Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Clare Carey, Lance Guest, Jonathan Trent, Sarah Butler, Rebekah Cochan
Directed by Leigh Scott
When Leigh Scott first informed me that the Sci-Fi Channel had hired him to direct Flu Bird Horror (or as it will be known very shortly on DVD: Flu Birds) he described it as The Birds meets Cabin Fever. Then the rewritten script arrived. Just having a group of teens in the woods when birds go on the attack infected with the dreaded avian flu apparently didn’t have a good enough hook to it for the Sci-Fi Channel. Now juvenile delinquents trapped in the woods by bird monsters that look like a cross between a vulture and a pterodactyl that also happen to be infected with a mutated strain of bird flu that causes symptoms more akin to the flesh eating virus… Make mine Sci-Fi!
Before anyone cackles or scoffs, the scenario presented here still struck me as being more plausible than the one portrayed in that apocalyptic Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America movie ABC aired two years ago; the one that was so tacky it had a counter at the bottom of the screen that popped up periodically to let viewers know how many countless millions had already fallen victim to the avian flu.
That film also didn’t have Rodan babies flying around eating people, a real crowd pleaser in my book. The threat of a contagious flu virus that acts more like super leprosy is practically relegated to the secondary threat, a sentiment I agree with because after years of hearing how bird flu is going to kill us all eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a better chance of being pecked to death by monster birds first.
Those zombie buzzards are the true stars of Flu Bird Horror – both ghastly and goofy all at the same time even as they gorily devour victims. Scott wisely mixes computer effects with practical effects for a more convincing combination even if those practical bird head puppets that brought to mind Gappa from Monster from the Prehistoric Planet are sometimes downright comical in appearance. Still better to be a bit silly than boring.
Our primary beastly bird bait are members of a “Teens at Risk” group consisting of assorted juvenile delinquents – everything from hookers to hackers to white rappers – all perfectly suited for a local stage production of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. I don’t think it would be inappropriate to call them a motley collection of dumbasses. There’s not a single teen in this bunch that’s likeable – not even the ones that are supposed to be likeable. One of them is more than a little borderline sociopathic and in the end he’s given a big moment that’s supposed to redeem him somewhat. I didn’t want this guy redeemed; I wanted to see him get reamed, preferably by the beaks of diseased winged creatures.
Also, by the third act, judging by actress Rebekah Cochan’s tank top, she was suffering from the most serious case of boob sweat I’ve ever seen. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.
FYI – these “teens” are teens of the “90210” persuasion; all but one is supposed to be under the age of 18 and that alleged 18-year old actually looked younger than most of the others. On the plus side, I can’t complain about the acting. I can complain about the dialogue, but I can’t complain about the actors themselves.
Only minutes removed from the opening credits and the teens are already on the run; their counselor becomes bird food and some of them are already wounded and infected. They’ll take refuge in a series of cabins and forts and what not trying to stave off mutant avian expiration while still thinning their herd a bit of their own doing.
Meanwhile, Lance Guest… Remember him from Jaws 3-D and The Last Starfighter? Now he looks like he should be playing Jason Lee’s brother on “My Name is Earl”. Guest happens upon another mutant bird victim still alive on the side of the road. I somehow missed exactly what his job title was. Not that his official job description ultimately matters much.
What matters is that he takes the diseased man to the nearby hospital where the local doctor lady (Clare Carey of the twice cancelled “Jericho”) with whom he has a past. She deduces the improbable mutant strain of ultra bird ebola or whatever the hell it has become.
The whole virus aspect makes little sense. They can call it bird flu until they’re blue in the face but it’s not. There’s also no continuity as to how fast victims succumb to it. I’d complain about such matters accept doing so would be a moot point since the screenplay never bothers to explain much of anything about the origins of the mutant birds and their mutant virus. Pretty much everything wrong with the film can be traced back to the nonsensical script.
The two of them will leave the hospital behind in favor of trying to rescue the teens in the woods once the big bad US government arrives to quarantine the hell out of the place. The government agent in charge of dealing with this potential outbreak appeared to be on loan from the KGB. He’s so callous he should have had a button on that read “I (heart) Acceptable Casualties”.
The rest of the film pretty much plays out how you’d expect from a film like this to play out.
Yet somehow, almost miraculously, Flu Bird Horror remains fairly watchable and I honestly don’t know how Scott and company pulled it off all things considered. This movie really should have been not just bad, but painfully so. I still can’t call it a good movie, but I have to say the combination of silly monsters on the attack, swift pacing that kept things from getting boring, and a conceptual train wreck quality kept me watching. Though I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the film, I will say it’s still more entertaining than a slew of recent Sci-Fi Channel original movies of late I could name.
2 1/2 out of 5
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
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 Aki Avni 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.
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