Cinemayhem Film Festival 2014

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Last year I attended the inaugural Cinemayhem Film Festival in L.A. I had a great time (you can read about it here), and I couldn’t wait for this year. Last year the festival featured new indie films from promising young directors, this year however they decided do it a bit differently.

This year at the Cinemayhem Film Festival, the organizers screened classic horror films from the 80′s proceeded by shorts from new film makers. This year the event was completely free, all you had to do was score a ticket and they all sold out within minutes! The event was at a small funky coffee shop called the Jumpcut Cafe, a coffee shop dedicated to film. The walls were covered in pictures of directors and there was a large chalk board listing all the great films they were planning on screening during the month. I really wish I had a place like this somewhere near me. The first night  screening was John Carpenter’s The Fog. The man himself was at the screening and sat for a Q & A session before the film started.

I hopped in my friend’s car and we drove the 2+ hours to the first night of the event. We arrived at the cafe, drove around for a bit and scored some free parking. We walked into the coffee shop packed full of horror fans of all walks of life. We knew we were in good company. We headed to the back where we got our wristbands and Cinemayhem pins (nice!). My friend wanted to hang out and have a cig where we spotted a man standing in the shadows talking to a few people. My friend recognized him immediately as John Carpenter but I didn’t believe him. I figured, there’s no way he would show up 30 minutes early. He’s got games to play and basketball to watch. Upon closer inspection though it was indeed the man himself. The living legend. I was so excited. While my friend was getting coffee and I was cooling my heels outside I noticed there wasn’t anyone talking to him while he smoked. I steeled my nerves and walked up to him and shook his hand. I thanked him for making so many great films and he asked me where I was from. We talked for a minute and then I walked away. It was great! I didn’t want to bug him with a bunch of questions, I just wanted express my love for his work and his importance to me. Short and simple. Mission accomplished. It’s not every day you get to meet a living legend and a cinematic hero. Amazing. We then sat down and he patiently answered lots of questions in his trademark blunt and funny way. I really wish he would go on a talking tour and just sit and chat with a moderator for an hour. He’s totally no bullshit and I really love listening to him. After his time was up he left, followed by a large group of fans with memorabilia in their hands for him to sign. That thought never even crossed my mind. I’m not big into collecting or memorabilia and to be honest I’m really glad I got the chance to talk to him when I did. That means much more to me. There was a young lady sitting next to my friend and I and I could see she was thinking about going outside to talk to him. I told her to go for it that the opportunity might not come again. Encouraged she left and came back a few minutes later all smiles. Very cool.

Clive Barker lent some of his original art to the festival too. One wall was covered with his work which was very neat to see. The next night featured a Vamp reunion followed by a screening of the film and the final night was a special screening of Hellraiser with Pinhead Doug Bradley himself in attendance.

I can’t thank the organizers enough for giving this great opportunity to us fans to meet and talk to him in such a great intimate setting. I wish I could have attended the other nights but living so far away I just didn’t have the time or resources to come back. One thing’s for sure, whatever Cinemayhem does next year I’ll be there. They have proven to be professional, organized, and gracious. This is what it’s all about friends. If you want to check out some great clips of the  Q & A, cruise on over to the Cinemayhem site and see what you missed.

A Touch of Sin (2013)

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Extreme cinema comes in many forms. We are most accustomed to experiencing tough cinema from genre fare most notoriously the horror genre. There is however a kalidescope of powerful cinema out there that lies in many different types of films. Foreign films (foreign to the good ol’ U.S. of A anyway) have been exploring tough subject matter while we continously pump put yawning dramas and tent pole blockbusters. Asian cinema has been a source for strong cinema for decades. I had thought that after the British hand off to China we would no longer see brave cinema from Hong Kong and for the most part I was right. These days most of what gets exported over here are historical epics and to be honest once you’ve seen a few the never ending parade of patriotism becomes quite tiresome. For me at least. A Touch of Sin is not a historical epic. It’s a tough film about a tough country. And it’s most certainly extreme.

A Touch Of Sin is a series of interconnected vignettes about citizens in low places going through tough, violent struggles. We start out following a man who is bursting with anger at the corruption of the town officials. We meet a woman who works a brothel who is a rich man’s mistress. We meet a teenage boy who tries to run away and work for a high scale hotel/brothel and falls in love with one of the prostitutes. We meet a man who spends his time murdering people for money. It’s tough stuff indeed.

A Touch of Sin is beautifully filmed and the Blu-Ray really shows off the details. Every location is different and it almost feels like a travelogue for the lower classes. Freezing cold desolate farmland, steamy jungle, urban sprawl, industrial blight. We get to see it all, unflinchingly. It’s a tough yet beautiful film that transported me to the places visited during it’s run time. I’ll probably never go to China but watching films like this help me understand the plight and the culture and let me travel there from the comfort of my own couch. I really enjoyed this film. It’s such a kick in the gut in the best way possible. It feels very personal and damning, deep and contemplative. This one’s a contender for any ones top list for 2013.

Patrick (1978)

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Patrick is the third and final Australian horror blu-ray release from indie champs Severin films. This completes the awesome trifecta of classic Oz horror that started with Thirst and Dead Kids. Does it stack up?

Patrick is about a young man that is in a vegetative state in a small clinic. He stares blankly at the world and lies in his bed, hooked up to a respirator. He is part of a study on patients in such a state and has become the sole patient for a new nurse to the clinic. She talks to him and cares for him like no other nurse has done before and when things start getting freaking in her personal life she suspects Patrick has something to do with it. He also spits occasionally. Gross.

Much like with Thirst and Dead Kids, Patrick is once again a film that relies heavily on it’s script and not on gore. There’s really no grue to speak of in the film which isn’t a problem at all. A movie about a killer that can’t move and doesn’t really kill hardly anyone should be about as fun as watching grass grow but again the film is bolstered by great performances and a natural interplay between the characters. The film pushes 2 hours but doesn’t feel like it one bit despite the movie’s now nearly elderly age (for a horror film). Patrick kept me engaged throughout it’s run time and I never once felt bored or underwhelmed. It’s more of a suspense film than anything and that’s just fine in my book.

As with the other two Oz films, I had also seen this one  many years ago with a beat up bland print. The Blu looks great with deep blacks and smooth color. Again the film shows it’s age a bit with some scratches but that only adds to the flavor of the film and to remind us that it was indeed a film and not a digital print. There is also a great supplement with interviews with cast and crew that were originally filmed for the documentary Not Quite Hollywood, but were not included in their entirety in the doc. Great stuff all around for this release and I’m very glad Patrick made the jump to Blu and will remain in circulation for a bit longer until the next format jump.

Hotel Inferno (2013)

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The Italian gore masters behind Taeter City have done it again with their shocking new film, Hotel Inferno. Taeter City was quick, hyper gory, and with innovative special effects. Does Hotel Inferno stack up?

Hotel Inferno is about a professional hit man hired by a mysterious company to kill two people. They are staying at a posh hotel in a foreign country (we have no idea which) and he must kill them quickly and quietly. They are a nasty pair, known for killing over 150 people in just a few short years. Fearing nothing but the scorn of his girlfriend, our hero takes the job but he gets much more than he bargained for.

Hotel Inferno is shot entirely from the hit man’s point of view. It’s hard not to compare the film to the Maniac remake which I loved but here it feels much more like a video game. The man responsible for hiring him talks to the hitman from a disembodied voice coming from speakers much like you would experience in older video games. We only see the hit man’s hands, also like a video game. The whole thing feels like a hyper gory, realistic first person shooter that you don’t have control over. It’s also an easy way to produce the film in multiple languages because no one looks directly at the camera in speaks in the whole movie. Sure there’s lots of yelling and some of the characters in the film speak but they are speaking some strange language we weren’t meant to understand anyway.  The film once again features over the top gore with lots of crushed heads, brains, stabbings, shootings, explosions and more. These guys certainly revel in the red stuff and stay true to their gory roots.  This time out they really tried to innovate in a more subtle way by using many tricky shots in the film and hidden edits that allow the film to look like it takes place in real time. My only complaint with the film is that the forward momentum of the film stalls out in places where we have perhaps too much dialogue or too much walking before we get any action. It’s not really much of a quibble since the film only runs a mere 76 minutes so there simply isn’t much time for the film to become dull.

If you liked Taeter City, you will like Hotel Inferno. It’s gory, simple, and well thought out. Necrostorm films just keep getting more and more proficient at what they do with each film they complete. I look forward to seeing what they come up with in the future. They don’t seem complacent with giant gobs of gore, now they want to create a more polished film. I’ll be the first in line for that next more polished more gory film!

Pilgrim Song (2012)

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Every now and then I’m in the mood for something subtle and soulful. Something simple yet deep. Something with few words but lots of storytelling. I was in one of those moods recently and Pilgrim Song fit the bill.

A music teacher from Kentucky loses his job and decides to take a journey on Kentucky’s Sheltowee Trace Trail. It’s a long beautiful trail that he hopes will allow him to reevaluate his life and his relationship with his longtime girlfriend.

Pilgrim Song is much like the description of the trail, long and beautiful. Clocking in at nearly 2 hours the film sticks around for a while. I felt like I was taking the journey myself and questioned whether or not I would do the things he did or make the decisions he made. The scenery is gorgeous and made me envious of such a picturesque place so close to where he lived. Along the way he meets different people and gains new perspective on his life, most importantly a kind but self destructive man and his son. By the end of the movie our hero on his journey is a changed man. He’s seeing things differently and I’m sure he will continue to grow as a man.

Pilgrim Song features natural performances and great chemistry between the actors. The sound track is simple and matches the film’s asthetic perfectly. It’s an understated film that I will be thinking about for the next few days. The dvd is sold out but fear not, you can still rent the film on Brinkvision’s website. I enjoyed the film and will be eager to check out the director’s future efforts.

Pig (2013)

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I love low budget sci-fi movies that are capable of creating plausible high concept plots with very little money. It takes a lot of skill in the writing and editing departments and when it works it’s amazing. When it doesn’t it’s usually an intolerable snoozefest. Pig is one such low-budget sci fi film but does it work?

Pig is about a man who wakes up in the desert with his hands tied behind his back and a black hood over his head. He doesn’t know why he’s there or even who he is. He cuts his ties and wanders the desert until he passes out where he’s found by a woman and her child. She takes care of him and gets him a doctor. He has no memory, only a name in his pocket. Manny Elders. Is that his name? Where is he from?

Pig kept me engaged throughout the entire run time. I had some of it figured out from the beginning but not all of it. For a guy like me who’s seen thousands of movies it’s hard to trick me. The characters in the film are likeable and releatable. I wanted to know what was going to happen next and I enjoyed watching the main character unravel his past until the final reveal. I won’t spoil it for anyone but I was a little bit underwhelmed. Perhaps the cover art was a bit misleading. It’s a very simple film with no big flashy special effects, which is fine with me, but I guess I was hoping for a more sinister conspiracy. That being said I enjoyed the film. It captured my attention and held it throughout which is a big compliment given the myriad of distractions I have while watching movies. I would gladly watch another film from the creators of Pig, especially if they had a bigger concept for the next film.

Dead Kids (1981)

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Recently Severin has decided to release 3 of the most beloved Australian horror films from the early 80′s. They are a trifecta of awesome my review of Thirst can attest to. The second release is Dead Kids aka Strange Behavior. A seemingly generic slasher flick that has more under the hood than you might expect.

A small town in Illinois (Dead Kids was actually filmed in Oz but doubled for USA as was common practice then) is the home of a young man and his father. His father is the chief of police and everything there is idlyic. It’s time for the young man to start thinking about college and in order to pay for his application fees he decides to go to the local college and take part in an experiment. He starts to feel a bit funny and then kids start turning up dead….

Dead Kids isn’t what you think it is. It sounds like slasher #245 but it has a uniquely sci-fi flair that helps put up high on my list of favorite slasher type flicks from this era. Well acted and directed, the film moves at a quick pace and has a killer soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. I don’t want to give away too much but the script is the star of the show here. It does enough to break the standard slasher mold to help it reach its cult status. The blu looks great as well. I’ve had this one on dvd for several years and it looked alright but the blu here is a great upgrade for fans that already have the disc.

Dead Kids is a solid horror flick that breaks out of the formula that plagued so many fright flicks from this era. A diamond in the rough, it’s largely been ignored by many horror fans and hopefully now with a great release from severin it will finally find a broader audience.

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)

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The Flesh and Blood Show is somewhat of an odd duck. It’s yet another horror film by British director Pete Walker.  I had never seen this one before. Mostly I’ve seen his later output so I was really excited when I put this on last night. But is it any good?

The Flesh and Blood Show is about an improv theater group that has been assembled by a producer and asked to start creating a new play at a rundown theater in the middle of nowhere. The theater hasn’t been used since the war (that’s WWII) and certainly has a creepy vibe. There was a bit of mystery surrounding the theater. It seems the last company that worked there broke up after the start of the group and his wife and daughter disappeared one night. Well as you might have guessed, members of this theater group start disappearing as well, one by one.

On it’s surface the film is very much a part of a very well worn cliche in horror films. Group of young people assemble for some purpose and then get killed one by one. Although we have to remember that this was ’72 and that particular trope hadn’t been run into the ground yet. Much like Walker’s later efforts the film isn’t a gore fest. There’s some blood but overall it’s pretty tame. This is fine because Walker films are never particularly bloody but usually lean and well written. The characters spout impressive lines and the actors involved must have had fun delivering them. The film is odd however because of the abundance of nudity in it. Later in his career Walker sidestepped that particular trope but here there’s a bevy of bare bodies. In fact the first scene in the film has a woman running completely nude. The interview with Walker included on the disc explains it. He said he didn’t want to put all the nudity in the film but he had been making sexploitation films previously and knew the climate of the time demanded nudity to sell the film. It was a transitional piece for him, finally getting away from the sex films he didn’t like making but couldn’t quite completely put the t & a to bed yet. So just like clockwork every 10 minutes or so we are given some sort of nudity in case we were dosing in our chairs. It almost seems like he wasn’t confident in his ability to scare the audience but he knew he could at least titilate them. The film also features 10 minutes or so of 3-d, another gimmick Walker had previously used.  Of course once again the 3-d features nudity by way of a completely nude woman and man. Unfortunately on the blu ray you have to stop the film when you get to the 3-d segment, go into the menu, select the 3-d and then watch it. Then when it’s over the blu doesn’t simply pick up where you left off in the feature. You have to go back into the chapter menu and select the last chapter. That being said it was fun being able to see the sequence in 3-d, presumably for the first time since ’72! Redemption didn’t have to do that and its really great they went that extra mile to try to present the film in the way it was originally intended. The picture itself has quite a bit more artifacting than Frightmare did which makes sense as this wasn’t a big hit when it came out so the film wouldn’t have been preserved as well. There are more blips and scratches in the film but again like I said with Frightmare, I’d rather have them in there than have the image scrubbed clean with digital artifacting. The colors are solid, the blacks black. There’s no doubt the film has ever looked better.

Overall The Flesh and Blood Show is a fun flick that moves perhaps not as quickly as Walker’s later efforts but quickly enough that it doesn’t be come dull. And how could it with all of the nudity anyway? For Pete Walker fans its a fun treat but for the uninitiated, you’re probably better off starting with Frightmare or some of Walker’s later works.

Frightmare (1974)

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About 10 years ago Shriek Show released most of Pete Walker’s films out on dvd. I had no idea who Pete Walker was but the cover art for Frightmare informed me I had to find out. As it turns out he’s a British director who did a string of films in the 70′s very quickly before bowing out of film making. I remember watching an interview on one of the dvds where he said he didn’t have any memories from the sets because they were moving so fast they didn’t have time to stop and think about what they were doing. They just did it very fast and got done. At the time of that interview he basically said making films was too grueling and he couldn’t take it anymore. He’s since changed his tune a bit but I always appreciated his candid interview. He seemed like an honest guy, not wrapped up in his own legend. Fast forward to today and Redemption films is releasing Frightmare on Blu-Ray, completely restored and with a new interview with Pete Walker.

Frightmare is the story of a woman who is a pathological cannibal. She’s caught and found guilty along with her husband and sent to an asylum for the criminally insane. 20 years later they are released and their daughter is helping to take care of them but the urge to kill cannot be contained and soon the woman goes about killing and eating folks again.

Sounds grisly right? Well, it is, sort of. This isn’t a gut-munching gorefest like the cover art suggests but don’t let that deter you from seeing the film. Just understand that this is a very British film and is somewhat reserved with the red stuff. Sure there’s some good blood sprays and a some grisly murder scenes but they aren’t all that graphic. It isn’t Italian. But it doesn’t need to be graphic to be good. The performances are rock solid, especially from Pete Walker’s muse Sheila Keith. She plays the cannibal woman with such subtlety and cruelty that it’s hard to believe she isn’t a crazy cannibal. She really steals the show and is a pleasure to watch. Though that isn’t to say that the rest of the cast is unremarkable, indeed there are many good performances here but Sheila Keith is just so perfect and so menacing it’s hard to focus on anything else. The plot is tight and moves quickly, the film is only 86 minutes including credits. The editing and cinematography are nice as well but this is an actors film to be sure.

The Blu-Ray looks great as well. There are still film artifacts throughout the presentation which was nice to see. They didn’t scrub the film of every imperfection which to my mind means they didn’t mess with the overall picture much. This is a 40 year old film and is bound to have some blips here and there. The colors are vibrant, the blacks solid. This release is a nice upgrade to the now out of print dvd.

Frightmare is a fun film that is anything but dull despite it’s lack of grue. It’s suspenseful, well acted and written. It’s a solid horror treat for any fan out there, especially those looking for something more than a cheap gore fest (I love those too).

Defiance (1980)

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John Flynn directed one of my favorite vigilante flicks. Rolling Thunder is a powerhouse of a film filled to the brim with great characters, dialogue, and violence. It’s a tough film that’s powerful and mean. When I found out that John Flynn had directed another vigilante flick I couldn’t wait to see it. I should have.

Defiance stars Jan Michael Vincent as a deck hand on cargo ships. He’s been put on probation due to bad behavior and now he has to take up residence in a tough neighborhood in NYC. The neighborhood his ruled by a ruthless gang called The Souls and of course he runs afoul of them. The neighbors are too scared to fight back but he decides to stand up for them. He also falls in love and hangs out with a former boxer-turned-punch-drunk simpleton and a little kid. A lot.

The problem with Defiance isn’t the gang. They’re tough and stylish and have the right pathos to make the whole thing work. Jan Michael Vincent is good too but there’s far too much melodrama in the movie. The neighbors run afoul of the gang here and there but there are few actual fights in the film. Those that we do get to see are sloppy and weak. Overall there just isn’t enough to chew on here. The film doesn’t go far enough and turns a decent setup into a tepid affair. It wasn’t horrible overall it just wasn’t very memorable, the opposite of Rolling Thunder.

I’m a big fan of the inner city vigilante genre so I’m glad I watched it. I’m sure I’ve seen worse as this was mildly entertaining throughout and never felt boring, but the ending just doesn’t provide the payoff I was hoping for.