Wednesday, September 10, 2014

CIRCUS OF THE DEAD (Review)


CIRCUS OF THE DEAD (2014)

review by DARRELL MARSH

Directed by Billy Pon
Written by Billy Pon and Lee Ankrum

Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Parrish Randall, Chanel Ryan
-------------

Coulrophobia.

What's that you ask? It's a big, fancy word for something that's haunted the nightmares of children and adults for generations. It is the fear of clowns. Believe it or not, more people suffer from this than you might think. If you are one of these afflicted individuals, you might want to steer clear of CIRCUS OF THE DEAD, latest full length feature from Billy Pon (Doll Boy). Even if you don't suffer from coulrophobia, you just might after watching this absolute gem.


Circus of the Dead follows the exploits of an especially nihilistic group of travelling circus clowns that come to town and trap a local family man in a web of violence, depravity, and perverse morality games. The sadistic clowns in question are led by the serial rapist and necrophiliac Papa Corn. This menacing, sexual deviant bastard is played to perfection by genre film superstar Bill Oberst Jr. In fact, his performance is so thrilling that it could have carried the film on its own. That is no easy feat, considering the fact that Circus of the Dead clocks in at almost two hours. I know what you are thinking. Two fucking hours?! I thought the same thing, but to my delight, the running time flew by, and left me wanting more.

Can't sleep. Clown will eat me. Can't sleep. Clown will eat me.
As much as Oberst Jr. shines in his role of Papa Corn, his fellow cohorts of destruction, a band of clowns just as fucked up as Corn himself, are excellent in their macabre madness. Mr. Noodledome, a hulking beast manchild, is sure to terrify with his maniacal laughter while the chain smoking Mr. Blister shows indifference to any trace of humanity. The aptly named Mr. Jumbo, a gun toting dwarf clown, is also a raving psychopath. Now believe me. I'm no coulrophobic, but these nasty buggers make up one scary freaking pack of grease painted motherfuckers!

Now that's funny.
Parrish Randall plays family man Don, who has the misfortune of attracting the attention of Papa Corn and his merry band of sadistic pranksters. Let's just say that Don, and his beautiful all American family, will never be the same. The film's special fx team, led by Marcus Koch and Matthew Ash, and including the always enchanting Heather Buckley, weren't clowning around either. You gore whores will be thrilled to bloody bits with plenty of carnage. The set pieces staged in the clowns' trailer are sure to please as well. I especially liked the creative usage of the body parts, including a dead head popcorn bowl. Above all else, Bloody Bill Pon has created some of the best dialogue I've seen in a horror film in ages. I laughed so hard at Papa Corn's lines that I started coughing. Some of his lines are sure to become legendary! To ruin the viewing experience by repeating these quote worthy lines here would be a travesty, so you'll have to see for yourself. Adding further texture to the script are the rich Texas landscapes which Bill took advantage of uniquely. It almost feels like Circus of the Dead couldn't happen anywhere else (at least I hope it can't).

Papa Corn stacks the deck
 About a year and a half ago, I received a big thick package containing Billy Pon's Doll Boy DVD with plenty of extras, including a Doll Boy colouring book. When I say Billy takes care of his fans, I ain't just whistling Dixie. My Doll Boy set is still one of the coolest packages I've ever ordered, and I'm a total DVD hoarder, so that's saying something. Of course, I like Doll Boy, but I LOVE Circus of the Dead. Billy Pon has shown he is a force to be reckoned with in the world of horror. Once Circus of the Dead is released on the public, I'm sure many will find that this film really is the greatest show on earth.

One more thing: next time you visit a backwoods redneck circus, you might want to rethink sitting in the front row. Ask yourself this. While you watch the acts, who's watching you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

MASSACRE AT FEMUR CREEK (Review)

MASSACRE AT 
FEMUR CREEK 
(2014)
[Short Film]

review by AARON ALLEN

Written and Directed by Kyle Hytonen

Starring Nigel Grinstead, Andrew Barr, Dean Young, Heather Dicke, John Migliore, Scott Geiter

---

The summer may be over, but all the cheesy fun of summer-themed slasher films will live on in Massacre at Femur Creek.

Directed by Hamilton filmmaker Kyle Hytonen (FOLLOW), Massacre at Femur Creek pays a very tongue-in-cheek tribute to the heyday of 80s slasher films. It's 1984 and three friends head out into the woods of Femur Creek in Cherry Hill, Ontario to celebrate a buddy's birthday. While drinking beers, smoking weed, and pondering the mysteries of life, they are stalked by a heavy-breathing masked killer. The predictable slasher shenanigans ensue, but they are actually far less crucial to the film than you might expect. Massacre at Femur Creek rises to stand above so many other copycat slasher wannabes by subverting the over-used hallmarks of slasher films.

If the smokes don't get you, the Shape will.
The slasher genre, which dominated horror film culture in the 1980s, was a unique stylistic moment in horror film history that still influences the horror genre to this day. As such, it is nearly impossible to recapture the spirit of 80s slashers within a modern context. Those who try usually fail. Recognizing this, a whole new generation of young filmmakers who grew up on these summer camp bloodbath movies and babysitter-in-peril pictures -- no doubt rented on VHS at far too young an age from their local Mom & Pop video stores (bless their bankrupt hearts) -- have returned to the slasher genre and its distinct conventions as a fertile breeding ground for satire. In this very self-aware style, Kyle Hytontn's Massacre at Femur Creek is a slasher film throwback that verges on being an "anti-slasher" lampoon. At first giving audiences what they expect from a slasher in the form of an opening scene that recreates the memorable hitchhiker murder in Friday the 13th Part 4, Massacre at Femur Creek quickly and intentionally shifts its slasher elements to the background to instead focus on a succession of bawdy comedic exchanges between our three bro-bonding protagonists. In fact, there's a really great running gag about our modern reliance on technology as predicted by 1980s stoner teenagers buried in these scenes that doesn't get all the development it deserves. Finally, in a surprise turn, Massacre at Femur Creek "goes for the dick," by which I mean a hard left-turn into the absurdly gross and hilarious. The jokes are broad and dirty, and while not every laugh hits its mark, Massacre at Femur Creek completely succeeds as a Clerks meets Friday the 13th mashup.


*inaudible heavy breathing*
On a technical level, Massacre at Femur Creek is a real treat to see and hear. For one, Massacre at Femur Creek boasts one of the most authentic and nostalgic synth scores I've heard in a long time. Composed and performed by Gregory Barnes and Thomas Joly, the score immediately dialed me into the low-budget screeching keyboard scores of bargain basement 80s slashers. It's fantastic! Also, Directors of Photography John Michael Forbes and Michael Key have conspired with lighting cameraman Craig F. Watkins to capture some truly atmospheric scenes. Massacre at Femur Creek looks damn good, especially when the light and smoke play across the lens! Finally, while the trio of lead actors are clearly struggling to deliver some of Hytonen's very particular style of witty dialogue, actor John Migliore delivers a really creepy and nuanced silent performance as the loping, knife-wielding psychopath. A truly great physical performance by Migliore as "The Shape" here that speaks louder than his character ever does.

...and no dirt bikes, damn it!
Despite its minor flaws, Massacre at Femur Creek is a slick and sometimes hilarious spoof of slasher movie conventions that manages to send up the ridiculous and outdated tropes of 80's horror films but with a loving, nostalgic touch. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

THE SACRAMENT (Review)


THE SACRAMENT (2013)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed and written by Ti West

Starring Joe Swanberg, A.J. Bowen, Gene Jones, Amy Seimetz, Kentucker Audley
-------------

Following the critical fanfare over House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011) as well as his contributions to The ABC's of Death and the V/H/S anthologies, writer-director Ti West has certainly cultivated a cult following of fans in the horror community. With this week's home video release of his new film The Sacrament, a faux documentary about a Jonestown-esque tragedy, I wonder how his latest work will be received by horror fans. Will West's foray into POV "found footage" films convert still more to his congregation, or will it test the faith of the true believers?

Father (Gene Jones) knows best

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rue Morgue Festival of Fear @ Fan Expo Canada - AUG 28-31


In a little more than three weeks, scores of comic book, sci-fi anime, gaming, and horror fans will descend upon the the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the annual FAN EXPO CANADA: AUGUST 28 - 31. Of course, the big draw for horror fans is Rue Morgue's convention within a convention, the FESTIVAL OF FEAR, and their Friday night SHOCKTAIL PARTY boasting an appearance by WolfCop!



Now celebrating its 20th year, Fan Expo Canada is the largest comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming event in Canada and brings around 125, 000 pop culture fans to the sprawling 750,000 square feet of pure of the  Metro Toronto Convention Centre for an extended weekend of pure geekgasm. Rue Morgue is certainly no slouch when it comes to programming a lineup of exciting horror guests fans are ravenous to see!

FEATURED GUESTS

Sean S. Cunningham.
Director/ Producer: FRIDAY THE 13th
appearing THUR, FRI, SAT, SUN
Bruce Campbell.
EVIL DEAD / ARMY OF DARKNESS
appearing SAT, SUN
Robert Englund
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
appearing THUR, FRI, SAT, SUN
Heather Langenkamp
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
appearing THUR, FRI, SAT, SUN
John Saxon
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

BLACK CHRISTMAS
appearing THUR, FRI, SAT, SUN
Sheryl Lee
TWIN PEAKS
appearing THUR, FRI, SAT, SUN


Sherilyn Fenn.
TWIN PEAKS
appearing THUR, FRI, SAT, SUN

Ray Wise.
TWIN PEAKS
appearing THUR, FRI, SAT, SUN















Other guests include cast members from The Walking Dead, Black Christmas and many more. For the full line-up of horror and sci-fi, anime, comic book, and gaming guests as well as ticket information visit fanexpocanada.com.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

MALLEUS MALEFICARUM (Review)

MALLEUS
 MALEFICARUM (2014)
[Short Film]

review by AARON ALLEN

Written and Directed by Torin Langen

Starring Erin Stuart, Rebeca Mackinnon, Eric Repke
---

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
- Exodus 22:18

In Torin Langen's Malleus Maleficarum, the follow up / companion piece to his last short Fondue, Langen has perfected the art of silent dread. Malleus Maleficarum’s completely dialogue-free narrative is so terrifyingly bewitching that I have to assume it can only be the product of some kind of black movie magic.

Malleus Maleficarum opens with a woman and two young people preparing for some Fall festivities. They don't appear to be gearing up for  Halloween, however, although the time of year is certainly right; crisp yellow and orange leaves crunch underfoot, pumpkins are out, and you can almost smell the crisp October air wafting through the skeleton-finger limbs of the trees. No, not Halloween. Something else equally rooted in superstitions and the rites of the winter solstice. They are preparing for something called “Exodus.” A creeping sense of dread begins to creep into the proceedings as the trio take a trip to the local grocer / convenience store. Instead of picking up a Jack O’ Lantern, they are ushered into a silent room containing men and women slumped, sullen, and cowering in the corners with white hoods pulled over their heads.

You’re going to have to see it for yourself to find out where it goes from there. But here’s a hint: it’s riveting. The wordless performances by Erin Stuart, Rebeca Mackinnon and Eric Repke as the trio are so mysterious yet intriguing you won't want to look away. Devoid of exposition, director Torin Langen lets the camera tell the story, ushering you into scenes that are at once both quite familiar yet increasingly tinged with the queer and the strange. In this nightmarish narrative, the true nature of what’s going on is never explicitly laid out for the viewer, but observant audiences will have no trouble discerning the age-old themes at play.

In no uncertain terms, Malleus Maleficarum marks a distinct point of maturation in Torin Langen’s development as a filmmaker. While Langen’s prior shorts have all shown exceptional talent, he has in the past relied heavily on retro homage or heavily stylized music and visuals. Malleus Maleficarum, by comparison, is a much more straight-forward and no-nonsense demonstration of Langen’s deft skills with a camera, narrative, and character. If Malleus Maleficarum were a knife, it would cut deep and cut clean. Few people can tell a truly engaging story without character dialogue yet still manage to keep it tight, tense, and tantalizing, but Torin Langen has cracked the code.

Malleus Maleficarum is a great sample of suspenseful short film sorcery. I can’t recommend it enough. See it for yourself August 15th in Montreal where it will screen as an official selection of the MASCARA & POPCORN Film Festival.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Black Fawn Brings SILENT RETREAT to DVD: SEPT 2nd

On Friday, August 8th, Horror in the Hammer is screening the award-winning Canadian horror film SILENT RETREAT at a special charity screening of Fright Night Theatre with all net proceeds going to SACHA (Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton). A little less than a month later, SILENT RETREAT will hit home video on September 2nd courtesy of our friends at Black Fawn Distribution!



Black Fawn Distribution continues to make a name for itself as one of Canada's most unique genre film distributors with their growing catalog of hot, cutting edge horror films like recent acquisition DISCOPATH (review). SILENT RETREAT is available for pre-order as a single-disc package including a "Making Of" documentary and filmmaker commentary OR as a double-bill package that also all of the above plus a signed poster and a copy of the film Discopath. As always, Black Fawn Distribution offers free shipping!




PRESS RELEASE

BLACK FAWN DISTRIBUTION ACQUIRES HOME VIDEO RIGHTS FOR SILENT RETREAT, RELEASE NEW POSTER

Black Fawn Distribution To Release A Film Monkey Production Feature “SILENT RETREAT” On DVD In Canada September 2nd



(Toronto, ON) – After taking home the prize for Best Canadian Feature at last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, SILENT RETREAT has now found a home on DVD through Black Fawn Distribution. A Film Monkey Production has granted the Canadian home video rights for their award winning creature feature SILENT RETREAT to Black Fawn Distribution to be released on DVD in Canada on September 2nd, 2014. After taking home the prize for Best Canadian Feature at last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, SILENT RETREAT has now found a home on DVD through Black Fawn Distribution. A Film Monkey Production has granted the Canadian home video rights for their award winning creature feature SILENT RETREAT to Black Fawn Distribution to be released on DVD in Canada on September 2nd, 2014.

SILENT RETREAT celebrated its World Premiere at the 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival and has since gone on to screen at the Nocturna Film Fest in Madrid, Spain. Led by talented actresses Chelsea Jenish and Sofia Banzhaf, SILENT RETREAT is ultimately about women finding their voice and refusing to be silent, a theme that resonated with Lee while developing the film. With SILENT RETREAT, Lee added her own spin to the genre: strong female characters combined with an emotionally resonant theme and classic horror imagery.

“We really wanted to acquire a film that was very different thematically,” states Black Fawn Distribution Sales Manager C.F. Benner. “What makes Tricia’s voice so unique is her ability to build quality characters by using small pieces of social commentary. It’s a very clever style that really allows these characters to come to life and drive the film forward. Obviously SILENT RETREAT is a creature feature, but this film has a lot of layers that are enjoyable to peel back and explore as you’re watching.”

"After learning of Black Fawn Distribution's grassroots marketing and their mission to sell directly to genre fans, I was very excited to begin working with them on SILENT RETREAT,” explains director Tricia Lee. “I think they’ll do a fantastic job getting the film out there.” Described by Rue-Morgue.com as a film that “beautifully blends supernatural horror with the terrors of the real world,” SILENT RETREAT is already being noticed by critics. The National Post stated that SILENT RETREAT is a “chilling little number from Canadian director Tricia Lee” while Ain’t It Cool News heralded the film as “a tense little beast of a movie that has some powerfully terrifying moments interspersed with some even more impactful silences." The SILENT RETREAT DVD will include a behind the scenes featurette, director and writer commentary, an exclusive artwork gallery and trailers for the film.
# # #
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR PRESS INQUIRIES PLEASE CONTACT:
CF Benner Chad Archibald
Sales Manager General Manager
sales@blackfawndistribution.com chad@blackfawnfilms.com


Monday, July 28, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (Review)

ROCK 'N' ROLL NIGHTMARE (1987) 

(aka. The Edge of Hell)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by John Fasano
Written by Jon Mikl Thor
Starring: Jon Mikl Thor, Jillian Peri, Frank Dietz
-------------

You can't really consider yourself a red-blooded Canadian fan of exploitation and trash cinema until you've put down your hockey stick, set aside that Tim Horton's, and popped in a copy of the ridiculously bizarre Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare starring Canadian god of glam metal: Jon Mikl Thor. 

Sadly, John Fasano -- the director of this and several other little oddities of Canadiana -- passed away last week at the age of 52. I point this out because in my original review of Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare I called his directing "inept to the point of self-satire but ... nevertheless fun as hell." Is that disrespectful in the wake of his passing? Look, I respect Fasano even if his work here is not the best. Independent film-making is a hard road to travel, and it's easy for audiences on the sidelines to criticize after the fact. Fasano's early directorial output might not win any awards here, but films like Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare and Black Roses (which was filmed in Hamilton) endure in the hearts and minds of cult film fans exactly because of Fasano's quirky interest in these weirdo flicks. As we reflect on Fasano's passing, let's take a look back at one of his first films to explore just what exactly makes Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare a charming trash treasure.

Electric perm? Check. Muscle oil? Check.  Let's go!
Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is the film version of every nerdy metal fan's adolescent wet dream inspired by comic books and images of rock warriors airbrushed on the sides of vans -- but shot with a less-than-epic budget. It's an amazing gem of trash and cult cinema, and it's all set in Toronto. It begins when metal band Triton rents out a farm house in rural Ontario so that they can practice their sets and get their fuck on! Lead singer John Triton (Jon Mikl Thor), a beefy blond metal machine who loves Canada for the arts, has a hell of a time getting his band to focus on their music. Between sneaking off to fuck their boyfriends and girlfriends, the band is being tormented by evil demons in the shape of silly latex puppets and Halloween props. The band is picked off, one-by-one, by an evil presence until only Triton remains. Then, the film takes a spectacularly out-of-nowhere twist that concludes in one of the most mind-boggling and cheer-worthy final battles ever filmed between good and evil.


Was it good for you, baby?
Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare might give new meaning to the word "silly." Obviously, the film is not meant to be truly scary, otherwise it wouldn't be populated by one-eyed puppets that smoke, people in ill-fitting leotards and metal rock costumes, and unforgivably bad monster masks. Yet, it's precisely this haunted house of cheap tricks and completely random host of demons and goblins that gives Rock 'N' Roll nightmare its indelible charm.

Aside from the silly effects, actor Jon Mikl Thor brings the movie to a whole new level of endearing ridiculousness with his portrayal of Triton, an impossibly earnest metal band front-man. Thor is simply so clearly into his role despite the bad script and bad direction that his commitment to this bizarre movie should put a grin on your face. Watch him rock that mic in a red vest and belt out complex lyrics such as, "Energy takes me where I want to be. And you're where I want to be. Girl, you give me (give me) energy!"

I experience the energy of Jon Mikl Thor's hammer at SHOCK STOCK 2011
where Thor was an honoured guest.
After teaming up with Thor in Zombie Nightmare, Jon Mikl Thor re-teams with John Fasano to demonstrate that they still don't quite have a handle on this whole movie-making thing. Case in point: I REALLY hope you like to watch a van driving...for 10 minutes.

Someone needed to give the film editor a hand on this picture
What Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare lacks in quality, story, and genuine scares, it makes up for in shamelessly gratuitous female nudity. Almost every woman gets nude in this movie, there's plenty of bouncing busts, and even the chiseled Thor gets into the buff for an awkward shower sex scene. There's no time to get bored with a movie that has this much bare flesh on screen!


The always classic Handbra
Peek a Boob!
Oh yeah. That's steamy.
Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare would be just another cheap Canuxploitation film if not for its balls-to-the-wall ending. As the devil appears to claim Triton, Triton reveals that he's been the only one in the house the whole time. All the other band members, even the one he awkwardly tonged in the shower, have been illusions created by Triton, for Triton is no mere mortal. In fact, he is THE INTERCESSOR: a warrior angel.

He-Man: The Rock Opera
The Intercessor looks like Dolph Lundgren from Masters of the Universe crossed with a heavy metal runway model. We learn that the Intercessor's imaginary friends were just a ploy to trick the devil (played by a rigid rod puppet) out into the open so that the Intercessor could lay a WWE beat down on him.

Arrrrgh! Cyclops starfish attacking!
Seriously, as the battle between the Devil and the Intercessor gets underway, it consists of Thor grimacing like a wrestler and putting wrestling locks on a cheap rod puppet.

No Sympathy for the Devil
Does any of this make sense? Not one bit. But it's a surreal and completely left-turn from demon possession horror into superhero pseudo-fantasy. And I love it. Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare is not a good movie -- that's why we call it trash cinema -- but it's a crusty Canadian gem that provides a guilty pleasure for fans of horror and glam metal. Jon Mikl Thor is admirable for keeping a straight face as Triton (aka. The Intercessor). He's the heart of the film. Without him and the insane Intercessor twist, Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare would be little more than a dusty old VHS sitting in someone's basement. As it turns out, the film has enough kooky qualities and a cult fan base to support it that Synapse Films put out a very nice DVD full of extra features. More than you ever thought you wanted to know about Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare courtesy of an audio commentary with the late but not forgotten John Fasano.

RIP John Fasano. Thanks for the laughs!


A version of this review originally appeared on monsterchiller.blogspot.com