Archive for October, 2016


Okay, this is it for me. One more sub-micro-budget flick from Hulu’s “horror and suspense” offerings, and I’m done. It’s damn near Halloween, and I’ve got the next couple of days off work and would like to spend them watching good, reliable horror staples that I know will entertain me. Trolling through stuff I’ve never heard of on Hulu in the hopes of finding some hidden gems has yielded decidedly more misses than it has hits, but no matter : it’s been an interesting viewing experiment, and even if I go back to “Netflix Halloween” next year, as is my custom, or give Shudder a go, or do something else altogether, this hasn’t felt like a complete waste of time on the whole.

Unfortunately, the final film I chose to watch as part of “Halloween On Hulu” — writer/director Lou Simon’s 2013 slasher Hazmat — proved to be exactly that.


Filmed in Miani, Florida, for what looks to be just about no money whatsoever, this is a clusterfuck of rancid idiocy from start to finish. Tell me if you think this setup seems at all interesting to you: annoying TV host “Scary” Dave (played by Todd Bruno) hosts a brain-dead “reality” show called “Scary Antics” that’s basically a horror-tinged take on Punk’d, only even more recklessly juvenile (if you can conceive of such a thing). His wife Melanie (Gema Calero) would like him to, ya know, grow the hell up and find some honest work, but he thinks he’s onto a winner for his next episode, which will feature a withdrawn and sullen young man named Jacob (Norbert Velez), who’s got just about the worst group of friends you can possibly imagine. Consider : in order to break him out of his funk, they think it might be a good idea to take him to the very same place where his father died and scare the shit out of him. This hare-brained (to say the least) scheme backfires spectacularly, though, when Jacob snaps altogether, grabs an axe, throws on a gas mask, and hunts everyone in the now-abandoned building down and, of course, kills ’em.

Whoops, guess that didn’t work!


And neither does the film, to be honest. The acting is lousy from top to bottom, the practical effects are often laughable (check the “beheading” scene that features a lopped-off noggin that looks like it’s probably a mask stretched over a basketball), the various characters’ motivations are either nonsensical or non-existent, the dialogue is wretched, and Simon — whose obviously-self-written IMDB bio is a bizarre mix of egotistical self-promotion, WTMI family hagiography, and paranoid right-wing anti-Communism — clearly doesn’t have the first clue about how to pursue her poorly-chosen career. She’s gone on to make a couple of flicks after this that I certainly hope are better (shit, it’s hard to imagine them being any worse), but it’s not like I’m gonna track ’em down to find out after watching this embarrassingly sub-professional effort.


As a matter of fact, out of the 15 films I watched as part of this little “Halloween On Hulu” thing I’ve been doing, Hazmat is most likely the worst of the bunch — which is really saying something, because I’ve wasted my time on some serious clunkers. So I guess we’re ending with more of a whimper than a bang here, but ending we are. I hope everyone has a terrific Halloween, and we’ll see you again in November (which is only about 72 hours away as I write this), when we return to our regular — uhhhmmm — irregularity around these parts.


Hey! Look what I found on Hulu! Another ultra-low-budget “found footage” horror flick about wannabe paranormal investigators! Let’s give writer/director Tedi Sarafian’s 2014 effort Altergeist a go and see if there’s anything that sets it apart from its legion of competitors, shall we?

Right off the bat the setting here is a winner — the purportedly haunted King’s Ransom Winery in northern California is a reasonably original (and equally reasonably atmospheric) one, that’s for sure, but that’s where any “newness” begins and ends with this film, as we’re introduced in fairly short order to the entire cast of highly derivative characters, all portrayed by obviously amateur actors who struggle to one degree or another : the winery’s owner, Ashen Till (played by David Weidoff) only closes down his operation for one weekend out of the year, and he’s agreed to allow our team of ghost hunters — consisting of pregnant “leader” Theresa (Kristina Anapau), her old man, Dax (Mark Hapka), and crew members Jason (Brendan Fletcher), Sarah (Linsey Godfrey), Mike (Alexis Cruz), and Maya (Sarah Oh) — to have the run of the place while no one else is around so that they can get footage in the can for their still-in-development TV series pilot. Rumor has it that some deep, dark secret infests the place, and a series of bizarre and unrelated (at least on paper) female suicides over the decades would seem to bear that out, but while a gaggle of typically lackluster “weird happenings” begin to plague our ostensible “heroes” rather quickly, it’s a series of dull and uninvolving soap opera-esque internal tensions within the group that seem to present a more clear and present danger to one and all than anything the supernatural plane can conjure up.

And then things get downright confusing.


I’m not just talking about the story, either, although that surely devolves into a convoluted mess. In more practical terms, though, some of the lighting in a number of scenes is so low that  it’s just plain hard to tell what the hell is even happening, which is a real shame because Sarafian does have a fairly keen eye for shot composition that really shines through at times (such as in the still shown above), but those times get fewer and farther between as events progress, and then, just when the entire enterprise seems to be bottoming out in both technical and artistic terms, along comes — the aliens?


Yeah, I don’t pretend to get it, either. And I even went back and re-watched a good handful of scenes to see if there were any hints that I missed or clues that I was too clueless to pick up on. Nope. It’s all totally out of left field. Which could work, in theory, I suppose — but doesn’t in this case. It’s all handled too clumsily and jarringly to be anywhere near as effective as Sarafian clearly wants it to be, and a dumb and confusing film ends up descending even further to the point where it’s dumb, confusing, and ultimately inexplicable. It also feels like it’s about to end a good few times before it actually does, and so when the credits do finally roll, it feels like sweet relief more than anything else.


So, yeah, this is another loser in Hulu’s “horror and suspense” stable, and one you’d do well to steer clear of at all costs. There’s some admirable ambition on display here, but a combination of incompetent execution on a technical level and a poorly-thought-through script torpedo any good intentions its would-be auteur may have had. Beam me the fuck out of King’s Ransom Winery, Scotty — Altergeist is a mess.


I probably shouldn’t even try to review this, to be honest.

There’s such a thing, after all, as being too attached to something — and Love And Rockets, arguably the seminal independent comics series of all time,  has been part of my life since I first discovered it at age 12 and allowed brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (heck, third brother Mario was even part of the mix back then) to expand my definition of what comics could both achieve and be well beyond my then-current preconceptions of the medium. And while there have been times when my interest in it has ebbed and flowed, it’s always been there. From its first magazine incarnation to the “solo” series that followed in its wake to its second iteration in standard comic-book format to its most recent version as a series of annual (or thereabouts) graphic novels (all published, as they have been since the beginning, by Fantagraphics Books), I’ve grown up — and now find myself growing old(er) — with Maggie, Hopey, Luba, Fritz, and the rest of this series’ heartbreakingly human cast of characters. But in recent years, something hasn’t felt quite right.

It’s not the stories or art, don’t get me wrong — while I can’t imagine that readership for the graphic novels is anywhere near as large as the series used to enjoy as a periodical, those who haven’t been following it of late have missed out on some of the best stories Gilbert and Jaime have ever produced. It wasn’t until the announcement was made a few months ago that the upcoming fourth volume of Love And Rockets would see it return to its original magazine format, though, that I realized what had been missing, and while it’s tempting to say that this switch is more an appeal to nostalgia than anything else, in truth I think there’s something more — something greater — going on here. It feels like the time is right for all of these characters to come home.


Not that they really can, of course. Or, perhaps paradoxically, that they ever even left. One of the great things about what Los Bros. have done over the nearly 35-year span of this series is that they’ve allowed each and every member of their now-sprawling casts to change, evolve, and essentially lead real lives. They may age more slowly than you and I, sure, but they’re not frozen in time by any means, and it’s been fascinating to see how they all fall into patterns of behavior most of us can recognize and relate to, then occasionally break or find themselves thrust out of them by choice or circumstance, only to (usually) drift back into them with ever-increasing knowledge of exactly what they’re doing each time it happens. And seriously — would you have it any other way? I mean, the whole Maggie/Hopey “thing” will probably never be resolved — but who the hell wants to see them part company for more than a short while, anyway?

At some point in life we start to value the comforts of the familiar, it’s true, but that needn’t necessarily mean that creative stagnation has to set in for Gilbert and Jaime. It just means that this next phase in both of their respective narratives seems to be arcing toward a sort of return to roots, a new look at what’s made their work so singular and special from the outset from a new, more mature, more settled perspective. And if that prediction holds true, than the return to a magazine format will make sense not only from a commercial perspective, but from a creative one, as well.


Some of that may be wishful thinking on my part, I suppose, but these guys haven’t let me down yet. And while it’s more than fair to say that the first issue of the “new” Love And Rockets isn’t without its flaws — Jaime’s opening strip is strangely flat, emotionally speaking, and in truth neither brother does much in order to acclimate potential new readers to their surroundings — it’s just as true to say that this all somehow feels inherently “right” in ways that a simple format switch alone can’t explain. Aging, one way or another, is the unifying thematic thread throughout the stories presented here (except for Jaime’s surreal sci-fi tale at the end — don’t ask me what that one’s about, but I still loved it), and while it may sound wretchedly pretentious to say it like this, one gets the distinct impression that, after wandering off and exploring other options, Love And Rockets is ready to be a magazine again.


I hope a lot of readers that have drifted away from it are ready to come back, too. This issue is one of those things that has the very real potential to bring folks back into comic book stores who haven’t been there in a long time. Certainly sales at my LCS were brisk — there were only four copies left by the time I got there around 2:00 in the afternoon last Wednesday, so that’s a good sign. And who knows? If going back to the oversized periodical works for Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, maybe folks like Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge might find themselves tempted to do the same?

Okay, no “that may be be —” disclaimer required this time : I know that’s wishful thinking on my part. But what the hell? I already feel a good 20 years younger thanks to this comic. What harm can come from allowing myself to dream again? And if there’s one thing that Love And Rockets #1 proves above all else it’s that dreams, at least occasionally, do come true.



Maybe I’m just beaten down.

Like a stone weathered away to nothing by a constantly-running stream over time, I’ve absorbed so many third-rate “found footage” horror flicks in recent years — particularly in the past few weeks thanks to Hulu’s “horror and suspense” offerings — that anything even slightly more competent than the usual drivel starts to look like a work of comparative cinematic genius.

All of which, I suppose, is my way of saying that I know that writer/director Hunter G. Williams’ 2011 indie offering The Crying Dead (or, as it was known during production, The Whispering Dead — don’t ask me what prompted the last-minute, and frankly rather stupid, title change) really isn’t all that great — but damn, coming after to a lot of the absolute shit I’ve subjected myself to lately, it might as well be Citizen Kane.


Sure, every done-to-death cliche is present and accounted for here : the cast and crew of a new paranormal-themed “reality” TV show (Chris Hayes plays Chris, Jeff Stearns plays Jeff, Becka Adams plays Becka, Angelina Lyubomirova plays Angelina, Callie Cameron plays Callie — you know the drill) are venturing, for their pilot episode, into the bowels of the infamous Ettersburg hospital, where three young girls perished in a fire years ago, and they’re doing so under cover of darkness given that going the direct route only got them confronted with a series of dead ends. Once locked in for the night, they of course discover that all the rumors about the place being haunted are true, and when one of their erstwhile “team” goes missing and they split-up, Scooby-Doo style, to try and track down their now-absent comrade, things go from bad to worse to even worse than that —


Yes, you’ve seen this done before. And yes, you’ve seen it done better. This isn’t going to make you forget about Grave Encounters, that’s for sure. But Williams and co-writer Scott Michael Campbell have obviously done their homework and know how to pace events to achieve near-maximum impact. The cast, while unspectacular, are nevertheless thoroughly believable and get the job done just fine. And there are a reasonable number of scares, both genuine and cheap, filmed with something approaching — though not quite attaining, in many cases — aplomb. For a $200,000 production, it seems impressively professional in terms of its execution, and while the “night-vision” filming certainly grates after awhile, on the whole I have to reluctantly confess that it’s by and large used to good effect and accentuates the genuine “creepiness” of the film’s well-chosen location (a disused California hospital, if IMDB is to be believed). So points all around for better-than-average work on this one.


I won’t bullshit you that The Crying Dead has anything going for it beyond that, though. It’s not in any way ambitious or even particularly provocative. It is, however, proof positive that there are still some decent, if far from revolutionary, things to be found within the “hand-held horror” subgenre. And right now, heck — I guess that’s enough for this frazzled armchair critic.


One of the more interesting-sounding flicks I stumbled across in the “horror and suspense” section on Hulu right now, at least by my admittedly off-kilter standards, was the ultra-low-budget 2010 Canadian production Dead Genesis, a Romero-esque (minus most of the Master’s skill) socio-/politically- conscious zombie flick shot for 15,000 of those rather funny-looking dollars they use north of the border in and around Barrie, Ontario that admittedly was pre-destined to reek of amateurism but nevertheless seemed to promise more by way of thematic ambition than most essentially homemade numbers of this sort typically have the stones to even attempt, much less actively offer. I was also reliably informed by a handful of sources I trust that the opening scene was a real motherfucker, so what the heck — earlier today I decided to give it a shot.


The first thing worth mentioning, I suppose, is that, yeah — that opener turned out to be every bit as brutal as I’d been told/warned, and if you have either a weak stomach, high moral standards, or both, it’s gonna turn you right off the film immediately. I won’t say much other “child eaten alive,” but really — what more needs to be said? And while things surely do “tone down” after that, twisted bastards will still be rewarded as events progress by things like a chained and bound zombie sex slave and plenty of ultra-gory practical effects work that aims to deliver a lot more shock value than it should probably be able to with resources this limited, and generally delivers. A genuine frisson of outright depravity imbues the proceedings from start to finish here, and while a lot of it is nausea-inducing (or maybe that’s just the ultra-shaky camera work?), writer/director Reese Eveneshen is to be commended for serving up a sub-micro-budget “mockumentary” (though I should stress this is in no way a “found footage” film) wherein you truly never know what’s going to happen next because he’s not afraid to show that he’s willing to “go there” — and well beyond — right from jump.


So that’s the good (relatively speaking) stuff out of the way, and now comes the not-so-fun part — zeroing in on Dead Genesis‘ many painfully obvious problems. Our plot here is pleasingly simple enough, focusing on ambitious young documentarian Jillian Hurst (played by Emily Alatalo) as she “embeds” herself with a self-appointed crew of zombie-hunters called “The Deadheads” as they seek to rid the land of legions of the undead as part of the government-initiated, citizen-centric “War on the Dead.” Her initial goal is to make a blatantly pro-war propaganda flick, but the longer she’s stuck “in the shit,” the more she comes to doubt both the ragtag group’s methods, and the whole impetus behind the war itself. Parallels to the Iraq war, as well as to the broader “War on Terrorism” in general, are frustratingly lacking in subtlety, and while Alatalo and co-stars like Colin Paradine, Lionel Boodlal, Erin Stuart, and Tom Parkinson do decent enough work with the material they’re given, a lot of the dialogue is downright cringeworthy, and the film’s poorly-synched sound becomes really distracting really fast. I’m all for using the zombie genre as allegory for so-called “real world” issues, but when said allegory subsumes the actual plot itself you’ve got a bit of a problem on your hands, and when you marry that heavy-handedness with severe technical ineptitude, you end up with a flick that becomes damn frustrating to watch after awhile, even if it’s all underpinned by a generous serving of “anything can happen at any moment here” taboo excitement.


Still, I’m not prepared to say that Dead Genesis is a film you should take a pass on. It very well could be, depending on how easily offended you are, but if you’re the kind of person who gets a charge out of the flat-out amorality of flicks like Cannibal Holocaust or Emanuelle In America, you’ll find plenty to — dare I even say it — like here. The moralizing will work your nerves in relatively short order, it’s true, and it’s more than a touch ironic for a film with zero morals of its own to assume such a high-and-mighty tone, but for my part I found that dichotomy a bit interesting, even if it was far from intentional. Overall, then, what Eveneshen has crafted here is an intriguingly tone-deaf and hypocritical-on-its-face movie that is as far from good as it is from dull. Whatever audience it’s going for is a small one to be sure, and I’d be lying if I said that I knew for certain if I was even part of it, but I don’t regret watching it — numerous and ugly warts and all — and may even give it another go at some point down the road just to get a better handle on what the hell it’s all about and what it’s trying to achieve.


I’ll watch anything with Tony Todd in it. Even if he’s just got a few lines, you know they’ll be delivered with a soul-shaking, baritone, horrific gusto. He never half-asses it, our guy Tony, but let’s be honest: particularly in recent years, a number of the low-budget productions he’s been involved with have indeed been half-assed.

Which brings us to our latest “Halloween On Hulu” offering, a 2013-filmed UK number I found in their “horror and suspense” section last night called Dead Of The Nite. And I’m sorry, but this flick is just straight-up atrocious on pretty much every level.


Welcome to another “found footage” paranormal story! A crew of purportedly intrepid “ghost hunters” are off to investigate the infamous Jericho Manor, which has a standard-issue “haunted history,” and once they arrive to roll cameras for their internet “live feed” show, they’re informed by the caretaker (played by Todd) that they’ll have to be, of course, locked in for the night, because that’s how these things work. They say that’s cool with them and then they proceed to get spooked out of their wits by clanging doors and the sound of footsteps and — you know the drill,  by the time it’s all over only the camera survives.

The one slight “difference” that writer/director S.J. Evans offers up in this dull shaky-cam extravaganza is that instead of “real” ghosts and goblins, there’s a very human, flesh-and-blood killer at work here, but that doesn’t make things any more interesting — and while some of the kills are reasonably effective, his ultra-low budget (20,000 pounds according to IMDB) more or less guarantees that they all end up looking both phony and stupid. The wretched acting by more or less everyone involved doesn’t help matters, either, and “stars” like Paul Fox and Cicely Tennant hopefully still have their day jobs to fall back on , because they’re never going to make it on either screen or stage.


Sadly, that list of bad performances also includes Todd’s, who proves my opening statement to be a lie by half-assing it all they way here. He’s clearly “mailing it in,” as the saying goes,  and probably showed up for one day’s filming, took his check, and high-tailed it back to the US. I honestly felt embarrassed for the guy, and that’s pretty bizarre considering that he should be the embarrassed one. But whatever. We all have out off-days, I suppose, and this is definitely Tony at his lowest and most listless. I never thought I’d say this, but he’s just plain fucking terrible in this film — but at least he’s in plentiful company, because everyone else, both in front of and behind the camera, sucks just as much. The whole thing comes off as a student project undertaken by some particularly bad students who had just enough money to hire a slumming genre star for an afternoon.

So yeah — skip this one. I said at the outset that I’d watch anything with Tony Todd in it, but I didn’t foresee that he would ever be in anything as wretched and irredeemable as Dead Of The Nite. As they say in this film’s country of origin, this is pure, unmitigated shite.


When a flick offers atmosphere but not much else, then it better offer a hell of a lot of atmosphere in order to rise above simple “well, that was a waste of time” classification. I’ll say right off the bat that 2015’s The Inhabitants — the brainchild or the writer-director tandem of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen — has plenty by way of atmosphere going for it, without question. But I’m not sure it has much to recommend in its favor beyond that — yet I’m not ready to call it a waste of time, either. So I guess it must have — what was that again? — “a hell of a lot of atmosphere,” indeed.

Crucially, that sense of atmosphere isn’t the by-product of accident, but of authenticity. Filmed at the historic Noyes-Parris House in Wayland, Massachusetts, this is a fairly simple tale about a husband and wife named Dan and Jessica (played by Michael Reed and Elise Couture, respectively) who buy the ancient-by-American standards New England farmhouse, which has since been converted into a bed and breakfast, with an eye toward achieving their dream of self-employed self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, Dan’s gotta leave his bride alone for a few days to attend to some business, and when he returns he finds that she’s become a cold and distant shadow of her former self — the proverbial “cold fish,” so to speak. As her withdrawal intensifies, he begins to nose around into their home’s history, and discovers some truly shocking secrets involving witchcraft and worse that might go some way toward explaining both Jessica’s condition, and the quasi-paranormal activities that are beginning to plague the both of them on a nightly basis —


Okay, yeah, not exactly revolutionary stuff there, I suppose, and matters aren’t helped by the fact that the pacing of this film is deliberate, bordering on downright slow. Both principal actors are good individually, but don’t seem to have much by way of chemistry with each other, so hubby’s concern for wife can seem forced, and that’s another strike against the production. Even still, you won’t feel compelled to pull away from the film (or hit “stop,” if you’re watching it on Hulu like I did) simply because, again, the setting, lighting, music, and unobtrusive camerawork all combine to create such a compelling sense of atmosphere (I guess that’s out word of the day here) that you’ll be inexorably drawn into what’s happening — even if what’s happening doesn’t necessarily amount to a whole lot.


It’s perfectly fair to say, then, that The Imhabitants is a flick with only one thing going for it. But that “one thing” is a very strong “one thing” indeed. In fact, it’s so strong that you actively want the rest of the movie to be better than it is. You literally find yourself rooting for the other aspects of the production to catch up with the one part that’s unquestionably working. And when you begin to realize that they never will (probably right around the halfway point), you’ll more than likely decide to stick it out anyway, just like I did, simply because you’ll be drawn in by Los Bros. Rasmussen’s style — it would just be nice if there was some substance to go along with it.


All that being said, the film’s absolute lack of originality, its glacially-paced storytelling, and its tepid ambitions torpedo its ability to become anything more than what it is — a really nice-looking movie that looks a lot creepier than it really is. I hope the Rasmussens can hustle up some financing and do another film in the not-too-distant future, but next time, please — have a better script. You guys have plenty of talent, that much is obvious, but now it’s time to develop some material that’s worthy of your talents. The Inhabitants comes close on a few occasions, but ultimately, it’s an exercise in running in place that consistently feels like it should be better — and maybe even deserves to be better — than it is.

Like I already said, though, it’s not like it’s a waste of time by any means. People who like to keep an eye out for the next potential “star” horror directors, in particular, will probably find what’s on offer here to be more than a bit intriguing. Still, everyone from casual viewers to serious genre aficionados will ultimately find it to be a rather hollow viewing experience — but at least it’s (here we go again) an atmospheric hollow viewing experience.


I’ll be the first to admit — I’m far from the world’s biggest Mark Millar fan. I certainly don’t begrudge the man his success — more power to him for that. But success often breeds complacency, and as projects from Chrononauts to Starlight more than ably demonstrate, the rise of Millar’s star-power in Hollywood has resulted in a series of projects that are written with big- (or small-) screen exploitation in mind from the outset. Still, much as I was prepared in advance to be less than enamored with Huck, its inherent corniness and earnest simplicity won me over by the time it was over, and so I decided I’d give the latest Millarworld/Image project, Reborn, a go. In fact, truth be told, I’ve even been sort of looking forward to it —

But if I said that was entirely due to Millar himself, I’d be lying, of course. That’s because the long-time Batman art team of penciller Greg Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCO Plascensia are back together for this series, and that should bring over a number of readers who rarely if ever venture outside “The Big Two,” I’d wager. And seeing this all-star crew moving away from the gritty streets of Gotham and into a far-future fantasy world should prove to be a pretty interesting departure and give them all a chance to sink their metaphorical teeth into some material that’s well outside their usual wheelhouse, which is always an intriguing proposition.


As with most Millar books, the set-up here is fairly simple : an elderly woman who’s seen her fair share of tragedy (her husband was killed at random by someone called “The Minneapolis Sniper” — let’s hope no one here in my hometown gets any ideas) reaches the end of the road, only to wake up after dying not in heaven or anything of the like, but in a decidedly different afterlife that sees her assuming the role of a long-foretold warrior hero liberating the people of — somewhere — from the insidious threat of — something. The specifics of exactly who is fighting what are admittedly vague at this point, but if the whole premise sounds more than a bit like that of its Image stablemate Birthright, I’d have to say you’re not very far off the mark at all.


Still, this first issue was a fun enough read on its own merits, and the art is every bit as amazing as any of us could have hoped for. Capullo still seems more at home drawing costumed characters than actual people, but we’re well within his “comfort zone” by the halfway point of this debut installment and it looks as though we’ll be staying there for the remainder of the run. The initial “set-up” pages are fine, don’t get me wrong, but once the action moves to the sword-and-sorcery/sci-fi astral plane (or whatever), it’s like a switch is flipped and penciller, inker, and colorist are all firing on all cylinders. The comic goes from good-looking to gorgeous more or less immediately, and even if the story stalls out at some point, this might still be worth buying for the art alone.

So — will the story stall out, then? Hard to say. Millar’s scripts often start fairly strong, end strong, and run in place for a few issues in between, but this one, like Huck before it, seems to have a bit more heart than a lot of his other stuff has shown lately, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. It’s simple storytelling on its face, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself if the execution is top-notch. On that score, then, I’ve gotta say “so far, so good.”


All in all, then, it looks like we’re probably in for a fairly fun, straightforward ride here. Yeah, it’s probably all being constructed with an inevitable movie option in mind, but as long as it ends up being a good movie, we’ve got nothing to gripe about, right? And it’ll have to be a good comic first first in order for that to happen — won’t it?



I know, I know — I was thinking it, too, but 2014’s The Redwood Massacre isn’t set in northern California. In fact, hard is it may be for American audiences (including myself) to believe, writer/director David Keith’s low-budget splatterfest is basically the closest thing we’re ever likely to see to a Scottish version of Friday The 13th. And since I know that description is going to require at least a bit more explanation, here we go —

Local legend has is that the so-called Redwood House was scene to a bloody massacre years ago, and so, kids being kids, every year on the anniversary of the slaughter, tons of them head out to the wooded area around “ground zero” to camp, drink, smoke pot, screw, and generally act like assholes. And whaddya know, all five of our principal players here — Bruce (played by Mark Wood), Pamela (Lisa Cameron), Kirsty (Lisa Livingstone), Jessica (Rebecca Wilkie), and Mark (Adam Coutts) — are, in fact, major league assholes and right from jump you’ll be looking forward to them getting killed. Which is a pretty solid statistical probability given that, this year, there is an axe-and-machete- wielding maniac out to wreck the ghoulish good time all these annoying twenty-somethings are having by proving that the apparently-nameless (at least I don’t remember them bothering to give him one, which is a huge oversight on Keith’s part) Redwood killer is very much alive, well, and angry.


Now, for my money, it’s always good when a slasher flick features at least one or two annoying pricks and/or bitches that deserve to meet bloody ends, but populating your entire cast with unlikable, self-centered bastards is a dubious proposition, at best, and makes for a less-than-fully-satisfying viewing experience. It would be nice if Keith gave us at least one person to root for, but apparently the thought never occurred to him, and so what we have here is a film that is, more by accident than design, perfectly set up to be one where we could really get behind the killer. Sadly, though, he’s basically an empty cipher in an admittedly cool mask that has none of the — for lack of a better word — personality of a Michael, Freddy, Jason, or Leatherface. He’s violent as shit, to be sure — characters are dispatched in uniformly creative and increasingly OTT ways — but it’s all presented in such a straightforward, lifeless, and crucially humorless manner that you can’t really develop much of an emotional connection to the bad guy, either. The film’s lower-than-low budget necessitates that most of the practical effects (and props for that, by the way) can’t be effectively realized, either, and while that’s given rise to some truly creative blood and viscera in the past, there’s no one with the sheer ability of a Tom Savini or a Greg Nicotero or a John Carl Buechler or a Dick Smith working on this movie, and so what we’re left with is best described as a cut-rate version of one of the Hatchet flicks that takes itself way too fucking seriously and looks cheap, to boot.


All of which is a real shame because there are some absolutely terrific locations that go to waste here. We’re talking environs — both interior and exterior — that by all rights should be good and scary, and certainly convey all the proper atmospherics and then some, but are somehow stripped of all their potential value by dint of sheer cinematic ineptitude. Its painfully obvious that Keith still has a hell of a lot to learn about his craft, and unfortunately for viewers of The Redwood Massacre, we’re stuck watching him trying — and failing — his on-the-job training course. Maybe he’ll get better as time goes by — frankly it’s hard to imagine him doing any worse — but damn, good luck finding financing for your next project when this one is so relentlessly lackluster.


Still, it’s not all bad news, and I would be remiss not to point out that —

Oh, wait, it is. Honestly, I can be reasonably entertained by even the most mediocre slasher, but the simple, unvarnished, ugly truth is that The Redwood Massacre really does have absolutely nothing going for it. Like everything else I’m reviewing this month it’s available for streaming on Hulu, but I wouldn’t recommend wasting your time on it — unless you’re an aspiring young director looking for an object lesson on how not to do things.



Filmed in an apparently-disused building at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for a reported $18,000 in 2014 by writer/director Theophilus Lacey, The 13th Unit is something I’d unfortunately not yet previously encountered in my “exploration” of Hulu’s lesser-known horror selections — a genuinely charming and reasonably gripping ultra-low-budgeter that punches much harder than its weight class and actually leaves you saying to yourself “ya know, that was pretty damn fun.”

Oh, sure, this suspenseful little yarn about seven people trapped overnight in a purportedly underground storage facility that houses and honest-to-goodness supernatural demon/beast in its titular 13th unit is hardly revolutionary stuff — and one could argue that The Hoarder exploits more or less the same premise (minus the largely-unseen creature) to greater effect, but shit — for what it is, this unassuming, obviously amateur number isn’t bad at all.


True, each and every actor has their struggles — but the friends and family members of nominal “stars” like John Allen Phillips, Lance Aaron, Aidan Bristow, Rocki DuCharme, Kate Kelly, etc. have no reason whatsoever to cringe when they see their loved ones on screen, much less to hide this away and pretend the whole thing never happened. They all do their best, and most of the time, their best is just fine. The principals involved all manage to  convey a sense of terror with a reasonable amount of believability, at least, and that’s actually more than you can say for many high-profile Hollywood productions with hundreds of times the budget that Lacey has to work with here.

And speaking of Lacey — he comes out of this whole endeavor looking pretty damn good, himself. His script is well-paced and even clever, his use of lighting and other atmospheric elements is confident and effective, and his camerawork is unobtrusive and semi-naturalistic without being actively dull. In short, he proves that he knows his craft, and it’s my sincere hope that a “suit” at Lionsgate or somesuch is paying attention to this film, because this is a guy who definitely deserves a shot at the big time. So, yeah, Mr. Studio Executive — give him a call, please.


Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing wrong with The 13th Unit that some extra time and money wouldn’t fix. It’s not an especially ambitious piece of work in the thematic sense, but that’s okay — too many up-and-coming directors (or would-be up-and-coming directors, at any rate) bite off way more than they can chew and give in to literally every single one of their indulgences that they’re able to get away with. It’s painfully obvious that all of these folks are aiming for bigger things, but they’re going about it in exactly the wrong way — demonstrate that you know the basics first, and maybe next time (or the time after that, or the time after that) you’ll be in a better position to pursue your more lofty goals as an auteur. But let’s be real — don’t try to show that you’re the so-called “next big thing” in Hollywood before you’ve even mastered the fundamentals or you’re going to find yourself well on your way to being the “next big thing” at the fucking shoe store. Guys like Lacey, who pursue a more “long game” strategy, are the ones who have the potential to go far in the business.


So why not say you “were there” — however vicariously — at the beginning of his career? Give The 13th Unit a look, I can promise that you’ll be very glad you did.