Starring Kevin Jiggetts, Kara Luiz, Max Gray Wilbur
Directed by Mitchell Altieri
What would the world be without clowns to keep us happy? Now while some of you might find that question to be a bit sarcastic and disturbing, some of the hardcore horror fans would certainly agree that we need clowns, strictly for subject matter – now how about I ramp it up a bit: how about vampire clowns? Piquing your interest yet? If so, allow to me to introduce this little gem from director Mitchell Altieri called The Nightwatchmen, and if I may be so inclined, please let me say that aside from some discernible goofiness strewn about this flick, I’ll say that it’s already one of my favorites in this short little spell we call 2017.
The movie opens up with the saddening news that Blimpo the Clown (apparently a national treasure), has passed away due to a mysterious illness while overseas in Romania (wonder what could have done the ol’ jester in). So, his body is shipped back to the states, and a couple of bumbling delivery dopes drop him off at a Baltimore newspaper building, where a “deal” is struck to watch the body overnight, and he’ll be safely transported to the funeral home in the morning. Sounds like a simple task, doesn’t it? Well, you haven’t seen the security responsible for the safety of this particular building – consisting of an ex-soldier (Ken Arnold), his disgruntled co-officer (Jiggetts) and an Italian hothead with a cold stare (Dan DeLuca) – added to which is the newest employee (Wilbur) on his first overnight shift: now known as “Rajeeve” thanks to a deceased co-worker’s uniform. He’s briefed on the duties encompassed within, such as “watch this camera, play some cards” – you know, the path of least-resistance kind of stuff. Anyhow, it’s not before long that ol’ dead Blimpo hops up out of his wooden casket and takes on his new fangtastic lifestyle, dispatching workers in the building and turning them into stark-raving bloodsuckers, and it’s up to our bumbling squad of rent-a-cops to try to save the day – large leap, indeed.
Aiding the cause is a tabloid journalist (Luiz), who’s not afraid to get her hands bloody, and the cameo list is a fun one as well: James Remar (The Warriors) holds his own as a sleazy supervisor, and the fellas will get treated to a double-dose of femme fatale fineness with the inclusion of Tiffany Shepis and Sarah French as a couple of unlucky office-workers. Both ladies could shine up a pic in a heartbeat, and it’s well worth the price of admission to see them work their magic. Attention all gorehounds: we’ve got a sale on an overabundance of arterial sprays and crimson douchings here as well – these vampires make a friggin mess when they’re sent back to hell (and they leave a heck of a stench too). Humor as you’d expect it, can be a bit campy, but it’s got its place, and I found myself laughing out loud at more than one instance within the film’s runtime. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Nightwatchmen to an audience looking for a fun, comedy-ridden gorefest when it becomes available to the public, and damn, we’re already just a week into 2017 and I’ve found at least a couple of movies that have made me smile from ear to ear – let’s keep this trend going!
SXSW 2018: Wildling Review – A Fresh and Mature Take on Werewolves
Starring Bel Powley, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Collin Kelly-Sordelet
Written by Fritz Böhm and Florian Eder
Directed by Fritz Böhm
Wildling follows Anna (Powley) who was raised in captivity by her “daddy” (Dourif), only to be thrust into the real world as a young woman with no concept or preparation for anything she sees or experiences, both in her surroundings and within her own body. Staying with Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Tyler) and her younger brother Ray (Kelly-Sordelet), Anna must acclimate in short time to the expectations of those around her, making this coming-of-age tale difficult because she is at such a disadvantage. However, we quickly learn that Anna is no ordinary person in that she is not a person at all: she is a Wildling, a werewolf-like creature whose transformation was being held back by Dourif’s injections.
What makes Wildling so interesting is how the transformation of Powley into the titular character twists the traditional werewolf mechanism into a metaphor for Anna’s own metamorphosis from a young girl into a formidable and entirely capable, albeit not human, woman. That the men of the small town that this film takes place in see this as a threat is not a subtlety that is meant to be passed over. Even in her innocence, Anna does not succumb to the demands and pressures of those around her, fending off a near rape by a local high school boy and standing up to her “daddy” as she realizes her own self worth.
Powley plays her role with charming confused innocence while Tyler plays the mother to Dourif’s “daddy”. She takes on the role of helping teach Anna what being a young woman is all about, from buying her tampons to giving her advice on what kinds of boys to avoid. Dourif, while always darkly charismatic and captivating, pulls deep into his acting chops for this role, bringing a nuanced representation of patriarchal control coupled with an inability to understand his “daughter” and her needs.
Beautifully filmed by Toby Oliver (Get Out, Insidious: The Last Key), Wildling immerses viewers in an almost fairy tale-like world. The town feels like a secluded berg while the surrounding forest teems with life and a magical air hovers in its branches. That being said, the film sometimes gets a bit too dark to see properly and the music is largely forgettable. Still, those minor complaints aside, Wildling is a wonderfully fresh take on what the werewolf subgenre has to offer.
Wildling takes traditional the werewolf transformation mechanism and uses it as the foundation for a more immediate and relatable story, one that will especially resonate with female audiences.
Prodigy Review – This Kid Is Killer
Written and directed by Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal
From the minds of Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, Prodigy could have easily debuted as a stage play instead of an intimate sci-fi horror film delivered straight to your television. Told with a confident grasp, the story unfolds in only one location with two characters responsible for carrying the entire narrative. Good performances, sure-handed directing, and a solid script highlighting tense moments make the claustrophobic setting seem much bigger in scope. A little telekinesis thrown in to good effect and a creepy killer kid don’t hurt the momentum either.
Under constant surveillance at a remote black site, an aging psychologist named Fonda (Neil) is tasked with assessing a dangerous young girl called Ellie (Liles), who is highly intelligent and possesses supernatural powers. Fonda attempts to inject some humanity into Ellie, but she is cold and calculating and seems to be toying with him at times and the onlookers watching from behind the glass. The back-and-forth between both characters is competitive and often riveting, with Ellie slowly revealing her abilities to her wide-eyed new audience. Wrapped up in a familiar setup, the decision to study or dissect this meta kid is the central question of Prodigy; but the execution of a simple premise is what keeps the story afloat.
On a very small scale, Haughey and Vidal make the setting feel cinematic with crisp images and smart shot selections that help maintain the tension. There’s a strong backbone in place that allows both actors to bounce off of each other in a well-choreographed mental dance as the dangerous game they’re playing begins to unravel.
Several scenes where Elle demonstrates her powers are the standouts in Prodigy with chairs and tables flying and glass breaking to great effect. These sequences diffuse some of the tension for a moment, only to fully explode late in the film when Elle’s emotions unleash. It’s only then that there has been any kind of breakthrough that could possibly help to save her life.
That gets to the heart of the real question posed in Prodigy: Is an extraordinary life still worth saving if it threatens ordinary lives in the process? Also, does the fact that this potential weapon is housed inside the body and mind of a young, lonely girl make a difference to whether it should survive? These questions and how they’re answered make Prodigy a micro-budget standout in the indie horror genre well worth taking the time to rent this weekend if you’re not planning on attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade somewhere.
Prodigy is now available to on iTunes, Amazon, and other On Demand platforms.
The questions raised and how they’re answered make Prodigy a micro-budget standout in the indie horror genre well worth taking the time to rent this weekend if you’re not planning on attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade somewhere.
Cold Hell (Die Hölle) Review – Giallo Terror Invades Vienna
Starring Violetta Schurawlow, Tobias Moretti, Sammy Sheik
Written by Martin Ambrosch
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky
I have a serious soft spot in my horror-loving heart for serial killer films. Movies like Seven, The Silence of the Lambs, The Crimson Rivers, and the like draw me in with their cat-and-mouse mentality. Couple those kinds of movies with non-US settings and I’m 100% hooked. So when I was introduced to Die Hölle (aka Cold Hell), which just started streaming on Shudder, I didn’t hesitate to enter this giallo-inspired thriller.
Cold Hell follows Özge Dugruol (Schurawlow), a Turkish taxi driver in Vienna who clearly lives a strained, almost broken life. The fares she picks up verbally abuse her, the Thai boxing gym where she lets go of her anger has banned her after a violent sparring incident, and her family has its own fair share of problems, including infidelity, lack of responsibility, and painful memories of early years.
One night, after coming home from a long shift, Özge opens the window in her bathroom only to see across the way into the home of another woman who is lying on the ground, flayed and burnt, her dead eyes staring at Özge. Stunned into shock, she can only look on before realizing that the man responsible for this woman’s death is standing in the shadows, looking at her. So begins Özge’s journey of terror as this killer makes it his mission to find and end her life.
Cold Hell has an interesting juxtaposition running throughout the film where cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels’ gorgeous visuals are used to highlight the near-squalor and seedy underbelly of Viennese life that Özge lives in. Each scene is bathed in vibrant colors, streetlight reds and neon greens painting the frames. Marius Ruhland, who composed Ruzowitzky’s Academy Award-winning film The Counterfeiters, lends beautiful and thrilling music that knows when to coil up and provide tension before exploding to mirror the chaotic frenzy of the on-screen events.
A direct commentary on religion’s antiquated view of the place and purpose of women, Cold Hell doesn’t shy away from making nearly everyone in this movie a flawed character. People who were unlikable become understandable once the breadth of their circumstances becomes more clear, as is the case with detective Christian Steiner (Moretti), who originally treats Özge with an almost xenophobic attitude only for us to later see that he cares for his dementia-ridden father. While not excusing his previous behaviors, such a revelation gives his irritation and frustration a more justifiable foundation.
When the action strikes, we are treated to breathtaking car chases, blood splashing across the screen, and believable reactions. The characters in this film get hurt and they show it, limping painfully with their cuts and bruises open for the world to see.
The film is certainly not flawless. Some characters feel shoe-horned in and there are rather lengthly segments where the film comes to a crawl. However, the engaging and nuanced performance from Schurawlow easily kept me glued to the screen.
With beautiful music and gorgeous visuals, Cold Hell is an engaging, albeit slow burn, serial killer thriller. This is one film that should not be missed.
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