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Monday, November 18, 2019

BAFF 2019: Feature Film Rundown

Every November in Atlanta, Georgia, Halloween gets extended a few extra weeks, and we all have an excuse to continue watching horror movies a bit longer before diving into the holiday season. That's all thanks to the Buried Alive Film Festival, the long running festival that brings great horror films of all kinds to our doorstep each year. This year had one of the best lineups of feature films, and we got a chance to see all eight of them!

Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made
dir. by David Amito and Michael Laicini

The festival opened with the highly anticipated movie that has been said to have killed over 60 people. Well, at least that's what the marketing department says. The mockumentary aspect of Antrum is clever and at times genuinely creepy, but 85% of the movie is the full film-within-the-film, which doesn't live up to the hype. Full Review Here.


VFW
dir. by Joe Begos

I never knew I needed an Expendables-style roundup of aging B-movie actors beating the ever-loving shit out of a bunch of drugged out punks, but here we are. Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson, and William Sadler (to name a few) star as veterans whose VFW outpost is besieged by "mutant punks" in a violent not-too-distant future. This movie plays like a cross between Robocop and Assault on Precinct 13, and is exactly as badass and fun as that sounds. Although it's shot very, very dark (perhaps to make the action more convincing), the synth-heavy music, gritty look, and most of all the performances really sell it.



Hellbound
dir. by Ben Winston

Although this apparently had a small release last year, this was the first I'd heard of this nightmarish throwback to motorcycle movies. Hellbound is impressively dedicated to its look and feel, and if you didn't know better you might really think this was made in the early '70s, from the fact that it was really shot on 16mm to the acting, the sound and music to the trippy kaleidoscopic effects. Despite the very bare bones story (two bikers and one of their girlfriends are on a motorcycle trip, but get caught up in the rituals of a coven of sexy witches), I found myself really engaged and thoroughly enjoying the movie. This is a return to a very specific kind of movie that really delivers, and I'm really excited to see what Winston comes up with next!



Porno
dir. by Keola Racela

I have a feeling that Porno is going places. This comedic horror film follows a group of Christian movie theater ushers in 1992 who find their faith tested by a sexy succubus demon they accidentally release by loading up a porno film into the theater's projector. It's clever, well-crafted, full of great performances by its young ensemble cast, and best of all, makes fun of hypocritical Christian weirdos. Full Review Here.



The Wretched
dir. by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce

Ben (John-Paul Howard) is living with his dad for the Summer, but his vacation is ruined by his suspicions that the woman next door has been taken over by an ancient witch. The Wretched is unique in the bits of mythology it uses, and this is a genuinely frightening version of a witch story. This polished and clever take on a witch invading a peaceful residential area is a must see! Full Review Here.



Those Who Deserve to Die
dir. by Bret Wood

A veteran (Joe Sykes) who is the only survivor of his platoon has returned home, but is getting brutal revenge on people for a reason we are not initially privy to. He is goaded into these heinous acts by his creepy little sister (Alice Lewis). There's more to it than that, but to say much more is to spoil the clever twists and turns that the film makes. This one uses some of the tropes of the black gloved gialli killer with mysterious motives, and utilizes some interesting imagery and sound design to tell its tale. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the kickass music that lends a sense of bloody grace to the movie. A complex and unique movie that is worth checking out. 





J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius
dir. by Sandy K. Boon

This fantastic documentary recounts the origins of the Church of the Subgenius, a cult (or a big joke) created by two men in Texas in the early 1980s. The subject matter is really intriguing, especially when it begins to show how the gag started to get out of hand, and how the subculture of weirdos and outcasts in many ways led to the current political situation. More than that, though, the film itself is really entertaining, and its use of home videos, animation, and lots of public domain film make it fit its subject matter absolutely perfectly. An informative but wild ride!



Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf
dir. by Daniel Griffith

Often documentaries about movies tend to be, well, boring, especially if you aren't familiar with most of the movies the talking heads are discussing, but Mark of the Beast is not that movie. This documentary which chronicles the history of werewolves in cinema is a fascinating look at how monster mythos is born and how it evolves over time. They cover all the greats (the full Wolfman series, the Hammer film, American Werewolf, etc.), with some really interesting interviews with the likes of John Landis, David Naughton, Mick Garris, and loads of special effects artists. This is a highly produced and highly recommended documentary for anyone even mildly interested in werewolves or monster movies in general.


That's it for this year, but we'll see you again in 2020 for more terrifying, weird, and awesome movies!
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BAFF 2019: PORNO is what you should be watching


Porno is great. Everyone should watch Porno from time to time, and you'll really enjoy yourself watching it.

Okay, sorry, I couldn't resist.

But really, the indie horror movie by newcomer Keola Racela is pretty awesome, and after seeing it at the Buried Alive Film Festival 2019, I have a feeling it's going to make a big splash.

In 1992, a group of teens working in a movie theater run by a very Christian manager are having trouble deciding which movie to watch after closing down (A League of Their Own or Encino Man) when a crazed old man runs in the theater and jumps through a boarded up door. The group discovers that there is an archive of old movies behind the door, and it appears that the theater didn't used to be so high-and-mighty. After they decide to watch the strange film they find, they discover that they have accidentally summoned a succubus that begins preying on their temptations.

Porno's script is pretty awesome: in a lot of ways, it feels like a movie I've always wanted to see. The concept is a clever one, but it avoids a lot fo the pitfalls of the indie horror comedy that so often plague the genre. These characters are genuinely relatable and hilarious, from the pair of hormonal boys who are considering voting for A League of Their Own just because they heard Madonna wrote a book called Sex, to the assistant manager who is in love with her obviously closeted gay coworker. It's easy to see how much writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli put into it, and I suspect it's a project they've been tweaking and refining for a long time.



Porno is full of talented fresh faces and some really great comedic performances. Evan Daves and Larry Saperstein shine as the aforementioned hormonal boys, and there's some genuine heart to their relationship as the film progresses. Robbie Tann is great as "Heavy Metal Jeff," the older projectionist with anger issues who dropped out of college because it was "just a bunch of secular propaganda." The ensemble cast overall is wonderful and reminds me of some of my favorites, like Return of the Living Dead.

One thing I found unique about the movie is how it used both the male and female gaze. It wasn't surprising to me that a movie that opens with two boys spying on their neighbors having sex should have lots of male gaze, especially since it features a lot of a naked succubus performing satanic rituals and seducing the naive theater ushers. What I didn't expect was the level of care that was given to the opposite, including a surprising amount of male nudity (including more than one very graphic mangling of male genitalia) and some ogling of shirtless dudes. I'll be honest, I was a little surprised to find out that director Keola Racela is a man, and that says a lot in terms of how the movie plays as a much more gender neutral affair than your usual horror film T&A.



It also can't go without saying that this movie does one of my favorite things very well, and that's poking fun at religious people. Throughout the movie, these Christian teens are full of what-the-hecks and cheese-and-crackers expletives even in the direst of situations. More importantly, the film pits their blind following of their fundamentalist manager against the ultimate embodiment of their pubescent desires and makes them question their beliefs, especially as they begin to see that the manager isn't all he seems. On a deeper level, Porno accurately reflects the time in most people's lives when they begin to question their parents' and role model's beliefs and become their own people. Its worth mentioning that while it mostly uses this contrast for comedic fodder (to really great effect), in the end it doesn't make fun of those who decide to stick with their beliefs for their own personal reasons, only those who blindly follow.

Porno is a movie that I can't believe won't get a great distribution deal any day now; it's a blast to watch, and excellently crafted. It's certainly my favorite horror comedy of the year, and one I can't wait to revisit.




Porno is directed by Keola Racela, written by Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli, and stars Evan Daves, Jillian Mueller, and Katelyn Pearce. You can follow the film's hashtag, #pornothemovie, on Twitter for updates.
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BAFF 2019: THE WRETCHED is the next great witch movie


Witch stories are on the rise, and there are two kinds of witch movies that I really dig: modern feminist witches that kick patriarchal ass, and creepy ancient witches that eat babies. The Wretched, directed by the Pierce Brothers, falls firmly in the latter category.

Ben (John-Paul Howard) is spending the Summer with his dad who is recently separated from his mom. While trying to find his way into the local scene, he discovers some strange happenings at his next door neighbor's. Their son is scared of his mother, who is suddenly acting very strange, because, as we suspect from the opening prologue, now has a witch living in her skin.

The Wretched is very well crafted, and does an excellent job of maintaining a dark, creepy tone throughout without sacrificing the charm of its young leads. The primal look of the witch is unnerving, but only seen just enough to make your hair stand on end, and the crunchy, bony sound design really sells what's happening when she's invading someone else's skin. One thing I found pleasantly surprising was how it gave each character–even those who were destined to be killed off minutes later–a lot of personality and a bit of a backstory, lending their inevitable doom a lot more weight than if they were just the sort of blank characters found in most slashers. 



The set up seems simple, but has a surprising amount of complexity by the end. While some of the character arcs are a bit cliche, there's a unique element of the witch's mythos that brings the familial themes to the forefront. One of the weapons in this witch's kit is the ability to make someone forget about their children so she can steal them away to the forest to eat them later. This makes her a formidable opponent for Ben, who's father already questions his honesty due to his past with drug addiction, but it also makes for some very clever twists and turns as the film moves towards its intense climax.

The Wretched is a witch movie that will have you squirming in your seat, and had the audience gasping, the ending eliciting lots of "oohs" from those around me. It's a very clever and carefully crafted witch movie that will certainly make its way into lots of lists as it gets seen by wider audiences after the recent announcement that IFC will be distributing the film. If you enjoyed The Witch or either version of Suspiria, The Wretched is highly worth seeking out!



The Wretched is directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, and stars John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, and Jamison Jones. It played at the 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival in Atlanta, but keep an eye on the official Facebook page for screening updates!
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Friday, November 15, 2019

BAFF 2019: ANTRUM delivers on the mystique, but not the substance


It's no secret that marketing and expectations can have an effect on how we perceive a movie, and historically this has been used with great success for horror films. Think of how terrifying The Blair Witch Project was when it first released, when there were rumors that the film was in some way real. Or, on a simpler level, how each year there is a new movie marketed as "the scariest movie ever made" (The Ring, It Follows, Hereditary). Hell, Hereditary even put out ads showing the increased heart rates of its viewers in attempt to scientifically prove how scary it was. Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, the opening feature of the 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival aims to capture that same sort of meta-fear; it's not that the movie itself is particularly scary, but the mythos created around it makes it a little more special.

Antrum is part mockumentary and part recreation; the legend goes that this film made in 1979 has somehow killed everyone that has seen it, from its original theatrical screening in Budapest that burned down the theater, to festival programmers mysteriously dying hours after watching the submitted film. The premise here is that an original copy of the film has been found and will be shown in its entirety, bookended by interviews that point out the unexplained oddities and evil power of the film. The film itself, which makes up probably 85% of the full movie, is about a girl who convinces her younger brother that they can dig a hole to Hell to save his dog's soul.


The mockumentary bits that bookend the film are pretty great; they really set up the mythos around Antrum and give it a lot more weight than it might have otherwise. While I could've done with a more personal approach–I expected there to be one central person who had been searching for the film, not unlike Digging Up the Marrow–but the use of multiple interviews and a very regal sounding British voice over set things up nicely. You'll really get a kick out of the warning that appears just before the film begins, offering you one last chance to leave the theater and forcing you to acknowledge that the producers hold no legal responsibility if you don't survive the screening. The parts that play over the end credits are especially effective, pointing out little hidden messages that you may have missed as the credits dedicate the film to the fictitious people who have died watching it.

The problem is that the film-within-the-film is far less effective. The story is pretty dull and has long stretches where seemingly nothing happens. What bothered me the most is that it felt much less authentically like a lost film from 1979 than I expected. Unlike films like The House of the Devil and WNUF Halloween Special which very expertly capture the feel of the '80s, Antrum mostly feels like it was just given some film grain and some glitches in the sound here and there, but the editing and the sound are distractingly modern. The music is effectively atmospheric and fits the satanic themes, but overall the only thing that feels truly authentic to the time period it's emulating is that it is kind of boring.


That said, even if the story of the film doesn't really work, its trappings are very interesting. There are sigils scratched into the film in various places, some more obvious than others. As set up by the introduction to the film, there are unexplained black and white bits edited in in a few places that look to be more modern which feature a man and a woman being tied up in some sort of dungeon, somewhat evoking the final moments of The Blair Witch Project. These things really help sell the idea of the film itself as some sort of cursed object and give it a bit more weight. I did also enjoy the use of shadowy demons very much in the style of Häxan, which mostly show up as very light overlays, barely visible.

The concept of Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made is a very solid one, an intriguing idea that is sure to draw in viewers. Much like those commercials implying that your heart might explode while watching Hereditary, the premise here is essentially daring its potential audience to watch it. However, the premise itself is the best thing about the film; I really wish there had been much more of the documentary aspect, maybe even only showing clips from the full film-within-the-film rather than the whole thing. It seems like the filmmakers had this great idea to create a mythos around a cursed film, but didn't actually have an idea for what that cursed film should be. Overall, it's an interesting idea with a flawed execution, but I would be interested to see what these guys do next.



Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made is directed by David Amito and Michael Laicini, and stars Rowan Smyth and Nicole Tompkins. It is making its way through the festival circuit, and is also available on VOD now. For more information, visit the official website.
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Friday, October 25, 2019

Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan: The Threequel, Pt. 2


by Zachary T. Owen

Missed part one? Check it out here!



No Telling (1991)

Here's one from film maverick Larry Fessenden, the head of Glass Eye Pix, a horror distribution company who's given us I Sell The Dead, The Roost, and Late Phases, among others. Fessenden's feature debut is a film so individual in approach it truly treads its own path. The plot, as taken from IMDB: “In the name of medical research, a man experiments on animals. His relationship with his wife becomes stressed when she becomes inquisitive about his work.” The horror in No Telling is really about the harm that comes to animals because of the relationship humans have with them. The very first scene Fessenden shot involved an uncooperative calf being lead by a rope. Realizing the cruel hypocrisy of this, he vowed to do better and henceforth used only props to depict any form of animal suffering. The climax of No Telling is perplexing and almost too outlandish for a film otherwise grounded in realism, yet somehow completely in line with the soul of the story (especially when you discover the alternative title the movie had). Fessenden went on to direct more traditional horror fare after this, but No Telling remains his most polarizing film—it's a movie I suspect many viewers won't care for, but one that offers a very specific perspective, which, at its heart, is capable of sparking some very interesting discussions about horror and the world we live in.



Highway to Hell (1991)

A rip-roaring, pedal-to-the-metal odyssey through that ever popular netherworld, Highway to Hell is as much an action and fantasy film as it is a horror film. Here is a movie that would fit right alongside stuff like Army of Darkness. The plot revolves around a man who must rescue his girlfriend from a hell cop (yes, that's right, a hell cop) and face off against the likes of Satan and his demon hordes. Some pretty decent practical effects and a sense of real fun help Highway to Hell overcome some of its shortcomings. The cameos of most of the Stiller family–Ben Stiller, Jerry Stiller, and Amy Stiller – don't hurt, either.




Class of 1999 (1990)

In the future, juvenile kids must be disciplined by terminator-like android teachers in a high school wasteland. Of course, the machines have a military background and go off-the-rails and start slaughtering students instead of merely doling out punishment. The teachers are played with glee by Pam Grier, John P. Ryan, and Patrick Kilpatrick, plus we also get Malcolm McDowell in a supporting role. This is one of those ridiculous action flicks that feels like it came from another universe. It's a spiritual successor to another film, Class of 1984, which also isn't too shabby. Class of 1999 gets some horror bonus points for uncredited screenplay work by splatterpunk novelists John Skipp and Craig Spector.



The Borrower (1989)

This '89 flick (or 1991, depending on where you're looking) is a big departure from John McNaughton's first flick, the famously bleak Henry: Potrait of a Serial Killer. That's probably why nobody talks about it. But you know what? It's a lively horror film that I found incredibly entertaining. The Borrower follows Rae Dawn Chong as a tough cop on the tail of an intergalactic serial killer who can body hop. It's a familiar plot, but it works here. Memorable moments include a cameo by Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks), Tom Towles (Henry) as the alien's initial host body, a scene in which The Borrower morphs into a dog-headed man, a punk band singing the inane lyrics “Oedipus my wrecks! Oedipus my wrecks!” and, most inexplicably, recurring scenes of two parents watching The Garbage Pail Kids movie in their bedroom...with headphones on!




Grandmother's House (1988)

Grandmother's House is the sort of movie that gives me nostalgia even though I only saw it recently– it's exactly the sort of film I could have seen myself liking if I'd rented it from a video store in my youth, the kind of unsung gem you tell your horror buddies about. It's a nicely done exploitation thriller with some beautiful shots, including a pool scene in which the camera is submerged beneath the swimmers and a car chase through a vibrant orange grove. Brinke Stevens shows up in what might be one of her better roles and the whole thing has that sort of off feel that certain low budget 80s movies have. Like anything from the era, some of it is dated, but it's a diverting and accessible effort.




Blood Diner (1987)

Now here's a flick packed to the gills with gags and gross-outs. Jackie Kong's Blood Diner is a late 80s oddity, originally intended to as a sequel to Blood Feast, which itself had a true sequel in the early 2000s. Even if you haven't seen Herschell Gordon Lewis' schlock masterpiece, Blood Diner is worth your time, especially if you're a fan of trashy, completely gonzo cinema. The plot centers on two brothers doing the bidding of their dead uncle's talking brain—a very condescending brain who wants to resurrect the goddess Sheetar via cannibal feast. Along the way are several ridiculous detours, including a subplot about one of the brothers entering the wrestling ring to take on a menacing figure called Jimmy Hitler. Outrageous gore gags, projectile vomit, a talking dummy, and sheer lunacy abound. Oh, and the trailer is a ton of fun too, more of a short film than a standard advertisement. Ms. Kong definitely knocked it out of the park.




The Neon Maniacs (1986)

Good to see a little more love for The Neon Maniacs, as of late. This creature feature is about strange, mutant-like creatures who live beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and only come out at night to stalk their prey. We're first introduced to them in a scene in which a character finds trading cards of them near the bridge (really weird, right?). The creature designs are great, and as others before me have noted, the monsters kind of seem like evil Village People (you've got a cop maniac, a biker maniac, a military maniac, etc.) My favorite monster is a cute little biped cyclops monster. The heroes in Neon Maniacs are actually likable characters, particularly a horror geek teen girl. Neon Maniacs can never quite pin down a tone; early on we see a woman get decapitated while giving a blowjob, but other moments feel innocent enough to come straight from a kids movie. We never learn where the monsters really come from and who they really are, but I enjoy the mystery. It ends rather abruptly due to budgetary problems, though just as easily the whole thing could have ended after a high school siege during a battle of the bands. Check this one out, it's a blast!




The Pit (1981)

Here's an odd one, folks. It concerns a little boy who discovers a pit full of ghoulish little trolls with creepy glowing eyes. Before long, he begins feeding them his bullies, along with anybody else he can find. Oh...and he owns a teddy bear which talks to him and is a regular peeping tom. It's unclear whether the plush perv is truly alive or simply some embodiment of a part of himself, but it certainly makes things more interesting. The Pit is one of those movies that could only exist in the 80s.




Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Encounters of the Spooky Kind is totally nuts in the best way. It's a hybrid martial arts and horror film and has some of the craziest set-pieces I've seen in a movie in ages. The stunts are incredible and some of the demonic forces are quite unnerving. Much of the film is highly comedic, including an ending that is uproariously funny in a somewhat inappropriate way. I'm not sure how to sell this one, so I'll let Axelle Carolyn do it for me in the video above. As a side note, Trailers From Hell is worth checking out. Lots of genre people giving commentary for their favorite movies during the trailers. *I must caution viewers about this one, as there is a chicken decapitation in Encounters of the Spooky Kind which is graphic. I think the context of time period and culture are important to keep in mind here, but wouldn't begrudge anybody for wanting to pass on the movie for this reason, though if you can cover your eyes and wait it out, the rest of the movie is so good I think it is nearly perfect.




The Blood of Jesus (1941)

Many consider The Blood of Jesus to be the first Black horror film, making it a historically important entry in the horror canon. Spencer William's film is mild yet haunting in its own right. It has an enchanting and ethereal quality that doesn't feel like the other genre movies from the same period. The plot concerns one woman's journey through purgatory, at the crossroads of heaven and hell, where the devil himself tries to tempt her with vanity and lure her away from paradise. The Blood Of Jesus has a mostly amateur cast which helps it feel even more surreal, along with curiously beautiful and fleeting scenes of both heaven's gates and a man climbing a ladder to heaven. The Blood of Jesus is something that transcends easy categorization. It's part drama, fantasy, Christian folk tale, and horror. More than anything, though, it's art. Watch the whole movie above.



The Man With Nine Lives (1940)

And here we have the incomparable Boris Karloff doing what he does best, acting his ass off. In this case his performance helps sell a movie that might have otherwise floundered. The Man With Nine Lives is part of the whole poverty row thing, which for the uninitiated basically means a movie made on a shoestring budget in an assembly line fashion. Usually they're very straight forward flicks with no frills and a short running time. This one does a lot with a little. It's essentially a tale of early cryogenics, in which Karloff plays a mad scientist attempting to cure cancer by freezing his patients. Of course, the viewer suspects he is going to get a little too wild about his experiments and start throwing morality to the wind. Indeed, that's what happens and Karloff gives us some gripping drama. This is a modest yet thrilling little piece of cinema, and short enough that you may be tempted to cram it into the line-up of one of those all day horror marathons.


Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. His books can be found here

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan: The Threequel Pt. 1


by Zachary T. Owen 

Well, here we are in Halloween season again—a revered  time for all us horror nuts. After opting out last year, I've returned with another round of frightful flicks. This is my largest and most ambitious list  to date. As I've said before: each person has their own personal taste, so your mileage may vary. Horror can be an upsetting genre, so sensitive viewers may want to use discretion with a few of these entries, but I've included enough variety that I truly believe there is something for every type of horror/cult fan. If you aren't sure about part one, stick around for part two! As always, my original introduction is worth repeating:

Most horror and cult fans have seen just about everything—we tend to exhaust our favorite genre. But there is always something out there we might have missed. The following is a list of movies I believe to be underseen, forgotten, or if nothing else, underrated. If you’ve seen them all, congratulations, you are a raving lunatic who deserves a gold medal. Not all of these are what you’d call masterpieces, but each is unique in its own way. Some of them will appeal to the open-minded movie watcher, while others can only be enjoyed by devoted lovers of schlock and cult cinema. So, this October, when you’re aching for something different, something neglected, or just want a few yuks, consider this list. Without further ado—Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan.


Shirkers (2018)

Sandi Tan's captivating Netflix documentary is truly something to behold. Shirkers chronicles the making of Tan and company's pet project of the same name, under the guidance of alleged film guru George Cardona. During their teenage years, Singapore wasn't exactly a haven for pop culture, but hints of punk rock and horror flicks still seeped into the environment by way of underground fanzines, which offered Tan and her friends a glimpse into a world they wanted to be a part of—the film world. George seemed to be their only doorway into that universe, but of course things go awry when he attempts to sabotage the film and eventually goes AWOL. Shirkers is a haunting meditation on trying to achieve closure and reconcile the beautiful image we have of people we care about with their often ugly inner selves.


Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2017)

This Spanish animated feature pumps some life back into the post-apocalyptic genre in a big way. Don't let the plethora of cute animal characters fool you, Birdboy is a bleak examination of grief and fear. It tells its story in a fractured sort of way, vignettes of characters piecing together a larger narrative arc. The titular character, Birdboy, is a target of the authorities, who view him as menace. Sick with disease,  he struggles to control his shadow self while attempting to heal his homeland. But like most of the characters in the film, there isn't a lot of hope for him. Still, the film ends with a glimmer of possibility in the face of unrelenting despair.


Cat Sick Blues (2016)

Loner Ted is distraught that his cat, Patrick, is dead and keeps him in a freezer. At night he puts on a cat mask, cat claws, and a cat penis, and slinks around murdering women with the belief that the blood of nine victims will bring Patrick back. Along the way he meets a youtuber whose famous cat has just been killed, and befriends her. Based on that description you might think Cat Sick Blues sounds like a fun, quirky horror flick. You'd be wrong. What we have here is a gross and uncomfortable exploitation film that I would caution more sensitive viewers to stay away from. Cat Sick Blues is really something else, one of those movies that the word “unique” was hand tailored for. It's upsetting but well made. It's grim, yet it's funny. It's delivered with deadpan earnestness and has a rockin' soundtrack. And when it was over, I felt my emotions had been toyed with. Perhaps by a phantom cat.


Motivational Growth (2013)

I went back and forth on whether to include Motivational Growth. The problem? I love the premise of this film and the aesthetic but the tone is all over the place. Growth can't commit to one vision. It could have been a great schlock film about evil talking mold that rules the life of a depressed man looking for purpose. What we got instead is a film that wants to do those things but also waxes philosophical in a desperate attempt to legitimize itself. For a movie with a central character that is mold, it's incredibly pretentious. There are some great scenes that are immediately followed up with scenes saying, “Did that really happen? Is any of this real? Is it a fever dream? Is the main character actually dead?” Whenever that happened, I found it all very tired and trite. But there is a saving grace to the film: Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners). Combs goes all-in with his performance as the malevolent mold. He delivers every line with incredible vigor. He is venomous, charming, and occasionally frightening. This is one of the best performances of his career. So, with that combined with a pretty good premise, I was able, against my better judgment, to enjoy Motivational Growth in fits and starts.


Blackwoods (2001)

Yes, that Blackwoods. The one directed by Uwe Boll. I can hear the groans already. I know a few of you are wincing as you read this. But hear me out. This movie is really funny. It has some very poorly edited sequences and a ridiculous plot twist that reminds you of every twist ending you've ever seen that didn't work, except, it kind of does work? Okay, maybe not that well, but upon inspecting Blackwoods closely you'll notice that Boll does cover his tracks. The twist is still really, really stupid, but on a technical level, it functions. That is more than I can say for so many other twisty genre films. And you know what? Any movie with a supporting role from Clint Howard can't be that bad. And trust me, this is one of his better bit parts.


The Convent (2001)

Mike Mendez has made a slew of entertaining B horror movies, including Don't Kill It (with Dolph Lundgren), Gravedancers, and Big Ass Spider. The Convent fits in nicely with those entries and offers up an entertaining slice of fast-moving pulp. The plot is simple and makes no bones about complexity: college students break into a cursed convent and become possessed by evil spirits. The demons have a neat neon/blacklight look and The Convent never takes itself too seriously, offering laughs and visual gags. The real highlight, however, is a turn by Adrienne Barbeau as a badass biker ready to blow away the evil with guns blazing.


Little Otik (2000)

I was first introduced to the work of Jan Svankmajer as a teenager. I had a growing interest in Alice in Wonderland (I was a weird teenager, I know) and found a copy of of Jan's adaptation, Alice, at a local video store. Needless to say, I took it home and watched and was blown away by how unusual it was. Jan was one of the foremost stop motion animators in the world, hailing from the Czech Republic. Little Otik is one of the most bizarre films in his oeuvre. It's essentially the tale of a couple who cannot have children. The husband brings home a stump that resembles a baby and after a pretend pregnancy, the wife gives birth to the stump and imagines he is alive. The husband is disturbed to come home one day to find the stump actually suckling his wife's breast. From there it just gets weirder. The stump must consume flesh to continue growing and so the two must find victims to feed it. But it keeps getting bigger and bigger. Little Otik is one of those startlingly original films that you just need to see. Most deliciously creepy is the fact that the only stop motion in the film is  Little Otik himself, making the character all the more odd and malignant set against a world of live action and normalcy.


Office Killer (1997)

Cindy Sherman's pitch black horror opus is one of those films that seems like  it was virtually ignored in its day. I've seen it floating around on a few other lists out there and I'm throwing my vote in, too. Office Killer is like Office Space re-imagined as a horror movie. I'm absolutely certain I'm not the first to say that, but if it helps sell the film, it bears repeating. Carol Kane (The Princess Bride, The Addams Family Values) plays a disgruntled office worker (they're always disgruntled, aren't they?) who accidentally kills a co-worker in her hellish, corporate shit hole office and then takes it upon herself to keep on killing. Imagine Milton if he was a woman and bloodthirsty. Molly Ringwald really shines in a role against type for her. I found myself enjoying the general tone and editing of the film, including a very stylish opening credits sequence. There are some naysayers out there, but I recommend going into this one without expectations. If you're anything like me, you'll have a good time with it.


Face of Evil (1996)

Most people know Mary Lambert for Pet Semetary, but she has been quietly continuing directorial work through the years. Face of Evil is a made-for-TV thriller starring Tracey Gold, Perry King, and pre-Saw Shawnee Smith. Gold plays a con artist who rips off her husband-to-be, flies out of town, and then kills a woman and assumes her identity. Her new roommate, played by Smith, eventually becomes suspicious. But not before Gold tries to seduce her father. This is all pretty typical stuff, but Face of Evil is very competently made and full of solid acting for a movie of its budget. Things stay fairly exciting and aside from a somewhat anticlimactic final act, it's an engaging film.  Face of Evil is the sort of movie you would have put on in the background during the cable days, but before long find yourself sitting in the recliner having put your chores on hold so you can finish watching it.


The Boneyard (1991)

The Boneyard is a wild witch's brew of intense flavors. At times it's actually sort of creepy, but then something outrageously absurd will pop up, such as a gigantic zombie poodle. This one's got Phyllis Diller (!) playing the hilariously named Miss Poopinplatz–that alone is worth the price of admission, but there is just so much to love about The Boneyard. Shades of Return of the Living Dead don't hurt it a bit and, maybe most memorably, the leading lady isn't a typically traditionally beautiful Hollywood heroine, but a larger woman. I racked my brain to come up with any other horror movie which does the same and came up with zilch. I'm sure that will change in the future, but remember, The Boneyard did it first. A trailblazer? Maybe.


The Haunted (1991)

Another TV outing, The Haunted is one of those infamously not-on-DVD titles that really deserves some kind of special edition treatment. Sure, it kind of apes movies like The Amityville Horror, even claiming to be based on a true story, but it's no cheap knock-off. This is a seriously well made effort which has some really nice atmosphere and a few quality scares. I wasn't sure how exactly to bring this up, but it's also one of the few horror movies I've ever seen where a man is assaulted by a woman (to those who may be sensitive regarding such a scene, don't fret, the TV nature of The Haunted means it's not a very graphic). I couldn't find a trailer, but you can watch the whole damn thing above.

Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. His books can be found here
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