Archive for September, 2014


When you consider the nature of the “found footage” horror film, it’s a wonder that something like director (and co-writer, along with Jarret Cohen) James Cullen Bressack’s 2013 low-budget indie offering, Hate Crime, didn’t happen sooner. After all, the immediacy of the genre — at least when handled correctly — lends itself pretty readily to gutter-level nasty pieces of business like this one, and make no mistake — despite the fact that this flick takes place largely within the confines of a single home, thus lending the visceral and disturbing proceedings an extra air of both claustrophobia and physical/psychological violation, it really does never leave the gutter.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Crimes motivated by hatred and prejudice are quite ugly, and deserve ugly treatment. They’re often quite brutal, as well, and Bressack doesn’t shy away from that, either. In a way, this film functions as a  kind of spiritual successor to trail-blazing exploitation flicks like Cannibal Holocaust  and Goodbye, Uncle Tom that end up critiquing the subjects they’re exploring by adopting the very same excesses that they’re condemning — and while that certainly doesn’t make for a very pleasant viewing experience, it’s still, I would argue,  a necessary one.

Consider : the “action” here starts with the the matriarch of a Jewish family (played by Debbie Diesel)  that has just moved into a new neighborhood getting violently raped in front of her husband (Greg Depetro) and kids (Nicholas Clark, Sloane Morgan Siegel, and Maggie Wagner) by the leader of a rabid triumvirate of neo-Nazi thugs (identified only as One, Two, and Three and portrayed by Jody Barton, Tim Moran, and Ian Roberts, respectively)  who have invaded their home for no other reason than the fact that they hate Jews — and it only gets worse from there.


Honestly, I wouldn’t blame anyone for cutting out on this thing at about the ten-minute mark, but if you have the guts to stick with it, you’ll find yourself immersed in a sick and twisted corner of the world that we don’t like to admit exists, but that we must confront if we’re ever going to overcome it, so —- shit, I dunno. I can’t say you’ll develop a deeper understanding of what makes monsters like One, Two, and Three tick if you watch it all the way through, nor can I say that you’ll walk away from it a changed person or anything like that, but I can say, without a doubt, that you’ll remember this movie, and that’s surely worth at least a little bit of praise right there, isn’t it?

As mentioned at the outset, the conceit of using a home video camera to capture the entire sordid (to say the least) episode really works to Bressack and Co.’s advantage, as well. “Mockumentary” horror may be old hat by now, but it certainly adds a frisson of danger to Hate Crime and drives home the fact that this nightmare is, indeed, a very personal one — even if it could be any Jewish (or black, or Asian, or gay, or whatever) family standing in the place of our protagonists here. And the fact that these assholes are recording everything to upload it onto the internet and gain new recruits to their twisted “cause”? That’s just plain sick and wrong — and, again, also quite effective.


The other thing to be wary of for those with a weak stomach — without giving away too much by way of “spoilers,” let me just say that there’s no “happy ending” here. This is not a revenge film. The criminals don’t “get theirs” by the time it’s over. This is a flick that throws you in at the deep end, assaults your senses non-stop until it’s over, and nobody comes out a “winner.” Once more, kinds like these things play out, I’d imagine, in real life. Bressack has no intention of sugar-coating the vile reality of what he’s portraying here, and while the actors occasionally veer into OTT melodrama, by an large their ability to “keep it real” adds to the uneasy feeling that Hate Crime continuously drives in like a stake through your heart.

If you’re getting the idea by now that this probably isn’t a film for you, then ya know what? You’re probably right. Avoid it. But if you enjoy (well, maybe enjoy isn’t the right word — let’s go with “if you’re prone to”) watching the kind of thing that dares you to keep going, and that confirms anything and everything you’ve always suspected about a deeply twisted side of (fortunately only) some of our fellow human beings, well — settle in, buckle up, and get ready for an almost pathologically uncompromising time.

There are numerous ways you can experience Hate Crime for yourself should you choose to — Unearthed Films have released it on DVD and Blu-ray, for instance — but if you’re as “hooked on streaming” as I am, then I humbly suggest giving it a go at The Movie And Music Network, where it can be accessed via their “Terror Channel” section at . This is a very promising new site I’ve stumbled across in recent days that has a good number of recent indie horrors, a lot of Mill Creek-style public domain exploitation gems, and hey, there’s even an entire channel devoted to stuff from our good friends at Something Weird Video, so my advice would be to check it out now, since what they’re doing definitely seems worth supporting to me. You may not find Bressack’s little opus to be very much to your liking, but you’ll definitely find some other stuff there that is.


By now, you’ve no doubt all seen the news — yesterday, word was handed down from on high that the estate of  Jack Kirby and Marvel Comics, more specifically its parent company, Disney, had reached an agreement to bury their long-standing legal disputes with each other, just as the Supreme Court was considering hearing the case. The details of the settlement haven’t been made public, and perhaps they never will be, but it’s fair to guess that in fairly short order we’ll be noticing some changes — and they’ll probably be changes for the better.

What sort of changes? Well, keep in mind, the very nature of this little article is highly speculative, but we might as well have a little fun while we can, right? But maybe before we go too far down that road, we should clarify a few common misconceptions with some incontrovertible facts — and then we’ll speculate away.



First off, and probably most importantly, let’s be clear about who was suing who here. The comics press is rife with article after article referring to “the Kirby suit against Marvel,” but in fact, the opposite is true — yes, the Kirbys ended up filing a countersuit against Disney and Marvel, but it was “The Mouse” who sued them first. The Kirby family, under the 1976 copyright act, had every right to file for what’s called a “right of return” on the characters their father created (or co-created, if you’re still buying the Stan Lee/Marvel company line), and that’s exactly what they did. Dis/Mar, not wanting to see the cash cow that Jack’s boundless imagination has become  end up as the property of, ya know, folks he actually loved and cared about, quickly filed suit to prevent said “right of return” from going into effect. The countersuit just mentioned came about as a result of the lawsuit that Dis/Mar initiiated against the Kirby estate, but let’s not keep perpetuating this myth that “the Kirbys sued Marvel” when it was, in fact, the other way around.

Secondly, I’ve noticed a lot of folks in comics fandom, and even some pros in the field (we’ll get to them in a minute), saying that pressure from “us” helped this settlement come about. Nonsense. Much as I wish it were otherwise, the truth is that there aren’t enough ardent Kirby supporters to make much difference to Disney’s bottom line. Don’t think for a moment that I’m not tremendously glad that there have always been a number of us who have been willing to voice our displeasure at Jack’s treatment by the very company he essentially resurrected from the dead, but nothing we said factored into Dis/Mar’s thinking here (just as all our griping hasn’t hurt Marvel one bit at the box office) — they just did the math. Sure, maybe they figured the best odds were that SCOTUS was never going to hear the case, or that if they did, they’d simply let the lower court rulings that went in the company’s favor stand, but there was a chance — just a chance — that they might hear it, and that the Kirbys might win, and rather than risk losing pretty much everything, they settled out of court.

Besides, to fandom’s unending discredit, there are at least as many voices out there who were cheerleading for Marvel to “beat” the Kirby estate as there were on the right side, and some of these folks were pretty loud, as well.

Our last piece of “myth-busting” is saved for the comics pros out there who are hinting that there was enough belly-aching behind the scenes in the freelancers’ community to make this happen. Sorry, but we’ve gotta call bullshit on that, as well. Maybe if this settlement had been reached back in 1989 or something, when the top “A-list” talent was uniformly in support of Jack (and he was still alive), but not these days. When names like Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Mark Evanier, and Frank Miller (back when he still made sense) were taking up the charge for Kirby, that was one thing, but most of those creators have a substantially lower profile in comics these days, or have walked away from the business altogether, and while a handful of newer first-tier creators like Kurt Busiek, James Romberger, and Grant Morrison have. at least to my knowledge, pretty much always been firmly in the “Kirby camp,” as it were, most everyone else has been silent. Not because they don’t have an opinion on the matter, but because they’ve probably never even been asked. This just isn’t the same burning issue for most creators that it was 20 years ago, even if, by all rights, it probably should be, since some of them might be in Jack’s shoes, at least to a certain extent, someday. I’ll never fully understand why this issue failed to remain “front and center” with the comics community at large, I guess, but the fact is that it really hasn’t been for some time. People are more concerned with what’s going to happen in the next issue of, say, Saga (no disrespect intended to that title, which I quite enjoy, I’m just trying to pick a “hot” series to use as an example and that came to mind) than in this actual, “real world” issue.

And, again, while there have been a number of creators who have been willing to speak out in favor of the Kirby family, there have also been some who have done quite the reverse. John Byrne, in particular, has been making an ass of himself on the internet ever since the settlement was reached with his spiteful railing against it, even though he pretty much built his entire career working on Kirby creations like the X-Men, Fantastic Four, OMAC, The Demon, etc. — except for that brief period when he went and screwed up Siegel and Shuster’s greatest character for a few years.


With all that out of the way, then, let’s get back to guessing about what this means for the future. First off, it’s a pretty safe assumption that Jack’s name will no longer be buried in the end credits of most Marvel Studios films. While I would personally be surprised if he were given an air-quote executive producer credit on the movies like Stan Lee gets — although, for the record, it wouldn’t be the first time a deceased individual was given such a credit — you can bet the words “created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” will be front and center from now on in the opening credit scrolls.  I’d love it if the order were reversed, of course, or better yet if Lee’s name were omitted altogether, but that just ain’t gonna happen.

Likewise, the printed page will probably see some evolution, as well., with Jack listed as a creator in the titles of most Marvel books. We may even see language along the lines of “Created By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Used by Special Arrangement with the Jack Kirby Family “(or their legal entity, The Rosalind Kirby Family Trust) in the credit boxes of future issues of X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk,  etc. books, as we see over at DC in any and every comic in which Superman makes an appearance and we’re told, quite rightly, that “Superman is Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Used by Special Arrangement with the Jerry Siegel Family.”

And, of course, some cash has obviously changed hands here. We don’t know how much, or how it’s been (or will be) distributed, but an initial lump-sum payment with sliding-scale royalties to follow for movies featuring Jack’s creations and reprint collections of his comics work is par for the course with settlements of this nature.

What does Dis/Mar get out of the deal, besides the continued ability to profit handsomely off the fruits of Kirby’s labor and genius? More than likely a complete cessation of future legal filings and some sort of written agreement that the company always owned these characters even though Jack created them. That”s probably why this has been characterized in some quarters, depressingly but accurately, as something of a  “win” for the work for hire system — but WFH is dying on the vine, anyway, as evidenced by the fact that there are probably 50 or 60 creator-owned books out there that are better than even the best corporate-owned Marvel and DC comics right now.


In answer to the question I posed about “what does this mean?” at the outset, then, right now the most specific answer we can offer — lacking any real, ya know,  specifics — is “who knows yet?” But the Kirby family seems happy, Marvel has stated that Jack’s contributions will be acknowledged more publicly, and all in all it seems the good guys won. It may be far from the complete and total victory many of us were hoping for, but it’s a step in the right direction, and does two things that are very important — provides financial security for future generations of the Kirby family , which was the number one thing most near and dear to Jack’s heart, and helps set a precedent for present and future creators so that, hopefully, they never find themselves in a situation where they do all the work, and their publishers make all the money. Time will tell, of course, as it always does.

I take a look at the pilot episode of the new TV series “Gotham” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


Okay, fair enough, I’m kinda late to the party here since Arleigh has already chimed in with his thoughts on the rather unimaginatively-titled first episode of Fox’s new Gotham TV series, Pilot, but as  the closest thing to a “Bat-fanatic” here at TTSL, I thought I’d go ahead and offer a second opinion — even if it’s not terribly different from the first one you fine folks have read here.

Let’s start by stating the obvious — between Year OneEarth OneZero Year, and Batman Begins, the origins of the Dark Knight detective have been done to death on the printed page and the silver screen over the last couple of decades, so only the venue is really “new” here, the basic outlines of the story this show is going to present are already well-known — aren’t they?

Well, yes and no. We all…

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I love Ti West. You love Ti West. All of us who love horror love Ti West. I mean, he’s the future, right? Proof that the genre is in good hands moving forward. The guy we’re all rooting for. The next big thing.

But ya know what? Even the finest directors make an occasional misstep, and as much as it feels like rooting against the home team to say that’s what 2013’s The Sacrament is — well, that’s what 2013’s The Sacrament is.

But not, necessarily, for all the reasons you might be thinking — “found footage” horrors are played out, Eli Roth hanging around as an air-quote “producer” is getting tiresome, etc. In truth, for the type of story being told here, “found footage” fits the bill just fine, and I can detect little to no “stain of Roth” on the proceedings. No, where The Sacrament comes up short is in the fact that we’ve seen more or less this exact same story done before — anyone remember Guyana : Crime Of The Century Cult Of The Damned ? — and in perpetuating dangerous, and frankly racist, myths about the massarce (not “mass suicide”) that occurred at Jonestown in 1978.


Now, hold your horses — before you think I’m accusing West of being a racist himself, let me state for the record that he’s not, at least to my knowledge. But he has, like most people, bought into the official lie of what happened at Jonestown — a lie regurgitated frequently by the media — and that lie is, in fact, rooted in racism (as was Jim Jones’ entire operation). So let’s be clear that’s what I’m talking about when I bring up the “R word” here. Simply put, the idea that a charismatic but insane white preacher convinced a bunch of ignorant and trusting black people — particularly black women — to pour poison kool-aid down the mouths of their babies before taking their own lives in similar fashion is a monumental, despicable, unconscionable, racist lie. It’s a lie that’s been spoon-fed to us for a good few decades now, and most folks still believe it, but there’s no evidence to support it, there never has been, and there is, in fact, a wealth of evidence to suggest that the victims at Jonestown didn’t kill themselves at all but were, in fact, murdered.

For those unfamiliar with this side of the story I appreciate the fact that I probably sound like a raving “conspiracy loon” at this point, but I assure you that numerous respected researchers, as well as many of the victims’ relatives, have been pursuing this very same subject doggedly for years now. Heck, a court of law right here in the US even granted a huge compensation award to many of the family members who stated that no less than the CIA itself  was responsible for the tragedy in Guyana. That claim, as you’d probably expect, remains unpaid as of this writing.

Still — what’s the CIA got to do with it all, you may ask at this point? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out, but as I don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole when I’m just supposed to be writing a movie review here, let me just say that anyone interested in learning more would do well to follow this link to read a detailed, exhaustive analysis of what really happened at Jonestown written by the late, great John Judge : . It’s unsettling information, to be sure, and proof that reality is far more horrific than even the most graphic and uncompromising works of fiction (cinematic or otherwise), but if you’re in the mood to have your blinders about how the world actually works taken off (and taken off forcibly, at that), Judge’s essay is essential reading.


And on that note — let’s get back to the flick, shall we? Essentially what West is going for here is a “what if Jonestown happened in the internet age?” angle, and it’s a pretty obvious approach, since this material lends itself well to the “immersionism” style of journalism so popular online these days. To that end, he has a three-man crew (composed of fellow “splat-packer” Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, and Kentucker — -dear God, that’s a stupid name — Audley) from (you know them — they’re the folks whose coverage of what was really going down “on the ground” in Ferguson, Missouri recently absolutely blew the mainstream media’s slanted take on things out of the water) go down to an unnamed South American jungle nation to investigate the happenings at a religious commune called Eden Parish when one of the triumvirate’s sister, a recovering drug addict (played by Amy Seimetz) sends a letter back home that sounds just too damn good to be true.

And, from there, we basically know how everything else plays out. That probably sounds mighty dismissive, but shit, it’s true : the unnamed country is Guyana, Eden Parish is an obvious stand-in for Jonestown, and the camp’s leader (portrayed superbly by Gene Jones) even goes by the self-appointed title of “Father,” as Jones himself did. Our internet journalists essentially fill the role played in real life by the late congressman Leo Ryan and the team of reporters and photographers he brought down with him down to the jungle in that they’re threatening to expose the phony “socialist paradise” that Jones (who was, in point of fact, a hard-line right-winger  despite his public pronouncements to the contrary) said he was constructing for what it was — a slave-labor camp — and neither they, nor the people living there, can be allowed to survive once “father”‘s sadistic shell game has been exposed as a fraud. From there, it’s just a matter of time until the final — and titular — sacrament occurs and everyone offs themselves.

To West’s credit, he does at least show that many people were less than willing to go gently into that less-than-good-night and were either forced at gunpoint to do so, or else just plain shot. To his discredit, he portrays all of the armed “security” goons at Eden Parish as being black, when in truth, all of Jones’ inner circle — including every single person he entrusted with firearms — was white. The blacks, for their part,  were forced to work the fields and do the heavy labor of construction, etc. — the place was pretty much a plantation-cum-concentration-camp.


Please don’t misunderstand, though — for all its toeing of the “company line,” the series of events that play out in The Sacrament are definitely frightening in and of themselves, and West, in his role as writer/director, makes sure they all pack a reasonable enough punch. But you’d have to have been living under a rock for most of your life to not know how this is all going to end. Hell, even if you want a basic re-hashing of the standard media line vis a vis Jonestown — which is all this flick really amounts to at the end of the day — the PBS Frontline special Jonestown : The Life And Death Of Peoples Temple from a few years back is much better, and frankly a whole lot scarier.

Does that mean The Sacrament isn’t worth checking out? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that — especially now that it’s streaming on Netflix and you can see it for free (I’d been eagerly awaiting its debut on there and watched it the day it came out —  it’s also, of course, available on DVD and Blu-ray, although I can’t fairly comment on the specifics of those versions). West is still a promising young (ish) horror auteur whose career is well worth following, and while this film doesn’t measure up anywhere near The House Of The Devil or The Innkeepers — hell, I’d even argue that Cabin Fever 2 was better — it’s still got its moments, especially when Jones (as in Gene, not Jim) is on the screen.

Truth be told, though, you can live without it, too. I’m not nearly as sick of “found footage” horror as most of my fellow internet pseudo-critics are, but there are literally dozens of better examples of the genre available on Netflix alone, and for a film supposedly centered on “new journalism,” the fact that West misses the big story in regards to his subject is, frankly, inexcusable.



Man, life’s a bitch sometimes. Here I am, trying to pare down my weekly pull list, and instead I find new things to add to it coming from the most unexpected places.

Case in point : I couldn’t tell you the last time I picked up an “all ages” comic, but, sufficiently intrigued by a signing featuring writer/artist Otis Frampton at my LCS (Comic Book College on Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota,  if you must know), I gave the first issue of his new Image Comics series, Oddly Normal, a spin, and — I’m hooked. How hooked, you may ask? Frampton told me that he could see this thing running for 100 issues or so if sales hold up, and I think I could happily go along for the entire ride. That’s how hooked.



First off, credit to the man himself : Frampton (who hails from St. Paul) is a one-man comics-creating super-engine of creativity, doing almost everything here — story, art, letters, editing — single-handed. Thomas Boatwright is credited with doing the “flat” colors, which leads me to believe that Frampton is handling the “special effects” enhancements himself, as well. That’s a lot of work. And he does a killer job with all of it, as the page above shows. I can barely crank out more than two or three comic and/or movie reviews in a week, so — my hat’s off to the guy. And, yeah, I’m more than a little bit envious, I admit it. Sue me.

Backtracking quickly, then, to my “life’s a bitch” comment earlier, that’s certainly true for our titular protagonist here, a pre-teen girl with green hair, pointed ears, a witch for a mom, and a journalist from another dimension for a dad. When you’re her age, all you want to do is fit in, and that’s pretty well impossible for young miss Oddly. Living in a haunted house probably doesn’t help matters much, either. Nor does the cloud that’s always hanging over her head, sometimes literally speaking.


Still, even the most miserable kids have to love birthdays, right? I mean, most of us generally don’t start hating them until we’ve had too damn many. When you don’t have any friends to celebrate with, though, it’s gotta suck — but still, you get to close your eyes and make a wish, don’t you? Friends or no friends, that’s just part of the deal with a child’s BD. So Oddly does just that, of course — and that’s when her troubles really begin.


Or apparently begin, at any rate. The first issue ends on a nifty little zinger of a cliffhanger that promises to play the old “be careful what you wish for” axiom out very nicely indeed. Sometimes old stories are the best stories, especially when told from a unique point of view, and I think that’s what we’re going to be in store for with this series. I’ll refrain from using tired,  shop-worn cliches like “awe” and “wonder” when talking about a narrative that’s told from a child’s point of view, but — there seems to be a good amount of both waiting in the wings here.

I believe I may have already mentioned that I can’t wait to see how it all plays out, but I’ll say it again for good measure — I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. And at a reasonable-by-today’s-standards cover price of $2.99 there’s no reason not to. The art is flat-out gorgeous, the story is engaging and fun, and our-less-than-normal-despite-her-name young heroine is a terrific character that most readers —at least those with a heart — will develop an instant fondness for.

Good show, Mr. Frampton, roll on the next 99 issues — or more — please!

I take a look at “George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act Two” #1 for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


I’ll admit that it brands as being in a tiny minority, but George A. Romero’s Empire Of The Dead  is my favorite ongoing zombie story right now. I’ve long since given up hope for The Walking Dead as both a TV series — blasphemy to some around these parts, I know — and a monthly comic,  with Kirkman and his cohorts long having since lost the plot, in my view, in both of that franchise’s iterations, but good ol’ George, after stumbling out of the gate a bit in Act One of this, his latest (and first printed-page) undead epic, really seems to be in the midst of getting a damn solid little tale going here, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Well, actually, I suppose I could 

For one thing, the second five-issue arc of what’s slated to be a 25-parter (bearing the official copyright title…

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Our occasional tour of cinematic semi-oddities from around the globe takes us today to the UK, by way of Spain, since the film under our metaphorical microscope, 2010 “demonic possession drama” Exorcismus,  is a Spanish production with Spanish financing shot in “Ol’ Blighty” with a British cast and spoken entirely in English. Which leads me to believe that it had to have been subtitled when released in its country of origin (well, okay, one of its countries of origin) under the title of La Posesion De Emma Evans (translated as, I’m sure you can probably guess, “The Possession Of Emma Evans”), but it doesn’t really matter all that much because whatever language you’re hearing and/or reading this thing in, and whatever title you’re seeing it under, Exorcismus is a thoroughly middling affair that succeeds in really one respect only — establishing itself as a “bog standard” exorcism flick to measure the better and worse films in this increasingly-crowded genre up against.

To wit : if we’ve got William Friedkin’s classic The Exorcist perched at the top of the demon-possession hierarchy (as well it should be), and utter dreck like The Devil Inside at the bottom, director Manuel Carballo’s decidedly PG-13 opus falls pretty much dead in the middle. He can take pride in knowing that others have done far worse with material of this nature, but it’s also been done far better — and if knowing all that leads you to ask “okay, so what’s the point of this one, then?,” you’re pretty much on the right track.


So here’s the deal : fifteen-year-old Emma (Sophie Vavasseur) was always a generally well-behaved and unassuming young lady until quite recently, when she started chafing at the over-protectiveness of her parents (played by Richard Felix and Jo-Anne Stockham) and getting resentful about things like constantly having to keep an eye on her kid brother. Typical teenage stuff, I’m sure you’d agree, but when her folks decide to send her to a shrink, said shrink ends up dead ,  and an audio recording of Emma’s therapy session surfaces that features her ranting in unknown tongues and hissing and spitting — well, maybe she’s taking things a bit far with this “youthful rebellion” phase, ya know?

Fortunately for all of them, there just so happens to be someone in the family who specializes in this sort of thing. Her uncle (by way of her mother’s side) is a Catholic priest (portrayed by Stephen Billington) who’s currently on an extended — what shall we call it? — administrative leave for the part he played in carrying out an exorcism that led to another teenage girl’s death. Still, despite some qualms, and with their daughter only getting worse, the Evanses (is that how you say that?) decide that maybe some dousing with holy water and being barked at in Latin is, hopefully,  exactly what their one-time pride and joy needs, they just have one condition — the whole thing needs to be filmed.


Rest assured, however, that this isn’t a “found footage” flick (well, not primarily, at any rate), and take heart in the fact that some good performances from all involved, particularly Vavasseur,  elevate the rather lackluster script, but don’t expect anything terrifically new or exciting here. The plot takes a rather nifty twist right around the midway point (I’ll put it this way, if you thought it sounded pretty goddamn convenient that a priest’s niece happened to get caught up as the host for an evil spirit, you’re right), and once we get to the nitty-gritty of the exorcism itself it’s all reasonably well done, but — and it’s a big “but” — there’s just nothing going on here to really set it apart from the pack. If you’re a fan of tales of demonic possession just as a general principle, then you’ll probably appreciate this one more than others may, but you still won’t be able to escape the “been there, done that” feeling that positively oozes from every celluloid pore here.


Maybe that’s not terribly fair to either Carballo or his film, but it’s not exactly unfair, either. If there had never been a movie of this nature made before, Exorcismus (which is now streaming on Netflix — it’s also available on DVD and Blu-Ray from IFC Midnight, but hey, since I just watched it online, we’re only covering the basics here and not examining the technical specs of its physically-stored versions) would probably stand out as a triumphant spectacle of modern horror, but hey — nothing exists in a vacuum, and if other, and better, flicks than this hadn’t been made first, this one probably never would have, either. So take it all for what it’s worth — if you’re in the mood for something not too taxing that doesn’t break any new ground but at least goes about its business with a reasonable amount of professionalism, give this thing a go. But if you feel like watching yet another riff on more or less the exact same story  for the hundredth time sounds kinda dull, then give it a pass.


Do you like Brian De Palma films? I like Brian De Palma films — in fact, I like ’em a lot. And while he’s arguably best known as a master of either the crime (ScarfaceThe UntouchablesCarlito’s Way) or horror (Carrie) genres, my personal favorite works in his oeuvre remain his stylish, overtly-sexualized, modern (well, for their time, at any rate) updates on the classic Hitchcock “psychological thriller” formula like SistersDressed To KillBody Double, and the woefully-underappreciated Raising Cain. Oh, sure, I  have a real soft spot for flicks like Phantom Of The Paradise and Blow Out as well, but I think he was at his best when channeling his inner “Master Of Suspense.”

Indie director Zack Parker evidently thinks so, too, because his 2013 effort Proxy (which he co-wrote with Kevin Donner and is now available on Netflix instant streaming, as well as on DVD and Blu-Ray from IFC Midnight — I watched it online, so no technical specs for the physical storage versions will be included with this review) is such a blatant riff on those movies that it’s almost criminal.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you — De Palma himself doesn’t seem to be making these sorts of things anymore, so I’m glad that someone is, and frankly,  Parker goes about the task really well. But let’s not kid ourselves.  everything he does here — from the taut classical  music cues to the operatic violence to the sexual psychosis to the “is it a dream or not?” mind-fuck sequences to the plot twist that sees who we thought to be our main protagonist killed off in favor of following somebody else’s story — well, it’s pure, unadulterated, classic BDP all the way.


Shit, truth be told, I’m hesitant to even provide much of a story synopsis here because the various twists and turns are what make Proxy  so damn much creepy fun, and just about anything I tell you could be considered a “spoiler” to one degree or another — heck, I’m guilty of dropping a rather large one already — but here’s the general gist of things : nine-months pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen, in a performance stunningly reminiscent of Angela Bettis’  justifiably star-making turn in May) is violently attacked by an unknown assailant on her way back from an OB-GYN appointment and loses her baby and, very nearly, her own life. Her butch-in-the-extreme girlfriend , Anika (Kristina Klebe) isn’t exactly a whole lot of help in the “emotional support” department, but luckily she makes a new friend at her traumatic-event-survivors support group, Melanie (Alexa Havins), who’s apparently been through a heck of a lot herself, and whose husband, Patrick (Joe Swanberg) can best be described as a self-involved douchebag himself. So it’s natural enough that the two women would strike up a friendship, right?

Not that they know all that about each other right off the bat — and not that what little they do know is necessarily the truth. And that’s all I’m gonna say, because from here on out, things get pretty complicated. Suffice to say that you’re in for a wickedly intriguing little ride and that if you know a little bit about a psychological condition known as “Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome” going in, you’ll be somewhat better off.


Like just about any effort that can best be described as pure homage, originality is in short supply here, but that’s not really the point. The point is for Parker to show off how well he “gets it” in terms of aping his chosen style, and boy, does he ever. There’s an endless series of expertly-delivered and masterfully-presented “pick your jaw up off the floor” moments to sink your teeth into here,  and if the you enjoy getting your hands — and mind — dirty in the dark backwater cesspools of the human condition, Proxy is guaranteed to be right up your alley. We’ve seen most of this done before, sure, but we haven’t seen it done this well in far too long.


I see a fair amount of debate swirling around this film online, most of it focused on “what genre should we pigeonhole this into?,” but my response to that is pretty much “who cares?” Some want to brand it horror, others a thriller, still others psychodrama. For my money, it’s got elements of all of them in there somewhere, but pinning it down to one particular category is of no interest to me whatsoever. It’s just plain good, and that’s all I really care about.

Is it as good as vintage De Palma, back when he was really firing on all cylinders? Well, no, it isn’t. But it’s a stylish enough approximation of it to earn  “must-see” status from yours truly.


So, yeah, it’s “found footage” horror time again, but with a twist — director Zachary Dohnohue (who co-wrote the script with Lauren Thompson) inserts a bit of a spanner into the works with his 2013 offering The Den (distributed by — quelle surprise! — IFC Midnight) by confining all the grim proceedings of his tale to footage purportedly captured either on computer webcam or cell phone cams. Hardly earth-shaking, I suppose, and probably bound to happen sooner rather than later, but it’s enough to set his flick apart from the (over)crowded pack and at least make for a somewhat surreal experience if you’re watching it, as I was, on your computer (via Netflix, of course, so while it’s also available on DVD and Blu-ray, don’t hold your breath for any technical specs with this review since I just streamed the damn thing).

Admittedly, even at 81 minutes Donohue stretches his premise pretty thin and there are a fair number of scenes that make you go “huh? People leave their cameras on for that?,” but at least the plot facilitates this reasonably enough, since the story set-up involves graduate student Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia) scoring a grant from her university to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on an internet chat site called — wait for it — The Den, where users randomly interact with anybody out there with nothing to do who happens to be in front of their webcam. I have no clue whether or not sites like this actually exist online, but if you think of a “chat roulette” version of Skype,  you’re getting somewhere close to the idea.

Anyway, apparently this site is so popular that it’s deemed worthy to be of serious academic study of the most immersive sort, but things take a turn for the worse when Elizabeth witnesses a brutal murder online that the cops, rather too conveniently, nearly immediately decide is real. Her long-suffering boyfriend, Damien (David Schlalchtenhaufen) wants her to pull up stakes and abandon her project, of course, but she gets more “into it” than ever — until he turns up missing, along with her best friend, and then she starts to piece together that whoever is getting their kicks by offing folks online might have set their sights set on her next.


It’s a nifty and pacy little script, and Papilia does a nice job in the title role as she progresses from disinterested observer to more interested observer to willing participant to unwilling (and quickly falling apart at the seams) future victim, but there’s one major flaw that threatens the entire enterprise — throughout The Den we’re introduced to various personages in our protagonist’s life who might just have a motive, however twisted, for doing what they’re doing, and the story very definitely plays out in a technologically-augmented “whodunit?” manner, but — spoiler alert! — Donohue dumps all that in the finale when it turns out that the killer and/or killers have no connection to Elizabeth whatsoever. The “big reveal” is, in fact, completely unrealistic, but also, in its own way, strangely effective, so at least something of a satisfying conclusion is salvaged from what could be a real mess, but if you go into this without looking for suspects, no matter how much you may find yourself tempted to do so, you’ll come out of it feeling a lot better.  And that’s probably as much as I should say on the matter.


Apart from that quibble, though — which I’ve just done the courtesy of saving you from buying into  if you haven’t seen it — there’s actually a fair amount for horror fans to like here, even if you’re sick to death of “found footage.” Our masked assassin is suitably creepy, there’s a healthy dose of intrigue involved throughout, the violence is genuinely shocking and brutal, and the characters are all reasonably likable, to the point where you sorta hate to see anything bad happen to them. Sure, you get the feeling that everyone’s doomed from the outset, but at least their various and sundry demises carry some impact with them when they arrive.  Crucially, too, Donohue knows how to escalate tension and times his various cinematic “body blows” well, ratcheting up the gravitas with each successive scene. Even the film’s “slow parts” feel reasonably crucial,  and since he doesn’t have a whole lot of time to waste, it’s good to see that, ya know, he doesn’t waste any.


All in all, for a flick that very nearly falls completely off the rails, I walked away from The Den more impressed by it than perhaps it deserves. Which just goes to show that, in fact, it probably deserves it all the more. If that makes any kind of sense.


Okay, sue me — I’ve been on something of a “found footage” horror kick again lately, for reasons even I can’t explain, and if you don’t like it —a position many right-thinking folks would have at least some sympathy for (including, if I’m being totally honest, myself) — well, maybe this blog just isn’t the place for you to be for awhile, because I’ve got a few more I’ve checked out recently that I’ll probably have something to say about in the days ahead. Let’s not kid ourselves — much as we might sometimes wish this fad would just be over and done with already, it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised to find a small number of gems hidden away in the far-flung corners of this admittedly over-used subgenre lately.

Unfortunately, the movie under our metaphorical microscope today, 2012’s Crowsnest (yes, all one word) isn’t one of them. Released — as most of these things seem to be — under the IFC Midnight label, I gave this flick a spin on Netflix last night (no DVD or Blu-ray technical specs included with this review, although it’s available in both formats if you’re so inclined) and almost immediately regretted it, but kept watching regardless just , well, because. You know how it goes.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that director Brenton Spencer’s little opus doesn’t have a few things going for it. There are a couple of genuinely make-you-jump-outta-your seat moments, and the premise of a group of twenty-somethings lost in the back woods and being pursued by a pack of nomadic cannibals in an RV is a fairly nifty one. The big problem lies in the fact that screenwriter John Sheppard forgot to write at least one reasonably sympathetic character that the average audience member would want to survive.


The trouble starts in pretty much immediately, as we’re introduced to Justin (Victor Zinck Jr.), an uber-annoying hipster (as, I’m willing to wager, most Justins tend to be) who’s toying around with the new HD camera his whiny girlfriend, Brooke (Mittita Barber) has given him as a birthday present. Right off the bat you can’t wait for these two self-absorbed idiots to die, and the same is true of their friends, entitled wuss Kirk (Aslam Husain), his stereotypical nagging old lady Amanda (Chelsey Reis), and her obviously-emotionally-disturbed, holy roller sister, Danielle (Christie Burke). Seriously, I’ve seen some unlikable-in-the-extreme ensembles cobbled together in low-budget horror flicks, but trust me when I say this bunch takes the cake. They’re literally all  a bunch of fuck-ups.

Anyway, the gang is headed off to Kirk’s parents’ cottage in, by the looks of things, northern California, and while you’d think he’d know the way there since he’s been there plenty of times before, he still manages to get them lost looking for some remote place he knows with, get this, half-price beer. They do eventually find said cut-rate liquor establishment (the titular Crowsnest dilapidated vacation rental spot), but then they get lost again, the RV full of “long pig” connoisseurs finds them, and then they get mercilessly fucked with until they’re all dead.

Unfortunately, that happens about 80 minutes too late into the film’s 85-minute runtime. Not that some of the violent harassment they endure isn’t well-deserved (okay, it all is), but when you’re rooting against a movie’s protagonists from the jump, you’re generally not in the mood to have the agony that is their continued breathing stretched out for too long.


Honestly, when you think about it, a certain type of creative genius is required to screw up a premise as cool as cannibals in a camper, but Crowsnest manages that feat with ease. There’s a believable enough reason offered for why Justin won’t ever turn his goddamn camera off, but the over-use of the device’s night vision begins to grate fairly quickly, as do the numerous way-too-extended takes and purposely awkward angles (quite dropping the thing on the ground already, please!) . All in all, though, those complaints are small potatoes up against the big one, which is that any horror story worth its salt needs at least one — just one — character that the audience wouldn’t happily kill themselves, and Spencer and Sheppard flat-out don’t give us one.


Truth be told, when these spoiled little shits start dying off, it almost comes more as a relief than anything else, because the stresses of being hunted end up bringing out an even worse side of people who don’t have a good one (like when Justin suggests leaving one of his supposed “friends” who’s bleeding out on the side of the road). I’m as naturally inclined toward misanthropy as anyone — and I realize full well that many so-called “millenials” have earned the rather lousy reputation their generation has — but come on, enough is enough. Not even Woody Allen in his prime could populate a film with this many conceited, gutless, egocentric assholes and make it work.