Starring (Dark Ride) Jamie-Lynn DiScala, Patrick Renna, David Clayton Rogers, Alex Solowitz; (Wicked Little Things) Lori Heuring, Scout Taylor-Compton, Chloe Moretz, Geoffrey Lewis, Ben Cross; (Penny Dreadful) Rachel Miner, Mimi Rogers, Mickey Jones, Michael Berryman; (The Hamiltons) Cory Knauf, Samuel Child, Joseph McKelheer, Mackenzie Firgens; (Unrest) Corri English, Scot Davis, Joshua Alba, Jay Jablonski; (Reincarnation) Takako Fuji, Yasutoki Furuya, Atsushi Haruta, Hiroto Itô, Karina, Mantarô Koichi, Marika Matsumoto, Tomoko Mochizuki, Yuka; (The Gravedancers) Dominic Purcell, Clare Kramer, Josie Maran, Marcus Thomas, Tchéky Karyo, Megahn Perry
Directed by (Dark Ride) Craig Singer, (Wicked Little Things) J. S. Cardone, (Penny Dreadful) Richard Brandes, (The Hamiltons) The Butcher Brothers, (Unrest) Jason Todd Ipson, (Reincarnation) Takashi Shimizu, (The Gravedancers) Mike Mendez
”Each year there are movies produced that are never seen by the public. Their content is considered too graphic, too disturbing, and too shocking for general audiences.” So says the trailer for the 2006 After Dark Horrorfest, and for the most part it delivered on every little gory thing promised. The unfortunate truth is had it not been for the festival, we would have never have gotten the chance to see these little gems on the big screen. Otherwise these fine bits of filmmaking would no doubt be sentenced to direct-to-video hell where they would get lost among the shit that takes up most of the space there.
Good horror! Blood-hungry fans! Hot popcorn! It was a memorable few days indeed!
After a successful run (the After Dark Horrorfest cracked the Top Ten box office that week), the films that were “too shocking” have now found their way home sold separately and in a jam-packed, gore-soaked box set.
I’m going to do things a bit differently this time around. Rather than write new reviews for each film, I’m going to just link to their existing reviews so I can spend my time here giving you the skinny on the many bits of supplemental material that await.
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s begin shall we?
Dark Ride film review
First up on the special features for Dark Ride is your standard making-of featurette entitled “Ticket to Ride”. Clocking in at a run time of about sixteen minutes, this is a brief yet informative chat with the filmmakers and cast about their experiences on set. Everyone involved seemed to be having a blast. If only Dark Ride were as much fun to watch. From here we’re treated to a five-minute musical montage type look at the film’s make-up effects, which were quite good. Personally I felt a bit cheated by a few of the film’s demises, but when Dark Ride did go for the proverbial throat, it did so with a great deal of ferocity so this look back is definitely warranted. This brings us to the deleted scenes. There’s about seventeen minutes of excised footage here including some extended and alternate takes. The good news? Along with some extra added exposition, we get some more violence! The opening death scene of the twins is shown off in truly gruesome fashion. It’s no wonder this scene was trimmed as heavily as it was. I don’t think the MPAA was too keen on seeing a screaming little girl getting her guts torn out. Me on the other hand… Things get rounded up nicely with a quick storyboard montage and a commentary featuring director Craig Singer and producer Chris M. Williams in which at least one of the filmmakers talks about the few instances in which he felt he’d missed the boat, especially pertaining to the rather flaccid ending. All in all this is a very good package for a very average film.
3 1/2 out of 5
Penny Dreadful film review
While watching this long dreary little film for a second time, I was kind of hoping there wouldn’t be much supplemental material to have to sit through. Thankfully, my prayers were answered. Other than an eight-minute cookie-cutter making-of, all we get here is a music video from the band Sanity for their song “Stay Away”. Unless you get Penny Dreadful as part of the box set, I’d take the band’s advice.
1 1/2 out of 5
Wicked Little Things film review
Here’s a bit of a shock. Despite being one of the better films of the After Dark Horrorfest, Wicked Little Things ends up getting one of the skimpiest DVD treatments. The only thing to be found is a commentary with director J. S. Cardone and actress Lori Heuring. There’s little to be learned other than what you’d expect — lots of technical discussion and also talk of being inspired by films like Village of the Damned. Supplemental wise, this is one boring little disc.
1 out of 5
The Hamiltons film review
Things aren’t faring too well for the saga of The Hamiltons family in terms of DVD extras. What we get here are about nine minutes of deleted scenes that really don’t add much to the film itself, a four-minute blooper reel, and a commentary with the very entertaining Butcher Brothers and actor Cory Knauf. Truth be told, I’m kind of disappointed. Don’t get me wrong; the commentary is brisk and engaging, but just like with the film itself, I found myself wanting more.
2 out of 5
Unrest film review
There’s no question Unrest was one of the creepiest films of the entire After Dark Horrorfest. Being that director Jason Todd Ipson was a med student himself, he brings a lot to the table in terms of a film with a vibe like this. In the seven-minute making-of there is a surprisingly good deal of ground covered, including his inspiration for Unrest, which he attributes to feeling the “strangest sensations” while walking around the endless corridors of his local VA Hospital in the wee hours of the morning. The autopsy and morgue scenes shiver with authenticity, and this is further explored in the feature commentary with Ipson and editor Mike Saenz. While not the most entertaining, this audio track is certainly the most interesting (and not just because Dread Central gets a quick shout-out along with Bloody Disgusting and Fangoria). The only trouble here is that’s all we get – a commentary and a brief featurette. Come on, guys, if the Dark Ride DVD can deliver the goods, can’t we get a little more from a DVD that’s home to a film that is better on every conceivable level? Sigh.
2 1/2 out of 5
Reincarnation film review
And what would any modern-day horror festival be without a little Far East flavor? Director Takashi Shimizu (best known for creating the Ju-On/Grudge franchise) kicks off the DVD features of his film Reincarnation with a brief introduction in which he seems almost apologetic for his movie being another non-linear creation. We stupid Americans! We need our entertainment spoon-fed to us, damnit! From here we get the lengthiest bit of supplemental material of the box set, an hour long making-of featurette. This exploration of the film covers the usual bases along with an in-depth look at the differences between Eastern and Western filmmaking coupled with a great deal of unsubtitled behind-the-scenes shots. From there we have a ten-minute interview with Shimizu not only about Reincarnation but why he has chosen horror and what has drawn him to the genre. Things are then rounded up with nearly 30 minutes of deleted scenes with commentary by Shimizu, star Yuka, and producer Taka Ichise. All in all, good stuff.
3 1/2 out of 5
The Gravedancers film review
It seems fitting that the highlight film (second only to Nacho Cerda’s The Abandoned, not included here because it was enjoying a theatrical run at the time of this box set’s release) of the After Dark Horrorfest gets the best damned DVD treatment of the bunch. However, before I get to the myriad of special features, I’d like to concentrate on one in particular, the commentary. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of speaking with or listening to director Mike Mendez can all attest to one thing – he’s a fan just like you and me. A genuine everyman! And as such he and composer Joseph Bishara have provided us horror hounds with a truly unique feature during the film’s commentary – a drinking game. For whatever reason, The Gravedancers ended up having an absurd number of lit lamps in almost every scene. I never noticed this before, but now that Mendez has gleefully pointed this factoid out, it’s almost impossible to ignore. The rules of the game are simple: See a lamp, take a drink. By the time the film’s over, trust me, you’ll be pretty lit yourself. Joy! The rest of the commentary is brisk and funny, but who cares when we have yet another reason to get shitfaced in the name of horror cinema? YAY!
After you’ve gotten your buzz on, and if you’re still able to focus on the DVD remote, it’s time to dive into the rest of the supplements. First up is the thirteen-minute making-of titled A Grave Undertaking. This behind-the-scenes featurette features interviews with various crew members and most of the principal cast. The Gravedancers was a six-year long labor of love, and everyone involved takes this opportunity to let us be privy to their good and not-so-good times. Great stuff. From there we move on to the original 2003 trailer for the film, which was used to raise money for the project. Clocking in at about three minutes, we get to see how an alternate cast and some cool effects helped to bring the idea to life even at such an early point in the film’s life. Next up are eleven minutes of deleted scenes. Nothing too exciting here, just a few moments that were trimmed either for pacing or budgetary issues. From here we get the disc’s second featurette, a twelve-minute look at the making of the movie’s ghosts. Without question, the specters of The Gravedancers are the true stars of the film. Once you see them, you will not forget them. Fan’s of William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus will be especially pleased by their look. Spooky shit, man! Things are then rounded up with a three-minute set of storyboard galleries. It should be noted that all of the above features (except for the latter) come with their own commentary (sans continued drinking game). Needed? No. Masturbatory? Maybe. Fun? You betcha!
4 1/2 out of 5
So there you have it. How you own all this madness is completely up to you. To purchase the box set, simply click on the link below. To pick and choose what you want, just click on the reviews that you’re interested in, and follow the links at the bottom of their respective pages.
Given the homogenized horror Hollywood has been doling out by the shitload, the After Dark Horrorfest is exactly the breath of fresh air our beloved genre needed! Here’s to the next one!
4 1/2 out of 5
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Yafit Shalev as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
Starring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman
Directed by B.D. Benedikt
Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision
Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.
Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.
Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.
The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.
Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.
The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.
“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.
“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
- Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
- The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.
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