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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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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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User Rating 2.95 (19 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

Directed by Martin Gooch


Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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Summary

Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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