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Welcome to Willits (2017)

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Starring Bill Sage, Rory Culkin, Sabina Gadeki, Dolph Lundgren and Shad Gaspard

Directed by Trevor Ryan


Of horror’s myriad sub-genres the oldest and most enduring is probably the horror-comedy. From Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein to Tucker and Dale vs. Evil we’ve been taking our fear with a healthy dose of funny pretty much on the regular for decades. There’s just something cathartic about finding humor in the darkest of subjects. To face the inevitable end we all must meet and be able to laugh in its face. Author Robert Bloch once opined that horror and comedy were “two sides of the same coin”, each with similar tensions and exultations.

While it’s true that most horror-comedies tend to lean further into comedy than horror, sometimes they strike a more even balance between the two. Too much of one can undermine the effectiveness of the other after all. Welcome to Willits manages to find this balance. While much of the movie is absurd in the most delightful of ways there are moments of true terror that will sober you up quickly no matter how hard you might find yourself chuckling at the plethora of zany proceedings.

Welcome to Willits is, at its core, a slasher film. A sub-genre within a sub-genre, if you will. It involves a group of teenagers who go camping in the woods of the Emerald Triangle in California and get picked off one by one. The brilliance and hilarity of it comes from the nature of their stalker and the reason for which they are being stalked. If you think you’ve seen it all then the delightfully stupid motivation of the film’s antagonist should come as a refreshing surprise. You may just find yourself, more than once, with a big, dumb grin on your face from the sheer insanity.

The film is the brainchild of the Ryan Brothers, Trevor and Tim, with Trevor in the director’s chair and Tim with the writing credit. Being their debut makes what they managed to achieve with this one all the more impressive. The film is directed with a deft and steady hand with pacing that never feels uneven. The writing is clever and subversive and blends brutal reality with the extremely surreal masterfully. The incidental way they handle some of the more gruesome moments goes a long way towards their goal of completely removing the viewer from their comfort zone by the climax. This is the kind of work that should get the Ryan Brothers noticed.

The cast, for their part, does a respectable job bringing their broad characters to life. Bill Sage, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest. His turn as the villain of the piece is exceptional. He is tasked with not only making you fear him, which you most certainly will, but with also making you like and even pity him. Choppy waters to be sure but Sage navigates them with seeming ease. There are moments in the film that he will make you squirm with merely a look only to make you laugh seconds later. Without his outstanding performance the character could have easily been too silly to take seriously and the film wouldn’t work. Thankfully the Ryan Brothers knew what they were doing when they cast Sage. Certainly one of the better horror performances of the year.

You may have seen the film being marketed using the image of Dolph Lundgren. While Mr. Lundgren is indeed in the movie his role isn’t that of a main cast member but rather as part of the film’s most subversive plot device. No spoilers here but, suffice to say, his presence as a no-nonsense T.V. detective is both surprising and hilarious.

Welcome to Willits is one of the best independent offerings of the year. While the budget might have held it back a few times the care that was put into crafting it is clear from the beginning. Everyone involved is trying their best to bring something different and memorable to the screen. For the most part they succeed. The Ryan Brothers look to have a bright future if this is the quality of work we can expect from them moving forward. As it stands this a most encouraging start.

 

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Victor Crowley Blu-ray Review – Killer Special Features Make This a Must-Own

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Starring Parry Shen, Kane Hodder, Laura Ortiz, Dave Sheridan, Felissa Rose, and Tiffany Shepis

Directed by Adam Green

Distributed by Dark Sky Films


Like many of you horror fans out there, I was surprised as hell when Adam Green announced that there was not only going to be the fourth entry in his famed Hatchet series but that the movie had already been filmed and was going to be screening across the country.

Of course, I wanted to get to one of those screenings as soon as possible, but unfortunately, there were no events in my neck of the woods here in Gainesville, Fl., and so I had to bide my time and await the Blu-ray.

Then a few days ago, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley landed on my doorstep and I jumped right into watching the film. Short story, I loved it. But we’ll get into all of that more in-depth below. For now, let’s do a quick rundown on the film for those two or three horror fans out there who aren’t familiar with the film and its premise.

Victor Crowley is the fourth entry in the Hatchet series, a franchise that follows the tale of a deformed man that accidentally met the wrong end of his father’s hatchet long ago and now roams the Louisiana swamp each night as a “Repeater”, aka a ghost that doesn’t know it is dead and thus cannot be killed. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. After all, Victor was supposedly killed at the end of Hatchet III by a combination of Danielle Harris, his father’s ashes, and a grenade launcher. Dead to rights, right? Not so much.

In this fourth entry/reboot, a group of indie horror filmmakers, lead by the adorable Katie Booth, accidentally resurrect Crowley just as the original trilogy’s lone survivor (Parry Shen) is visiting the swamp one final time in the name of cold hard cash. Long story short, Shen’s plane crashes with his agent (Felissa Rose), his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), and her film crew in tow. Some survive the initial crash, some don’t. As you can imagine, the lucky ones died first.

Victor Crowley is a true return to form for Adam Green, who sat out of the director’s chair on the third film. As always, Green doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top comedy and gore the franchise is well known for. The blood rages and the sight-gags hit fast and unexpectedly. And, speaking of the sight-gags, there’s evidently a shot in this Blu-ray version of the film that was cut from the “Unrated” version released on VOD. The shot is one I won’t spoil here, but for the sake of viewing Green’s initial vision alone, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley is really the only way to own this film. Don’t get me wrong, there are (many) more reasons to shell out the cash for this Blu-ray, but I’ll get into those soon.

Back to the film itself, what makes this fourth entry in the series one of the very best Hatchet films (if not THE best) is Adam Green’s honesty. Not only does he conquer a few demons with the ex-wife subplot, but he gives us a truly tragic moment via Tiffany Shepis’ character that had me in stunned silence. Her death is not an easy kill to pull off in a notoriously over-the-top slasher series, but it earned mucho respect from this guy.

Basically, if you loved the original trilogy, you will love this one as well. If you mildly enjoyed the other films, this one will surely make you a fan. Slow clap, Adam Green.

Special Features:

Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking documentaries. Like many of you out there, I find film production to be utterly fascinating and thus have grown a little tired of the typical making-of featurettes we get on Blu-rays. You know the ones. The director talks about his vision for the film, the cast say how much fun they had on-set with the other actors and crew, and we get cutaways to people dancing and trying to kiss the behind-the-scenes camera – all usually set to upbeat music.

While I’ll take what I can get, these kinds of behind-the-scenes features have grown to be little more than tiresome and superficial. But no worries here my friends as Adam Green has pulled out all the BS and given us a full-length, 90-minute behind-the-scenes feature called “Fly on the Wall” that shows it how it really is on the set.

Highlights include new Hatchet D.P. Jan-Michael Losada, who took over for Will Barratt this time around, who is little less than a f*cking hilarious rockstar, a front row seat to the making of Felissa Rose’s death scene, a creepy-cool train ghost story prank by Green, a clever impromptu song via Krystal Joy Brown (Sabrina), and a fun bit towards the end where Green and the SFX crew create the “gore inserts” in (basically) the backyard after filming. Good times all around.

The documentary then ends with the Facebook Live video of Adam Green announcing Victor Crowley‘s surprise premiere at that Hatchet 10th Anniversary screening. A great way to end a killer making-of documentary making his disc a must-own for this special feature alone.

But wait, it gets better. On top of the film itself and the above-mentioned “Fly on the Wall” documentary, the disc features an extensive interview with Adam Green called “Raising the Dead… Again.” This interview is basically Green going over the same speech he gave to the crowd at the surprise unveiling shown at the end of the “Fly on the Wall” doc, but that said, it’s great to hear Green tells his inspiring story to us directly.

So while this feature treads water all of us have been through below (especially fans of Green’s podcast The Movie Crypt), Green is always so charming and brutally honest that we never get tired of him telling us the truth about the ins-and-outs of crafting horror films in this day and age. Again, good stuff.

Additionally, the disc also boasts two audio commentaries, one with Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan, and another “technical” commentary with Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft.

Add in the film’s teaser and trailer, and Victor Crowley is a must-own on Blu-ray.

BUY IT HERE!

Special features:

  • Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft
  • Raising the Dead… Again – Extensive interview with writer/director Adam Green
  • Behind the Scenes – Hour-long making-of featurette
  • Trailer
  • Victor Crowley
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

One of the best, if not THE best, entries in the Hatchet series, with special features that are in-depth and a blast (and considering all other versions of the film have been castrated for content), this Blu-ray is really the only way to own Adam Green’s Victor Crowley.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual

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Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.

Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!

Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger

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Starring Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan

Written and directed by Derek Nguyen


Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.

Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.

Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.

Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.

Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.

The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.

Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.

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3.0

Summary

Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.

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