Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Starring Jack Huston, Pell James, Nick Searcy, Terry Becker
Directed by Graeme Whifler (interview)
Released by Wizard Entertainment
At its core, Deadly End (aka Neighborhood Watch) is a film about a poisoner. In this day and age of torture porn at the local multiplex and formulaic gorefest blowouts like Hatchet, one might reasonably ask how a movie about a poisoner could compete. Poisoning takes time, after all. And stealth. What could the story of a poisoner possibly entail? A wispy haired rogue in tights sneaking up to a minstrel dozing beneath a willow tree, whispering Shakespearian platitudes whilst pouring tincture of hemlock into his ear?
Better think again…
You want extreme, this is your movie! You’ve probably heard the hype about the audience fallout in festival screenings of Deadly End (back when it was called Neighborhood Watch), like the medics being called in when someone passed out when the movie played at Fantasia in Montreal (I was there, it’s true) and someone else breaking out in hives while watching it elsewhere.
This happened because Deadly End is a film that, simply put, goes farther than even a lot of us horror folks are typically used to going. Above and beyond isn’t the right way to phrase it – Deadly End is goes below and beneath; to those ugly places in the brain that we like to leave undisturbed. Director Graeme Whifler goes straight into these dark recesses and pokes around like a morbidly curious kid prodding a dead animal with a stick.
There’s a sense of perverse menace pretty much right away when you start watching this film. We’re brought into the new life of a young couple, Bob and Wendi, at their brand new home where the belongings aren’t even unpacked yet. Bob’s got a new job, they’re a young couple in love, it’s a scenario where the best days are meant to be ahead. But then, we’re immediately whisked away into the nightmare residence of neighbor Adrien Trumbull, a truly horrific guy who is lying back on his decrepit floor, his soiled, grimy shirt pulled up as he picks away at his … well, I don’t want to tell you what he’s doing because it’s something better seen than described.
Adrien Trumbull likes to “take care” of his neighbors; he’s the Welcome Wagon from hell. Our first glimpse of him doing that nasty business on the floor, while highly nauseating and unsettling, is only the tip of the poopsicle … Adrien’s got divine intervention in mind, a way to purify the dirty, stinky sex lives of people in his midst, like those young neighbors Bob and Wendi who just set up house across the road. He knows there’s something inside them that needs to be purged, something rotten and seething, something that’s poisoning their souls without them knowing it. And he’s going to make things right for them by all means necessary. Like all really formidable villains, Adrien doesn’t see what he’s doing as wrong. He thinks he’s helping people in his sickly dogmatic way.
The role of Adrien Trumbull is handled masterfully by actor Nick Searcy. This is a complete reversal from how I knew Searcy before, as Deputy Ben Healy in the criminally overlooked sinister TV series “American Gothic” which was, in my opinion, the only horror oriented show to rival “Twin Peaks” in both quality and originality. In “American Gothic”, Searcy was one of the good guys, and damn likeable in that kind of role. Here, in Deadly End? Yeesh … the man reveals that he is a total chameleon as an actor. His acting abilities have lead to the creation of one of the most vile screen villains of all time; I shit you not.
Searcy and his embodiment of Adrien Trumbull might be the thing you remember most about the film, but there’s plenty of other disturbed elements and narrative layers at play. Deadly End exists in a turbulent, unsettled world where pretty much every character and aesthetic attribute is messed up in some way. Any semblance of comfortable living is crushed or smeared into a distorted remnant of normality – the whole neighborhood in which the story is set is some kind of post-disaster tornado zone. The new home interior of the protagonists is in permanent unboxing mode, a mess of cluttered belongings and half painted walls. Adrien’s house would make a meth lab sprawling with tweakers seem tranquil by comparison.
Then there’s Zeecor, the company in which our hero Bob takes his new job. Zeecor is a hilariously depressing take on the worst realities of modern corporate existence, from needless drug testing to mewling and manipulative coworkers, to psycho-babes who sexually manipulate their way up the corporate ladder. Zeecor, like a lot of dull office jobs, isn’t so much a career as a lifelong trap posing as a career. The corporate satire in this movie feels like the American cousin to English weirdo-humorist Chris Morris’s “Blue Jam” surrealist comedy series.
But for most of Deadly End, it’s Adrien the creepy neighbor against Bob & Wendi, the unsuspecting newlyweds. The tale is rife with extreme schadenfreude, no excess is spared and no punches are pulled in what Adrien unleashes on this poor couple and others in the ‘hood. The bad things that unfold start very bad and somehow just keep getting worse. The dialing-up effect kinda grows on you like ringworm, and it’s not until you notice the brown itchy spiral halfway around your arm that you realize you’ve been infected with something really nasty.
In terms of pure visceral effect, the ability to churn stomachs, and generally freak people the fuck out, Deadly End could feasibly be placed in that dingy corner of the video store where they stock copies of Salo and Cannibal Holocaust. Not because of thematic parallels to either of those titles, more because this is a movie that’ll upset some people in a big way. On the other hand, for those with the fortitude to handle it, there’s an undeniably hilarity to the presentation that somehow remains queasy enough that it never stumbles into out-and-out horror/comedy territory. This movie is most definitely in a category of its own. The only other film I’ve seen in recent years that comes remotely close in tone and feel is the middle section of The Signal (review).
So, what of the features on this disc from Wizard? Thankfully it’s gotten itself a strong release here in the States, even if the marketing was less than ideal
Watch the film end-to-end a second time, if you can handle it, and you’ll get plenty of fun anecdotes about the source material and the behind the scenes from Graeme Whifler and Nick Searcy in the commentary. Screenwriter and big time Deadly End fan Matthew Chernov is on hand to ask all those things that a lot of people might be wondering about with regards to this film.
There’s also a “making of” doccuemntary that’s a funny and well done behind the scenes look co-helmed by Deadly End producer Jeff Kirshbaum. It looks like people working on this had a lot of fun. The interesting thing about this making-of is how ratty the makeup FX look even in non-polished video. A lot of the time, seeing prosthetics and so on in the daylight, they just look like props. Not here! Some of the FX stuff in this making-of rivals the movie in its icky disgustingness. And boy, does Nick Searcy ever get into his role. You’re practically getting a whole extra dose of Adrien in the making-of, so be sure to check it out.
There are also some behind-the-scenes photos, which are nothing special, just a handful of promo shots. Maybe a desktop for your computer if you want to do a screengrab…
Finally we have music tracks, which always seems like an odd inclusion to make on a DVD, because DVD movie releases aren’t usually what one reaches for when listening to music. Anyway, it’s a good soundtrack that reminds me of Danny Elfman mixed with The Residents. I especially like the tracks featuring the rabid banter of the fundamentalist radio host.
So if you have a strong stomach, what are you waiting for? Got a few meek friends and a sadistic streak? Grab some beers, a copy of this DVD, and get ready to cause devastation in your social scene. Including the risk of ostracism if you are complicit in one of your nearest and dearest breaking out in sores.
Deadly End is hands-down the most gruesome shock film of the new millennium. But it’s much more than that – it’s also one of the most uncompromising and original horror films ever made.
5 out of 5
4 out of 5
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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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