Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Sarah Livingston Evans, Edward Gusts, Anna-Marie Wayne, Nancy P. Cobo, Jared Edwards
Written and directed by Robert Beaucage
“An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.”
That’s actually a quote from Steel Magnolias. The title character of Spike probably wouldn’t consider Steel Magnolias literate enough for his “Masterpiece Theater” tastes, but I assure you a more befitting quote to sum up my feelings on Spike you will not find.
Writer-director Robert Beaucage does deserve to be commended for attempting to make a Gothic romance with loftier goals than the standard teens-broken-down-in-the-woods-hunted-by-a-monster it looks like it’s going to be during the opening minutes. Unfortunately, Beaucage overshoots his target by a wide margin and ends up crafting a grandiloquent bore suffering from a fatal overdose of pretension. Over the course of 90 minutes I went from being intrigued by its uniqueness to admiring the filmmaker’s ambition even though I wasn’t enjoying it to growing increasingly irritated by the stupid characters and their turgid prose to finally just outright hating the film. If you ever want to see a horror movie that is completely full of itself, look no further than Spike.
Not one character in the cast of five is ever given an actual name. There’s the brother, his fiancée, his sister, her lesbian lover, and, of course, the monster. The brother will be incapacitated by one of the monster’s quills moments after their car is sent careening down a ravine in the woods, but not before we’re treated to an utterly bizarre dream sequence that would seem to indicate this guy wants to have sex with his sister. What this had to do with anything to come is lost on me and why it was included at all is anybody’s guess. It really serves as the first warning sign that the misguided director thinks he can get away with flourishes of David Lynchian surrealism just for the hell of it.
The creature drags the badly injured brother off into the woods and his fiancée wanders off looking for him. His sister would rather leave him and his fiancée out there to potentially be killed by whatever took off with him than go look for them as her girlfriend insists they do. That sister then cold cocks her lesbian lover upside the head with a snow ski, ties her up unconscious, loads her into the back of their now broken down vehicle, and attempts to escape. When the girlfriend awakens, she is the most forgiving human being on the planet, only mildly annoyed at her lover for still not wanting to go look for the others rather than for cracking her skull and hog-tying her. In real life that’s a relationship ender if ever there was one. This was just frickin’ stupid.
There is no denying that the monster costume and make-up are top notch. Creature designer Rachel Ford-Pritchett deserves special consideration for dreaming up such a fantastically ghastly monstrosity and believably bringing it to life. I felt a little sorry for the actor having to wear it since all those spikes of varying length protruding must have made something as simple as sitting down difficult.
The moment the creature opens its mouth and waxes poetic with an endless array of lofty literary quotations, my negativity towards Spike truly began to kick in. A forest-dwelling human porcupine that talks like he should be in college getting a doctorate in English literature and then hanging out after class at the local coffee bar where he periodically takes the stage to try and impress everyone with the profundity of his poetic musings – this monster is a poseur.
The monster is in love with that guy’s fiancée and set this whole scenario up so they can finally be together. The two were once childhood friends; this back-story is never adequately explained and constantly talked around in the dialogue. Doing so left me with not enough of an understanding of their history together to make all their relentless twaddle about unrequited love mean anything. The creature constantly quotes from Shakespeare, Beauty & the Beast, Greek mythology, The Elephant Man, and any other classical title thematically relevant. In case you’re unsure what all he’s quoting from, his bookshelf will be shown in one scene and all the appropriate titles are right there front and center for us to take stock of. It doesn’t take long before all the pompous prose and hollow emotions become overbearing.
The monster and the girl do their Beauty & the Beast by way of a Lifetime Network stalker flick, while the boyfriend whom she truly loves remains a critically injured hostage of sorts and lesbians fumble about the woods not really contributing much of anything to the proceedings other than ensuring there are even more going nowhere fast scenes involving characters I grew increasingly to dislike.
I can see Spike possibly appealing to the art house horror crowd (if such a thing exists) and maybe emo girls that think they’re above the whole Twilight thing. I can say I watched it with two friends who ended up hating the film even more than I did, one of whom was a female who’d I assume would be more open to a Gothic romance such as this. She voiced disdain afterwards, in particular that the monster never behaved like a monster even when it should have and that it did not commit a certain act at the end even though doing so would have been thematically appropriate considering the circumstances. Her boyfriend thought so highly of Spike he asked me if I would allow him to stomp on the DVD. Although I told him no, I did have to think about it for a moment.
1 1/2 out of 5
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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