Wednesday, April 1, 2020

"Hell's Bells" (2020) Review

Paranormal investigator/Indie horror stalwarts Jim O’ Rear & Scott Tepperman’s “Los Bastardz” production company has unleashed (or summoned, or conjured…) a devilishly new horror/comedy with “Hell’s Bells” (please don’t sue ‘em AC/DC).
Arthur (O’ Rear) and Herb (Tepperman) are two loser garage musicians, think Bill & Ted only much, much, dumber, who are half-cocked and loaded for big time stardom. The only catch is…they suck. A chance meeting with producer/manager Caleb Gass (Tom Komisar-“House of Whores”), who previously had a not-so-chance encounter with a mysterious stranger (Marc Price…yes, that Marc Price… where ya been Skippy?) who may be a little closer to Satan than they realize, and soon the band-including their comatose bassist (Cameron Scott-“Postmortem America 2021”), their “studly eye candy” drummer Vic (Paul Van Scott), and their gruff, sexually ambiguous back-up singer Shirley (Lisa Krick) are on the road to: super stardom, big gigs, and groupies’ vaginas popping open like coin purses!

Tepperman (R) and O' Rear--Don't hate them because they're beautiful...

O’ Rear and Tepperman wrote, produced, and directed this film and their characters, and personalities, are obviously front and center. Toeing a semi-self aware line in their delivery, the humor and comedic timing of the duo works well more often than not, something that’s not easy to do. I laughed out loud at several parts, and kudos to them for not denigrating into easy score dick and fart jokes (however, don’t you dare get the idea that there aren’t a few of both present!). They even break the "4th wall" a time or two to great effect. 

The rest of the ensemble, steal a scene or two, especially Krick and Van Scott, who both seem to relish trying their hand at comedy, and I dare you to find someone in recent cinema offerings that plays a corpse, both alive and dead, than Cam Scott! 

Komisar is also a real revelation, he comes off as a seasoned pro in his role, and it was refreshing for this viewer to see him in something where he can focus on just his performance in front of the camera, rather than one of his own projects, he really stretched his acting legs here. Kim Casciotti-Tepperman and Dawn Soleri are perfect as the put upon spouses (because, hey, it’s totally plausible that Arthur & Herb probably can’t dress themselves, let alone function as adults), Rebekah Erb pops up as an impossibly cute co-worker, and there’s a way too short slow motion run shot of Cayt Fenics that’s a “must-see”. The aforementioned Marc Price comes off as suitably evil and menacing-definitely out of character for him.

Technically, the film hits all the right marks, and looks great for what I’m assuming was a low budget. Cool comic book transitions, stellar effects work, and some truly memorable Devil Music tracks (how in the righteous fuck do you somehow manage to inject “Merideth Baxter-Burney” into a hard rock song?). The creature costumes are great, and when the action gets bloody, the gore really works. The story moves along at a nice little pace, and everything holds your interest for the entire running time.

While remaining relatively spoiler free, I’ll say that if you’re looking for a fun, dopey, well made, entertaining as Hell (no pun intended) and even kinda sweet, horror/comedy, with the elements of both genres split into nice little acts, definitely take a chance on “Hell’s Bells”. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Holy F*ck! It's a Goddamned Clownado!!

“Clownado”. There. I typed it. Where do I begin?

Indie auteur, Todd Sheets’ new love letter to coulrophobia, “Clownado” is a film whose very premise is rooted in absurdity. Luckily, for fans of balls-out, over the top gore, and ultra-violent fun, Sheets absolutely wallows in that absurdity by playing things completely straight, and rubbing the viewer’s nose in the fact that they are, indeed, watching a film about a tornado full of evil clowns.
Sadistic circus owner Big Ronny (played by the gleefully evil John O’Hara) catches his cheating wife Savannah (Rachel Lagen) and her boyfriend, in the midst of their plan to abscond with his hard earned cash. What’s an old clown to do? Murder and an extended spousal punishment set the stage for Savannah to enlist the help of a gypsy witch. Soon a revenge spell results in the titular “clownado”, and a cadre of supernatural, homicidal clowns are unleashed upon a small, Southern town.

Bambi the stripper (frequent Sheets collaborator Dilynn Fawn Harvey), African-American Elvis, Dione (Antwoine Steele), homespun hero,  Hunter (Bobby Westrick) and teen runaway,  Rachel (Sierra Stodden) are running for their lives from the grease painted ghouls. 

Sheets always, and I mean always, delivers the Fulci-esque gore in spades, but, what good is all that splatter without an actual story? Well, clown freaks, what we have here is fun, relatable characters, and a plot that, while it won’t put a strain on your brain, definitely keeps you entertained as Hell, and puts a goofy smile on your face while it does so.

Amazing (especially on this budget) special effects are perfectly complimented by gorgeous camera work and smooth, unobtrusive edits. But the real star of this flick is the cast! Everybody brings their A-game, and it really comes across onscreen that they seemed to have a fucking blast making this film! Westrick and Steele are flawless as the reluctant hero and his sidekick, Harvey shines as the bad ass female foil (and thank you Mr. Sheets for her wardrobe...seriously, thank you), Lagen seems to relish her femme fatale role, and really stands out, O’Hara is just flat out frightening, like, really scary, Cayt Feinics is sexy as fuck as the (literal) man-eating clown, Satchel, Linnea Quigley pops up as the bitchy manager of “Stinky Pink”, and Douglas Epps steals a scene or two as the mysterious creeper.  Virtually the entire cast set out to make an excellent film, and succeeded. 

In trying to remain as “spoiler free” as possible, I can say that, with “Clownado”, Sheets and company have definitely outdone themselves. Can a micro-budget feature, featuring a clown tornado, be a perfect little film? “Clownado” comes really fucking close. As a filmmaker who seems to get a little better with every project, Sheets has definitely delivered a career high point.

A near perfect storm of gore, violence, fun performances, great camera work, attention to detail, and a “you can’t make this film without these exact people” cast, “Clownado” will make you forget all about: Killer Klowns, Pennywise, and, fuck, even “Twister”…

There’s a storm coming…run for your lives!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

What I've Been Watching...

Okay, I’m back. Yes, loyal subjects, your Scream King is delving back into reviewing films for your delight and comfort. 

My musings will feature: new stuff, indie stuff, foreign stuff, old stuff, and basically what I’ve been watching lately. Often, I’ll be wading through crap so you, dear reader, don’t have to. So let’s begin this installment with 3 recent releases (not necessarily “new” films), sit back, enjoy a refreshing adult beverage, put your feet up, and hey, if you’re reading this on your phone whilst taking a shit, all the better! Here we go…

“The Nun”

Billed as “the darkest chapter in the Conjuring universe”, “The Nun”, from horror writer/director/super-guy James Wan (just writing this time) is the latest installment in the aforementioned “The Conjuring” universe.  As far as franchises go, I sort of dig the way they thread all of these films together with seemingly mundane scenes that totally make sense if A. you’re paying attention, and B. if you see all of the sequel/spin-off films.
Director Corin Hardy does an excellent job in the first two acts of this film, strong characters are established by the sketchy priest, Father Burke (ably played by Demi├ín Bichir) and virginal not-quite-a-nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, keeping it in “The Conjuring” family with big sis Vera), and amazing atmosphere courtesy of a real life castle, as well as some truly creepy effects.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the film scoots along at a great clip, managing to achieve a groovy little combination of gothic horror and supernatural evil. Unfortunately, after a promising first half or so, the movie kind of smashes the gas pedal to get to the “jump-scare-a-thon” ending by revealing virtually all of the answers to what was, until then, a great mystery set up, in a single scene. While this was really disappointing to me, personally, as a viewer, the movie actually bounces back with some truly frightening moments, even though, thanks to the scene mentioned earlier, you can see them coming a mile away. So, despite the film culminating in the cinematic equivalent of a 6 foot, neon orange, ball peen hammer bashing you between the eyes, in slow motion, “The Nun” is a lot of fun, and a decent example of a “studio” film that hits most, if not all, of the marks.

“Dracula: Prince of Darkness”

Disclaimer—I am a HUGE Christopher Lee fan. I think he’s the best screen Dracula in history, and “Horror of Dracula” is one of my “Top 5” easily. So imagine my excitement when Scream Factory announced they were doing a 4k restoration of Terrence Fisher’s direct sequel to HoD, 1966’s “Dracula: Prince of Darkness”. I immediately pre-ordered the Blu-ray from the pleasant people at Scream Factory and anxiously awaited it’s arrival. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, the disc, and it’s accompanying poster arrived. A WEEK AND A HALF AFTER THE RELEASE DATE!! Pre-order? Give me a fucking break! Buncha dicks...
Anyways, the film proper, an entertaining and worthy sequel to the original Hammer masterpiece, has never looked better. Beautiful, vibrant colors, amazing lighting and cinematography, and super rad little tidbits, visually, that you may have never noticed are all front and center here. SF did an impeccable job with the transfer, and even with all of their crappy/lazy business practices, I am impressed.
I won’t bore you with the story synopsis, as any self respecting fan of gothic horror has probably already seen the tale of 2 young English couples stranded in the wilds around Karlsbad multiple times through the years (for the uninitiated, virtually ALL of the awesomely eeeeevil stills of Lee as The Count have come from this film), but I will strongly recommend this release to both first timers, and salty veterans—this transfer is gorgeous!!

Lee, from Dracula PoD, on the wall of my movie lounge...

As far as extras go, this disc is lit (as the kids say…) an encyclopedic “making of” featurette talks to freaking everyone associated with the production, as long as they’re somewhat alive, and leaves no stone unturned for the hardcore fan and/or Hammer Horror Historian. There’s also commentary with Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews and the comely Barbara Shelley. This is definitely laden with all the extras a fan could want.
Run, don’t walk, to pick this little gem up. This release blows up any of the Warner Archive releases of the other Hammer classics away easily.


Fulci's "Zombie" and beer, two of my greatest loves...

Ohhhhhh fuck, did Blue Underground ever make my sick, twisted, gore hound dreams come true with this “balls and all” 4k, super-fucking-duper, release of Lucio Fulci’s seminal chunk-blower “Zombie” (aka “Zombi 2”). Featuring a variety of lenticular 3D slipcovers, (I opted for the “worm face” version showcasing the poster boy rotter), this 2 disc tribute to the ultimate non-Romero undead opus is an absolute MUST for fans of the Italio-splatter genre.
This film has never looked better—breathtakingly clear shots of all of your favorite moments: underwater boobies, zombie vs. tiger shark, eyeball/splinter mayhem, snaggletoothed throat chomping…it’s all here, and like you’ve never seen it before.
Personally, I think it’s kind of  a shitty, cash grab, dick move insult to fans and collectors when labels do multiple “ultimate editions” of beloved films (I’m looking straight at you “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, seriously Dark Sky…what the fuck, man?). But this is well worth the “double dip”—extras ported over from previous release, new stuff—they talked to everyone, even Fulci’s daughter!—and even the soundtrack on CD.
We Are Going To Eat You...
With “Zombie” being among my favorites, this release is like Christmas in a very cool little package! I’ve seen this film, literally, hundreds of times, across all of the various formats (Hell, I own 3 earlier DVD and 2 earlier Blu releases of it, just because I’m a nerd…) and this monument to Spaghetti Splatter has finally reached it’s full cinematic potential. I’m just glad it’s not in Smell-O-Vision.
“The boat can leave now…tell the crew…”
"Paging Dr. Menard...Dr. Menard..."
There you have it, you sick little fuckers, until next time...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Bonehill Road" (2017) Review

Underground legend Todd Sheets (writer/director/editor) wears his influences on his sleeve. I like to picture him making a movie like a chef, standing in front of a big ol’ boiling pot, throwing comfort food ingredients in, and then, just as things boil, he throws some “special spices” into the mix and makes the soup wholly his own, tearing down the familiar and taking the participants for a ride they NEVER expected.  His new film, “Bonehill Road” is exactly like that!

Combining elements from the greatest werewolf films like: “The Howling”, “Ginger Snaps”, “An American Werewolf In London” and “Dog Soldiers” among others, “Bonehill Road” seems familiar, then the director throws some of that patented (or it should be!) Todd Sheets stank on the proceedings and conventions go out the smashed, blood spattered window.

Mother and daughter Emily and Eden (Eli DeGeer and Ana Plumberg) are fleeing a domestic violence situation and soon hit a strange animal on the highway. Growls, scratches and a chase ensues (Hey! I’m trying to keep this spoiler free, okay?) and the harried duo soon find themselves seeking refuge in a less than ideal place—think the dinner scene in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with more sick, sexual undertones. With the help of Tina (the uber talented Millie Milan), Lucy (indie horror bombshell  Dilynn Fawn Harvey) and Suzy (Linnea Quigley, who shows up long enough to school lesser “Scream Queens” on who the OG bad-ass REALLY is), our heroines soon find themselves up against not only a psychopathic Lothario (Douglas Epps), but also some hungry lycanthropes waiting outside.

Gritty, brutal and fast paced, “Bonehill Road” brings the miasma of shock cinema that we’ve come to expect from Sheets. At times artsy, atmospheric and blackly comic, Sheets never lets the viewer relax into any of these elements without  eventually reminding them that he has one foot firmly planted in gut-bucket, Fulci-esque gore. And that’s what we, as genre fans, love about him. He’s one of us, and he makes movies that he (and by association, we) wants to see.  Sheets keeps getting better with each film. I’m, by no means, familiar with all of his body of work, but from what I’ve seen, this guy has a passion for horror. And “Bonehill Road”, no matter what tangent it may veer off on temporarily is an abject horror film!

It features great performances, gritty story-telling, practical effects,  plenty of gore, some real terror inducing moments, and some World class werewolves. While there’s no high tax bracket Rick Baker style transformations, Harvey’s, in particular, looks genuinely painful, and the end product just shits all over the cuddly thing Dee Wallace became in the final act of “The Howling”. Kudos to GFS-FX and everyone involved in the creature creation!

All in all, and without giving too much away, one gets the feeling that “Bonehill Road” is exactly the film Todd Sheets set out to make. Brutal, unflinching, entertaining, frightening and metal-as-fuck, “Bonehill Road” is destined to become, much like it’s creator, a legend in indie cinema. The bar has been raised.

9/10—Scream King Tom