Category Archives: Horror Film

The Witching Season

http://www.witchingseasonfilms.com/

http://www.witchingseasonfilms.com/

Today, I am reviewing The Witching Season, an anthology-style horror web series. As you may have noticed, I do not bother reviewing big-budget horror films. There are too many talented and eloquent folks out there doing that already, and far better than I could (like this brilliant lady). Frankly, with respect to my beloved Fangoria subscription, I think too much attention is paid to feature-length films in general by horror fans. There is an incredible wealth of art, indie comics, podcasts, poetry, music, online writing communities (CreepyPasta, anyone?) and short films that are able to touch aspects of this genre that the medium of a feature film simply cannot. So, speaking of short film…

James L. Morris of Witching Season Films sent me info and links to a new horror web series called (you guessed it) The Witching Season that he and his talented team have been working on. In his own words:

“I won’t lie and say that we were trying to make a social statement, but I think the way we have created the episodes will speak volumes towards our desire not to portray the same old “Lets go see what made the noise in my panties” kind of mindset we all too often see.”

Well, after I immediately went out and had “Lets go see who made the noise in my panties” printed on 100 t-shirts (so I never run out), I snuggled in bed with my laptop to watch the first two episodes of The Witching Season. I really enjoyed them, and I think you will too. Let me tell you why.

Within your dark little heart resides the memory of Halloween, experienced as only a child can. You yearn for the glow of jack o lanterns, the sound of fall leaves crunching beneath your feet, the blustery winds chilling your small frame amidst the speckled October sunlight, and the strangle tingling mix of hopeful fear as you look for (dread) ghosts and masked slashers in every shadow. You will not admit this, of course. You’d rather impress everyone with your bootlegged Fulci collection and share gleeful and cynical laughter over craft beers while watching The Human Centipede for the tenth time with your equally iron-stomached friends.

But it all began with Goosebumps books and Tales from the Crypt, didn’t it?

The Witching Season will take you back there. The opening credits are a beautiful collage of Halloween décor dripping off of trees and hanging off of houses. Seriously, it’s fucking gorgeous.  Slasher Dave delivers a great score that is both classic and nostalgic.

Episode 1: Killer On The Loose

 

A young woman flees from some mysterious, pursuing enemy through the woods at night. As a flashlight searches the trees behind her, she comes upon a seemingly deserted house festooned with Halloween decorations. She enters the equally-Halloween-adorned interior of the house and shuts the door behind her. She looks down at her wrists and rubs at the raw skin there (from ropes? from handcuffs?). Several of the decorations seen can be recognized as being from the opening credits, which strikes me as a brilliant way to both cut set design costs and create an enduring and continuous atmosphere. Her white shirt is spattered with what looks to be blood; as it is obviously Halloween, we are left to wonder if it is real or not.

What follows is an all-too-familiar scene of “girl hides from unknown bad guy” reminiscent of Scream/Halloween/mostslashersevermade, but it is all polished up like a revered idol. The shots are pretty remarkably seamless for an indie work. The lighting and shadows are spot on. Actress Hailey Nebeker delivers a tense and believable performance. Randin Graves scores the action with music that is an effective blend of scene-centric drama and classic slasher-film homage. You start to wonder if it will all play out as expected; and of course, it doesn’t. The twist isn’t ground-breaking, but it is clever and grin-worthy. And once revealed, you find new meaning in previous scenes because the dual perspectives were handled with care.

 

Episode 2: Princess

Same great credits with another classic set-up: A mother and daughter move into a new house. Mom is full of hope for the future and kid is full of trepidation at the big change. Again, you’ve been here and seen this all before, but the Halloween atmosphere and classic/homage score (again from Randin Graves) keep it from feeling redundant. It is more like revisiting something well-known and well-loved. The little girl (very impressive performance by young actress Emily Broschinsky) hears noises in the night that draw her down to explore the basement. There she finds…of course! A creepy doll! A very creepy half-doll, half-bunny thing that looks like a promotional toy for The Island of Dr. Moreau. Predictable plot points follow, but the ending managed to be both bad-ass and hilarious. I laughed out loud at something that should have made me wince, and when a film is able to pull a reaction out of you that surprises yourself, I call that an achievement.

Last but not least, this delightful bit of entertainment is free: served fresh from their talented team and onto your plate (youtube). If you watch these episodes and enjoy them, help make sure there is more to come by taking some time to give them love via social media shares/likes and even donations if you can. The trailer for Episode 3 comes out this weekend, and the full episode should be available early-mid April.

Now go on. Gets to watching!

visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/witchingseasonfilms

check out their website: www.witchingseasonfilms.com

 

“Expressway To Your Skull”

Expressway To Your Skull

This film’s micro-budget packs a macro dose of skill

If you consider yourself a horror film aficionado, you probably claim to support independent horror films. You probably know, at least in theory, that it is precisely the constraints of a meager budget that has historically driven innovation in this genre. You probably also know, somewhere deep inside your little subversive heart, that if you want to be a supporter of independent horror and provide the sort of community where such innovation can flourish, you have to actually watch and pay for independent horror films!

Lucky for you, Brain Damage Films has just released Expressway To Your Skull, a micro-budget psychedelic horror thriller debut from the very promising independent filmmaker Michael Okum. This film really makes the most of its resources: compelling plot, talented acting, relatable dialogue, and creative cinematography with tight editing.

“A gripping horror film, Expressway to Your Skull follows Ed and Amy, a thrill-seeking couple in their 20s as they steal away from the city to the backwoods for a spur-of-the-moment camping trip to cut loose and “expand their minds.” With a stash of drugs, backpacks and halfcocked enthusiasm, Ed and Amy hit the road… But soon the couple cross paths with a mysterious survivalist named Charlie. As their plans for a drug-hazed vacation turn sour, they instead find themselves fighting for their lives in a deranged, psychedelic-fueled death trip that blurs the line between reality and nightmares.”

I have to say, the above description, which I was given via press release, did not do this film justice. After reading it, I expected a couple of whoo-hoo, hot-but-terrible actors running through the woods yelling “Let’s get fucked up!” with cheesy trails effects, and some chainsaw-wielding beard-o in a trucker hat flailing his weapon around. What I saw instead was so much better. This film seems to use a dichotomy structure, a sort of light and dark mirroring of a series of events. It opens on the dark side: a woman, a man, money, a rape, a kidnapping (I was very impressed by the performance of Katie Royer, she manages to bring an overwhelming amount of vulnerability and emotion to her small part). This is juxtaposed with the light side: a woman and man, money, consensual and loving sex, a coerced (but consensual) camping trip. The central couple, Amy and Ed (played very well by Lindsay Atwood and Paul S. Tracy), have an undercurrent of anxiety and youthful shiftlessness about them that makes them very believable. Their dialogue is natural, and they have a level of chemistry and love that is rare in such low-budget films. This film takes time to build the characters of this couple and to lay the groundwork for the motivations of their careless actions that later get them into trouble. And guess what? It is totally believable that they are just out camping and wanting to take some mushrooms. Yep, this film just shows people doing something they often do when seeking recreation in a natural environment: drugs.

Expressway To Your Skull Amy and Ed

In fact, the drugs are used more as a clever plot device and not (as I feared would be the case) a replacement for plot. By the time they meet Charlie, our complex villain, it isn’t totally ridiculous that they would decide to go off through the woods with him for the promise of killer hallucinogens.

Expressway To Your Skull Charlie

Charlie, played by the very expressive and effective Mark Aaron, offers an understandable villain. Frightening in his blind and arrogant delusions, as well as the obvious trauma and loss that fuels his need for such ludicrous self-inflation of perceived power, he is one human-sized pile of crazy shit that poor Amy and Ed step right into. Again, the hallucinogenic cinematography seeks to enhance the viewer’s empathy and show the fear and confusion of characters in a fight or flight situation trying desperately to pierce through the fog of an altered consciousness.

This is certainly one of the best horror films I have seen within its budgetary peers. I urge you to put down your tired and scratched copy of “Phantasm” and give this one a try. It is released on DVD on November 3rd, 2015 and will be available VOD on December 1st, 2015. For more info, please check out http://expresswaytoyourskull.com.

 

It Follows: more than a PSA on STDs

 

"Horror is about the perversion of those things that seem most dear or certain"

“Horror is about the perversion of those things that seem most dear or certain.” -MD                  

If you have just watched one of this year’s most intelligent horror films, “It Follows”,  you may be itching to delve into its allegorical nooks and crannies with a wee bit of brainy analysis. If so, I highly recommend this eloquent article:

“It Follows” Taps Into Genre Tropes and Contemporary Fears to Devastating Effect from Michael Darer at The Wesleyan Argus.

I wouldn’t say I loved this film; however, I certainly appreciated it. Honestly, I enjoy my sexual-politic horror allegories to be more along the lines of Cronenburg’s Shivers, but the operative word there is: enjoy. Watching this film was like wearing a tight wool sweater and nothing else…in a sauna filled with disapproving relatives…while trying to give a heartfelt speech about the patriarchal symbolism of eggplants.

Yet, I kept thinking about it afterward (so basically, yeah, that’s a good film), and lacking any immediate fellow horror fans to geek out with, I went to the interwebs for comfort. I read many tidy little jabs at an analysis, but this article was my favorite. It got at the meat of the allegory, at least in the way it struck me as an innovative addition to the genre.

Here’s a snippet to illustrate:

Much has been made of the film’s allegorical interest, and appropriately so. While sexuality is not a new interest of the horror genre (the slasher films Mitchell often references have long held that if you have sex, you die), the current landscape of sexual discourse is ostensibly much different than it has been at any other point. Coming out around the same time as campus-rape documentary “The Hunting Ground,” “It Follows” is keenly aware of how its set-up emulates the anxiety and outrage that comes with any real acknowledgment of sexual violence. At various points in the film, conversations among characters (and even the shape of the Follower itself) make reference to the possibilities of violation and exploitation. The image of Jay tied in her underwear to a wheelchair that has played in nearly every trailer is a conscious gesture toward this as well.

But while critics have argued over whether the film is an allegory for sexual assault or sexually transmitted diseases (and there are images in the film that can be read variously as either), it’s more likely that Mitchell isn’t interested in restricting his film to the one-to-one relation that can make or break allegorical genre films. At its core, “It Follows” is an investigation of trauma, both large and small. On the macro level, it presents its audience with a protagonist who, after a disturbing sexual encounter, is followed by a manifestation of that encounter that only she can see. Jay’s fear, so often inexplicable to her friends, seems to cast the Follower as PTSD given bodily form.

While my love and fascination with horror knows no bounds (from “Ghoulies” to “Martyrs”: I’m there), it is the inherent power of this genre to make literal and tangible the deepest turmoil of our experience of human existence (have you seen The Babadook? read “Rosemary’s Baby“?) that keeps me coming back here to share with you. If you haven’t seen “It Follows” and you want to, I believe it’s available on Netflix and Redbox. Go see it, then come back and read this article.

I think this quote by Cronenberg can apply to the characters and audience of most any great work of horror:

“They’re going to be dragged kicking and screaming into this new experience,” Cronenberg once said of the residents in Shivers, though he could have just as easily been talking about his audience. “They’re not going to go willingly. But underneath, there is something else, and that’s what we see at the end of the film.”