Tuesday, July 7, 2015

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN - 2014 (Review)

THE TOWN 
THAT DREADED
SUNDOWN (2014)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Starring Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope
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Slashing its way onto Canadian home media today, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) deserves all the praise I can give it for not only being a well-executed and impressively stylish slasher whodunit, but also a novel and refreshing way to launch a sequel / reboot.


In the town of Texarkana, which straddles both Texas and Arkansas, a masked serial killer dubbed "The Phantom" went on a killing spree in the spring of 1946. Yes, this really did happen. It had the entire town terrified out of its mind, and to make matters worse, the killer was never captured or officially identified. The killings eventually stopped on their own, and the murders became their own kind of local legend. The flames of paranoia were further stoked in 1976 when filmmaker Charles B. Pierce released The Town that Dreaded Sundown, a very loose dramatization of the so-called Texarkana "moonlight murders." The Town that Dreaded Sundown went on to perpetuate its own mythos, muddying historical fact with fiction and pop-culture folklore. Despite its obscurity and dubious claims to historical record, the original The Town that Dreaded Sundown still holds an cult status among horror fans, but few fans were hungering for a sequel. Enter director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with a slick and stylish re-launch of the legend that gives the old Texarkana Phantom an unexpectedly smart shot in the arm...


The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) opens in fictional modern-day Texarkana on a balmy Halloween night where Charles B. Pierce's The Town that Dreaded Sundown is being treated to an annual screening at the local drive-in despite the protestations of the town's vocal religious moral authority. Two high school kids on a date -- the beautiful but socially withdrawn Jamie (Addison Timlin) and the all-American quarterback Corey -- decide that the big screen blood and guts aren't their cup of tea, so they head out to lover's lane....an old haunt, so to speak, of the infamous Phantom of yesteryear. When things get hot and heavy, however, the past comes to life. They are brutally and viciously beset upon by an imposing figure in a sackcloth mask who tortures and violates them. The Phantom is back! 


The Phantom spares Jamie's life so she can "make the town remember." Jamie, who is no stranger to trauma and has a tragic past tangentially tied to the legacy of the Phantom, makes it her mission to unmask the killer. She's joined by an ex-classmate (Travis Tope) and together they race to uncover the identity of the new Phantom before he can commit another copycat murder. But in a town with a long civil history of art imitating life imitating art, everyone is a suspect.


Deftly balancing brutal horror violence with an engaging murder mystery, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) is an exciting and refreshing meta-sequel that works perfectly fine as a standalone film but is all the more richer and stylistically layered if you're familiar with Pierce's original. With a great supporting cast of character actors --  Veronica Cartwright, Gary Cole, Denis O'Hare, and Edward Herrmann in his final feature film role before his death last December -- The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) will have you guessing every step of the way; that is, if you can bear to look out from behind your hands when the Phantom strikes during some truly terrifying and gruesome kill sequences that are right up there with the best slasher films of the 80s and 90s. The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) is a film that needs to be seen, in the most literal sense. Do not look away or you will miss the gorgeous frame composition and the slick editing that juxtaposes clips from the original Town with the present-day action. Yes, sometimes style can make up for substance. Sometimes.


The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) may crib a bit too much from fellow meta-slasher Scream, and it certainly lags in the middle, but in a film market that's over-saturated with cheap, thoughtless remakes and make-money-quick nostalgia ripoffs it's wonderful to see a film that get's it right. No one was begging for a return to the The Town that Dreaded Sundown, but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa found untapped potential in the story and decided to build on Charles B. Pierce's original film. Instead of simply rehashing the tale, they manage to breathe exciting new life into the legend of the Phantom.


Whether it's your first visit or you're looking to make a repeat trip, don't wait to experience The Town that Dreaded Sundown, now available in Canada on DVD and Bluray from Video Entertainment Inc. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

HEIR (Review)

HEIR (2015)

review by DARRELL MARSH

Directed by Richard Powell
Written by Richard Powell

Starring  Bill Oberst Jr.Robert NolanJane Pokou
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Ladies and gentlemen, those maniacs at Fatal Pictures have done it again. The folks that brought you the classic horror shorts Familiar and Worm are back with their final short film: HEIR

Writer/director Richard Powell's newest nightmare of nastiness stars Fatal Pictures staple Robert Nolan, along with genre film vet Bill Oberst Jr. (Papa Corn from Circus Of The Dead). Fatal Pictures has once again enlisted the special FX wizardry of The Butcher Shop (Carlos Henriques and Ryan Louagie), who have repeatedly proven to be Canada's premiere peddlers of the perverse. Writing, acting, and FX come together to assault the senses with rabid ferocity, leaving the viewer's grey matter ravaged.


I have watched this film three times over the last twenty four hours, and it still remains stuck in my head, like staple stitches holding a gaping wound closed. This short is visceral filmmaking at its finest. HEIR is a monster movie that boils over with tension, knotting up the stomachs of those bold enough to bear witness. If HEIR doesn't elicit an honest to god physical reaction upon viewing, you need to check yourself for a pulse. Powell's beautifully brutal brand of horror is reminiscent of a young David Cronenberg on steroids, commanding attention and respect. What more do you need to know?


If given the chance to see HEIR, run and jump at that chance! Just like Familiar and Worm before it, HEIR is destined to be remembered as a Canadian indie horror classic, thus bringing the 'box cutter trilogy' to a close. In this writer's humble opinion, a feature length film from the Fatal Pictures gang cannot come quick enough. So here's to hoping that someone with deep pockets smartens up and gives these fine upstanding individuals enough cash to make their magnum opus.

Screw it, I'm going to the store for a lottery ticket.

HEIR will be making its World Premiere in Montreal at the Fantasia International Film Festival: July 14th – August 4th, 2015


Thursday, May 21, 2015

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (Review)

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed and written by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brough, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Ben Fransham, Stuart Rutherford
-------------

To begin this review of Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows with cliche vampire puns (i.e. "this is a movie with bite," or "here's a vampire comedy that doesn't suck") would do an unforgivable disservice to the level of wit, humour, and charm on display in this awesome vampire mockumentary. Based on a ridiculously simple premise -- what if a bunch of vampires were followed by a documentary film crew? -- What We Do in the Shadows absolutely elevates its material with fantastically funny performances, hilarious horror hi jinks, and that wonky Flight of the Concords wit without ever losing sight of the emotional center at stake. (I'm so sorry....)


What We Do in the Shadows is This is Spinal Tap meets Dark Shadows
Vampires live among us, but you know what? They're not as suave as the movies make them out to be. Vampire flatmates Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brough), Vladislav (Clement), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are the subject of a documentary about the undead living in New Zealand. Despite their ageless power, the foursome struggle to fit in with the modern life they left behind. Viago's an 18th century German dandy and anal-retentive neat freak. Deacon's a turn of the century wildman. Vladislav's a medieval tyrant. Petyr's an ancient basement-dwelling nosferatu ghoul. So when it comes to paying rent, doing the dishes, or deciding on the best nightclub to stalk, you know that flareups are bound to happen. By flipping the cool and romantic image of the vampire on its head, What We Do in the Shadows explores the squabbles and nuisances of everyday urban life from the point of view of these out-of-touch and out-of-their-minds bloodsuckers.

Nobody said being a vampire was easy.
Rife with gags and improvised tangents, What We Do in the Shadows is the vampire comedy I never knew I wanted. It finds endless fun in exploiting vampire genre conventions while also remaining reverent to the decades of vampire lore in fiction and film without a hint of ironic condescension. When a botched dinner / massacre accidentally turns a would-be-meal (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a new vampire, the film really gets hilarious as the newbie introduces the guys to the wonders of the interent, selfies, and the modern nightclub scene. New Zealand is known for producing some great horror-comedies (Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, evil animal film Black Sheep, the recent comedy thriller Housebound come to mind), and What We Do in the Shadows is so on-point that it easily joins the ranks of these killer Kiwi cult films.

When 8000 years old you reach, look as good  you will not.
What We Do in the Shadows is currently available on VOD and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray May 26th from Video Services Corp loaded with over 100 minutes of bonus features including unused interviews, deleted scenes, and promo videos. Rise up from your coffins and tombs to pre-order your copy today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

PROM NIGHT (Blu-Ray Review)

PROM NIGHT (1980)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Paul Lynch
Written by William Gray and Robert Guza Jr.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens, Anne-Marie Martin, Michael Tough
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The disco lights have never been brighter, and the blood has never been bloodier than in the Synapse Films Blu-ray special edition release of Prom Night. Packed with special features and boasting a new 2K high-definition transfer from the original 35mm camera negative, this release of Prom Night should be considered an immediate pick up for any Canadian horror or slasher film fan.


22-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis still playing high school girl in Prom Night
It's time for prom at Hamilton High School. Girls are getting their dresses and finding their dates. Boys are primping their hair and perfecting their disco moves. Too bad that this prom night also coincides with the 10th anniversary of a tragic death shrouded in conspiracy. Now, a group of teens led by final girl supreme Jamie Lee Curtis find themselves being knocked off by a masked killer over the dark secret they share about what really happened ten years ago. Is it the escaped and disfigured sex-offender lunatic? The creepy groundskeeper? The school's sociopathic local bully? Red herrings abound until the mystery is finally unmasked to tune of some killer disco beats and a string of violent murders that turn the prom into a night of polyester pandemonium.

It's okay to lose your head over this Blu-ray; it's that good
Prom Night was filmed in Toronto and part of the early boom of North American slasher films that began in Canada with Black Christmas (1974) and was fueled by further Canadian contributions such as Terror Train (1980), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), My Bloody Valentine (1981), and Curtains (1983). As such, Prom Night's a decidedly classier slasher with more emphasis on mystery and suspense than gory kills and much more time spent developing the relationship of its young cast. Jamie Lee Curtis obviously shines on screen -- but everyone who saw here in John Carpenter's Halloween knew that already. The rest of the cast is perfectly lovable or despicable depending on their characters, but few others really jump off the screen...that is except for Sheldon Rybowski as Slick, the chubby Romeo with the sweet van. Prom Night's real claim to fame is its slow-burn tension added to its bustling original disco music score and dazzling giallo-inferno light cinematography. It's these latter features that are best served by Synapse's blu-ray restoration of Prom Night. The colours are bright and captivating in HD while Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer's original score thumps in a 5.1 Surround Remix.

"Killers are coming....."
The rest of the disc is rounded out with a very satisfying bounty of special features including  an audio commentary with director Paul Lynch and screenwriter William Gray, a "THE HORRORS OF HAMILTON HIGH" making-of featurette (in which Jamie Lee Curtis is sadly and conspiciously absent), additional scenes added to the TV broadcast, trailers and tv spots, and exclusive to the Blu-ray release a collection of outtakes and a stills gallery.

Not the goriest movie, but definitely very cheeky at times
Prom Night has been available on Blu-ray for some time now, but if you still have not added it to your own collection, there's no better time than the present. Not only has the film never looked or sounded better, but it's readily available online for a decent price and you can even pick up Synapse's Blu-ray release of Curtains for your own double bill of cult Canadian horror.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

88 (Review)

88 (2014)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by April Mullen
Written by Tim Doiron

Starring Katharine Isabelle, Christopher Lloyd, Tim Doiron, Kyle Schmid, Michael Ironside

-------------

Canadian filmmaker April Mullen unleashes a whirlwind of violence and cryptic chronologies in the mostly-entertaining action-revenge film 88. Despite its relatively surprise-free plot and exhausting narrative structure, 88 does succeed in one big way: cementing star Katharine Isabelle (American Mary) as one of Canada's top female badasses.

Some girls you pick up. Some girls fuck you up.
Gwen (Katharine Isabelle), a bar tender at a shady strip joint, regains consciousness in a diner with no clue of how she got there except for a bloody stump for a pinkie finger and a backpack full of gumballs and a deadly hand gun. In a panic, Gwen begins to retrace her steps and piece together her fractured memory. She comes to realize that she's been living in a violent dissociative personality fugue under the the identity of "Flamingo": Gwen's unbridled, destructive, cigarette-smoking, ass-kicking, trigger-happy killer of an alter ego. Remember that scene in Tim Burton's Batman Returns where Michelle Pfeiffer goes nuts in her apartment after getting pushed out a window into an alley of cats? Yeah, it's a whole lot of that.

The rest of 88 plays out in three directions:

  • 1.) a post-Flamingo chronology following Gwen as she's swept up by violent encounters with cops (Michael Ironside), former criminal employers (Christopher Lloyd turning in a wonderful performance as the film's heavy), and fellow unhinged revenge seekers (Tim Doiron) she's befriended or pissed off as Flamingo.
  • 2.) Gwen's "Famingo" chronology, detailing her hot-mess of a bloody kill-spree and obsession with revenge
  • 3.) Flashbacks in both chronologies to the pre-Flamingo incident that caused Gwen to suffer such a tragic, dissociative personality break in the first place.
On our block all of the guys call her flamingo / Cause her hair glows like the sun.
As you might imagine, this kind of narrative structure can get quite complicated and overstuffed with characters. It's an interesting concept at first -- a trashier, late-night version of Christopher Nolan's Memento -- but by the middle of the second act the nauseating back-and-forth between timelines begins to wear both the plot and the characters perilously thin. By the end, things get back on track as the film's action-revenge narrative finds the tragic, emotional ground it's been lacking all this time. Alternatively, if 88 had allowed itself to get even more bonkers, it would have been even better. Director April Mullen makes a cameo as a taxidermist / arms dealer in an absolutely bananas scene that's just this side of brilliant but, sadly, only a whisper of the crazy originality unrealized in 88.

Great Scott, Christopher Lloyd is bad-ass in 88
Despite its wearying narrative structure, 88 boasts some thrilling performances by Lloyd, Isabelle, and Doiron. and it showcases an electrifying visual style that should have genre fans sitting up and taking notice of director April Mullen. 88 is flawed in many respects, but it crosses the finish line as an indie with attitude that is bound to satisfy some of your late-night cable TV or VOD cravings for tawdry tales of revenge.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

HORSEHEAD (Review)

HORSEHEAD (2014)


aka. Fievre

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Romain Basset

Starring Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux, Catriona MacColl, Murray Head, Gala Besson

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Move over Freddy Krueger, there's a new terror stalking the dream world, and he's a true nightmare

Starring a cast of unknowns, seasoned actors, and horror genre icons (in the form of City of the Living Dead's Catriona Macoll), HORSEHEAD is a beautifully realized horror-thriller about the power and terror of dreams. Under the guidance of director Romain Basset, Horsehead unravels one family's dark secrets with startling and surreal cinematographic techniques reminiscent of Dario Argento's most dream-like works. Nightmares and reality meld on a lucid journey of light and sound through the mind where the ominous Horsehead lurks in the shadowy recesses of the subconscious.


Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) is a student of psychophysiology: the study of how the psychological processes of the mind can effect the reality of the body. Of particular interest to her is the psychophysiological nature of dreams since she is being haunted by reoccurring nightmares. When she gets a call that her Grandmother has died, however, she must take leave from her studies to travel back to her family home for the funeral and to reunite with her cold, estranged mother (Catriona MacColl). Things go from bad to worse as her nightmares become more vivid and terrifying, featuring twisted appearances by her deceased grandmother, her mother, and the reoccurring figure of a man in a cardinal's outfit with a giant horse head and wretched claws. Believing that there's an urgent meaning to her nightmares, Jessica begins to practice lucid dreaming -- the process of inducing sleep while attempting to control and direct one's dreams -- to uncover the subconscious message. Bedridden, Jessica tumbles down the rabbit hole and discovers a dark secret etched in her family's bloodline and restless spirits clawing at the fringes of reality. Will Jessica be able to piece the truth together before the monstrous Horsehead catches up to her?

Horshead will be meeting all you "neigh"-sayers in your dreams.
Horsehead is a film driven by its trippy imagery. It's a little light on plot, but that's to say nothing disparaging of its story-telling power. Horsehead paints a story of a family's pain, loss, and oppression using the cryptic symbology of dreams and metaphor. But it's the furthest thing from pretentious! Horsehead succeeds where Rob Zombie's Lords of Salem and so many other aimless experimental films fail. It's not just a random collage of strange music video imagery; Horsehead's psycho-sexual nightmare sequences have a very real and very tightly controlled story-telling purpose. As Jessica tumbles like a doomed Little Nemo through the levels of her dreams, she unravels clues and keys to a family secret that is at the heart of the film and will keep you guessing every step of the way.
Gore-geous effects and lighting bring Horsehead's nightmares to reality
Horsehead is a dream release for fans of horror cinematography, replete with lush and beautifully rendered scenes of phantasmagorical beauty and nightmarish horror. To call Horsehead an "arthouse" horror film does not do it justice. It's an artistic yet readily accessible symbolic tale and a master class in visual storytelling unlike anything being done in the mainstream Hollywood horror machine. And what a treat it is to see Fulci film staple Catriona MacColl (City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, The House By the Cemetery) back in action with all the gravitas of her years!

Do yourself a favor and see Horsehead for an experience in horror that you will never forget.

Horsehead comes to DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD in Canada on May 5th from Black Fawn Distribution. Pre-order your copy at blackfawndistribution.com



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TOP 5 SHOCK STOCK MEMORIES

This weekend is the annual SHOCK STOCK horror/exploitation convention, Apr 24-26 in London, ON. Celebrating its 5th year, SHOCK STOCK is the premier destination for fans who like their horror greasy and creasy. 

We at Horror in the Hammer have been attending Shock Stock since it debuted in 2011, and we have yet to find a crazier or more fan-friendly convention than Shock Stock. Part party and part carnival, SHOCK STOCK is the reel-deal weekend experience packed with vendors, screenings, and of course, awesome horror/exploitation movie guests.With SHOCK STOCK V just around the corner, we got to thinking about previous years and all the great people we've met, wonderful friends we've made, and legally-suspect shenanigans we've had. With that in mind, we've come up with a list of our


TOP 5 SHOCK STOCK MEMORIES

1.) Ilsa: She Wolf of Shock Stock (2011)



Shock Stock's first year in 2011 was a ground-breaking experience. New on the scene, Shock Stock didn't command the fan-following it has now, but you knew that organizers James Bialkowski and Jake Grimbro were on to something special. The big "get" of that year was  Dyanne Thorne aka. Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Star of the 1975 Nazi-sexploitation film and numerous other morality shockers, Thorne was nothing like the sadistic fascist-fetishistic character she portrays. She and husband Howard Maurer were nothing but kind, welcoming, and genuine people with an honest love for their fans. To cap off their appearance, Thorne and Maurer held a charity auction for fans to bid on rare and one-of-a-kind memorabilia including shooting scripts and props and posters from their films. Truly a moment we will never forget.

2.) Sprocket Damage with a side of Brain Damage (2014)



Last year's Shock Stock party went out of control on the Saturday of that weekend when the band Sprocket Damage took the stage at London's Call the Office. Sprocket Damage, a "five piece head bangin, string snappin, pressure applyin' musical tour de force," consists of Shock Stock organizers and friends who shred strings and melt faces with fist-pumping renditions of horror and exploitation tunes. And talk about sacrificing yourself for your art! That blotch of red you see there is front man Jake Grimbro's very own blood -- the same precious red fluid he leaked all the way back to the 1209 hotel party. Sprocket Damage returns to Shock Stock to play this Saturday's show at Call the Office. Anything could happen. Sprocket Damage is THE REAL.

3.) Choke on Captain Rhodes' Voice Mail (2012)



Shock Stock 2012 was a wild time! As by-law officers patrolled the convention floor at Centennial Hall fearing that organizers might try to skirt regulations with a nude performance by adult star Joanna Angel, there was an electricity in the air. A major conductor of that current was wild actor Joe Pilato, better known as Captain Rhodes in George A. Romero's Day of the Dead. We approached Pilato to get a signature for one of our crew who couldn't make it because he was stuck at work, and when Pilato found out about that he demanded that we call our buddy on the phone. When the call went to voice mail, Pilato took the phone and proceeded to ream out our buddy as Captain Rhodes!!!! Imagine checking your messages and finding out Captain Rhodes left you a personal voice mail calling you a lazy puss bucket. What a memory!

4.) Chin to Chin with Robert Z'Dar (2014)




At the end of March this year, we sadly lost cult actor Robert Z'Dar. Best known for playing the titular baddie in the Maniac Cop series, Z'Dar had roles in big Hollywood films like Tango & Cash as well as fan-beloved low budget films like Samurai Cop, Beastmaster 2, Frogtown 2, and many more. Z'Dar was a featured guest at Shock Stock in 2014, and although his health was not what it once was, the force of his personality and charm had lost none of its power. We had the real honour of sitting down to interview Z'Dar, and boy did he have stories to tell. With a gift for gab as mighty as his chin, Z'Dar wasthe  stuff of movie legends and a genuine, down-to-earth human being. We will never forget "dropping Z'Dars." RIP.

5.) GOBLIN LIVE!!! (2012)




What could possibly top seeing GOBLIN -- the band responsible for so many iconic Argento and other horror film soundtracks -- live and in person? Shock Stock 2012 blew our collective minds with a live and intimate night of morbid music as Claudio Simonetti and Maurizio Guarini joined forces with bassist Chris Gartner and drummer Great Bob Scott to become GOBLIN. One word: chills. Fangs of GOBLIN should check out Maurizio Guarini's booth and new album at Shock Stock 2015 this weekend.

For the unpredictable, the unbelievable, and the unforgettable, SHOCK STOCK is the place to be. Order your tickets now for the mother of all Canadian horror/exploitation weekends. SHOCK STOCK, baby!