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Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (2005)

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Starring the voices of Toren Atkinson, Raymond Beckett, Jason Brooks, Andrew Hamlin

Directed by Edward Martin III


In truth, it has been a while since I had lent my eyes to a reading of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s novella, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” so when the chance came for me to examine a copy the animated feature of the same name, as presented by Guerrilla Productions, I decided to cautiously consume it without a fresh rereading in my head. I watched the interpretation with the hope that something within it would stir my memory; that something of Lovecraft’s original version was left intact. That this time maybe someone took the ideas put forth by H.P., and had remained faithful to the source.

Interpretation is a tricky thing with most H.P. Lovecraft adaptations. Most of his prose does not readily lend itself to the realm of “mainstream” film content. The works are thickly written, with scant amounts of dialogue, tons of details about old places and cities, and little information concerning the real stars of the show, the elder gods, the old ones, and the mythological monsters that fascinate the legions of H.P. Lovecraft disciples. There are few instances of pure human interest, aside from the personal struggles faced by the protagonists of his tales. Love triangles and other Hollywood contrivances have no place in Lovecraftian fare. Unfortunately, with each new cinematic version of a beloved story, Hollywood mentalities seem to focus on these added plot points, and the soul of H.P.’s writing is lost. Too often we are left with the “drama” about a group of clichéd caricatures being harassed by creatures that resemble monsters perhaps described by Lovecraft, but little else remains of the basic key elements of the work. Even in independent film attempts Lovecraft’s work has been met with mixed results. Too often the director or writer of the story wants to put his or her own stamp on the piece, and the delicate tale that was once there is destroyed to make way for something a bit more vain.

Based on a comic series by artist Jason B. Thompson, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath takes us on a journey that is uniquely Lovecraftian. Animated in what appears to be a simple still picture form, the film does not glitz up Lovecraft’s story but instead keeps the promise of Lovecraft’s work with such deep conviction as to be unlike anything I have ever seen before. The premise of Kadath is simple: It is the story of Randolph Carter, who has dreamt of a marvelous city, a beautiful sunset city, and feels a pull to this forbidden place. Even though it is denied to him, Carter is lured to answer the call. His search for the lost city of Kadath is the entire story. The journey he takes is a metaphysical one, via his dreams. He searches in and out of worlds, vast cities, open dark voids, and dark realms of nastiness brimming with weird foul creatures.

What is amazing about The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is the faithfulness in the depiction of this sojourn. The writers don’t try to do any more than what is needed. Edward Martin III and Jason B. Thomson take Lovecraft’s impenetrable prose and convert it into a real workable screen story. Dream-Quest is very much a story without dialogue. This presents a problem cinematically, for as a basis of human interaction dialogue helps the viewer keep a sense of belonging during the tale. Being presented with image after silent image, we lose a connective feeling to the work, and as fantastic as the vistas and views may be, they are cold and off for we have no vested interest in them.

The addition of dialogue and interaction between characters makes the lead character likable to the audience, and we understand what he is seeing, doing, and feeling. There is a greater sense of weight to the story being told. Now, when Randolph Carter sees the forbidden face in the far side of the mountain, we feel his jubilation, and a second later we are able to sense his dread. Wisely, the dialogue is not superfluous; it’s not muddled with information unimportant to the tale. All it does is serve to round out the character of Randolph Carter, the world he lives in, and the perils he faces. In all my years of watching Lovecraft films, I’ve never seen someone get all the ideas so right in a script before and this is why, despite simple designs, the film succeeds on all levels.

Simplicity is key to the description of the style of animation of Dream-Quest. The film is not dynamically animated, but more so plays for most of the film as animated storyboards. Image after image is flashed on the screen. Pieces of images may be closed in upon, or sometimes a bit of slight animation may make a scene move a bit. One does wish that, with as good as the screenplay is, the animation were a bit more fluid. Personally, I found it quite easy to slip into the format presented, if not only because of the story being told whisks you away at breakneck speed, and anything lacking in the animation is quickly forgiven.

Jason B. Thompson’s artwork recalls that of Jeff Smith in regards to the depiction of the lead character, Randolph Carter. Smith’s own series, Bone, is one where a clean contoured figure stands in sharp contrast to richly detailed backgrounds. Randolph Carter’s thumbprint shaped head is equipped with only a line for a mouth and two eyes that express in a style that reminds me of Charles M. Schultz. This allows Carter to be easily read, understood, and does not ask the audience to waste time trying to decipher his reactions to the rapid series of horrors that he faces. Likewise the surrounding characters seem detailed in opposite excess. The supporting characters, those that Carter interacts with and gets information from, are skilled representations. From the different races of peoples to the varying species of creatures encountered, they pop off the screen bathed in glorious detail. The representations given don’t need a lot of movement, so we have more time to enjoy the artistry given to them as they sit motionless, allowing us to study them.

Of the non-human creatures, at times I found myself remembering Sam Keith’s lack of perspective, and flair of ghoulish representations with a mix of detail and shadowed outline. Albeit prone to comparison, like a lot of animation artwork, Thompson’s style does give the movie a distinctive feeling. His hands draw the organic, architectural, and fantastic forms founded by Lovecraft with exceptional quality. Even with the strength of the script, the story needed strong visuals to keep the story alive as well. Thompson, possibly refined from his work on comics, has done this in a superb style.

Fitted along side all of this is the soundtrack by Cyoakha Grace O’Manion, which is a fascinating blend of new age structure and sonic weirdness. The DVD release by Guerrilla Productions allows you to watch the film’s 100 minutes without the voices or sounds, but just awash in the music and images. It’s a surreal experience, distinctly unique, and Lovecraftian to the bone. O’Manion has captured another element so often lost in Lovecraft adaptations: the importance of music. Be it otherworldly in nature, the eerie sounds produced by and for the monsters of the void are finally given a chance to play a part with subtle effectiveness. The sounds are not recognizable, which was one of the stipulations placed upon O’Manion by the director. Within some of the production notes it’s revealed that Edward Martin III told O’Manion he did not want the music to come from any identifiable source or instrument. Again, the understanding of the source material ends up being invaluable, lending heavily to the creation of this animatic world’s believability.

Numerous individuals lent their talents to the voice acting done for the film. Over 20 different individuals were called upon to create a distinct and vast cast of characters, and while a few of them are misplaced, most of the voice work is well done. I particularly like that fact that even the most disgusting ghouls are given a clear human voice. They don’t garble or speak in an overwrought manner. They’re just as human as Carter in this respect, which as the story unfolds helps us to understand them and the sacrifices they and Carter make for each other on the way.

One thing that keeps me thinking after all this is said and done is this: As I read Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath for the first time I got the feeling, as I do with all of Lovecraft’s work, that it was a personal journey, very private and intrinsic to the main character. Lovecraft wrote stories about people who became obsessed with forbidden things, and in their seeking of understanding of these things their minds are exposed to ideas too great for them to understand. Coldly, they would go mad or get dead, but it came across to myself, even in the face of cosmic events, to be of a rather personal nature to the protagonists of the story. Here, Martin and Thompson have Tolkeinized the story for us. Even as I reread the story afterwards, I was amazed at the paradigm shift. This small film took a story that was, for myself, about a man’s journey and made it take a scope that I was missing. The film comes off as vast and epic in a refreshing fashion.

My one wish is that Edward Martin III and Jason B. Thompson don’t give up the quest for transcribing Lovecraft to screen. Any movie studio worth their salt would call these guys and use the ideas on this disc as storyboards for a film. A fantastic film, one that does beg to be made. As satisfying as this experience is, it makes me yearn for that often promised but never yet delivered Lovecraftian Opus that will change the face of horror and film forever.

I am thankful for Guerrilla Productions for releasing this film to the public. It is a must have for all Lovecraft fans. A true work of the master, done by modern masters themselves.


4 1/2 out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.5 (14 votes)
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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 4.1 (21 votes)
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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 3.95 (20 votes)
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