Starring Tom Latimer, Marco DelVecchio, Libby Blanton, Skyler Joy, Keily Fernandez, and Rob Mello
Directed by Jason Henne and Christopher Leto
Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
A group of attractive twenty-somethings head out to a cabin in the middle of the woods by a lake. After a night of drinking and pre-marital sex, the bros and hoes start to get picked off by a psycho killer one by gory one.
Heard that story before? Sure you have. Still, enjoy watching that story play out time and time again? Of course you do.
It is with this in mind we wanted to toss out our review of the new slasher throwback Crazy Lake. While I basically just laid the plot out for you guys in the above paragraph, let me get into this particular slasher’s story a bit more for the sake of the review.
A group of attractive twenty-somethings heads out to a friend’s family cabin in the woods by a lake. The lake in question comes with a local legend because of course it does. This lake’s legend is that back in the day there was a mental institution not far way that would bring out their worst patients, tie cinder blocks to their feet, throw their crazy asses into the lake, and “watch them float down to the bottom.”
As you can imagine, the lake is now filled with the dead bodies of tons of crazy people. But it seems one of them survived. And he/she’s on the loose in the woods surrounding the group’s cabin. Cue the POV stalking sequences and the blood n’ boobs. If you’re like me you’ll find exactly zero things wrong with this being the set up for a slasher flick. Slashers don’t need the best scripts to do what they do best.
And Crazy Lake is a great example of this.
Before I snatched up my copy from Amazon this past weekend and gave it a go, I was told the film was bad. “Don’t bother,” I was told. Well, I glad I didn’t listen because Crazy Lake has all the slasher good times one could have hoped for.
I was actually pretty surprised by the quality of this one. The camerawork is a bit too bright for my tastes, but the nighttime scenes come alive with fog and blue moonlight. Good stuff. Not to be overly immature here, but come on, let’s not make this about mise en scène or such nonsense. Let’s talk about the B&B, aka the blood n’ boobs. In this aspect, the motion picture delivers in spades. We get more than a few ladies (and dudes) going full-on top-nude and skimpy bathing suits (guys and girls) for days.
On top of that, the movie keeps the blood flowing with a higher than average body count. This film understands what only a choice few other slashers have known throughout time, which is: You are not limited to merely your core victim pool. Too many slashers set up a group of five-to-ten friends and only pick them off throughout the running time.
Crazy Lake not only dispatches its main cast over its short time on screen (spoiler?) but the film also throws in completely random cutaways to other victims in the surrounding woods getting sliced and diced. These random side characters and scenes have zero impact on the story overall, but do they need to? No. They just keep the blood flowing and the kill count consistent.
Take note, other slashers.
On top of that, the leads are all (mostly) credible with the top actors being Diana Riley as the wholesome “virgin”/final girl and Matthew Valena as the male hero. The cast overall was likable, and while I still was eagerly awaiting all of their demises, the wait wasn’t a painful experience by any means. Charming peeps for sure. Hated their music though.
That said, there were some negative aspects threating to pull the whole production down to the bottom of the lake. The two major issues were that the film’s “comic relief” was the least funny person in the whole movie. This film sports comedic performances from most of the cast, and they all pull it off with a subtle charm that will have you grinning.
But then there’s “that guy.” I’m not going to name names here, but that guy was beyond annoying. And I don’t care if that was an intentional choice on the part of the filmmakers (for some reason).
Basically, if he was part of your group of friends, he’d be the guy you’d all sigh and deflate when you hear his car pull up. Like, “Haha, that was a good joke. Man, we’re all the best of friends! (*hears car door shut just outside) Sh*t. Bryan’s here…”
On top of that guy ruining the movie’s good times, some of the kills were more than a little weak. Blood splashes and cutaways if you know what I mean. But that said the movie has more than its fair share of gory goodness with slashed out guts, impaled eyeballs, hatchets to the head, and more. The red stuff was out to play in Crazy Lake and I was happy with what the film ultimately served up. Tag to all of that a killer who looked badass and a minor twist or two and Crazy Lake gets a recommend from this guy.
In the end, Crazy Lake reminded me of the recent horror-comedy Zombeavers. A film I was told to steer clear of, but I enjoyed the hell out of. Yes, I loved the silly fun that was Zombeavers, and if you did too, you’ll find quite a bit to enjoy about Crazy Lake as well.
Crazy Lake has everything you could want in a mindless slasher flick and the comedic tone keeps the good times rolling. Think National Lampoon presents Friday the 13th.
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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