Archive for October 20, 2017

And so, we’ve come to the end of the line for what I assume to be the first iPhone-shot trilogy in movie history. Goodbye, Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Goodbye, house on Steelmanville Road. Goodbye, Nigel Bach.

Although probably not for long on that last one : Bach’s clearly caught the filmmaking bug, and given that he got all three of his zero-budgeters onto Amazon Prime’s streaming service, there’s literally no reason for him not to keep on keeping on. What he’ll do next is anyone’s guess, but I feel safe in making at least one educated guess — it won’t have much (if any) budget.

Which is no bad thing, mind you, as long as the end result is worth watching. The original Bad Ben certainly was. Steelmanville Road : A Bad Ben Prequel just as certainly wasn’t. And Badder Ben : The Final Chapter ends things on a pretty high note and is well worth your time once again. Two out of three? That’s not bad for a trio of homemade flicks cranked out in a space of under two years. So that’s the short version. You want more? Okay, we’ll keep going —

Badder Ben : The Final Chapter, which literally just came out, succeeds where the second installment failed by injecting a significant amount of humor into the proceedings, a move that is probably well overdue, and the results, while not exactly astounding or anything, are nevertheless positive — a film of this nature and with this few resources at its disposal probably has no business taking itself too seriously, and while Bach himself clearly has an earnest attitude toward his job as writer/director/producer/star (as evidenced by the bizarrely passive-aggressive comment he left in response to my negative review of Steelmanville Road), here he manages to keep his more sober-minded (not to mention overly-defensive) impulses well in check in service of simply having — and giving audiences — a good time. It proves to be a very smart decision.

We’re back in the present day this time out, as a paranormal investigation team sets up shop in the Steelmanville Road house in order to suss out just what the fuck has been going on there. Problem is, they find more than they were bargaining for when original series protagonist Tom Riley (played by Bach himself) turns out to be very much alive and perhaps on something of a mission himself. But is he on their side, in their way, or a little bit of both?

The cast is the single-greatest positive difference here, with the ghost-hunters themselves coming off best : Jacquie Baker (as Jacquie, go figure) and Matthew Schmid (as Schmiddy) have a fun and engaging “double-act” chemistry going between them, each being something of a counterpoint or “foil” to the other, and David Greenberg’s “third wheel” character not only doesn’t manage to trip his counterparts up, he often accentuates their snappy interaction. Bach, for his part, is obviously enjoying being back in front of his own camera, and it shows — he’s not actively out to “upstage” his more talented performers, but he’s nevertheless happy to get in on the act and relishes his screen time with something approaching understated joy. Everyone, to a person, is fun to watch here.

Scares aren’t terribly plentiful in this film, it has to be said — nor are the few that are on offer terribly effective — but that’s not too terribly upsetting, since in this self-declared “final chapter” they’re more employed as a means to propel the narrative forward rather than uncomfortably forced into a “centerpiece” role. As “sizzle,” then, they work just fine — as “steak,” they’d probably leave you feeling hungry. Bach wisely opts to have his characters be the main course instead. Which, I guess, sounds vaguely cannibalistic, but whatever. It’s late, I’m tired, so I’m going with it.

And you should go with Badder Ben : The Final Chapter. To the extent that this makeshift “franchise” can be said to have “fans,” chances are that the vastly different tone of this concluding segment may not please all of them, but for my part I can’t think of a better way to put the series to bed than by finally allowing it to be what it probably should have been all along.

To quote this film’s own tagline : “What Happens When Four Crazy Men Kidnap One Crazy Girl?” And to take it one step further : “What Happens When You Only Have $10,000 To Tell The Story?”

You know we love ’em cheap and homemade around these parts, and it doesn’t come much cheaper or much more homemade than director/co-producer/co-writer James D. Froio’s early- 2017 effort, The Girl With No Name, a quickie out of Syracuse, New York, that has a pretty cool premise and has fun turning the tables on various “redneck horror” tropes. We’re all used to inbred country bumpkins kidnapping and torturing nubile young damsels in “Z-Grade” productions, sure, but this time out when Papa Lester (played with sneering OTT relish by G. Van Mills) and his boys Lloyd (Brandon Ferraro), Troy (Brandin Fennessy), and Markus (Issaiah Vergara) set their moonshine-blurred sights on an unnamed (but I guess you already knew that much) girl (Ashley Williams), they find they got more than they bargained for since it turns out she’s even crazier than they are. The hunters have become the hunted, indeed.

Williams scripted the film along with director Froio and co-producer Fatih Salim, so it’s no surprise that she’s given herself a fairly juicy and substantial role, and for an amateur actress she acquits herself pretty nicely, especially when it’s time to dial up the psychosis. You’ve probably gathered already that this flick’s tone is clearly tongue-in-cheek, and it’s just as well that it is given that when you’ve got low-grade production values and inexperienced performers, taking yourself too damn seriously is often a fatal flaw. Williams and her quartet of would-be pursuers certainly couldn’t be counted on to carry a heavy and somber narrative, but something like this? Well, shit — this they can, and do, sink their teeth into with obvious glee.

Which isn’t to say that the whole thing looks like shit, or anything of the sort — Froio has a pretty decent eye for composition and there are some shots that borderline on the artistic, with the overall look being, at the very least, competent. There are some minor sound quality problems, but nothing seasoned micro-budget viewers can’t overlook, and the score by one Sergio Valente is reasonably effective, as well, helping to mark and accentuate the story’s tonal shifts while only occasionally making a spectacle of itself and overpowering the proceedings. Again, if you’re the kind of person that’s a fan of the bottom of the movie barrel, trust me when I say you’ve endured far worse, and may even find yourself more than pleasantly surprised.

When it’s time for the red stuff to start gushing, this film’s practical FX work gets the job done, as well. Granted, it’s best viewed at a distance although not always shot at same, but shit — even up close, it doesn’t look too terribly unrealistic. Froio and co. have clearly been doing their homework and are probably old-school gorehounds, so what they lack in funds they make up for in sheer love of craft. That enthusiasm translates into all aspects of their budget-minded backwoods opus, and it’s more than a bit infectious. Of course this isn’t a great movie — but it’s damn sure a fun one, and what more can you really ask for from something like this than that?

So, yeah — next time you’re browsing through Amazon Prime’s streaming horror offerings, you could do a hell of a lot worse than The Girl With No Name. Its flaws are numerous but far from fatal, and pretty much everyone gets a well-deserved “A for effort.” It would be a big stretch to say that this flick blew me away, but it impressed me enough to give it a qualified (after all, it is what it is — and it can only be so much) recommendation.