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Sandman, The (2017)

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Starring Haylie Duff, Tobin Bell, Shaun Sipos, Shae Smolik, Amanda Wyss

Written and directed by Peter Sullivan


How do you kill a nightmare?

Scold it into submission.

Loudly yelling at a sleeping child to ward off the dream demon haunting her subconscious is just one of the numerous ill-conceived means of defeating the titular fiend of the newest shark-free Syfy creature feature The Sandman.

If attempting to counter-bully a living nightmare into going away once and for all using terse wording doesn’t strike you as being nearly loopy enough, you will also witness a scene in which a nightmare monster that springs forth from the recesses of child’s mind whenever she feels scared, a being comprised entirely of sand, possessing the ability to transform into creeping granules of sand and whirling “Tazmanian Devil” sand clouds, gets temporarily incapacitated when dirt and rocks are dumped on top of it.

You read that last paragraph correctly. A monster made of dirt is buried under more dirt and has to force its way out physically as if it were more man than sand.

And remember: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again to keep shooting a sand monster with bullets. Who knows? Perhaps the next one will be the one that hits the sweet spot.

Executive produced by Marvel’s very own Stan Lee for Syfy’s “31 Days of Halloween,” The Sandman (not to be confused with the Spider-Man foe of the same name) is like looking in your trick or treat bag and finding a cinematic popcorn ball comprised of bits and pieces of Blumhouse, Stephen King, X-Men, Lights Out, and A Nightmare on Elm Street that nobody bothered to wrap in plastic so now it’s also covered in hair and other crap. Technically it’s still edible, but with reservations.

Haylie Duff stars as Claire. Duff’s only function here is to act concerned at all times. Claire has a douchey boyfriend. Given his rapidly deteriorating mental state, one has to wonder how horribly her relationship with him would have eventually ended even if Madison (Smolik) never entered their lives.

Madison is Claire’s young and newly orphaned niece currently confined to a mental institution suffering from a diagnosis of severe PTSD and night terrors. The girl’s primary doctor insists the easily perturbed pre-teen remain locked up for good for the safety of others, and this is before he even finds out about her psychic powers and the nightmarish Sandman she can conjure forth from her mind when so easily perturbed.

The Sandman itself reminded me of a creature straight out of a Joss Whedon series. I mean that as a compliment. It’s a solid mixture of practical suitmation with some digital sprinklings, the former far more creepy and credible than its computer-generated forms. I liked this movie monster. I only wish it had been put to better use.

The Sandman claimed Madison’s dad as a victim, along with a lot of other people, it would seem. Police, obviously, don’t believe in the boogeyman, so Claire’s brother is suspected of being a serial killer. Your dead brother whom you hadn’t been close to for years is accused of having been a mass murderer, and it takes you how many days to finally do some research about his alleged crimes or bother to ask his clearly traumatized daughter what really happened? All this struck me as pertinent information a sane person should look into before bringing someone into their home, let alone someone just released from a mental institution!

Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell, shows up as an enigmatic investigator just long enough to make you say “Hey, it’s Tobin Bell! Oh? That’s it? What a complete waste of Tobin Bell.”

Bell’s appearance is less a cameo than a needlessly hurried subplot that starts to take things in an interesting direction only to be completely jettisoned before moving on to the rushed nonsense that constitutes the climax.

I rather wish the whole movie had the momentum of the second half. I’ll take rushed plotting over being merely plodding any day of the week. A dreary lack of energy permeates much of the first hour, further hampered by a monotonous score that did nothing to stop me from feeling sleepy.
Amanda Wyss (“Tina” in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street) turns up briefly as a psychiatrist who thinks she knows how to help Madison deal with her Sandman problem by putting a really dumb twist on the ending of a certain movie I just mentioned.

She, like so many other characters, constantly states how this girl cannot control her powers; yet, on multiple occasions she appears to know exactly what she’s doing. Whether Madison is at the mercy of the supernatural or a potential Carrie more than willing to fatally unleash The Sandman on anyone she doesn’t like is a matter the script struggles with as it constantly switches gears.

And, boy, does this thing constantly switch gears…

  • A misunderstood young girl with telekinetic powers unwittingly unleashes a subconscious monster she cannot control, bringing death to everyone around her.
  • A malevolent young girl with lethal powers brings death to anyone who upsets her.
  • A family member must protect a child with powers from a clandestine agency that seeks to capture and experiment on her.
  • All of the above: whenever convenient to the scene.

The young actress cast as Madison is fairly solid, playing both innocent victim and superpowered menace, but she shouldn’t be playing both. You have to pick a lane if you expect the audience to have a vested interest in her well-being one way or another. Would you be cheering for Firestarter to escape the big bad soldiers in the end if she was intentionally incinerating innocent people just doing their job in the first half of the film?

That’s not to say The Sandman is a total bust. Fairly serviceable as far as made-for-television monster movies go these days, I reckon, especially for those with low expectations on a Saturday night. Seeing The Sandman slaughtering armed guards delivers some b-movie monster goodness. Madison using her psychic powers to perform what might be cinema’s first ever suction cup jump scare was a novel moment. There’s a genuinely icky (albeit pointless) delivery room nightmare sequence. The lighting is some of the most atmospheric I’ve seen in a Syfy movie in a long while. That has to count for something.

But, and this is a big but, the absurd, not to mention abrupt, ending only serves to remind you you’re still watching a Syfy movie. If I revealed the means by which this man of sand is ultimately defeated, you’d swear I was joking, as did a co-worker when I explained it or another co-worker who merely closed his eyes and shook his head in a state of…

Disbelief?

Disgust?

Quiet Sadness?

Zen-like inner laughter?

The Sandman premieres Saturday, October 14th, on Syfy.

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User Rating 3.15 (13 votes)
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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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 Yafit Shalev 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.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

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.

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User Rating 3 (11 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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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.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

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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User Rating 3.57 (14 votes)
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Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!

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Beyond the 7th DoorStarring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman

Directed by B.D. Benedikt

Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision


Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.

Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.

Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.

The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.

Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.

The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.

There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.

“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.

“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
  • Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
  • The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
  • Beyond the Seventh Door
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.

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User Rating 3.4 (20 votes)
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