Archive for October 29, 2017

The recent release of Jigsaw proves, I guess, that the whole “torture porn” thing isn’t over with just yet, but earlier in 2017 low-budget writer/director Joshua Shreve beat the latest installment of the Saw franchise out of the gate with his straight-to-streaming (and, I guess, DVD, but for our purposes the fact that it’s available on Amazon Prime is all that really matters) effort Talon Falls — the question is, did he beat its at its own game?

There’s no question that this story about four road-tripping teens (played by Morgan Wiggins, Ryan Rudolph, Jordyn Rudolph, and Brad Bell) who make a pit-stop at a Kentucky roadside “scream park” featuring a plethora of blood, torture, and gore that all seems a little bit too realistic is, in fact, sadistic in the extreme — especially when the burly rednecks who run the joynt kidnap all our protagonists, one by one, and proceed to show ’em how things are really done at this backwoods splatter-show — but there’s a decidedly clinical feel to the whole endeavor that not only reduces the grotesque and (should-be) disturbing to a mere business, but robs it of its its ability to shock, as well.

In other words, no matter how bad things get here — and they do get pretty goddamn bad — it all feels terribly expected.

You name it, we’ve seen it : the animal masks. The hatchets and axes. The makeshift “medical” devices designed to inflict maximum bodily harm. The evil inbred yokels. The fetishistic focus on torment. The free-flowing blood, viscera, and entrails. It’s all shot with surprising professionalism by cinematographer Jeff Steinborn, to be sure, but damn — the gore and torture should be excruciating here, but they’ve got nothing on how excruciatingly predictable the plot is.

I guess that the titular Talon Falls is a real Halloween attraction (the flick was shot there), and that’s cool and all, but that’s about the only thing to set this apart from any of the other “torture porn” flicks that were big business about a decade ago, other than the more-competent-than-usual acting of “final girl” Lyndsey (Wiggins) and the slightly-more-menacing-than-most figure of chief killer Tiny (Tim McCain), who cuts a pretty cool — and suitably silent — figure as he chases people around, trusses ’em up, and all that.

Seriously, though — if you’ve seen House Of 1000 Corpses (and, come on, you know you have) then you’ve seen Talon Falls. In fact, you’ve seen a much better version of Talon Falls. It’s not that Shreve and Co. aren’t trying or anything — clearly they are — but what they’re trying to do is make a movie that’s already been made (and more than once, at that), and just do it cheaper. Serious gorehounds will probably find enough here to keep them interested, and more power to ’em (hey, I’m not one to judge), but for the rest of us? This is one you can safely skip — and in my considered opinion that’s precisely what you should do. The only thing that hurts about this flick is watching it.

A thorough appraisal of the micro-budget horror offerings available for streaming on Amazon Prime would’t be complete if we didn’t check out at least one rip-off of The Exorcist (there are literally dozens to choose from), and so I rolled the dice on writer/director David Spaltro’s 2015 effort, Dark Exorcism (originally released under the title In The Dark, not sure when or why the name-change happened), which manages to stand out from the pack in that it features four female leads — but apart from that, I’ll give the game away right at the outset (never an advisable thing to do in the review game, I know, but what the fuck) and just state plainly that this is “been there, done that” stuff all the way.

If you’re still reading, then, here are the particulars : art student Bethany Mills (played by Grace Folsom) has recently survived a horrific accident that claimed the life of her father, and subsequently moved back in with her mother, Joan (Catherine Cobb Ryan), who is becoming increasingly disturbed by both her daughter’s borderline-unhinged behavior, as well as a series of paintings she’s undertaken that features decidedly morbid themes and iconography. Time to call in the professionals!

The “professionals,” in this case, are parapsychologist Lois Kearne (Fiona Horrigan), and skeptical grad student Veronica Carpenter (Lynn Justinger), who’s doing her thesis on on the paranormal and is along for the ride basically to function in the “audience’s eyes and ears” role, the idea being that we’re supposed to drop our resistance to the whole notion of demonic possession along with her as events spiral increasingly out of control. Kearne herself admits that the vast majority of cases she’s investigated over the years either ended up having perfectly rational explanations or were outright hoaxes, but she insists that a small handful really were genuinely inexplicable, and while she’s not sold on this one falling into that category immediately, she lets it be known that it has all the hallmarks of something that might be a “legit” possession, while Veronica, for her part, remains unconvinced — and remains unconvinced — and remains unconvinced —

Right up to the point where it pretty much can’t be denied anymore no matter how stubborn you are. Finally! But by then, trust me, your interest in the proceedings has already worn pretty thin.

On the plus side, the production values of this flick are fairly competent across the board. The acting is uniformly solid if unremarkable, the effects are reasonably impressive, the music’s pretty decent, and the sets, cinematography, and lighting are all effective enough as far as these things go. No one involved with the production either in front of or behind the camera need hang their head in shame. And yet —

There’s really nothing that stands out, either. This is a road very well-traveled, and surprises are nowhere to be found. Spaltro seems to be playing at something of a “faith-based” angle here, too, which results in a whole bunch of boring and hackneyed metaphysical monologues apparently designed to scare us all back into the pews on Sunday mornings. That kind of heavy-handed lecturing is, of course, something we can all do without — and, at the end of the day, the same can be said of Dark Exorcism in general.