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June 24, 2018

Movie Review: "Tales from the Campfire" (2017; Night of Terror Films)



…ya’ know?? This able-scribing reviewer…nay, even more so, this ardent devotee of the cinema macabre and fantastique…hath seen it hundreds of times. Uh, no…not the rather cool lil’ movie, which will momentarily get a sweep of keenly focused and illuminating spotlight, herein. Rather, we’re talking the multitude of times having been in the attentive audience of special screening personal appearances, movie-based lecture events and film convention forums…the film stars, the genre writers, the directors, the filmmakers and behind-the-scenes contributors…often times, once fans themselves, and now embracing their own fans…with the unrelenting gauntlet of varied questions asked by eagerly inquisitive forum attendees…’what was it like, working with (fill in the blank)’…’how did you manage to…’…’what are (you) doing now/what are (you) doing next?’…and so on…

…and time & time again…from the more ambitious few in the audience…the same, if not similar question of ‘…if I wanted to get started, how would I get started…how could I get my stuff out there??’ And without missing a beat…to a varying degree, the seasoned response is almost always, ‘…really?? Just get out there and do itdon’t be afraid of taking the chance, given an unswerving passion, and a respectable measure of resources…even the smallest and unpolished projects, given one’s heart and passion, may be well enough to get the ball rolling…even towards something bigger…’…or well, something along those lines…

…getting right to the point, in having recently been afforded a screening of a ‘little engine that could’ micro-budgeted anthology film, unassumingly titled “Tales from the Campfire”, this reviewer optimistically jumped into the viewing ‘fray’ with the highest hopes that this reportedly ambitious little film might measure up to that gritty, maverick, put it all on the line, and ‘git’ it dun’ by hook or crook’ attitude, given a lot of well-applied heart and passion…all the best of what one might suggest the make-up of a good, micro-budgeted independent genre film production. So, the question remains…is ambition, heart, passion, attitude…not to mention, a reportedly mere pocket-change budget of $5,000…enough to carry this one though?? Hmmmm, let’s see, shall we??…..

…before the opening credits roll, we meet our hapless ‘storytellers’…two young couples, bickering and debating about this and that, as they load up the car for an evening of fun in the woods. The game plan here at least officially, is to find a comfortable campsite, and kick back with a roaring fire, as they talk and tell ‘urban legend’ scaries, before retiring for the night…though un-officially and hardly secretive, there’s a good measure of underlining (…read ‘horny’) hopes of having a little more playful fun, than just merely telling horror stories 'round a fire…
…though, strangely enough, as the dusk-orange skies turn to starry black, and as our fateful four find their way to the campsite, settle in, & begin telling their varied torrid tales of terror, …each of which unfolds quite uniquely unto each other…it becomes ironically clear that each one of their stories, as they are unfurled, appear strangely connected with each other, in supposed suggestion of shudderingly ‘real’ incidents, having reportedly occurred in the surrounding area of the very campfire site which they reside, though from different times and perspectives. Tales of sheer horror, involving cemeteries appearing out of nowhere…evil stalking bird men…haunted houses, harboring bloodied, restless and vengeful spirits…practitioners of black arts, dead-determined to revive a long-suppressed, hellish master…the rotted flesh-hungry dead, rising from their tombs to appease their appetites…and a 300-year-old witch hunter, back from the grave, in order to exact a most blood-thirsty vengeance…
…and as an eerie, mysterious fog rolls in & about the camp site…as strange and creepy shadows dance flittingly about the cold mist, made all the more unsettling by the glow of the moon…as chilling, unnatural and inhuman sounds, chatter and echo from all directions…coming closer…and closer…and closer…our ‘eager to out-scare each other’ storytellers find themselves faced with a dreaded, unearthly truth…in more ways than one… that their stories may well not be as much the stuff of urban legend ‘fiction’, as their boasted and dramatically exaggerated tellings might suggest…so much so, in fact, that the possibility of them not making it through the night, with their lives…nay, even their very souls intact…slowly and surely, becomes more and more apparent…
…it’s been noted often enough, that anthologies can be measurably tricky in their execution, whether it be due to some of the stories standing out more than others (…sometimes, in the sense that in ending things in a bang, the director might save the best story for last…though, some might think otherwise, i.e. for prime example, see Mario Bava’s classic 1963 multi-faceted tales of terror, “Black Sabbath”, and the ongoing debate as to whether ‘Drop of Water’ was better than ‘Wurdalak’…in a matter of speaking, ‘to each, their own’, ‘one’s trash might be another’s treasure’, and so on…), or whether or not the wraparound story amiably links the singular stories. With “Tales from the Campfire”, first-time director Tim Bell has wrought a good measure of success on both counts, with all of the stories linked, directly or indirectly, as well as the ‘telling urban tales around the campfire’ motif of the wraparound; in the end, none of the tales really stand out over each other, because they all contribute to the overall ‘legend’, which makes up the whole of the film's ghastly proceedings, yet are uniquely individual unto themselves...like pieces in a frightfully macabre and gruesome puzzle…or as the old saying goes, ‘the sum of the parts greatly outweighs the innate value of the singular parts’…
…and as if that’s not enough…that is, for those who are keenly genre-savvy…”Tales from the Campfire” is deliciously chuck-ful of direct and indirect nods & wink-winks to genre films of the past…not so much as to outright ‘carbon copy’ those ideas, but rather used in balanced and clever moderation & inspiration, so that the film…despite it’s tendency towards scattered, inspired homage, still manages to run on it’s own steam, and stands quite well on it’s own two feet (…or three…or four…or six…oh yes, tentacles included…)…ya’ know, kinda like what the higher-profile filmmakers did for 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods”, but herein on a smaller scale, and not as self-realized. Point in case, if you take a gander over here, you can’t miss a nice ‘Evil Dead’ visual style to the proceedings, with perhaps just a smidge accent of Antonio Margheriti’s ‘Castle of Blood’, for good measure. Further down the line…why, that’s a nice little ‘Night of the Living Dead’ overcoat, you have there. And what’s this up ahead?? That thing, with the thing, and the thing, where the stories of dread, like evilly intrusive tendrils, tie into & affect the wraparound…not to mention, the stories themselves, featuring actor performers from the wraparound?? Why, that sly little elbow poke seems to recall 1979’s “Screams of a Winter Night”. Even the extended, pre-credit ‘nicey-nice’ opening setup…way too suspiciously ‘nice’ to consider that anything could possibly go wrong, considering the film’s title…the shape, or rather, the horrors of things to come?? Couldn’t help but recall a familiar twinge from 1984’s “Fall Break”, on that one. And of course, leave us not forget about the instilled ‘Scream’-like red herrings…damn, those are slippery lil’ suckers, ain't they…
…as might be expected for a film of this ilk, the main cast is able-bodied, albeit fairly standard to their roles…not overly standout, but hardly negligible; the overall feel of the performances seems to be an enthusiastic level of ‘…hey, let’s make a horror movie…it’ll be fun…’, and any respectable semblance of character, which is there…clearly stems from that enthusiasm. In contrast, it is the faceless and goopy made-up characters…the zombies…the black-hooded, garbed and bird-faced spectres…the ghostly apparitions, in bloodied aftermath…appear to be the choice ones herein, who are having the most fun, creeping about menacingly…and to a degree, the most challenged, as well; for instance, all due credit to one of the ‘scary’ characters, sporting what appears to be pitch black sclera lenses (…speaking from experience, those suckers are a @#$%ing bitch to wear, for any length of time!!)…
…probably due to budget restrictions, the special effects and make-up work in “Tales…” seem to vary across a spectrum, as far as quality, from forgivably slipshod & hurried, to adequately creepy & accomplished. As best as possible, the patchwork ‘don’t look too closely’ make-up effects are hindered by diminished lighting, and mask-like effects are de-emphasized with strategically applied editing. The more accomplished effects are well lit and executed, though…throat slashings, fleshy & bloodied aftermath ‘damage’, inspired ‘cutting into flesh’ effect illusions, etc. To the film’s credit, it is the costumes which stand out, overall…very creepy and unsettling (…an understatement, especially as far as that freakin’ coal-black, mist-enshrouded, raven-headed menace, featured herein…sure as hell wouldn’t want to see this creepy lookin’ sucker at the other end of a well-lit frozen food section, let alone in a chillingly dark, albeit moon-lit fog-blanketed cemetery…Ooooo!! Scar-r-r-r-ry!!!)…

…”Tales from the Campfire” is not a perfect film, by any means; in fact, it plays more like a bargain-basement, rehearsal first-draft, with aspirations towards something more polished, providing it was afforded additional time, money and resources…to a degree, kinda like how Sam Raimi’s “Within the Woods” was a scratchy, first-draft template, later expounded and retooled into what would invariably become an ‘80’s classic…namely 1981’s “The Evil Dead”. To his awesome credit, if this is what Tim Bell can do with a mere five grand, one can only imagine what he could do with more; heaven knows, most folks true to the genre will invariably agree, in the annuls of Hollywood's much glossier and higher-profile horror cinema past, a helluva lot worse has been accomplished by a helluva lot more, as compared to "Tales..."…

…that been said, ‘bargain basement’ or not, there’s an overflowing abundance of heart, ambition, attitude, cleverness and resourcefulness in the core of this film. From the scratchy, drive-in style opening, to the twist ending’s final frame (…and hell, what horror anthology doesn’t have some sort of ‘EC Comics’ inspired twist ending, right??). It’s the kind of permissibly distracting and appreciation-worthy first-film effort which makes one wonder what else these guys might have up their sleeves next, given more prominence and exposure…not to mention, additional resources…

...we, as well as they, can only hope, right??

...although there are respectable scares a-plenty in this respectably chilling and atmospheric film, there's definitely no 'fear' in production, as far as the filmmakers and all involved, in braving the waters and getting it all out there, as said before, 'by hook or by crook'; for the former, as well as the latter, that's inspiration enough to check out this lil' flawed gem of a movie...



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June 10, 2018

21st Century Serial Killer (2013) Movie Review

Holy shit, folks. A Chemical Burn Entertainment film that DIDN’T make me want to vomit, take a cat-o-nine tails to my back before swimming through an Olympic-sized pool filled with lemon juice, or gouge out my own eyes? Did...did the apocalypse happen? Has everyone been raptured and I missed it?

I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM ANYMORE!!!

21stCentury Serial Killer is about Aaron, a milquetoast every guy who has a big dream -  to be a serial killer. Mostly it’s about being famous, being remembered. He tries to emulate some of the greats - Gacy, Bundy, Son of Sam - but there’s just one problem. He can’t even kill a fly, let alone a human being.

Eventually he meets a girl, settles down, and begins the routine life of a Post Office employee. While he still struggles with his murderous desires, a real serial killer is plaguing his town. With everything he’s studied over the years, Aaron tracks the killer before the cops catch him. Their chance meeting sets Aaron on the path to his dreams.

But, does it turn out to be everything he’s ever wanted?


I can’t believe I’m about to say this but this flick wasn’t half-bad. Yes, I had it completely figured out from the beginning. Each scene sets up the obvious ending so OBVIOUSLY that I imagine only a deaf and dumb chimp couldn’t have predicted it. And while the irksome voice-over narration takes place through the ENTIRE movie, and the few CGI effects were total crap, I enjoyed the overall feel of this dark horror satire.

There is some practical effect blood in parts but gore wasn’t the main idea here. It’s more about Aaron and the pursuit of his dream. He was hilarious to watch as he tried out Gacy’s performing clown disguise, Bundy’s fake broken leg to gain sympathy (which backfired and he had to wear a boot for month to maintain the ruse), and even kneeling down next to a dog just in case it decided to speak to him. His desperate desire to become a killer is both funny and endearing.

I won’t give away the character name but the serial killer ended up being my favorite. The relationship between the killer and Aaron is like watching Obi Wan and Luke Skywalker, where Luke is more inept than whiny bitch. Their relationship is fun to watch, the innuendo between them could be taken sexually but we know that’s not what they mean. There’s a good chemistry between the killer and Aaron and that’s what makes it so believable.

The actress playing Aaron’s wife is a bit stilted and awkward but it’s not uncomfortable to watch. In fact, none of the acting is completely cringe-worthy, and the serial killer gives the best performance. And while the story is predictable, the little jokes and asides thrown around are hilarious.

I normally wouldn’t recommend anyone watch a Chemical Burn film if they weren’t being forced with the threat of death by fire ants. But if you’d like to see an independent film company’s take on the serial killer trope, dark satire style, this might be right up your alley.


2.5 Hatchets (out of 5)



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May 9, 2018

Movie Review: "Terrifier" (2016; Epic Pictures/Dread Central)


 …man, for the life of this reviewer…can’t understand what it is about clowns of late, that get the average folks out there, so damned riled up, unnerved and chilled to the bone. Really…just because a wayward, pasty-faced clown with crusty-stained dental work, bent into an evilly gleeful grimace, and carrying a loaded lawn-sized trash bag, loaded with gawd-knows-what, stands & stares intently and motionless on the corner…street light flicker, barely illuminating his ghastly visage…doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s about to get…er, naughty

…just because our hapless and merry fellow, decked out and dressed in oversized mud-crusted shoes, a saggy, jester-like & color-contrasting get-up, and a teeny-tiny black Oliver Hardy bowler hat, steps in, sits down across…speechlessly staring, and smiling with glistening, blackened lips…then without warning, reaches over, grabs your hand, and places a costume vending machine ring on your ring finger, as if to propose…doesn’t exactly make him an unnerving, smiley pervert…

…hell, just because this grinning, happy-go-lucky guy is so incredibly adept with tools…sharp-as-the-devil-himself precision tools…rusty, serrated hand tools…blunt and heavy, skull-cracking, bone-shattering tools…and just because ol’ smiley face here, while lovingly draped in the skin of his favorite gal, feels oh-so inconvenienced, and is so oblivious of any responding, gun-toting John Q. Laws, that he lets out a sigh, and an exasperating, eye-rolling ‘hurumph’, before dispatching…er, before dealing with the situation…doesn’t make the lad, all that bad, right??...

…and just because…oh, wait!! Scratch all that…my bad!!! I mean, we are talking about Art, here…
BREAKING NEWS!!! BREAKING NEWS!!! Be on the lookout for a sinister lone perpetrator, this dark, cold and eerie Halloween evening, dressed in a contrasting black and white clown costume, with equally contrasting and exaggerated make-up, masking his facial features. Carrying a large, loaded black garbage bag, he was last seen leaving the local town’s pizza parlor establishment, which…per police investigation…was left in a rather…well, let’s just say that it was (…Ooooo!!) messy. The ghastly looking clown suspect was last seen following and harassing two young and attractive, slightly toasted post-party gals (Jena Kanell, Catherine Corcoran) , decked out in sexy, Halloween-themed dress wear. It was believed that the two girls might have sought safe haven, shelter and bathroom facilities, via an abandoned apartment complex, slated to be serviced by pest control…and that the perpetrator suspect…armed, dangerous, and dubbed ‘Art’, as a recently discovered, grotesque ‘calling card’ appears to suggest…may well still be in the immediate area, as well…
…well alrighty, then…with the filmmaking powers-that-be, now having beaten the ‘zombie’ movie genre into the ground…an understatement, as that sucker has not only been ‘beaten into the ground’, but more so, pounded and pulverized into micro-dust of rotted flesh, now quick irrecoverable by now  (…wretched Blue Meanies…tsk, really…sigh)…it seems that the genre ‘flavor of the moment’ is…well, it seems that clowns are the ‘in’ thing, nowadays. And barring the more sinister origins of these pasty-faced purveyors of mirth and laughter…a subject matter, barely touched upon in films, yet begs for further unveiling…or even the classic underlining cliché of how such happiness-instilling get-up, masks a measure of sadness and depression…we’re definitely had our lion’s share of sinister cinematic clown characters, the past few years…

…the demonic, child-devourer in the recent re-do of “Stephen King’s IT”…the almost cartoon-like, homicidal antics in 2012’s “Stitches”…the unflinchingly twisted, sadistic & perverse horrors, tortured helplessness, and psychological relentlessness of 2014’s highly recommended excursion into absolute terror, “Circus of the Dead”…the varied and eclectic clown offering from filmmaker & musician Rob Zombie, with the cult classics, “House of 1,000 Corpses”, “31” and “The Devil’s Rejects”…and even a dark, evil-instilled and outright soul-devouring touchstone towards the aforementioned grim origins of what we now consider clowns, with the recent 2016 entry…simply called “Clown”…just to aptly coin a few…

…but barring all this past movie clowny psychobabble aside, and getting straight to the point as subtly and eloquently as possible…without a friggin’ doubt, ”Terrifier” is one helluva fuckin’ freaky, creepy, twisted, madly insane and demented horror flick!! It’s a deliciously seeping, open tendon of a film, one might feel irresistibly inclined not to bandage or cover up, if at the very least, for the sole purpose of prolonging the excruciating pain of the open wound, ‘cause the absolute ecstasy of that pain, feels so-o-o-o damn good!!...

…in the onset, the storyline is hardly a complex set up, in relation to the events of this rather unnerving film…one killer clown, two haplessly tormented and terrorized girls, Halloween night. And adding to the air of bewildering discomfort here...well, there’s no real explanation, as to who Art the Clown actually is, where he comes from, or what motivates him to perform the ghastly and heinous acts, as seen herein…indeed, with sights so outright disturbing and to-the-bone chilling, they're hard-pressed to be un-seen. Instead, it is the masterfully emphasized presence of this evil character (…as delectably, gleefully, albeit dementedly performed by actor David Howard Thornton, who previously had a hand at the Joker role, in TV’s ‘Nightwing’ series …and well, for those who find Art familiar...well, he is a carry-over character from director Damien Leone’s previous film…an equally demented horror anthology from 2013, called “All Hallows’ Eve”)…they way he acts…the way he expresses himself…and all of this without uttering a single word, yet saying a lot with a mere grimace, albeit a chilling and sinister one…which propels this film to an outrageous level of absolute giddy and maniacal terror…the type of film where, in considering the events that transpire and unfold, one cannot help but repeatedly, in the most tense moments of the film, ask one’s self…’a-a-are they gonna go there?? No, they’re not actually gonna go there, are they??…no…No…NO-O-O!!!” And then, without flinching…well, they invariably do go there…
…in as much as “Terrifier” delectably exudes itself in the nostalgic spirit of classic slasher ‘grindhouse’ movies of some 35 years or so, ago…not to mention, unleashing one of the most insanely giddy, ‘embraceable’ and unprecedented premiere horror movie villains, this side of Victor Crawley (…indeed, in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ type situation here, devoted and appreciative horror fans might wish that ol’ Art the Clown, much like Victor Crawley, would keep and maintain a measure of obscure-level popularity…as anything more than that, might tend to temper and dilute the overall horror of the character), director Damien Leone actually takes a much more interesting, albeit quite unconventional approach, as far as character and visuals. Yes, there are the typical ‘red herring’ scares and jumps, which one might expect…yes, the ‘lined up’ array of victims act and behave in expected, almost cliched habits…and yes, even ol’ Art himself, has that sneaky, almost supernatural flair for showing up where one might least expect, in this case, often popping up and standing motionless before his victims, and wearing that diabolical, black-lipped shit-eating grin, leaving the victims paused in a moment of terror, but also, sort of waiting for the other (…clown) shoe to drop…
…instead, in going against the grain of conventional slasher films, Damien keeps ol’ Art clearly, albeit creepily in the spotlight, as opposed to lingering in an obscure darkness…making his presence insistently known and obvious…as if Art was prone to saying, “…oh hell, no…I’m not gonna hide in the shadows…I want you to know that I’m here, ‘cause shadows or no shadows, you are mine, and there’s nothing you can do about it...no escape, and…Ooooo (...smiling evily), pretty ice cream…pretty…”. And in addition to the creepy overall lighting, Damien herein gingerly baths the entire film in a certain and distinct color saturation…not too much (…i.e., see 2011’s “Hobo with a Shotgun”, for a much more extreme effect, in that respect), but just enough to give the settings in “Terrifier”, a more ghastly, unnerving and uncomfortable underlining feel. And finally, Damien takes full advantage of his film’s soundtrack, very unconventionally yet very effectively, in the sense that standard horror movie musical stingers are used rather unpredictably, and the core music used to emphasize scenes of absolute intensity is amplified, making such scenes all the more disturbing, unsettling and outrageously demented…the latter of which might actually suggest underlining inspiration from Lucio Fulci’s films, who used his macabre music accompaniment in much the same way…
...long story short (...uh yeah, right!!): "Terrifier" is most assuredly, a deliciously sick and twisted excursion into intense horror, which just has to be seen, to be believed...yet, once you do see it, you may find yourself begging and pleading to un-see it, even though the twisted, smouldering-ember memory of the harrowing experience, is destined to linger in the dark resses of the mind, for days and days that follow. Yes, highly recommended, folks...though with great caution, as this one definitely bites...and gnaws...and tears...and maims...and digs deep & relentless...like the unbridled rapturous ecstasy of a heavy-bit rusty drill to the head.....



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