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Boston Underground 2017 Horror Films Reviewed!

Image above from The Call of Charlie

The 19th annual Boston Underground Film Festival blasted corneas with a barrage of intensely disturbing, disgustingly profound films a few weeks ago and I had the distinct privilege of watching a number of them so that I can relay the madness unto you!  I want to thank the filmmakers for sharing their work with me and to Kaila Hier for helping to facilitate these reviews.
 

FEATURES

 

THE VOID – Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski / Canada – The Void was easily the most anticipated movie in this collection for me to check out and it owned up to the expectations.  I’ve been a pretty big fan of Astron-6’s work over the years and was particularly impressed with The Editor, which was created by Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy and Conor Sweeney, the other creative components of Astron-6.  What really tickles my gills is that The Void is such a stark contrast to the silliness of the giallo-inspired tone set in The Editor.  It is good to see that the filmmakers are not pigeon-holing themselves and are capable of creating quality work on both ends of the horror spectrum, resulting in my two favorite indie horror films of the past two years.  The Void, though drawing a heavy influence from a number of horror classics, most notably Prince of Darkness, The Thing, Hellraiser, and The Beyond, still manages to please true horror fans with its over-abundance of practical monster and blood FX and an overall dark and eerie tone.

At the core the story is basic enough; a group of people are stuck in a hospital surrounded by a large number of cultists and are not allowed to leave.  But what we come to discover is that there is something not right within the walls of the hospital and our protagonists are forced to face-off with not just the horde of fanatical nut-jobs outside, but also a brooding supernatural evil that is all-encompassing… and there is NO ESCAPE!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not generally a fan of Hollywood’s take on horror.  The genre is often butchered by people who have no real love or understanding of what makes it so delightfully grim.  The Void is a monumental example of what I believe true horror fans are yearning for; story, practical FX, and no holding back!
 

HOUNDS OF LOVE – dir Ben Young / Australia – A couple abducts teenage girls from an Australian town in the late 1980s.  These girls become the subject of repeated rape and torture primarily at the hands of the man who clearly takes to the captives more than his wife, who is dealing with demons of her own.  After a regimented week’s worth of sadism, the girls are murdered and buried in the woods.

I’m a huge fan of the 1980s aesthetic so this film won me over immediately, though I can say that I’ve never been a fan of torture flicks.  Thankfully, Hounds of Love focuses more on the turmoil between the killer couple than the events that take place within the confines of their “dungeon”.  The movie unfolds as a tragic tale – too often grounded in reality – of damaged people who are easily taken advantage of by nefarious individuals masking their true intentions with false words of love and hope.
 
A DARK SONG – Liam Gavin / Ireland – A woman decides to sacrifice everything to speak with her murdered son again.  The concept of a mourning parent seeking solace in the supernatural is not unique by any means, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the way the story slowly unfurls.  The old mansion where the entirety of the movie takes place is an incredibly dark and creepy location, and becomes a third character rivaling the performances of our two protagonists.  I’m certainly not saying the acting was bad because it was the exact opposite!  But the setting coupled with the coloring of the movie created the perfect atmosphere to pair with a story told simply between our two main characters.  With other indie slow-burn successes of recent, such as The Witch, I can see a lot of people enjoying A Dark Song.
 
TRINITY – Skip Shea / USA – While making a routine stop at the local coffee shop, a man stumbles across the priest who molested him as a child.  Understandably, I’ve seen a number of films dealing with this subject matter recently and believe it’s primo content to base a dramatic horror film off of.  There were some solid performances in Trinity and the movie overall looked good, but I found myself losing interest midway through.  Trinity contains elements that are terrifyingly real, sometimes much more disturbing than what I prefer in a horror movie and I commend anyone who takes the time to diligently assemble a feature length movie from inception to screening, but I just didn’t find enough enjoyable moments within to continue watching.
 
SAINT BERNARD – Gabriel Bartalos / USA – Until someone explained Phantasm as a “fever dream” to me, I honestly had no idea what one was.  My dreams are fucked up and all over the place, which I would deem difficult if not impossible to string into a structured story, yet Phantasm and Saint Bernard are two prime examples of this working.  Aesthetically, Saint Bernard is tremendous.  Viewers are subjected to a slew of whacked out visuals as our main character, a “lost” musical conductor, must navigate his way through his own congested and insane mind.  He has a number of random encounters with a gaggle of insane characters including Willow and Leprechaun’s Warwick Davis along the way making for some entertaining moments.  I have seen mention of the work of video artist Matthew Barney as a comparison to Saint Bernard and though I don’t disagree in some aspects, believe there is a stronger relationship to that of Terry Gilliam’s catalog.  Outlandish characters and set pieces are ripe throughout and I sincerely appreciate Bartalos’ attention to aesthetic detail, no surprise considering his history as a creative on such films as From Beyond, Leprechaun, and Gremlins 2.  If you like fucked up shit that looks cool as Hell, I highly recommend this flick.
 


SHORT FILMS

 
LOOKER – Kyle Johannessen – Diana Porter, who also coincidentally appears in the BUFF  short For a Good Time Call, catches guys checking her out and decides to get back at all the voyeurs out there with her own twisted version of justice.  Appropriately entertaining short given today’s access to capturing a moment easily thanks to technology being everywhere!
 
FRACTAL – Anna Gravel – A woman with split personalities goes home and confronts her inner demons.  The setting is dreary as is the somber nature of the character/s.  A quality short film despite its basic set up of minimal characters and one primary location.
 
STRANGE HARVEST – Stee McMorris – This movie is batshit!  A young man and woman lie naked, wrapped in what look like gigantic bacon toboggans, with no memory of how they got there, awaiting an unknown fate.  I don’t know why but I loved this short.  I think mostly on account of its absolute weirdness.  Simple yet effectively entertaining and director McMorris doesn’t extend the run time any longer than is needed for this messed up trip!

THE DISSOLVING MAN – Ben Swicker – A dude is hanging out in a park and sticks himself with a dirty needle.  What proceeds is nothing short of farcical considering no one from his girlfriend to his doctor seems to think he is dying, despite some of the largest pustules I’ve seen this side of Planet Terror!  I totally dug the 80s aesthetic of this short and commend the filmmakers for their use of practical FX and cool lighting to build an effective setting.
 
THE PRICE OF BONES – Brandon Taylor – An anorexic girl stuffs her anorexic girlfriend into a trunk claiming it will help her curb her appetite and lose more weight.  Misery loves company?  Perhaps she didn’t like the competition?  Or maybe her murderous way finally poked its ugly little head out and her friend was victim number 1?  Solid performances by our main character and her mother and great dialogue exchanges throughout.

THE CALL OF CHARLIE – Nick Spooner – Easily my favorite short of the festival.  Spooner builds a professional looking piece with solid production design, camerawork, acting, and special FX.  A couple has an old (really old) friend over for a double-date dinner party.  When two uninvited friends show up to join the party, the newbies have no idea what’s in store for them as dinner is served.  I can’t say enough good things about The Call of Charlie.  I laughed throughout the movie and was blown away by the creature design.  If you have the chance to catch this flick, WATCH IT!  I will do my best to get it into World of Death for you all to see.
  
PEPPERCORN HEART – Christine Louise Marshall – What better setting for a horror story than a funeral?  A group of loved ones who are members in a secret society mourn their dearly departed brother.  They reminisce about the olden days, but are disrupted by the attendance of the dead man’s new wife, whom no one seems to like. She reciprocates the distaste for those around her and what ensues is the bloody good climax us horror fans thrive for.  The story is rather slow for its 12 minute runtime, but the dialogue is well written and you can tell there is pedigree in the ensemble.

FUCKING FREAK – Salamo Manetti-Lax – Insane and weird.  I honestly don’t know how else to describe this movie?  It reminded me a lot of Wawd Ahp, the whacked out short film that won SXSW 2014 in the midnight shorts category (my short The Muck also screened in this block).  Both shorts are chock full of crazy editing and visuals that send you on a trip to Mars and back.  I can’t say I’m a fan of movies that don’t actually tell what I consider to be a cohesive “story”, but viewers will still probably get some fucked up satisfaction from this movie.  If drugs were not involved in the inception of this film, bravo to the director for coming up with such a batshit concept!

MOUSE – Celine Held & Logan George – Gross!  A heroin addict finds a dead mouse in a can of food and decides to eat it in the hopes of a big lawsuit settlement.  This one tugged at my gag reflex quite a bit, which is a significant compliment to the filmmakers.  I loved the actors, loved the coloring of the drab apartment, and loved the short!  Celine and Logan, let me showcase this in World of Death please!

  

STUDDED NIGHTMARE – Jean Claude Leblanc – A man and woman burn what I assume to be a haunted chair after they sit in it and see horrible visions.  Visceral, violent, bloody…  All good things in my opinion.  Check this one out if you can!  Jean, any desire to showcase this in World of Death?  Fans will love this one.

MUTT – Bruce James – A couple of religious nuts kill sinners? I think that’s what this short is about.  The couple continually comment on their “God’s work” as they take victims out into the woods in a dog cage and kill them.  This feels like more of a piece of a film than a complete story and I would’ve enjoyed seeing more of the victims and the reasoning behind the choice of each victim.  I’d also like to know where these killers came from and why they are so Hell bent on doing God’s work?!  Solid looking film though and worth the watch if you get the chance.
   
FOR A GOOD TIME CALL – Izzy Lee – A voyeur who likes to have sex with women and tape it only to put it online gets a taste of his own medicine after getting stoned outside a rest stop.  Waking up from his drug-induced slumber, the voyeur follows indie genre veteran Tristan Risk into the rest stop bathroom, but she disappears.  He decides to take a dump and is harassed and killed by Risk who is now made up to look like a weird demon bitch.  She ironically films him trying to run away with her camera so he can feel what it’s like to be on the other end of the lens.  But the weirdest part is that demon Risk is fingering a vagina she has on her collarbone the entire time.  How’s that for fucked up?!

HELL FOLLOWS – Brian Harrison – This black and white flick is a well shot and beautifully constructed story of vengeance, from the eyes of a killer.  Though I had a hard time comprehending the backstory on my initial viewing, I think this one deserves some attention by horror fans, especially those who enjoy a good supernatural Asian horror story.


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