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Jacob (2012)

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Jacob ReviewStarring Grace Powell, Dylan Horne, Larry Wade Carrell, Krystn Caldwell

Written and directed by Larry Wade Carrell


In another recent review I pointed out that one of the best things about attending conventions is discovering new things. Good cons, like this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend, are great places to watch films that you’d otherwise never get to see. This year’s con saw around 20 films screened over the entire weekend, but out of those one definitely stood out with the attendees: Larry Wade Carrell’s Jacob.

Jacob is truly an independent film. Created primarily by a group of friends, some of whom met at previous Texas Frightmare Weekends, it is a labor of love that has transcended to become something else entirely. I missed all but the last few minutes of the film at the show due to a scheduling conflict, but based on word of mouth and the general buzz following the screening, I secured a screener from writer/director Carrell to view once things calmed down.

I couldn’t have been more surprised by this film.

Jacob tells the tale of the Kell family in the small fictional Texas town of Melvin Falls. Mostly set in 1979 other than a pair of modern bookends to the tale, the film shows what happens when the mentally simple and disturbed teenager Jacob Kell snaps after a tragedy.

Given the marketing for the film, and the previous film from Carrell and his production partner Stacy Davidson’s Odyssee Pictures, Sweatshop, I expected a slasher. That’s absolutely not what I got.

This film reminds me of the original Carrie more than anything. For most of the runtime we’re shown the people in this town and a series of bad decisions made by them collectively and individually regarding the Kell family. As viewers we can see what’s coming, but we’re unable to stop it. Just like with Carrie White; we know she’s doomed, and the town is going with her. So many chances to stop it, so many chances to avert disaster, overlooked or blown because of selfishness, fear, or stupidity.

When that disaster strikes at the beginning of the third act, much like Carrie’s prom, all hell breaks loose. The building blocks we’ve seen making poor, massive Jacob into a walking machine of destruction come together in a string of violence and a high body count.

Jacob ReviewYes, I just said the violence only really kicks in during the third act. Expectations are important here. If you are looking for wall-to-wall blood, you’ll do well to look elsewhere. This is a drama with an intense climax. As a drama, considering the budget and conditions involved with making this film, it’s incredibly effective. Fantastic performances from Grace Powell as Jacob’s only friend and sister, Sissy, and Dylan Horne as Jacob himself make this more than just another “killer retard” story. You feel sympathy for the Kell kids, even when it becomes clear that there’s an evil working in Jacob beyond rage and vengeance.

Director Carrell plays dual roles as Deputy Billy and his no-good, drunken lout of a brother, Otis. He pulls off both roles well, although he’s more convincing as Otis. Otis is the film’s true monster, and it’s his actions and the town’s refusal to put a stop to him that are to blame for the chaos to come.

Genre fave Michael Biehn shows up for flashbacks that show how things began to go wrong for the Kells and where the seeds were planted for the horrors inflicted on the town. As always, he’s great in the role, and these flashbacks provide a foundation for the characters of Jacob and Sissy that could easily lead to more films with them.

The other major surprise for me is how good this movie looks. Cinematographer Stacy Davidson pulls off some gorgeous shots in this movie. It looks better than any 10 horror films with bigger budgets you’ll find on Netflix Instant. It’s just a gorgeously shot film, which gives the drama extra weight.

Jacob ReviewThe film is far from perfect. Some performances, such as Leo D. Wheeler’s Sheriff Andy, needed to be turned down a notch. There’s some scenery chewing here. Another performance that’s just unfortunate is a character who is critical to the supernatural mythos of the plot, an old lady named Lady Elizabeth, played by Karen Schlag. There’s a pivotal scene with her and Deputy Billy that is weakened because of her performance. That scene needed to drive home the supernatural nature of the threat to the town, and the tone of her performance throws off the feel of the scene. She’s fine every other time we see her, but that scene with Billy doesn’t have the gravity it deserves, which is a shame.

Another issue is a victim of the fantastic quality of the film image: On Blu-ray the age makeup seen in the intro to the film doesn’t hold up. In previous generations it’d be fine, naturally hidden by the lack of clarity in the image. But in full HD, lit by sunlight, it leaps out as age makeup done on the cheap.

Neither of these issues derail the film, although they’ll likely keep it from showing on 2,500 screens nationwide. That being said, the film overall is light years better than most of the direct-to-video stuff I run into on Netflix Instant and in Redboxes. It looks better and has a much better story and even better gore FX and kills once the blood starts running.

There’s no damn reason why this movie shouldn’t be picked up by a major distributor considering how little it cost and how good it is despite that budget. What’s more, as I mentioned before, the flashbacks and the finale of the film leave the door open for a franchise featuring Jacob and Sissy. By the time the film is over, we have a brand new, completely original supernatural slasher with a deep and interesting background to rival all the great film slashers. We need to see more as the dark forces manipulating Jacob and Sissy unleash further terrors on Melvin Falls.

Right now there’s no way for you to see this movie outside of film festivals and cons. Hopefully that’ll be fixed soon enough. You should see this movie; it represents the best of Texas indie horror. Until then, stay away from any broken down houses in the woods, and if you see a young girl enticing you to follow her into the trees, run for your life… Jacob could be waiting.

4 out of 5

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AHS: Cult Review: Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 3 (1 vote)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 5 (2 votes)
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The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

Directed by Alan Lougher


The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Ultimately chilling in nature!

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User Rating 3.29 (7 votes)
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