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Cheap Thrills (2013)



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Cheap Thrills (2013)Starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, Sara Paxton

Directed by E.L. Katz

Cheap Thrills is the sadistically comedic directorial debut of longtime screenwriter E.L. Katz which explores the ideas of just how far any of us would go if offered the right asking price and whether or not we as human beings truly delight in the suffering of others. Featuring a well-known cast who all deliver transformative and exemplary performances and a wickedly entertaining script by Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo, Cheap Thrills is a slick and thought-provoking journey of two friends who are willing to put it all on the line in order to score a huge payday when they meet two gamblers who offer to pay them both to humiliate themselves and ultimately each other for sport.

At the start we meet down-on-his luck Craig (Pat Healy) who’s an aspiring writer that just can’t seem to catch a break; his wife has been out of work, he’s got a toddler to provide for and the bills keep piling up- not to mention he’s just been fired from his day job at a local garage. In an effort to drown his sorrows and figure out what’s next, Craig heads to a dive bar for a drink only to run into his old pal Vince (Ethan Embry) who he hasn’t seen in some time and has been given a raw deal in life too.

After catching up, the two friends meet party couple Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton) who are out celebrating Violet’s birthday. Turns out their idea of a good time is placing bets on the human behavior of strangers, with the bigger the dare, the bigger the payday.

At first, Craig and Vince can hardly believe their luck as they score some cash here and there after small challenges- getting a local bar skank to slap them, punching a bouncer (Todd Farmer- AWESOME) and that sort of trivial stuff. Things escalate rather quickly once Colin and Violet take the party to their home and before they know it, the two life-long friends become mixed up in the increasingly tense and violent game once they discover that Colin and Violet are willing to shell out some big bucks if Craig and Vince are willing to keep the ‘party’ going.

To say anything further would be an absolute disservice to Cheap Thrills but suffice to say, just when you think you’ve seen everything- Katz raises the stakes again and again, creating a palpable tension that simmers over with an uncomfortable tenacity during the film’s blistering final act.

Cheap Thrills is the kind of movie this writer goes to SXSW for each year- it’s surprising, clever and far more intuitive than its rather simple concept suggests as Katz ends up brilliantly exploring the idea of how we all in some way or another delight in the misfortunes of others, something that has increased throughout the years with the advent of certain technologies like the internet and YouTube or television series like “Fear Factor,” “Wipeout” and their ilk.

Twenty years ago, our personal humiliations were just that- our own- but now the internet has globalized our society so that we can laugh at the weirdos at a random Walmart anywhere in the world, make fun of the “Leave Britney Alone” kid or watch Joe Rogan ask someone to gobble up goat testicles and call it entertainment.

The difference though between (most of) us and Colin and Violet is that generally we have a line that we would draw as to how far we’d probably go, but these characters simply don’t, which makes it almost more fascinating because by definition they’re the villains in Cheap Thrills but are never written as such. That subtlety is what makes the film so effective, often exploring a wonderfully unexpected and uneasy dynamic among all these characters that effectively keeps the audience unsure of what Colin and Violet will come up with for their two contestants next.

As far as directorial debuts go, it’s evident that Katz’s career as a screenwriter over the last nine or so years, as well as his lifelong love of genre cinema, has served him well as he delivers a truly confident and well-crafted slice of subversive cinema. As mentioned before, the quartet of leads that Katz has assembled for Cheap Thrills is absolutely revelatory; they’re all actors I’m very familiar with, and yet, because of their transformative performances, they’re almost unrecognizable at the same time (Embry being the biggest surprise- the dude has dieseled up since his Can’t Hardly Wait days).

Koechner, who is a longtime favorite of this writer due to his brilliant comedic chops, is an absolute marvel; and hopefully this is a role that proves something I’ve suspected for a long time- the dude can seriously act when given the right material. Not that his comedy roles don’t require a certain timing and ability (two things Koechner has always excelled at), but in Cheap Thrills he plays Colin almost like the lovable buffoon we’d be expecting, but as his intentions slowly are revealed, we also get glimpses of Colin’s true sardonic nature, almost like paint chipping away on an old façade. Just some masterful stuff from Koechner and here’s hoping this leads to more roles like this for him in the future.

Both Healy and Embry have an instantaneous chemistry with each other, making it very easy to believe the strained and yet still loyal friendship between them; the two characters couldn’t be more different from the other (Craig being the meek family guy who has the weight of the world on his sad-sack shoulders and Vince being the sarcastic brutish thug who just loves pushing everyone’s buttons), but there are some truly great moments in Cheap Thrills where you almost get a role reversal between Healy’s and Embry’s characters, making for some compelling moments that only add to the intensity of the game between the two long-time pals.

And Paxton, who has often been associated with playing the “good girl” in genre flicks, takes all those preconceptions and shoves them right up our… well, you get it. But anyone who has followed Paxton’s career will undoubtedly be startled and mesmerized by the young actress’ performance in Cheap Thrills– oh, and for anyone who may be excited to see Healy and Paxton reunite after their adorable work together in Ti West’s The Innkeepers, let’s just say you are in for some real surprises here.

Cheap Thrills is everything you’d want out of a satirical thriller and more; it’s also a remarkable directorial debut by Katz, who delivers one hell of a story that was continuously surprising, shocking and visceral with wildly unexpected events that were often played out with a quiet restraint. Anchored by Koechner, Healy, Embry and Paxton and a subtle and thought-provoking script that often teetered between madness, desperation and exhilaration, Cheap Thrills is absolutely a film worth seeking out once Drafthouse Films announces their distribution plans later this year and certainly the kind of movie you want to experience with a packed theater.

4 out of 5

Discuss Cheap Thrills in the comments section below!




Who Goes There Podcast: Episode 155 – Veronica



St Paddy’s Day has come and gone and I’ve been “pissed as a fart” for the last 4 days; so please forgive us for the episode being a little late. Veronica is the newest movie to be “too scary to finish” and we’re taking the piss out of the “based of true events” ghost story.

None of this even matters, because on this episode we finally crowned the first ever Who Goes There champion! Tune in for this historical event!

Now I have another reason to hate Christmas; it’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 155!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.


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Prodigy Review – This Kid Is Killer



Starring Richard Neil, Savannah Liles

Written and directed by Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal

From the minds of Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, Prodigy could have easily debuted as a stage play instead of an intimate sci-fi horror film delivered straight to your television. Told with a confident grasp, the story unfolds in only one location with two characters responsible for carrying the entire narrative. Good performances, sure-handed directing, and a solid script highlighting tense moments make the claustrophobic setting seem much bigger in scope. A little telekinesis thrown in to good effect and a creepy killer kid don’t hurt the momentum either.

Under constant surveillance at a remote black site, an aging psychologist named Fonda (Neil) is tasked with assessing a dangerous young girl called Ellie (Liles), who is highly intelligent and possesses supernatural powers. Fonda attempts to inject some humanity into Ellie, but she is cold and calculating and seems to be toying with him at times and the onlookers watching from behind the glass. The back-and-forth between both characters is competitive and often riveting, with Ellie slowly revealing her abilities to her wide-eyed new audience. Wrapped up in a familiar setup, the decision to study or dissect this meta kid is the central question of Prodigy; but the execution of a simple premise is what keeps the story afloat.

On a very small scale, Haughey and Vidal make the setting feel cinematic with crisp images and smart shot selections that help maintain the tension. There’s a strong backbone in place that allows both actors to bounce off of each other in a well-choreographed mental dance as the dangerous game they’re playing begins to unravel.

Several scenes where Elle demonstrates her powers are the standouts in Prodigy with chairs and tables flying and glass breaking to great effect. These sequences diffuse some of the tension for a moment, only to fully explode late in the film when Elle’s emotions unleash. It’s only then that there has been any kind of breakthrough that could possibly help to save her life.

That gets to the heart of the real question posed in Prodigy: Is an extraordinary life still worth saving if it threatens ordinary lives in the process? Also, does the fact that this potential weapon is housed inside the body and mind of a young, lonely girl make a difference to whether it should survive? These questions and how they’re answered make Prodigy a micro-budget standout in the indie horror genre well worth taking the time to rent this weekend if you’re not planning on attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade somewhere.

Prodigy is now available to on iTunes, Amazon, and other On Demand platforms.

  • Prodigy


The questions raised and how they’re answered make Prodigy a micro-budget standout in the indie horror genre well worth taking the time to rent this weekend if you’re not planning on attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade somewhere. 

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Cold Hell (Die Hölle) Review – Giallo Terror Invades Vienna



Starring Violetta Schurawlow, Tobias Moretti, Sammy Sheik

Written by Martin Ambrosch

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky

I have a serious soft spot in my horror-loving heart for serial killer films. Movies like Seven, The Silence of the Lambs, The Crimson Rivers, and the like draw me in with their cat-and-mouse mentality. Couple those kinds of movies with non-US settings and I’m 100% hooked. So when I was introduced to Die Hölle (aka Cold Hell), which just started streaming on Shudder, I didn’t hesitate to enter this giallo-inspired thriller.

Cold Hell follows Özge Dugruol (Schurawlow), a Turkish taxi driver in Vienna who clearly lives a strained, almost broken life. The fares she picks up verbally abuse her, the Thai boxing gym where she lets go of her anger has banned her after a violent sparring incident, and her family has its own fair share of problems, including infidelity, lack of responsibility, and painful memories of early years.

One night, after coming home from a long shift, Özge opens the window in her bathroom only to see across the way into the home of another woman who is lying on the ground, flayed and burnt, her dead eyes staring at Özge. Stunned into shock, she can only look on before realizing that the man responsible for this woman’s death is standing in the shadows, looking at her. So begins Özge’s journey of terror as this killer makes it his mission to find and end her life.

Cold Hell has an interesting juxtaposition running throughout the film where cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels’ gorgeous visuals are used to highlight the near-squalor and seedy underbelly of Viennese life that Özge lives in. Each scene is bathed in vibrant colors, streetlight reds and neon greens painting the frames. Marius Ruhland, who composed Ruzowitzky’s Academy Award-winning film The Counterfeiters, lends beautiful and thrilling music that knows when to coil up and provide tension before exploding to mirror the chaotic frenzy of the on-screen events.

A direct commentary on religion’s antiquated view of the place and purpose of women, Cold Hell doesn’t shy away from making nearly everyone in this movie a flawed character. People who were unlikable become understandable once the breadth of their circumstances becomes more clear, as is the case with detective Christian Steiner (Moretti), who originally treats Özge with an almost xenophobic attitude only for us to later see that he cares for his dementia-ridden father. While not excusing his previous behaviors, such a revelation gives his irritation and frustration a more justifiable foundation.

When the action strikes, we are treated to breathtaking car chases, blood splashing across the screen, and believable reactions. The characters in this film get hurt and they show it, limping painfully with their cuts and bruises open for the world to see.

The film is certainly not flawless. Some characters feel shoe-horned in and there are rather lengthly segments where the film comes to a crawl. However, the engaging and nuanced performance from Schurawlow easily kept me glued to the screen.

  • Cold Hell


With beautiful music and gorgeous visuals, Cold Hell is an engaging, albeit slow burn, serial killer thriller. This is one film that should not be missed.

User Rating 5 (1 vote)


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