Dread Presents

Candy Corn

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It’s almost Halloween. A group of local punks decide to honor their longtime tradition of pranking the local outcast while he’s at work at the visiting freak show. When the guys take things too far, a ritual is used to bring him back to life. Now he will take his revenge on this sleepy little town.

For me, Candy Corn has been one of my most anticipated horror films of the year.  The film was written, directed, edited, and produced by Josh Hasty (Honeyspider, In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31).  Immediately we are introduced to the group of young adults who just love hazing the local outcast, Jacob. The three young men are your typical small-town jerks who get pleasure out of other people’s misery. When they accidentally kill Jacob, it is Jacob’s employer, Dr. Death, who comes up with a plan to bring him back. This introduction to the various characters automatically makes the audience despise the locals and sympathize with Jacob and the freaks. It also plays well to those in the audience who have ever been bullied. When it comes down to it, that’s all those who tormented Jacob really are; a bunch of bullies. Watching them get torn apart is incredibly satisfying.

The film is one part supernatural and one part slasher resulting in a thrilling and bloody ride. This blend of horror subgenres helps to make Candy Corn the perfect fall film. It captures the essence of what horror fans love about this time of year. Part of that Halloween feel also comes from the filmmakers who clearly influenced Hasty in this film. The most obvious influences are John Carpenter and Rob Zombie. From the filming style to the sets to the characters and the music, Hasty shows his passion for the great filmmakers who came before him while still creating a film that is entirely his own. Even though those influences are clearly felt, Hasty still creates a really entertaining and unique mythos around the freak show and the ritual Dr. Death. Hasty wisely leaves some of the mythology vague, yet gives the audience enough to follow what’s happening, which leaves the film open to sequels that expand on that mythos.

It is clear that each artistic decision made by Hasty was chosen to make Candy Corn a new Halloween classic. From the first frames the look of the film transports the audience back to the 70’s. While it isn’t explicitly stated, it is clear from the wardrobe, the cars, and the technology used in the film. Even the somewhat gritty look of the film and the slightly washed-out colors harken back to that era of filmmaking. This time period and look also feel very reminiscent of Carpenter’s and Zombie’s films. One thing that doesn’t work quite as well is the use of freeze frames and removing audio, except for the music, in scenes where people are killed. This is similar to some of Zombie’s filming methods. It looked interesting in a couple scenes, but it is a bit overused throughout the film.

Other artistic elements help to make the film exciting, gory, and fun. The mask worn by Jacob when he returns to exact his revenge is absolutely terrifying. It almost looks as if a jack o’lantern was combined with the Michael Myers mask to create something out of a nightmare. Candy Corn also primarily sticks to gruesome practical effects for the kills. Each kill has a high level of brutality created with the practical effects and minor CGI enhancement, mostly utilized to add extra blood spatter. Then of course there is a fantastic score composed by both Hasty and Michael Booker. It is ominous, yet has a lightness to it that helps to build both suspense and excitement. Much like the plot, the score simply feels like the Halloween season.

This indie film has several faces horror fans know and love. Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn, The Funhouse Massacre) stars as the local sheriff, Sam Bramford. The sheriff tries his best to keep the peace between the local punks and the visiting freak show, but when the bodies start piling up he’s left with no choice. Acting opposite him is Pancho Moler (31, American Fright Fest) as Dr. Death, leader of the freak show. While on the surface he seems stern and mistrusting of outsiders, it is also clear that he cares deeply for his freaks and is sick of seeing them treated like second-class citizens. These two characters play off each other quite well because neither of them is purely good or bad, they simply want to protect the ones they care for. Unfortunately, they care for people on opposing sides. Other notable horror favorites are Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination), PJ Soles (Halloween [1978], Carrie), and Sky Elobar (The Greasy Strangler, The Rocker).

When it comes to the group of punks who attack Jacob, the performances are well done, but the casting is a bit confusing. The group is played by Cy Creamer in his feature film debut as Steve, Madison Russ (Junkie) as Carol, Caleb Thomas (The Terror of Hallow’s Eve) as Bobby, and Jimothy Beckholt (Corky and Bob Get a Job!) as Mike. They all do a great job of making the audience dislike their characters, which in turn makes it more fun to watch them die. The issue is it is difficult to figure out what age these kids are supposed to be. Most of the actors could pass for teenagers or very early 20’s, yet Beckholt appears to be older than the rest of the group. It may be a small detail, but in a genre where it’s typically either teens or college kids being slaughtered, that missing piece stood out.

Candy Corn is a love letter to Halloween and classic slashers of the 70’s and 80’s that is sure to be a holiday favorite for horror fans. Hasty’s passion for filmmaking and his influences are clearly felt. It perfectly balances the line between homage and originality resulting in a violent thrill ride with a unique mythology. The cast of horror fan favorites and newcomers all do a fantastic job. Then of course the film looks like it came straight from the 70’s, has gory practical effects, and the score is so fantastic that I can’t wait to buy it. You’ll want to watch the film now and then again for Halloween.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Artik

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A group of young boys live on a remote farm with their mother and father. The eldest boy helps his father with some strange tasks, including finding individuals to torture and murder. When the boy meets a man named Holton, who shows him kindness, the life the bizarre family has built is threatened.

Writer and director Tom Botchii Skowronski creates a very unique and strange debut feature film with Artik. The genre bender includes elements of a thriller, sci-fi, and even a bit of superhero flair. The plot follows Boy Adam, a young boy who is seemingly being groomed by his father figure, Artik, to continue his work. Artik is obsessed with comic books and is clearly on some kind of quest to find a certain type of person, yet in most cases he simply ends up brutally murdering these people. Then Boy Adam meets Holton. Holton is a straight-edge man who is likely the first to show the boy any true kindness. That moment is the catalyst that sets the rest of the film in motion as the boy realizes there could be another way of life and Holton attempts to help him. After the disturbing opening, the film takes on more of a gradual build of suspense leading up to the bloody, violent climax.

Artik at first feels like it takes place in an alternate reality. The way the world looks from the boy’s point of view on the farm leads the viewer to believe the world is a dangerous and desolate place. It’s when Holton is introduced that the world of Artik comes back to reality. It’s a very effective bit of filmmaking because it shows how Artik’s delusions influence the boy’s point of view. To him the world is a dark and dangerous place, until Holton shows him the world outside the farm is very different from what he has been lead to believe.

The film is very unique and builds suspense well, but it also leaves a bit too many unanswered questions. For one, Artik’s comic book obsession is almost a bit too subtle. There are some great visual cues including a target with Loki’s face in the center, comic book style drawings of Artik committing his crimes, and even the outfit Artik wears when he commits these crimes makes him look an awful lot like The Winter Soldier. While I don’t mind not knowing where this obsession came from, I wish it was a bit more clear how this obsession dictates his actions. The audience learns early on that Artik is looking for a specific person, or type of person, and that is why he maims and kills. It isn’t until the climax of the film that it is revealed what qualities he is looking for in these people, but it is never fully explained why he wants them. It is also unclear if the boys on the farm are truly Artik’s children or if they were kidnapped and raised on the farm, but the mystery around this doesn’t necessarily detract from the plot.

One of the high points of Artik is the performances. Indie horror fans will likely recognize many of these faces. Chase Williamson (Beyond the Gates, Sequence Break) stars as Holton. He is an interesting character because on the outside he is covered in tattoos, dresses tough, works in a metal shop, and generally looks rough around the edges. Yet his character doesn’t do any drugs or alcohol and immediately shows kindness to a strange boy spray-painting the side of the shop. He is obviously a purely good person. Artik is played by Jerry G. Angelo (American Warfighter, Color of Souls). Angelo is an imposing figure and his portrayal of Artik is incredible to watch as you see him force his decisions on those around him and manipulate the boy to do his bidding. Other great performances from horror fan favorites come from Lauren Ashley Carter (Imitation Girl, Jug Face) as Artik’s wife, Flin Brays, Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase 2, Beyond the Gates) as addiction counselor Kar, and Gavin White (14 Cameras) as Boy Adam.

The artistic elements, from the score to the practical effects, are all stunning. The film’s score, by Corey Wallace, matches the dark and gritty look of the film and adds to the suspense perfectly. The practical effects in Artik are very well done. There is a fair amount of blood and gore in this film, so the practical effects are a vital part of the storytelling. Each wound and kill are executed quite well, especially one rather gruesome scene involving a fork. Even the set design and wardrobe help with the storytelling of Artik. The most notable of these is the outfit Artik wears when he kills, which I mentioned before as looking similar to The Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes. Fans who know more about that character know he has a sordid past, yet as a whole the character is typically seen as a hero. This likely indicates that is how Artik sees himself. It is the attention to detail like this that really add to the overall appeal of the film.

Artik is a tense film that will appeal to those who love gritty horror and comic books. Skowronski proves he knows how to create compelling characters and build tension within the plot. That being said, there are aspects of the film that remain too vague and unexplained. There are also aspects of the film viewers might not understand as well if they aren’t familiar with the comic book references. Yet the film still combines stunning artistry and a cast filled with indie favorites to bring in a wider horror audience. Between the music, gore, and performances, this film is definitely worth checking out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

They’re Inside

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An aspiring filmmaker and her estranged sister travel to a remote cabin with a small film crew. The plan is to make an emotional film about an experience the filmmaker had with her husband. Not long after settling in, strange things begin to happen. What starts as noises during the night quickly escalates as two deranged killers have other plans for the film crew.

They’re Inside is directed by John-Paul Panelli, making his feature film debut with this film. Panelli also co-wrote the film with Schuyler Brumley, also in his feature-film debut. The film begins with a delightful cold opening. It shows a man on New Years Eve attempting to record what the audience can assume is his YouTube channel. As he goes through different takes trying to film the perfect video, unexpected visitors crash his video. Honestly, this opening is my favorite part of the film. It not only gives an interesting look behind the scenes at recording the perfect video, but it also uses some great framing to build tension.

From there the film goes to the two sisters reconnecting as they attempt to film a movie in a remote cabin with a small group of actors and crew. As small happenings lead to larger scares and growing paranoia, the group eventually realizes they are being watched by people with murderous intentions. To add some interest and mystery to the plot, the filmmakers interspersed clips of animals on the hunt and of the lead actress. It is unclear when or where these clips of the actress take place and it makes the viewer question her level of involvement in all that is happening. These elements make it unclear what is truly happening and keeps the audience guessing right up to the fairly unique climax of the film.

While They’re Inside has a great cold opening and interesting plot points that are unexpected, the film feels like many films that came before it. Home invasion films featuring creepy mask-wearing psychopaths are quite common. While this idea has been done time and time again with varying degrees of success, this film falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. The crew behind They’re Inside do make an attempt to bring something different with the various surprises thrown into the mix. This makes an otherwise forgettable film stand out in the viewers’ mind, especially with how the filmmakers chose to end the film.

In general, the performances in They’re Inside are very well done. Karli Hall (Being Charlie, The Hollow Point) stars as the aspiring director, Robin. What makes her performance stand out is the uncertainty she builds around her character. Along with the small scenes cut into the film, Hall’s performance forces the audience to question whether or not Robin is somehow involved with the horror inflicted on her friends. Amanda Kathleen Ward (Fate) plays Robin’s estranged sister, Cody. Ward’s performance becomes more compelling as the plot progresses and Cody’s paranoia intensifies. As the events intensify, it seems as though Cody’s sanity might completely unravel. The rest of the cast also deliver great performances including Sascha Ghafoor (Rift, The Wedding Invitation), Chelsea D. Miller (Big Time Rush, Spaceman), and Jake Ferree (The Baxters, Loop).

They’re Inside makes attempts at creating a unique home invasion and found footage mash-up, but it doesn’t have quite enough to truly stand out. Panelli and Brumley create compelling and complex characters while also adding interesting elements to their film I haven’t seen before. On top of that, the film is helped by compelling performances from the cast. The opening of the film and the end are the standout moments, but what happens in-between doesn’t do enough to break away from other successful films in the subgenre. There are moments that will be memorable, but as a whole They’re Inside is a film that will fade from peoples’ minds by the end of the year.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

Black Site

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The Elder Gods once ruled over the human race, until humans found a way to deport them to another world. A secret military base is dedicated to finding, catching, and deporting the few remaining Elder Gods on Earth. When an Elder God who killed one soldier’s parents is caught, the site is thrown into chaos and it is up to her to send it back to where it came from.

When I pressed play to start this film I had fairly low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying Black Site. Tom Paton (Redwood) wrote and directed this Lovecraftian sci-fi thriller. The film wisely begins with a bit of text to establish context for the audience, making it much easier to understand what is happening when the film really begins. We are then introduced to a young girl as her parents are killed by an Elder God. Years later that same girl is a young woman working at the Black Site. The plot is interesting because it brings in ideas created by Lovecraft with other worlds and Elder Gods with long tentacles, but it also has a woman going through internal turmoil when the god who killed her parents is captured. Things become even more tension-filled with a group of highly trained humans infiltrate the site. They are clearly trying to get to the Elder God, but why they want to reach him is less clear. This aspect of the plot gives the film an 80’s John Carpenter feel such as Escape From New York. It is one part Lovecraft, one part Carpenter, yet still feels like a fresh take by Patton.

While the general plot and various twists and turns it takes are very well done, there are some parts of the dialogue that are less successful. Specifically, there is something about the two main female characters and how their dialogue is written that comes across as unnatural. These characters are written so they say a lot of witty one-liners and talk tough, but there isn’t a lot to their speech other than that, especially with the young female protagonist. She is written in a way that seems like her only mode is sarcastic one-liners. It almost comes across as if her lines were written for Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was definitely an aspect of the film that stood out and not in a good way. I still think the rest of the plot is well done and the dialogue for the Elder God is fantastic.

The acting in Black Site falters in a few scenes, but as a whole the cast is entertaining to watch. The film stars Samantha Schnitzler (Viking Siege, The Sitter) as Ren Reid. Ren has to be tough because of her work and she uses that toughness to mask the trauma of seeing an Elder God kill her parents. Schnitzler does a great job of occasionally letting Ren’s inner vulnerability break through as she tries to get to the god, but at the same time the writing hinders the performance a bit. She does what she can with the one-liners, but there are many times where they fall a bit flat. The performance that will likely stand out in the minds of audience members is Kris Johnson (Airborne, Who Needs Enemies) as the Elder God Erebus trapped inside a human body. Johnson is lucky to have some of the best dialogue in the film, but his delivery is what sells his portrayal of the god. It truly feels like there is something very powerful trapped inside the man on the screen.

There are many artistic elements that work very well throughout the film. The special effects are surprisingly well done. The CGI is primarily used to create the imagery Ren sees in visions, which includes seeing what the Elder Gods look like in their true form. There are also more subtle ones used to show the high tech security of the site as well as what appears to be electricity that comes off Erebus when he is trapped in the man’s body. Many of the effects also look great because of stunning cinematography and iconic use of lighting. The score for the film is also fantastic. It sounds as if a John Carpenter film and a 1950’s sci-fi film had a musical baby. All of these elements help to enhance the plot while also moving it forward.

Black Site is a modern sci-fi tale with elements of Carpenter and Lovecraft while also having heart. I was pleasantly surprised with the film, especially when it came to the beautiful effects and the excellent score. The plot itself is also quite fascinating as it slowly reveals many secrets, although there are times where the dialogue detracts from the plot a bit. This also affects the acting in some scenes, but as a whole the cast does a great job. Black Site delivers plenty of entertainment to the audience and it makes me interested to see what Paton does next.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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