Even though our man on the scene, Lonmonster, has already delivered two batches of mini-reviews out of the Fantasia Film Festival (read part one and part two), I too was on hand watching dozens of horror movies.
While I’m proud to report two sellouts for our V/H/S and Under the Bed, there were a handful of excellent horror films running alongside us that I’m more that ecstatic to tell you about.
Inside you’ll find the BEST of the fest, which includes my mini-reviews for Juan of the Dead, My Amityville Horror, Sleep Tight, Game of Werewolves, Hidden in the Woods, Resolution, Play Dead, Sushi Girl and Toad Road. The WORST comes next…
JUAN OF THE DEAD
After disappointing me at an early market screening, the final version of Alejandro Brugués’ Cuban horror comedy is an absolute gem. The indie production takes the tired zombie genre and injects a political subtext that’s refreshing, while also infusing it with a high body count, explicit gore, and more than a handful of gut busting laughs. The entire cast carries the weight of the film on their shoulders as they’re what’s interesting, not the undead horde. Frankly, zombie movies don’t get much better than this.
MY AMITYVILLE HORROR
I’m already sick of all of the Amityvile Horror films in the works, but what makes Eric Walter’s beautifully shot My Amityville Horror documentary so engaging is that it’s NOT about the infamous house. In fact, its primes focus in on Daniel Lutz as he recounts his version of the infamous Amityville haunting that terrified his family in 1975. The viewer is put in the position of focusing on Lutz’ recollections while outsiders question the validity of his stories. It takes viewers down the path that eventually leads to the following conundrum: is Lutz lying or does he believe his stories? The film reveals a few shockers, such as the alleged physical abuse inflicted by Daniel’s stepfather, the infamous George Lutz, and that Daniel rocks the guitar (ok, these shots are just funny). The movie works because Walter dissects Lutz and not the house, which makes for one compelling hour and a half.
Having already premiered at Tribeca I was a bit weary of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s psychological horror that tells the tale of a man helping detox his friend in a cabin in the woods (similar to the new Evil Dead). While the second act feels like heavy-handed filler, the rest of the film is full of creeptastic and intense moments that will get your mind racing. The film opens with an intense confrontation between the two friends as one handcuffs the other to the cabin wall. What proceeds is a snail-paced nail biter that delivers quite a bit of a final shock. There’s plenty of jolts to get your blood pumping, and enough gore to fulfill that bloody thirst. It’s not a date movie, but one for that night you’re looking to kill a few hours. Be patient and you’ll be rewarding with some quality indie horror.
New York personality Shade Rupe teams with the infamous silent Teller to direct and preserve a live NY stage play about infamous serial killers and con artists in history. Todd Robbins (who is a fascinating and engaging host) writes and hosts the play where he takes theatergoers on a hands-on experience in terror filled with scares and illusions. While the content is incredibly interesting (and provocative, being that it calls psychics con artists) it’s visually unappealing and hard to watch. It’s blown out and lacks an artistic touch (presumably because it was rushed to preserve the play). And not actually being in the physical presence of Robbins makes the entirety of the feature feel a bit bloated. Overall, it’s more recommended that you see the actual play that the film.
Kern Saxton taps into Quentin Tarantino territory with Dead Sushi, a thriller jam-packed with intense exposition and bloody consequences. Star Wars vet Mark Hamill carries the film on his shoulders with his venomous portrayal as “Crow”, while the additions of Tony Todd, James Duvall and more add to the interesting cast. The only major issue is that the protagonist (Sushi Girl) isn’t a protagonist until the finale, which means the viewer is forced to watch a bunch of villains conspiring against each other for an hour. The single location helps the production value, and the finale warrants a second viewing. It’s a great crowd pleaser.
HIDDEN IN THE WOODS
With a remake already in the works, Patricio Valladares directs this Chilean thriller about an abusive, drug dealer father who pushes his children to the brink of madness. Hidden in the Woods, while inherently bloody, is extremely dark and takes viewers down a sad road filled with prostitution and rape. If you enjoy movies for the fun of them, this is not for you. Incredibly well shot with some remarkable performances, Hidden in the Woods is more dramatic horror that taps into a more realistic realm. It’s scary because this could be a true story.
Jason Banker directs a horror story that casts its roots deep into the realistic world of teenage culture. The problem is that the legend of “Toad Road” becomes a footnote in the tale, and ultimately, the payoff isn’t worth sitting through an hour and a half of kids abusing drugs and alcohol, and having lots of sex. In terms of dissecting the modern world of a teenage addict, there’s a lot of interesting footage, but there’s just not enough substance to make this worth watching more than once. The found footage aspect is well done and it has a nice look. In the end it is interesting, but nothing spectacular or special.
REC co-creator Jaume Balagueró directs this Spanish punch in the face that’s skin-crawlingly intense and incredibly creepy. The pic follows a landlord stalker who slowly works at getting into the life of one of the building tenants. The realism makes it that much more terrifying, although it lends itself to an extremely trite and generic finale. But if a roller coaster ends with a whimper, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. In fact, it’s one helluva ride that I recommend more than once.
GAME OF WEREWOLVES
I’m in love with Juan Martínez Moreno’s hilarious Spanish horror comedy Game of Werewolves, which follows man who returns to a village only to learn he’s there to remove the town’s curse. The werewolf special effects work is incredibly well done (as you can see above) and it’s overflowing with gore. Still, the non-stop laughs and charm are what makes this a keeper.
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