So if you’re a regular reader (and bless you if you are) you may have noticed that I haven’t written any movie reviews this year. While I wish there were some great reason for it comes down to a lack of interest. It may just be the beginning of the year death period but things have been pretty bland all things considered. It feels like the theaters have been nothing but late-80’s style erotic thrillers and Kevin Costner helping minorities. While a few movies have caught my eye a mix of poor timing and bad reviews derailed these plans. Then came that glorious time of year. An event I look forward to every year and has yet to disappoint.
Of course I am talking about the Phoenix Film Festival. For the past couple of years it has been a big highlight for me when it comes to movie going. More importantly what better way to get back in the movie going game than do nothing but for several days? But enough stalling lets look at what was and wasn’t good at the Phoenix Film Festival.
While I have talked about a lot of up-and-coming horror directors in the past one I have failed to mention are the crew behind Astron-6. In particular the duo actor-directors Matthew Kennedy and Adam Brooks. For the past several years they have made some of the best movies when it comes to the horror-comedy subgenre. Covering everything from 80’s action with Manborg to rape-and-revenge movies in Father’s Day. The first movie I saw at the festival was their latest effort, The Editor.
A spoof of Italian Giallo films they hit the nail on the head. Random close ups? Check. Dubbing that is constantly questionable? Cover that too. A blind girl for no particular reason? They brought that too. Most importantly the kills are not only gory but are practical effects. Like they have in the past they not only nail the look of giallos perfectly. Have to be honest, this was a pretty good start to the festival.
We continue the horror comedy trend with Bad Exorcists, leaning towards comedy. With funds from Kickstarter the movie was funded by first time director Kyle Steinbach. In all honesty I found the comedy to be pretty hit-and-miss. While the horror-centric jokes worked pretty well I found some of the other jokes didn’t work for me. The director mentioned that when it came to the actors that he went more towards his friends and not professional actors and it showed. Not that it was bad per se but at times our main lead felt a bit stiff in his delivery which is important in comedy. The movie isn’t all bad though. Despite a small budget the effects actually turned out surprisingly well. While not exactly original they pulled off the look and effects. While I don’t see this movie becoming a classic it’s a pretty solid effort from a first time director.
I’m one of the odd reviewers that doesn’t hate found footage style movies. In fact of the past few years one of my favorite franchises of the past few years (V/H/S) relies on this particular sub-genre. Needless to say I keep an open mind when it comes to the style. That all said The Sighting definitely fell into the pitfalls other reviewers talk about. While the mystery off Mia’s alien abduction starts interesting it seems to falter at every turn. Some pretty decent scares are built up but pretty much none of them pay off. At the end when we finally get our chance to see the aliens we get some laughable CG. Not that I am expect HR Gieger but it just looks goofy. Like 90’s music video goofy. It’s a shame too because despite a decent cast and premise it just couldn’t get past these hurdles.
In our annual “Jason Blum produces every 3 horror movies” category we have Exeter. Formerly known as Backmask it is a proper exorcism movie from Marcus Nispel (Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes). Despite some mediocre past movies this turns out pretty well. While not necessarily the scariest movie it is quite well made for indie horror. Another plus for the film is the fact that despite coming off as douche teens they quickly became a likable group. Even the twist at the end works in a convoluted sort of way. While I’m not sure if it they’re looking to give the movie a theater release it’s definitely worth checking out.
Horror Shorts B
Lure- To me this is horror shorts personified. Roughly 5 minutes, a twist ending and mediocre special effects. It isn’t bad just nothing too special. C
Q- This falls into my cardinal sin when it comes to shorts, it is way too long. This is literally takes 4 minutes (max) worth content and stretches it to 15 minutes. The short’s saving grace is a hilariously bad little person actor. Seeing him go full Scarface into a pile of cocaine amused me to no end. D-
Less of You- While I was a bit skeptical early on this worked out quite well. With an on-the-nose Red Riding Hood theme this short about witches worked around it’s budget limitations quite well. Definitely worth it. C+
Paramensia- Of this block of shorts this is probably my favorite. All I will say is that it’s the marriage proposal from hell with a twist that absolutely worked for me. Not sure if it will make it to Youtube or Vimeo but it’s totally worth checking out.A
I Owe You- A slick tale of revenge that has twists out the ass. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say that like Paramensia this is definitely worth seeing.B+
Viscera- Every collection of shorts has one that is visually interesting but doesn’t really tell a story. Viscera took that spot this year. It has this surreal, stop animated aesthetic which I dug. I just didn’t think as a story, abstract as it was, that engaging. C
A Stranger Kind- While there’s some solid comedy and decent effects I can’t say this was the best short. Like Q it felt a bit too long for me. A fine short but nothing you need to go out of your way to see. C-
Horror Shorts A
What is a Momo?- Can a sizzle reel count as a short? This was less about any particular story and more just showing off some decent make up. Fun time killer nevertheless.C
In Extremis- If you dig the older Hammer horror style this is for you. With a fun little mystery and a cool ending this is well worth checking out. B
Hush- Of all things this reminded me of a good Creepypasta. Based on an urban legend I swear I have heard before it works quite well. The only complaint I have, which may just be the theater, was that the sound was crazy loud. Like when you use the artificial audio adjuster in iTunes. Regardless you should catch this if you can. B+
Dead Hearts- I know I have crapped on the director as of late but this reminded me of vintage Tim Burton. With a quirky and touching story this odd love story was the best of all the shorts. Go out of your way to see it if you can. A
Boys Will Be Boys- While the twist ending was pretty predictable this was a pretty solid short that didn’t overstay it’s welcome. B-
Bad Guy #2- As a lover of action movies this was right up my alley. Funny and genre-accurate this tale followed not the kingpin nor his right hand man. No we followed the next guy down the totem pole, Bad Guy #2. As it turns out following him trying to become the next kingpin is hilarious. Definitely see this. B+
M is for Mobile- Obviously a wannabe entry into the ABC’s of Death movies this is actually better than the segments actually in the movie. As it turns out being a torturer for the mob can be really confusing. C+
Father Mud- While we have had some stinkers this year (or at least underwhelming shorts) this was far and away the worst short we saw. So there’s this mother (EG Daily who voiced Tommy Pickles, already weird) who takes in foster kids gets a new kid, Zac, who arrives without an adult and covered in mud. Kid is paranoid about “Father” and is clearly not well. The family is attacked by a preacher, the titular Father Mud, and his two wards. Turns out they are mud monsters like the ones in the Goosebumps book You Can’t Scare Me. Anyway there’s chasing, the monster catches on cheap looking fire but still kills the family. But in a TWIST it turns out the Zac has been dead this whole time after Father Mud killed him and the two other foster children. Oh where to begin.
First and foremost the acting is pretty terrible. I understand that you don’t always get the cream of the crop in indie film and you have to rely on non-actors or even family members. That doesn’t change the fact that most of the cast was made up the director’s family (and the director as Father Mud) and they weren’t good. The performances were either too wooden or too over the top. Either way it was bad. Secondly the music was all done by EG Daily. It’s not that she’s the worst singer but the song choices were ridiculous. I specifically remember over the closing credits she sang a Shania Twain song which had no place being there. Lastly, and probably worst, is the fact this movie wanted to portray a message. During the credits the director dedicates this awful thing to the victims of abuse within the Catholic Church. Horror has long history of examining social issues in a shocking and entertaining way (see anything George Romero did). The thing is besides the preacher killing these kids it isn’t addressed or discussed with any intelligence. Surely running 17 minutes they could say something of substance. I’m sure the director has his heart in the right place but a bootleg RL Stine story is not the place to do it. F
1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau is an interesting, if badly botched, movie by itself. With some great make up and… interesting performances this version of the HG Wells novel is an absolute mess I find crazy amusing. As it turns out the actual making of the movie is even wilder. While Marlon Brando’s oddness and Val Kilmer’s attitude are Hollywood legend we look more at how it was taken away from original director Richard Stanley. An indie-horror/sci-fi darling at the time he had a solid (if unfilmable by Hollywood standards) outline to the adaption. Quickly lost in the Hollywood machine after years of indie work we hear the crazy lengths Stanley went to get his dream project made. It’s an absolutely engrossing look into the film industry. Also Val Kilmer sounds like the coolest and douchiesst person ever.
Reaching the final film I planned to see at the festival I wanted to dig this movie. I mean it’s a horror/dark comedy anthology movie. Alas it wasn’t meant to be. Instead of a fun group of shorts (really did I see a lot of these) we got a bunch of overly long, disappointing segments that weren’t funny or scary enough to sustain themselves. The cardinal sin of all of them was the fact each felt so damn long. We get shorts with 10 minutes worth of material stretched out to 20. Which is a bummer because for the most part the concepts work. For the most part they have this low budget, Adult Swim-esque humor to it that I could really get behind. Unfortunately the down time between jokes and unfunny jokes just killed things for me. Oh well I guess I’ll have to continue waiting for the next great horror anthology with a DIY aesthetic.