Saturday, January 31, 2015

Boston Horror Show: The Sins of Dracula, Dys, The Battery, Spring, and shorts.

The late-January dead zone is a pretty good time to have this sort of event, although I noticed that the theater had signs up saying that Into the Woods wouldn't play due to a hard drive problem. Not that I'm doubting their honesty there, but who wouldn't mind their own hardware failures being so well-timed?

Anyway, here's the line-up, which wound up being more than tigher than I was expected, since I mentally assume horror movies are about 90 minutes and shorts are about ten:


Busy day. I actually bailed on another event - the Clotrudis Award nominations - in part because I couldn't find a date for them, in part because, hey, seeing independent movies trumps arguing over whether something is fifth or sixth best in a given category, and partly because I couldn't make Dys- or Spring fit into the festivals where they played last year, and I wanted to see them with a crowd.

It may not have been a huge crowd, but it was an appreciative one. It's a shame that they had to get Sins of Dracula inflicted upon them, because that is one of the less enjoyable examples of a genre movie substituting camp for originality, just seeming boringly lazy and unoriginal.

Still, it got better. I considered bailing after "Beating Hearts" to get a burger across the street, since I'd already seen The Battery, but a snack during movie #2 meant I wasn't particularly hungry during #3, so I stuck around from start to finish, capping things off with Spring.

Which, by the way, is fantastic, an early lead on my favorite movies of the year, and I wish it were out already so that I could talk about it more. Heck, let's talk about the end after the review.

"Slut"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Chloe Okuno's "Slut" is not groundbreaking; it's a fairly straightforward bit of 1970s/1980s exploitation pastiche, from the credits to the hairstyles, but it's one that is happily played straight even if it does have a dark sense of humor. Standard stuff: Mousy girl in glasses who spends all her time looking after her grandmother envies the easy blonde down at the roller rink, but when she gets a little male attention herself, it's not necessarily so nice.

It's a pretty good short, and I like the way that Okuno is careful to make sure that nothing comes entirely out of left field, even if it does mean that there's a veritable Chekhov's Arsenal lying around. She's got a good knack for staging action clearly, and even if the acting is highly variable (star Molly McIntyre has both great and rough moments), she pulls it all together well.

The Sins of Dracula

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Oh, man, so many angles from which to disdain The Sins of Dracula, just one opening paragraph. I mean, I've recently seen one of the Hammer Draculas that this draws inspiration - do I come at it that way? Or maybe I should consider the question of whether Richard Griffin setting a movie around a community theater company shows self-awareness or a lack thereof. Then again, you don't really need an angle beyond "bad movie that tries to use camp as an excuse".

That starts from the beginning, when a winking warning tells the audience that this movie is about what happens in a faithless world. Soon, nice church-going boy Billy (Jamie Dufault) is telling his pastor (Carmine Capobianco) that he wants to do more than just sing in the choir, getting into theater with his girlfriend Shannon (Sarah Nicklin), even if all the others in the troupe - D&D-loving Traci (Samantha Acampora), self-named NuWave (Jesse Dufault), drug fiend Bandilli (Derek Laurendeau), and gay Lance (Aaron Peaslee) all seem to be people he shouldn't be near. But, of coruse, they aren't a patch on director Lou Perdition (Steven O'Brion) and his girlfriend Kimberly (Elyssa Baldassarri).

None of these guys are particularly convincing teenagers, although I suppose that the filmmakers would say that's part of the joke - it's a straight-faced spoof of shoddy horror movies and Christian scare flicks! The trouble is, it never feels like the genuine more-enthusiasm-than-talent camp that makes such movies memorable, nor does it have the targeted gags to make for good parody. It almost seems cynical, as if Griffin and company know by now that with a few exceptions, the people who show up in they work with aren't that good, so this sort of send-up/homage is done as an excuse. Or even worse, it can feel like laziness - when going for camp, you don't have to come up with actual scares or gags; you can just imitate what they are like.

Full review at EFC.

"I Am Monster"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Well, that was rather gross.

That's half the point, of course, and that the gross-out is almost exactly half the point (and half the running time) makes "I Am Monster" a great way to examine just how difficult it can be to be a smart person who loves horror. The first half of the short is all in-your-face provocation: Co-writer/director Shannon Lark stars as a woman dressed like a fetish model who goes into a morgue after-hours, chooses the best looking lady corpse in here, and engages in some serious necrophilia aided by what I hope must be custom implements, taking Polaroids throughout. It's all envelope-pushing and apparent objectification, with a couple of moments where Lark and filmmaking partner Lori Bowen take the basic concept to its unnatural conclusion.

Then the supernatural part kicks in - or maybe it's just Vivienne cracking - and things start getting interesting; it becomes more clearly about Vivienne being cut off from actual intimacy. The push and pull between Vivienne and Jason (Adam Cardon) is nifty, but the short doesn't quite have the room to explore her as a potentially multifaceted person with all the exploitation material, and while that's not just there to shock and titillate, that tends to blot the rest out.

It's a nifty short, but it shows the tough balance at play in a good horror story, trying to create something that shocks without totally obliterating what's underneath.

Dys-

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Maude Michaud's Dys- looks to be on the path to dystopia as it starts, but as with many stories that start with an outbreak, that turns out to be the background for some intense dysfunction. It's the sort of movie that is going to push some a bit too far, but will be absolutely riveting for others.

It starts with some of the usual disturbing signs - news reports of a nasty strain of the flu going around, and a possibly-related murder suicide with rumors of cannibalism. A lot of people in a Montreal photography class are absent, with one heading out just as Sam (Alex Goldrich) starts to deliver his lecture. He's distracted for other reasons; his marriage to model and longtime muse Eva (Shannon Lark) is falling apart. She's finally set to start a new job at a bank when the government institutes a travel ban, and even before a tense dinner with their neighbor (and Sam's best friend) James (Dega Lazare) ends with him coughing up blood in Eva's direction, there are times when you just don't want to be stuck in a small space with certain people.

Hallucinations may be a symptom of this "flu" - or maybe not - and when Michaud combines that with her intentions to reveal these characters' complete backstory slowly, the audience is in for some serious uncertainty from moment to moment. Michaud doesn't just count on everyone being a potentially unreliable narrator, though, finding ways to make the situation incrementally worse before the time for serious rug-pulling comes. She's also quite good at presenting things just a bit larger than completely necessary so that they are remembered later, whether as an explanation or a bit of a fake-out.

Full review at EFC.

"Beating Hearts"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

It's natural to spend much of "Dead Hearts" trying to construct a backstory that explains everything - particularly an opening scene that takes the express route from sweet to horrific - in a way that shifts blame to the least-ugly place it can go, and that's still an ugly, ugly situation.

Writer/director Matthew Garrett's decision to play things somewhat ambiguous keeps things interesting - just how twisted is the relationship between the characters credited as only "The Girl" (Gianna Bruzzese) and "The Grandfather" (Peter Coriaty), what is their endgame, and just how did things get there? Garrett offers no convenient and clear delineation for who made whom a killer.

It's a fine source of unease, although when it comes time to finish the story, that uncertainty does take away from the story having a truly satisfying conclusion. That's quite possibly part of the point, though, and what makes things a bit more unnerving.

The Battery

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

The environment where you see a movie can be pretty important; I first saw The Battery on a Fantasia Festival screener back in 2013, after having already heard the All Things Horror guys rave about it, and didn't see what the big deal was. Seeing it on a big screen, with a crowd, definitely makes for a better experience.

I still don't love the movie, although I appreciate it more afer the second time through. I do sort of wonder what the deal is with that last sequence, and how long it was going on (they really shouldn't have mentioned having to eventually drink their pee, because then I start wondering what they're doing with it). It's an able and often impressive post-apocalyptic story, although it's not really one that uses that environment to get at particularly interesting ideas.

Full review at EFC.

"Dead Hearts"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

"Dead Hearts" is an entertaining little mash-up by Stephen W. Martin, and it feels something like what you'd get if you merged Tim Burton and Wes Anderson, adding in a healthy amount of kung fu. Like Burton & Anderson movies, the result is sometimes a little too precious, but the inventiveness more than balances it out.

The cuteness here involves a nine-year-old undertaker (Valin Shinyei) with a crush on the blind martial-arts master in his elementary-school class (Dalila Bela). Of course, it doesn't last - she moves away and he seldom leaves his mortuary again, until decades later when he shows just how far he will go to share his heart with her.

Context can be king, and, boy, was "Dead Hearts" a lot of fun toward the end of a day filled with grim movies. It's the sort of fantasy that takes a lot for granted, but it's cheerful and sly about it, not quite winking about how it makes sure everyone is wearing masks so that they can sub in stunt performers, or how the fairy tale trappings are played into but made modern without being subverted. It's a fun little movie, and I'm very curious about what sort of a feature Martin might end up making should he get the chance. A Burton/Anderson type who really loves genre movies would be no bad thing.

Spring

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Every once in a while, a movie will be built in such a way to make you forget what sort of film you came in expecting to see, usually so that it can get a jolt out of genre fans who come in ready for anything. Spring does that, to a certain extent, but takes it a bit further - its switch-up seems less about softening a tough audience up than easing it into something that sounds crazy, even if it winds up being fantastic.

So we start with Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) in California; he dropped out of college to look after his dying mother, and now that she has passed, he's got no reason not to hate the loose end he's at. It leads to a fight, which leads him to leave town for Italy, where he hooks up with a couple of British tourists, winds up in Bari, a small town on the coast. That's where he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a grad student researching the genetic irregularities of a relatively isolated population. She's beautiful, smart, and funny - but there's something else that makes her unlike any girl Evan has ever met.

It's a while before we meet Louise, but that's okay, because a real effort is put into making sure that we get to know Evan despite his seeming like just a simple American everyman to contrast with the Italian girl with the big secret. There's obligation but also deep love on display during the one scene with his mother, and a chip on his shoulder soon after that, but the approach matters: He hits back hard when he feels the jolt but is an easygoing softie when just pushed at. Lou Taylor Pucci is seldom pushed to make Evan extraordinary in any specific facet, but he makes sure that the audience likes the guy, making him approachable in his imperfections and having it balance out into a man worth spending time with.

Full review at EFC.

SPOILERS!

I can't talk enough about how much I love the way Benson, Moorhead, and Nadia Hilker built Louise, especially since the temptation to have some kind of "regeneration" sequence (I couldn't get Doctor Who out of my head once Louise's nature was revealed) must have been almost impossible to resist, just to show us what they were talking about rather than coming at it obliquely. The fact that she becomes a different person, influenced by the genetic material of her last lover, means that it makes sense for her to be youthful in mind as well as body, even if she is thousands of years old, which Hilker does carry.

I also really love that, even from that early age, she was trying to explain herself scientifically, even if the concept wasn't quite there yet. The science in the movie is kind of bunk (grumble grumble conservation of matter grumble), but the outlook is refreshing, especially since the easy way out would be to treat love as magic and say that faith is more important than understanding. Instead, Louise likes understanding, and even if there's a level at which it makes her cynical - seeing love as chemicals in the brain and knowing she's never been in that sort of love can do that - it isn't a mark against her. She recognizes the value of ritual as a focus even if she doesn't take it literally, and recognizing her mutation for what it is keeps her from seeing herself as a monster.

And, wow, that last sequence, when she shows Evan her family and says that this is how she knows love is what changes things, is great - playing on her rationality without losing emotional weight. It's where the idea begins to emerge that he can win her even if what we've already learned said that not only will Louise become someone else, but maintaining a relationship with her would be kind of incestual. But there's a price, and it's kind of horrible - while this sort of story traditionally has the immortal feeling diminished by her isolation from regular humanity and lack of love, Louise doesn't want to give up eternity; there's still too much to see, and limiting herself to a mere sixty more years is horrible.

But that's what happens, and while festival-friend Kurt Halfyard's review suggests that Evan & Louise don't last, I interpret the smoldering volcano at the end a little differently; I see it as tying her back to her parents, acknowledging that while they love each other and will love their child - a traditional happy ending - we must also acknowledge that falling in love has killed Louise. She won't be able to regenerate, she may envy her daughter for the long life she will likely lead, she may even resent Evan at times. Maybe, as is traditional, she'll see it as a fair trade-off, but just like the volcano killed her family, her position is now reversed; she'll be the one who dies while someone else lives on, and that's tragic, even if they live a happy life.

!SRELIOPS

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