MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF (2010) Review


Directed by Andrew Cymek
Written by Andrew Cymek
Starring William B. Davis, John Rhys-Davies, Brigitte Kingsley, Andrew Cymek, Mercedes McNab, Boyd Banks, Jason Reso, Landy Cannon
Available on DVD now! Find out more info on the film’s website!

Man, I would have loved MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF in middle school. In fact, I think I wrote a script once taking place in an asylum back in the day (I’m sure there are those out there who would testify to the same). The thing is, looking back on that dream script now after growing up and having actually worked for four years in an inpatient psych ward in a hospital known for extreme cases, the comic booky scenarios and psychoses I thought were so dark and edgy were actually so off base they’re offensive to read now. The reason why it was so bad? I didn’t do a shred of research, just pulled a bunch of crazy stuff from all of the comic books and movies I’d seen and put them into one story. MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF reads somewhat similar with every inmate being able to be summed up in a catchy ominous one sentence descriptor: foot fetishist, psychotic who hates the color red, god complex guy. I’d call it comic booky, but seeing as my other gig at AICN here is to cover comics, I don’t want to put down that genre by comparison.

The main problem in MEDIUM RAW is that it represents what a lot of people think is comic booky and what people think is what a mental institution is like without reading a comic or stepping one foot in an institution. The one note bad guys…the one note everybody in this film; the warden with issues of his own, the driven cop, the naïve nurse, the child brought into a hospital for extremely mentally ill patients (ok, that last one is just plain stupid)—with little or no explanation or depth, these madmen are seen as just that, not people suffering from mental disorders. It’s psychological fetishism where the patients are their psychoses in the broadest sense of the word.

Lack of authenticity aside, MEDIUM RAW is a somewhat slickly directed and produced piece of fluff. There are a lot of decently shot and lit scenes as the maniacs shamble through the halls and though the dialog is about as predictable as it is bad (I found myself mouthing the lines before the actors even said them and if you’ve seen enough films, I’ll bet you will too), it all looks professionally done. As I said above, there’s not a lot of logic in this one. Apparently, it’s ok to bring a child into a hospital for society’s worst madmen. The inanity of this plot point will make you slap your head so hard you may have the benefit of being knocked unconscious until the credits roll. MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF is basically a night in Arkham Asylum without the Batman, and unfortunately, without the sophisticated comic book storytelling that is abundant in that medium these days.

EXIT 33 (2011) Review


Directed by Tommy Brunswick

Written by Mark Myers & Norman Koza

Starring Kane Hodder, Antoinette Nikprelaj & Jerry Reid
Find out more information on the film’s Facebook page!

The acting is pretty amateur. The budget is low. The production is too. So why is EXIT 33 worth checking out?

Because it’s got Kane Hodder in it, that’s why.

Now, if you don’t know who Kane Hodder is, I want you to go right now and do your horror movie homework. The man is somewhat legendary in horror circles as THE man behind the mask, one of the only actors ever to play Jason Voorhees more than once and the man who brought his own distinct style to the role. Hodder is usually covered in make-up and prosthetics in his films, so any time the guy gets a break in a film without having to cover his pie hole, its ok by me. Here Kane actually does a great job as a murderous gas station attendant with an eye for pretty eyed girls.

No, Kane won’t win any nods from the Academy with this role, but for someone whose face is usually covered in latex, the guy seems pretty comfortable and confident in front of the camera. He gives a sullen and twisted performance here and even has a chillingly pleasant voice to boot. I’ve met Kane Hodder at a few cons in years past and every time he’s been a gentle giant, always looking to talk and shake hands with fans. He couldn’t be more different than the monsters he plays on screen. EXIT 33 is a bit rough around the edges and by the book when it comes to slasher films, but the gore factor is prominent and convincing throughout and the ending is actually pretty chilling. But it’s Hodder’s performance proves that more folks should give this guy a chance to act without his face covered by sports equipment.

GOOD NEIGHBORS (2011) Review


Directed by Jacob Tierney
Written by Jacob Tierney
Starring Scott Speedman, Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Anne-Marie Cadieux, & Micheline Lanctôt

This thriller from the land up North may not be the cup of tea for you gore hounds out there, but for fiends of all things Hitchcockian, GOOD NEIGHBORS is a can’t miss. This film totally took me by surprise by the depths it goes and the twists it unleashes. Writer/director Jacob Tierney (who previously unleashed the unconventional comedy TROTSKY with Baruchel and the homosexual reinterpretation of Oliver Twist in TWIST) does a fantastic job of reeling in the viewer with a trio of interesting characters, then throwing all expectations for a loop as to how far these three will go. In many ways, this is the polar opposite of all of those feel-good twenty-something neighbors in the same apartment films like SINGLES and WITH HONORS. In those films, the actors meet, get to know one another, and then get into each others lives which in the end helps them with whatever issue each suffers from. Here, three folks meet; they get into each others lives, and then try for the rest of the film to get out of them, though their lives are destined to intersect. What this says about modern society and how hard it is to trust one’s neighbor is beside the point. What matters is that Tierney has pulled off a fantastic game of whodunit with GOOD NEIGHBORS, a serial killer thriller worth seeking out.

All three of the main actors (Scott Speedman,Jay Baruchel, & Emily Hampshire) deliver fantastic performances and up until a point, it could be any of the three who are doing the rape/killings that are terrorizing a specific neighborhood in Montreal. Speedman’s Spencer is a surprisingly menacing performance which reflects a suppressed anger that comes from being stuck in a wheelchair and out of control in a world he seems to long to master. Baruchel’s Victor seems harmless, but events occur mid-film indicating that he is somewhat delusional and obsessive. Is he the killer? Or is it Hampshire’s Louise who is fascinated with the crimes and definitely playing with the emotions of both of her neighbors for her own amusement. Tierney’s script pulls you in at first as these three exchange pleasantries, then pulls back the curtains and shows how twisted friendships can often become. The explosive climax is filled with one back stab after another until you don’t know who is telling the truth.

Tierney patiently unfolds the mystery and though I guessed it somewhat early on, he keeps the twists going that everything doesn’t hinge on the identity of the real killer. Instead he focuses on strong character and taking full advantage of the cold winter landscape that is Montreal. Through numerous musical interludes, Tierney explores every inch of this expansive apartment complex through the eyes of Louise’s two cats, which factor greatly into the overall plot. GOOD NEIGHBORS also goes for twisted comedy as well at times in which some of the most macabre moments are looked at through an absurd lens. One might overlook this film in this summer of overblown blockbusters, but when you’re finished with all the fluff, GOOD NEIGHBORS is a truly unique twisted little mystery that is sure to be remembered.

MALEVOLENCE (2007)/BEREAVEMENT (2010) Reviews


MALEVOLENCE (2007)
Starring Samantha Dark, Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Courtney Bertolone
BEREAVEMENT (2010)
Starring Michael Biehn, Alexandra Daddario, John Savage, Nolan Gerard Funk, Spencer List, Brett Rickaby, Peyton List
Written and Directed by Stevan Mena
Find out more about these films here and on the Facebook page!

There are those who poo poo the slasher film as one of the lowest common denomenators in horror. I’m not one of those people. I grew up watching FRIDAY THE 13TH’s and HALLOWEEN and loving every single frame. The problem with those films is that the early ones were made by masters of suspense, amping up the fright of being stalked by a lone, unstoppable madman who continues to advance on you no matter how much you fight back, but the latter ones were made by folks who weren’t as skilled or smart at making a film that gives chills and focused more on showing the killer in plain sight and focusing more on gimmicks than scares. And it appears that writer/director Stevan Mena feels the same way. Mena, in two films, has revitalized the slasher film by doing two things; moving forward and moving back.

With MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT, one can literally note the forward and back momentum in that the narrative leaps from present day in the first film (MALEVOLENCE) to the past in the second (BEREAVEMENT), but this attention to pushing forward and moving back can also be applied to the films when talking about them stylistically. MALEVOLENCE, in many ways, is an old school slasher yarn. Mena channels early Carpenter in many ways; placing his masked stalker in the background while the unknowing victims talk in the foreground a la Michael Meyers. Focusing on the weapon being used rather than the killer itself is another motif that occurs frequently in the film. The POV shots follow the victim rather than the killer in order to influence the viewer to identify with them rather than the usual focus on the anti-hero common in late eighties/early nineties slashers. Even the music is a throwback to Carpenter’s synth score. Mena’s music (an unholy union of Manfredini’s iconic FRIDAY THE 13th orchestra and Carpenter’s synthesizer) shatters out of nowhere signifying and often intensifying what we are seeing on screen.

In the same sense, in the narrative of BEREAVEMENT, Mena pushes our understanding of the slasher forward by giving a reason why these guys can’t be killed. Early in the film, the mother of the child who grows up to be the killer in MALEVOLENCE explains to a babysitter that her child is special. His brain doesn’t register pain, so he literally keeps on going even though he may be mortally wounded. In that tiny bit of exposition, ingeniously worked into the script in a functional manner, Mena explains why his killer (if not all of these cinema slashers) seemingly cannot be killed or hurt. This sophisticated way of storytelling elevates this slasher film above the rest by explaining something common in all of them.

The story is pretty simple. In MALEVOLENCE, the story begins with a young boy being guided to witness a ritual style killing. The story bops forward to the present, where a quartet of crooks plan a robbery. When the robbery goes bad, the quartet takes a mother and child hostage and retreats to what looks like an abandoned slaughterhouse, but the house is not empty. It houses a man who relentlessly stalks and kills them one by one. It’s nothing new, but done so in a manner that shows that Mena has done his homework. The scenes are gritty and tense. The chills are real. The scares aren’t false. And the killer is a relentless one. In the end, Mena turns in a straight up, unapologetic slasher, intelligently crafted and a worthy successor of both FRIDAY and HALLOWEEN films.

But with BEREAVEMENT, Mena takes it to a whole new level. We go back in time witnessing the killer as a young boy, who turns out to be the right boy for Sutter, the slaughterhouse owner and serial killer himself, to kidnap. Although he doesn’t know it, Martin cannot feel pain, a trait very useful in the killing trade. Sutter trains Martin to be the perfect killer in some extremely graphic and disturbing scenes. Again, Mena focuses on the victims. Here he works with a much talented cast, making it much easier to identify with them. Alexandra Daddario is amazing as a city girl forced to live with her overprotective uncle, (played by Michael Biehn, who gives a strong performance here). The stuff Mena puts Daddario through in this one shows that this actress is one to watch out for. In the end, BEREAVEMENT is stronger knowing what Martin will become. It’s sort of what STAR WARS EPISODE I should have been.

I saw MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT out of sequence, but I don’t think that much matters, given that both are powerful films by themselves. I can’t wait to see what Mena has next. Given his talented camera and the intelligent twists and turns he takes, Mena has both honored and redefined the slasher subgenre with these two gripping films.

CYRUS: MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER (2010) Review


Written & Directed by Mark Vadik
Starring Danielle Harris, Brian Krause, Lance Henriksen, Doug Jones, Tiffany Shepis, Rae Dawn Chong

CYRUS: MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER is a relentless descent into a monster’s psyche and offers an unflinching view of abduction, torture, rape, insanity, and murder through the eyes of a bona fide madman. A naïve and ambitious reporter (Danielle Harris, HALLOWEEN) seeks out the one story that will give her a big break and she thinks she’s found it when a man (Lance Henriksen) contacts her and tells her he has information about the County Line Cannibal. Intrigued, she sets out to the countryside to interview the crusty stranger, who knows a little too much about a serial killer with a taste for flesh and an affinity for hunting human prey.

CYRUS’ most impressive feature is that it is filled with enough genre actors for ten horror films. Seeing Harris and Henriksen share the same film (they also worked together in the illustrated film GODKILLER) is tops. Both have starred in enough horror films to be pros at this type of picture by now, but their performances (especially Henriksen’s gruff delivery in the role as narrator of this film) feel fresh and real. It was also cool seeing Doug Jones without being covered in makeup as a doctor talking about serial killers and scream queen Tiffany Shepis does a great job as Cyrus’ sleazy mom. Brian Krause (of CHARMED & SLEEPWALKERS fame) plays the title character and does a phenomenally creepy job at it. His subtle mannerisms flesh out this deeply disturbed man.

The creepiest part of CYRUS is that it is being played as fact. Though it’s filled with genre stars, the expert and witness testimony interspersed between Henriksen’s stories of Cyrus are chilling in that writer/director Mark Vadik makes it feel like you’re watching a documentary. Though the budget is modest and the script is a tad clunky in spots, the star power and mock authenticity in CYRUS makes it play as so much more. Those who adored the mock verite style of BEHIND THE MASK and MAN BITES DOG and scour the True Crime section of book stores will want to put CYRUS: MIND OF A KILLER on their list of flicks worth stalking.

DOLL-BOY Short Film (2011) Review


Directed by Bloody Bill
Written by Billy Pon & Lee Ankrum
Starring Ryan Clapp, Jed Duesler, Dominic Lopez, Heather Francell, Venus Monique, Raul Gonzalez, Adrienne Martinez, Shawn Black, Sergio Gracida, Samantha Ankrum, Angelina Zorilla, & Drake Ankrum
Find out more on the DOLLBOY Facebook page!

DOLL-BOY doesn’t blaze new trails in the horror genre. In fact, it’s a straight up stalk and slash (or in this case, pound) serial killer short film that literally cuts right to the chase. But just because it’s not breaking new ground doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. Directed and written by Bloody Bill and Lee Ankrum, DOLL-BOY may be a by-the-numbers slasher fest, but it’s a damn fine one.

Since this is a half hour short film, no time is wasted on lengthy explanations behind the pathos of Doll-Boy, a pudgy, doll-masked psychopath stalking the dark and TCM-esque hallways and rooms of a closed down Tex-Mex flea market with a sledgehammer. No minutes are spared getting to know the group of prey dropped off by an evil clown and let loose into the maze of darkness to their doom. From the get-go, we know all we need to know; these eight folks will die soon. The fun is watching it all go down.

The folks behind this film have seen all of the horror films we all have. This is a true homage to every slasher film you’ve seen with all of the boring parts ripped out and tossed into the trash. It’s straight up high tension and horror action done with a surprisingly skilled hand at capturing the claustrophobic setting and a deft delivery of amping up the chills. Going in, we know next to nothing about Doll-Boy. In the end, we still know nothing. This is a mere snippet of the existence of a madman. DOLL-BOY is a fantastically brutal and scary short film. Here’s hoping we see more of this madman with a hammer soon. Find out where and when you can see DOLL-BOY on its Facebook page!

I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) Review


Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Written by Hoon-jung Park
Starring Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon

What if the final scene of SE7EN ended with Kevin Spacey’s John Doe escaping and Brad Pitt’s character goes on a relentless quest to track him down at all costs and they filmed a movie about that? That pretty much sums up I SAW THE DEVIL. Though that comparison is somewhat simplistic, I think it fits. There were a few scenes in I SAW THE DEVIL that reminded me of SE7EN, but besides that, it’s probably one of the best serial killer films to grace the screen since David Fincher’s masterpiece.

South Korea’s Jee-woon Kim constructs a technically dynamic dance between a monster and a man who can’t help but become one. Byung-hun Lee plays Kim Soo-hyeon, a young government agent whose fiancée is the latest victim of a serial killer. Broken and fueled by revenge, he vows to track down the killer and destroy him utterly and completely. Kyung-Chul (played by OLDBOY’s Min-sik Choi) is the serial killer and he plays one of the best villains I’ve seen on film in years. Jee-woon Kim allows us to get to know both characters and fills them with details and scenes where we both sympathize and understand them. At the same time, they are both doing things that should make us hate them. Jee-woon Kim makes this an uneasy film to watch because of the moral ambiguity of the hero and the human flaws of the villain.

He also fills this film with violence and gore of the highest caliber. But this isn’t a gorefest highlighting the red stuff. The carnage these two inflict upon one another serves a purpose and that purpose is to show how easy it is for someone to lose what makes one human and become capable of despicable acts of violence. And believe me, these two characters tear each other apart.

I could go on about the awesomeness of the cab scene or the garden scene or the hotel scene, but I don’t want to ruin a bit of this film for folks. I will say that it is a tense and gritty drama that hits you where it hurts while satiating one’s hunger for action and horror. The complete arc Min-sik Choi’s character Kyung-Chul goes through is amazing to watch. Though both lead actors are strong, Chul’s story is the most fascinating as he goes from hunter, to befuddled prey, and then back to manipulating hunter once again while Byung-hun Lee’s Kim Soo-hyeon character is a cold tool of revenge for most of the film. Seeing Chul realize that, despite the horrific torture Soo-hyeon is inflicting on him, this game of cat and mouse is actually fun to him, is a revelation that makes this film shine above all others of its kind. Then again, Byung-hun Lee saves his character from becoming completely unlikable by reminding the audience that he has lost everything. Lee does a great job of convey pain in his cold stare, even when he isn’t speaking. Choi, on the other hand is a force of nature; relying on unstoppable animal impulse swayed by no rules. Seeing these two extremes bash into each other is a thing of gory, action-packed beauty.

Holy shit, do they kick the snot out of each other!

Though the events that appear at about the hour twenty mark are somewhat distractingly similar to SE7EN and the beating these two characters enact upon each other would have killed a normal man a thousand times over, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a phenomenal dramatic, technical, and kinetic work of cinema. Though it may strike the ire of purists, it is a film that screams for American adaptation. Even while watching it, I could see Joseph Gordon Levitt playing the young agent out for revenge against a monstrous Michael Shannon. As it is, I SAW THE DEVIL is an instant classic with scenes you will be talking about long after the film is over and performances that burn into your soul with power and complexity. I can’t wait until this gory and intense masterpiece hits the states for a wider audience to see. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.