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KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person (DVD)

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KatieBirdStarring Helene Udy, Taylor Dooley, Nicole Jarvis, Lee Perkins, Todd Gordon

Directed by Justin Paul Ritter

Released by Heretic Films


For the past few months I’ve been reading about just what a great movie KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person is from sites all over the ‘net. It’s received heaps of praise from its varied festival showings and been heralded as one of the most groundbreaking indies in recent memory by some.

Needless to say, I was curious. Despite the horrible title (the name alone would’ve sufficed, methinks), I was willing to give it a chance since everyone else out there in horrorland was screaming about how great it was. In the end, though, I really think it was a victim of its own hype for me.

The story of KatieBird is pretty simple: We meet the title character in present day (played by Udy) as she comes home from her father’s funeral. A man who appears to be both her psychiatrist and her lover, Dr. Richardson (Gordon), is there to comfort her, but he’s saying all sorts of strange things about wanting to know “the entire truth” and insisting he can be trusted. Suddenly, she’s no longer grieving but instead attacking him and forcing him to have sex with her (a nice switcheroo from the misogyny I’ve been seeing a lot of lately); then she ties him up with chains and begins to tell her story.

Growing up, the young KatieBird (Jarvis) idolized her father (Perkins). He would drive around with her for hours and just let her observe people, never saying anything about what was right and what was wrong, allowing her to come to her own conclusions. Occasionally this meant she would go out of her way to help people because she believed it to be the right thing to do. She was also incredibly intrigued by what her father did in the barn for all those hours but was told she would not be allowed to see until he felt she was ready.

Years later he determines she is ready when she tells him about a boy who has shunned her affections. Together, father and daughter (now played by Dooley) seek out the young boy and bring him back to the barn, which, as Katie Bird always suspected, is where her father brings his victims. He’s a serial killer, you see, and is now training KatieBird how to be one as well.

As the story of her past unfolds, she tortures Dr. Richardson, performing the same tactics on him that she did on her first, and presumably everyone since, victim. It’s an interesting story, one I admit has never really been attempted before, but with KatieBird it’s not just the story that is told but how it’s told, visually.

Ritter had the idea to show the entire film through the use of multiple panels as opposed to the traditional widescreen, one-angle viewpoint. It’s confusing at first, and personally I was incredibly annoyed with it more than a few times, but admittedly it sets itself apart from pretty much every other indie film in the marketplace because of this unique approach. It doesn’t hurt that it was shot beautifully with creative angles to take up every panel on the screen and fantastic lighting setups that keep the shadows nice and dark and the bright colors incredibly vivid. One scene in particular, when KatieBird is pursuing/being pursued by her fist victim through an orchard full of dead trees and orange leaves, is especially effective. However, this scene suffers from the same issue as the movie as a whole; it just goes on for way too long.

Thankfully, the multi-panel presentation is not just a gimmick but actually represents the fractured mentality of most of the characters. When things are calm and somewhat normal, we see it in one master shot. As the insanity creeps in and KatieBird becomes more and more fucked up, it splits and shatters, indicating this girl is becoming more and more the killer her father wants her to be. It’s an original, if not somewhat distracting, way to tell your story, so props must be given for that.

Now if only said story had a bit more meat on its bones. Shortly after KatieBird bags her first victim, the movie becomes damn slow and repetitive as she acts out her first killing on the doctor while she’s telling the story of how it all happened in the past, making the same demands and manic speeches about needing to know she is loved by having physical pain inflicted on her while both young and older. The special effects are well done from start to finish, but once you get past that, you’re still left with a film that comes off more preachy than anything else. You don’t necessarily want to buy into what is being preached – that the flesh is a mask hiding the truth and we’re all phonies at heart – since it’s the preaching of a psychopath, but it’s preaching nonetheless.

Watching the special features, you may get a good idea why the film comes off like this. Writer / editor / producer / director Ritter is a very, very passionate guy when he’s talking about KatieBird and presumably anything else he feels strongly about, so when you sit down with the 15-minute featurette “Movies Not Excuses,” you should prepare yourself to be made to feel lazy. The mini-doc consists of Ritter talking about how he didn’t make any excuses as to why his movie couldn’t be made, he just made it, and how he sacrificed all he had to make sure it got done. The ultimate in suffering for your art, one could say. You have to appreciate that level of commitment to a film, no matter what the final results are. There are also brief interviews with cast and crew, which are preceded by on-screen text explaining how they affected the director. There’s not a lot to it; I wish it had been a bit longer and showed actual behind-the-scenes footage, but much like the movie it’s about, it’s different than most featurettes.

The other features are “Misa Does Make-Up,” a minute-and-a-half look at some getting done up to be victimized; trailers for the film; and trailers for other Heretic releases.

Then, of course, there’s the inevitable commentary. Ritter, Dooley, Udy, and Perkins all get together to chat about the film for a track that is energetic and full of life, keeping things interesting from start to finish. Something about Ritter’s voice makes it a bit grating on the nerves after a while, as it always seems like he believes what he’s saying is the most important thing in the world. At least that’s how I took it. It’s not that he’s pretentious or anything; he’s just really, really serious about the movie he made, and it comes off a bit sledgehammery at times. He gives the rest of the cast plenty of their own time though, which keeps it moving along nicely and fills you in with the kind of cool behind-the-scenes stuff that all commentary tracks should be filled with.

And how could I forget the soundtrack? The second disc of this two-disc set is the full soundtrack, and depending on how you feel about it during the movie, that may be a blessing or a curse. During the film the soundtrack plays relentlessly; there is I believe about 20 seconds without some sort of guitar, drum, or sound effect playing. It’s especially distracting when KatieBird’s father is on screen, as they chose to use some kind of demon gurgling sound to play every time he gets angry. It’s kind of annoying but subtly effective at the same time.

At the end of the day, I have no idea what I thought of KatieBird, which is really weird for me. The acting from most of the male leads is sub-par if not worse, but the actresses who play the title role make up for that and then some. The story and the way its told is original; it just doesn’t have enough substance and goes on for far too long. The DVD is well put together with a stereo track and liner notes by Ritter detailing how he went from re-writing stripper thrillers to making a true exploitation movie, but I wish there was more to it. See what I mean? Back and forth, good and bad.  I can, however, say for sure that if you’re tired of the standard indie movie made by people with nary an idea of how a camera works or if you’re just looking for something different from all the rest of the dreck that passes for direct-to-DVD horror nowadays, you should check out KatieBird. Chances are you’ll trust your own conclusions better than mine anyway.

3 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 4 (3 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 3.9 (10 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 3.31 (16 votes)
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