use are pretty amazing. Two of the stand-outs are a mangled, deceased cat that gets re-animated and a re-animated headless body (along with the severed head). With the severed head they did a great job going back and forth between using a model head and the actual actor’s head (which was stuck through a hole in a table).

Generally speaking, the story was interesting and kept my attention. While I wouldn’t technically call this a zombie film, it takes an interesting approach to the how and why the dead would be brought back to life. I enjoyed that it went in a more scientific direction than many living dead films do. There were some aspects of the plot that I don’t think worked quite as well. There were many times during the story where I couldn’t help but think “why?” Why was Herbert so obsessed with proving he could re-animate dead tissue? Why did Dan trust Herbert so easily? Why was Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) obsessed with Megan (Barbara Crampton)? These pieces of the story made things more exciting, but I hate not knowing why they happened in the first place.

Considering this is a campy eighties horror flick, the acting is surprisingly good. Jeffrey Combs (Frighteners, From Beyond) was equal parts creepy and intriguing as the obsessive Herbert West. Throughout the film he does an amazing job of portraying the borderline psychotic need Herbert has to prove his theory, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. Bruce Abbott (Dark Justice), while not really a standout in the film, was still enjoyable to watch. At times his character felt a bit bland, but that could have been more due to writing than his acting. My favorite performance came from David Gale (Bride of Re-Animator) as the menacing Dr. Carl Hill. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to play a severed head, but he pulled it off in a way that was disturbing and comical all at the same time.

While I couldn’t say this film is my favorite eighties horror film, it’s definitely a fun watch that will appeal to many viewers. Re-Animator is a cult classic for good reason. Whatever it lacks in the scares, it greatly makes up for in weirdness and humor. It’s a fun story with a bizarre cast of characters. Add that to the delightfully cheesy eighties practical effects, and you get a recipe for a fun flick that will entertain people for years to come. This is a film that every true horror fan should see at least once.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Krampus

These days, Christmas does not mean what it used to. Christmas used to be a time of giving, cheer, and holiday spirit. Now it’s about trampling each other to get to the best Black Friday deals and being forced to spend the holidays with relatives you hate. For young Max (Emjay Anthony) Christmas was once a magical time. This year, he has reached his breaking point. After losing his holiday spirit, Max unwittingly unleashes the wrath of the evil Krampus. Now, his family has to fight for their lives to survive this Christmas.

When I heard that writer/director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) was making another holiday horror film, I was very excited. I absolutely loved Trick ‘r Treat so I had very high expectations for Krampus, especially since I was already familiar with the folklore. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Krampus will definitely be added to the list of amazing Christmas-themed horror flicks. What I loved about this film was that it took a sinister character from ancient folk tales, and adapted the story to fit in with the modern world.

The visual effects in this film were excellent. The CGI primarily focused around the little helpers that Krampus used to infiltrate the family’s home. The helpers were created in such a way that they were pure evil without appearing over the top. These characters are my favorite aspect of the film because they are absolutely adorable and terrifying all at once. This is the kind of character that Dougherty excels at utilizing, like he did with Sam in Trick ‘r Treat.

The characters that did not require CGI were great as well. The elves were dressed in a very smart way so that they didn’t require a lot of practical effects makeup. They were mostly just shrouded in rags with horns on their heads and glowing eyes. Krampus was of course very well done. They made him this massive horned beast with cloven hooves wearing a large cloak and covered in chains. His silhouette was so striking, and it definitely had a frightening impact when you see it for the first time. His face was probably my favorite part though. They made his face look almost like a doll or mask version of old Saint Nick, but it was distorted into a face of anger with eyes that were deep-set and demonic looking. He really was a beautifully dark character.

While the acting in this film overall was fantastic, Emjay Anthony (Chef) definitely stood out for me. In horror films I tend to find child actors to be either creepy as hell or so annoying you just want them to die already. Anthony not only did a great acting job, but he also managed to to portray a kid I could truly empathize with and I cared about his well being. Of course Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) did an excellent job portraying their characters’ fear while also being hilarious. Another standout performance for me was Krista Stadler (Mobbing) as the wise Omi (which is German for grandma). I had never seen her in anything else before, but I loved that she brought more of the traditional German folklore aspect of Krampus and that she spoke virtually only in German the entire film.

I found this to be a very compelling tale that really dives into what is wrong with the holidays in modern times. What better way to solve those modern day problems than with an ancient evil? This film delves into the fact that Christmas has become this greedy, consumer and profit driven time of year. It is no longer about “good will toward men.” It really does seem appropriate to use a character like Krampus to teach a lesson to those who have lost what the true meaning of Christmas is. There were only a couple aspects of the story that I didn’t enjoy as much. The first being that there are a series of events at the climax of the film that seem much too rushed. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t have enough time to give the events more care so they just crammed them all together in quick succession. The other aspect is the ending, but it’s not what you think. Obviously, I’m not going to give too much away. When the end finally came I felt incredibly underwhelmed by it. Don’t worry though, the film redeems itself before the credits start rolling so much so that I can’t imagine it ending any other way.

Krampus is a film that will be added to my list of Christmas movies I have to watch every year. It ties in old traditions with how the holidays are today. It has a compelling cast of characters from young Max to Krampus himself. There really isn’t much I can say about this film that isn’t good. Plus, this film is humorous enough with cutesy evil characters that you could probably introduce it to younger audiences (especially if they still believe in Santa so you can show them what happens when they are naughty). Definitely go see this film for the holiday season with the whole family, then rewatch it every year for Christmas.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Over My Dead Body (Short)

This is my first time writing a review for a short horror film, but shorts are becoming more popular (especially with websites like YouTube and Vimeo) so it seems high time for me to write about one. In the short film “Over My Dead Body,” by director Timothy Plain, we see Marie (Karina Wolfe) getting ready for her blind date. Much to Marie’s surprise her blind date, Richard (Jeremy Mascia), turns out to be a zombie.

There are so many great qualities to this short film. The most important for me is they manage to fit a complete story into a mere 7 minutes. It has everything you expect to see in a feature-length romantic comedy. The script by Zergog Sebastian Tovar made me laugh many times. Blind dates are awkward enough on their own; add the fact that your date is a zombie, and things get even more uncomfortable! I especially loved the bad jokes Tovar incorporated into the script. Most guys try to make jokes to make an awkward situation more comfortable. Poor Richard’s jokes only seemed to make things worse, which made everything more hilarious to watch.

Another great aspect of this short is the attention to detail. These are little things that you may not even notice the first time you watch the short, but they have a big impact. One of my favorite scenes consists of one of these small details. When Richard first arrives to the blind date he gives Marie a bouquet of dead flowers. The gesture of a dead guy giving his date dead flowers made me laugh so hard. This scene reflects the short as a whole: cute, clever, morbid, and completely hilarious.

Richard’s makeup was very fitting because while the character is a zombie, you still want the viewer to see Richard as someone who is dateable. If they had gone for the full “Walking Dead” treatment, no one would want to date that zombie! The only downside to this makeup is that it didn’t necessarily extend beyond the face. It would have been nice to see the pale complexion and dark veining wherever zombie skin was showing.

“Over My Dead Body” really has everything you could want from a romzomcom. It’s funny, it has a zombie, and it has a very sweet story. Now, consider the fact you get all this in a 7 minute short, and that is pretty impressive. This short film is something that can not only appeal to people of many different ages, but to non-horror fans as well. You can even watch it on a break at your day job (like I did) or pull it up on Vimeo on your TV. Either way, be sure to check this short out.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5 (Since it’s a short it seemed appropriate to use a smaller rating scale!)