Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Short film review: THE EL CHUPUGCABRA (2013) Directed by Aaron B. Koontz

This outlandish, bloody and outragious horror comedy short from writer/director Aaron B. Koontz is as ludicrous as its title is unpronounceable (at least to this Anglo tongue). 
A typical family have dropped into a dog rescue center to get a pup for the son (Dashiell Smith). They are warned by the attendant not to approach the cage - well, the actual warning is lifted word-for-word from The Silence of the Lambs, so it must be serious, right? The kid insists he wants this dog; a little pug whose cage is covered with caution signs and chains. Not even a strange Mexican woman, who appears out of nowhere, telling them that the dog is a devil-beast puts him off.
The father (Jeremy King) has to fill in the adoption forms and agree to a condition that they must NEVER feed the dog marshmallows. Bemused, they take the dog away, the boy naming him Chalupa. Before they have even left the car park, the crazy woman is back again, full of ominous warnings.
Things are fine, except the jerk father decides to do something to piss off the mother (Courtney Hans) at their barbeque get-together. Yep, he feeds little Chalupa a marshmallow. And like a little Gremlin, it has dire consequences. Instantly, the dog has turned into a monster and no-one is safe.
As you can imagine, this isn't made in earnest. The comic intent is displayed from the instant the Hannibal Lecter warning is heard. It's the father, however, who gets all the laughs, he's an obnoxious dick whose fast-talking and wise-cracking make you glad when the splatter starts. There are several minutes of outtakes after the credits which appear to show King's wise-ass comments were not all necessarily scripted. Most of them are biting snipes at his wife and son, and are very amusing.
But the comedy is propped up by some very good gore effects. Once the blood starts, it really flows. Or gushes, in buckets. It's a slaughter scene that's sure to please fans, it's gruesome yet still funny.
There's a strange inventiveness to the story, subverting the preconceptions and delivering a fun monster flick. The cinematography by Andrew Baird is great, particularly in the slaughter scene, which is set to the Spanish language version of Toni Basil's classic 'Mickey'. Bloodshed has never been so danceable.
Koontz has previously directed a couple of films via his Paper Street Pictures production company, a 40min film called Aperture (which I have yet to see) and the brilliantly bloody short ma·lev·o·lence, which you can see here. With other films in development, it's certain he's someone to keep an eye on in the future.
Behind the scenes shot provided by the director.

8 out of 10

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Gig Review: THE WILDHEARTS - Manchester Academy April 10th 2014

Fronted by one of the most talented, prolific and underrated artists this country has ever produced, The Wildhearts are out on the road again. Their first full tour since the highly successful "Earth vs. The Wildhearts 20th Anniversary Tour" last year. 

Hey! Hello!

Kicking the night off were Hey! Hello!, a band whose co-vocalist and guitarist is... well, Ginger Wildheart. With a CD funded via Pledgemusic (the online crowd funding site which Ginger has used for the past few years - incredibly successfully too), the band's material was already very familiar to the audience, who made sure they were in the Academy nice and early so as not to miss anything. Taking the main vocal parts is New Yorker Victoria Liedtke, cute as a button and a fantastic pair of lungs. With all the catchiness you've come to expect from Ginger - the guy can't half write a tune - they storm through their 30min set, which goes down a storm. Highlights included 'How I Survived the Punk Wars' - which is basically a how-to guide for young bands, including the memorable and powerful refrain "Ask lots of questions, don't eat the bullshit" and the more radio friendly 'Swimwear'. Looking dapper in a suit, Ginger and co. perform a support slot set worthy of a headliner. 

Von Hertzen Brothers

In the unenviable position of following that were Von Hertzen Brothers, a Finnish rock band who do a great job of converting the crowd with their mix of power prog and classic rock. Think Foo Fighters channeling Dream Theater without the extended solos and long songs. An energetic band, they fly through a spirited set which leaves the audience in the mood for more.

The Wildhearts


Hitting the stage with the barrage of classic songs, which in a more sensible world would have been massive hits, The Wildhearts are a force to be reckoned with. They've had their ups and downs with substance problems and the usual band-breakups, but the current line-up: Ginger, C.J., Ritch Battersby and returning bassist Scott Sorry, are firing on all cylinders; and what's more - they are having a blast on stage. Opening number 'Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes' might as well sum up the music, wonderfully catchy, powerful and stunning lyrics. More favourites follow in quick succession: 'TV Tan', 'Caffeine Bomb', 'Nita Nitro', 'Sick of Drugs', the crowd lapping it up, bouncing and singing heartily along, much to the pleasure of the band. 

Later songs such as 'Vanilla Radio' and 'The Revolution Will Be Televised' are treated just as well as the classics, and by the time of the final volley of 'My Baby Is a Headfuck', 'Suckerpunch' and 'I Wanna Go Where the People Go', the crowd has been pummeled into submission.
Being The Wildhearts, however, it's not over. The band are famous for their encores, which last almost as long as the main set. So we are treated to another 40mins to bounce to. Following perennial sing-along 'Geordie in Wonderland'. the band take the set in a different direction. This portion featured some of the band's favourites which don't get played too often. Ginger asking if this is OK, but I doubt there were many people complaining as they gave us renditions of 'Nexus Icon', 'Tim Smith' and 'The Only One' (from the criminally ignored 'Chutzpah' album), 'The Jackson Whites' and even 'Junkenstein' from 'Endless Nameless', the album Ginger loves - but, so he says, "everyone else here hates". They finally leave the stage following a blistering version of '29 x the Pain', a song which no Wildhearts gig should be without. 

With several other solo projects ongoing, including the latest Pledgemusic success, 'Albion' which shipped in a beautiful deluxe book-type package this week and hits stores in a stripped-down one disc version on April 14th, you have to admire the Geordie, who seems to have really got his shit together and regained his passion for what he does best. One day, Ginger Wildheart will be recognised as one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever produced. Discover him now before it's too late to truly appreciate him.
10 out of 10 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Short film review: THE LAST HALLOWEEN (2013) Directed by Marc Roussel

With what could have been a familiar, well-worn concept, Marc Roussel's The Last Halloween defies expectations and delivers a fun (but not necessarily funny), scary and disturbing short straight out of our worst nightmares.
On what seems to be a normal Halloween night, a group of children go trick or treating. Dressed in the usual -if ragged - costumes of Ghost, Devil, Witch and the Grim Reaper, the neighbourhood they are canvasing is more than a little run-down. Although people are coming to their doors, the treats they are given are not the standard candy kind. At the first house, a woman pokes her head sheepishly through the only-partially opened door, sure to keep the security chain in place. Looking worried and hoping to get rid of them as quick as possible, she hands over a small tin of cat food. The next house is really dilapidated. Poking his head through a gap in the broken door, a babbling man (Julian Richings, who was Death in the TV series Supernatural), his face and head full of lesions spouts seemingly nonsensical gibberish. He hands over all he has: a half-eaten dead bird.
The children look bemused but move on. The next house seems more looked after. A perimeter fence keeps them from coming to the front door. A monitor allows the a man inside to talk to them. He isn't keen on letting them in, nor entertaining their tradition. His wife is worried they might need help, but he is having none of it; he's clearly afraid of "what's outside". But as they have not had a treat, what would the children's trick be?
The Last Halloween came as a complete surprise. The setting, which becomes more apparent as we progress through the 10 minute short, allows director Roussel (via an upcoming comic book by Mark Thibodeau) to concoct a unique tale around the annual tradition. Rest assured, things do get monstrous towards the end, with some great prosthetics by The Butcher Shop, but in the proceeding minutes the film manages to create an anxious atmosphere in which the viewer is not quite sure what's happening. The cinematography by Michael Jari Davidson is stunning. Fluid (thanks to the uses of Steadycam) yet imposing, it could easily have graced a multimillion dollar Hollywood production. Add to it a score (by Christopher Guglick) which is at times reminiscent of John Carpenter's best and you have a brilliant little flick. Roussel's earlier short, Remote (2010 - check it out here) was a big hit with fans and critics alike, and this short looks set to be a favourite too.
Expect it to be screened during the festival season, and the intention is to premiere it online just in time for Halloween. Check out the trailer below and enjoy!
8 out of 10

Friday, 18 April 2014

Short film review: FIRST DATE (2012) Directed by Blair Richardson

first date poster blair richardson
There's so many great short films being made from some fabulous young talent, and it's still amazing when you discover more. Writer/director Blair Richardson recently invited me to view her two horror shorts; the second, Kitty Kitty, was funded via Indiegogo, and you can find the reviewed here.
First Date is a simple, ultra-short (3 minutes) which presents a familiar situation for all of us... the preparation for a first date. Shot from a low angle, we see a woman (Ashton Nicole), fresh from the shower, getting dressed and ready for her big night.
Incredibly sexy and provocatively filmed, with lingering shots of various parts of the lovely lady's body (there is nudity, but nothing explicit and it's handled sensually rather than exploitative), and set to a sultry if off-kilter song (Kill, Kill by Elizabeth Grant - you may know her better as Lana Del Rey), the woman looks through the window to see her date pull up in his car.
Popping a mint to ensure fresh breath, the man (Jason Roy Jones) exudes confidence, and can't resist a wry smile to himself at what will probably be another sexual conquest. As he waits at the door, the woman glides seductively down the stairs to greet him - still only clad in lingerie. It's clear what is going to occur - or is it?

Everything about this short film works. As mentioned, the music, camerawork, and suggestive and sexy shot selection all provide the right amount of build-up for the dénouement. It also keeps you guessing as to what the inevitable twist will be. Is the woman transgender? Will the man turn out to be a serial killer? The real twist is fun, and very satisfying - and did bring to mind a classic Monty Python sketch, which certainly raised a smile - although that may not have been the intention.
First Date is a cracking short, worthy of anyone's time - and you can check it out in full below. Hope you all enjoy it as much as I did. Now go and read my review of Blair's next short, Kitty Kitty.
9 out of 10

Short film review: KITTY KITTY (2013) Directed by Blair Richardson

kitty kitty poster blair richardson
Coming after the rather fabulous First Date, writer/director Blair Richardson proves she didn't just have a fluke with this slightly longer (15 minute) tale in which a couple's relationship problems are exacerbated by a creepy cat.
Vanessa (Madison Rae Stewart) isn't too impressed with her artist boyfriend Mark (Landon Cole). She goes to work all the time while he sits at home, hoping his paintings will sell. She's also feeling rather unwell - and since we have already seen her in a compromising position with another man, we can assume what that might be. When she arrives home she's annoyed to find Mark has taken in a stray cat. She insists it goes, but the next day it turns up again. There's certainly something amiss with this rogue feline.
kitty kitty blair richardson
Full disclosure here - I'm not a fan of cats; I'm incredibly allergic so I already have a natural fear of them. That said, the cat here isn't as evil as some - well, certainly not when we see it in cat form at least. Using as much of a slow-burn build up as possible in a short, Richardson manages to create a sense of something not right while allowing us to get to know something about the characters. With some great fake scares (with a Psycho homage and some interesting shadow-play) which don't come across as lame as they do in many films that 'try' too hard. It could have worked even just as a relationship drama, the 'horror' ending is just the icing on the cake for us gore-hounds.
Which brings us to the effects. The film was funded on Indiegogo with a final fund of just under $3.500 - so it's amazing that Richardson managed to make a film incorporating such great practical effects for the budget. She must have a very understanding and talented crew as well as a very persuasive personality! The creature could have done with not being as brightly lit - sometimes less is more - but it's still a fantastic achievement and doesn't look at all tacky.
kitty kitty blair richardson
Kitty Kitty is worth catching should it find its way onto the festivals, keep an eye on the Facebook page for any news. I, for one, can't wait to see what Blair Richardson comes up with next, this lady has a bright future ahead!
8 out of 10

Sunday, 13 April 2014

DVD Review: Formula For A Murder (aka 7, Hyden Park: la casa maledetta, 1985)

formula for a murder shameless cover
This little-seen later-day giallo (better known as 7, Hyden Park: la casa maledetta) finally makes its way to UK DVD shelves in a welcome uncut release, courtesy of cult label Shameless.
25 years after breaking her back in a fall following an attack by a doll-brandishing priest, Joanna (Christina Nagy) is a wealthy heiress who, as well as helping establish a paraplegic sports centre, has sporting aspirations of her own. She's aided by coach Craig (David Warbeck, The Beyond), and the pair have become so close they are to be married. This puts her friend Ruth (Carroll Blumenberg), who has also been a live-in nurse, in an awkward position as she must move out of her lovely home. Joanna also plans to donate half her fortune to a local church. Unfortunately, the priest has just had his throat cut and Joanna has started having hallucinations of a threatening priest carrying a bloodied doll. To make matters worse, Craig is warned by Joanna's doctor that her encounter as a child was much worse than she knows; she was also raped, but this has been blocked from her memory, and that she is at risk of a fatal heart attack if they make love and the memories return.
By the mid-eighties the giallo craze was all but dead, but this taut thriller manages to evoke a seventies feel, while being unequivocally of the period. All the usual giallo tropes are present: the killer's black leather gloves, shaving razor, the gory murders. The big difference is the early reveal of the murderer (which will come as no big surprise, especially since the cover art gives it away). That doesn't take the fun out of the film, however, as there are still several neat little turns which keep it interesting and the manic set pieces are nightmarish and fun. It's essentially a re-tread of Les diaboliques with added childhood trauma and a creepy doll being thrust into shot every now and again; but it's still worth checking out.
Director Alberto De Martino (best known for cult favourites The Antichrist and Holocaust 2000) manages to get the most out of the locations, and with the help of DP Gianlorenzo (Demons) Battaglia's camerawork creates some fantastic looking set pieces. Equally nice is Francesco De Masi's score, even if it does use whole passages from his work in The New York Ripper - although that may be for economy, as both films also share a producer, Fabrizio De Angelis.
The disc has a very interesting commentary (in Italian, subtitled) with Battaglia, in which he reveals the villa in Rome which doubled for Joanna's home was owned by a man who had killed his wife in a crime of passion. There is also a selection of trailers for other Shameless releases, and - you need to watch the film for the significance - a yellow Shameless-branded mackintosh.
7 out of 10

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Short film review: PICKET (2014, directed by Izzy Lee)

picket izzy lee
With the recent passing of gay-bothering 'pastor' Fred Phelps recently, it's timely that this short should find it's way to me. Phelps, of course was the founder of a 'church' which advocated his 'followers' standing outside funerals waving ant-gay and other offensive placards. Free speech does indeed seem to bring the moron out of some people.
picket izzy lee diana porter

In Picket, we have one such person (Diana Porter) whom we see painting her vile messages on a collection of boards ready to protest.On the radio, a preacher is spouting some thinly veiled hatred of things, as they do. The woman making the signs is arranging a meeting over the phone. A suitcase containing several bundles of cash is open in front of her. She's talking about picking up a package from a political lobbyist, which would help her group, "get their point across"; "people should realise that they could go to hell".
picket izzy lee christian masters
Early next day, she arrives to a seemingly deserted building. She takes a look around while waiting for the lobbyist (Christian Masters). A child's doll, which looks like it could have been there some time, is lying creepily abandoned on the floor. Except there's something in the shadows...
Written and directed by Izzy Lee, whose debut short Legitimate (2013) did really well at several US festivals, this is an effectively shocking short (clocking in at under 5 minutes) which works wonderfully. The sinister looking building where the woman is to meet the senator is a prime example of perfect location. The lighting, eerie music and makeup effects are pretty damn good for a low budget horror short too.
picket izzy lee diana porter sarah paterson
Lee manages to create the right amount of tension and anxiety from the moment we enter the building. Bryan McKay, who handled the visuals/editing, does a great job of giving the film a very cinematic look. With such a short running time, you have to get to the action/shocks and it's to Lee's credit that she holds back as long as she can to increase the fear, before unleashing a rightful retribution to someone who has been using a so-called God to spread what actually amounts to personal hate. Is what's in the shadows sent from the Divine to pass judgement (a gospel song begins playing as the tension builds), or is it his opposite; unhappy that so many 'sinners' are sent his way? By the time the lobbyist arrives, there's no sign of her and whatever dirty, underhand dealings that were going to take place are replaced by something more nasty. Only seen fleetingly, perhaps wisely as the best scares often come from what we don't see, is Sarah Paterson whose demonic image will be burned into the viewer's nightmares for a while.
picket izzy lee sarah paterson
It's amazing that there are so many talented people coming up with some fantastic short horror films lately. If even only half of these manage to catch a big break, the future of the genre will be in safe hands. I suspect Izzy Lee may well be one of those. 
With any luck, Picket will make its way online or the festival circuit soon, so seek it out if you can.

8 out of 10

Short film review: LEGITIMATE (2013, directed by Izzy Lee)

legitimate izzy lee
Izzy Lee's debut short Legitimate opens with a quote from a former US Representative, Todd Akin:
"If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down"
Now, it doesn't take the most sensitive thinker to realise how much is wrong in that statement. And Lee's understandable knee-jerk reaction to that was this sucker-punch to that whole stupid way of thinking; if the tables were turned, how legitimate would it be?
The setting is a nightclub/lap dancing bar where the house Madame (Katrina Galore) leads a senator (Michael Thurber) to his seat, sipping smugly from his whiskey, and he prepares for the special performance. A semi-nude dancer (Karin Webb), tied up in ropes, hands the man one end.
legitimate izzy lee michael thurber karin webblegitimate izzy lee katrina galore michael thurber
She rhythmically removes the bindings while he sits there, gleefully. As she gets to her underwear, he senator is clearly in some discomfort. Has his drink been spiked? Has he been hypnotised by the gyrating beauty? As he passes out, the Madame and another woman (the director herself) look on, a jar containing something in hand. He wakes outside, covered in blood and in pain. What goes in the body, must come out and must be put there legitimately, surely?...
legitimate izzy lee karin webb
Equal parts sleazy and shocking, Legitimate is an impressive first film from Lee, providing a two-finger message to a certain mindset while not being preachy and too ambiguous. The use of low light in the nightclub sequence is handled well (a testament to Bryan McKay, the cinematographer/editor), and the way the music, the typical slow-sleaze stripper style, is slowed down during the senator's collapse is wonderful and inspired - especially accompanying the visuals in which the depth of field is continuously adjusted. 
legitimate izzy lee karin webb katrina galore
Izzy Lee, who along with McKay, is does virtually everything on the film, is certainly a force to watch out for. Someone with a kind of passion to confront stupidity who, one hopes, would not be restrained or diluted if handed a bigger budget for future ventures. 
legitimate izzy leelegitimate izzy lee michael thurber
Legitimate has already picked up accolades on the US/Canadian festival circuit, and will no doubt receive more if more screenings are announced. Lee's next short, Picket has already hit the market.
Keep an open for both of them, and on Miss Lee herself (check out her website). 

8 out of 10