A blog exploring the sexy, shocking, surreal, and silly side of horror films.

October 22, 2011

Father's Day (Review: World Premiere)

Father's Day (2011) 

By Astron 6
(Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, and Conor Sweeney)

I have just returned from the Toronto After Dark Film Festival's world premiere screening of Astron-6's FATHER'S DAY. I'm still picking my face off the floor. If Father's Day doesn't explode in popularity among fans of weird trash cinema, then there is no justice in this world.

Like a secret society of demented magicians, the film-making collective known as Astron-6 has pulled off an amazing slight of hand with their new new horror/exploitation/comedy masterpiece: Father's Day. Everything about Father's Day would lead you to believe it's a slightly tongue-in-cheek homage to grindhouse exploitation ala Hobo with a Shotgun. But this is only a misdirection. In reality, Father's Day is an epic farce of sheer lunacy and unbridled special FX mania in the true independent spirit and envelope-pushing tradition of Troma (which is releasing the film). Father's Day is like nothing I've ever seen before, but if I had to come up with a simple analogy, I'd say that Father's Day is like Hobo with a Shotgun meets The Toxic Avenger meets Macgruber meets Lucio Fulci's The Beyond meets Hausu meets Talladega Nights meets Evil Dead 2 meets GWAR meets Showgirls meets Deathproof meets an acid trip through a meat grinder.


To truly summarize the plot of Father's Day is impossible without spoiling the film's deliriously delightful twists and shifts, which I would never do. This summary, however, sets up the basic deranged premise: a cannibalistic rapist who sexually assaults only fathers is pursued by Ahab (Adam Brooks), an eye-patch-wearing vigilante whose life and family were shattered when "The Father's Day Killer" raped and murdered his Dad. Helping him seek vengeance are his stripper sister (Amy Groening), a priest (Matthew Kennedy), and a teenage male prostitute named Twink (Conor Sweeney). I've only described the basic frame of this film -- it goes to places I never would have expected, and I was laughing, cheering, and gagging all the way.

Rating: 5 / 5 Raped Fathers


Father's Day is, at its core, a farce. Unlike Hobo with a Shotgun, which presented outlandish scenarios with a core of seriousness, Father`s Day is intentionally and intensively ridiculous. It`s a comedy through and through that exploits the grindhouse action genre and blows up all its cheesiest and most stereotypical conventions with the cinematic equivalent of C4. With every act break, the movie becomes stranger. The script, as you might imagine, is a wicked beast that`s hard to pin down, but the dialogue is infinitely quotable, quirky, and sharply aware of its own silliness. To explore any further the depths of Father`s Day's rollicking humor will spoil the movie. The less you know about the plot, the better. Just remember: never call a man a tree.

This image doesn't even begin to hint at Father's Day off-the-wall lunacy


Here's something I can tell you: Father's Day is wall-to-wall boobs, butts, and cocks! There's so much male and female full-frontal nudity in Father's Day that it might make Caligula blink. Some of this nudity is of a graphically violent nature (men beware: penis mutilation ahead) but for the rest of the time the camera lingers leeringly on female strippers. At Monster Chiller Horror Theatre, we place the bar low in terms of sexiness, but Father's Day more than fills its shameless and tawdry T and A quota.


Holy God yes. I don't need to tell you that rape is never a good thing, but it's also (sadly) true that we've grown desensitized to the representation of female sexual abuse in film. Father's Day turns this desensitization on its head by shoving our faces into scenes of male-on-male rape. You will never forget the horror of seeing fathers -- middle-aged, balding men in glasses and windbreakers -- being savagely ass raped by a cannibalistic lunatic. The gore is excessive and daring, and the scenes of sexual assault are brutally comical, if that doesn't sound to sick to admit. You will see things in Father's Day that not even you own sweet Pa could have prepared you for. Truly a marvel of low-budget special effects.

The stunts are also unbelievably dangerous. None of these actors are stunt people from what I can tell, but they do things on an almost Jackass level of full-throttle, gung-ho stupidity. Midway through the film during a car chase, characters leap from truck to truck and hang from windows -- but Father's Day didn't have the budget for stunt doubles and CGI effects. What you see the actors doing in full frame is more raw and real than any Michael Bay action blockbuster. And it's scary as hell; I am amazed no one died shooting these scenes or got seriously hurt.


Hand-in-hand with its silliness, Father's Day is also a surreal trip into a world designed to look and feel like a grainy, reel-to-reel grind house epic while at the same time speeding through a minefield of acid-nightmares and filmtasmagorical stop motion inspired, no doubt, by the works of Sam Raimi. In surreal style and editing, Father's Day manages to embody the paradox of being incredibly derivative while completely and scarily unique.


At the risk of making grand comparisons, I think that Father's Day is going to spread like wildfire through the genre film community in the same way that Pulp Fiction exploded after its first screenings. While mainstream critics lifted Pulp Fiction to classic status, I don't think the mainstream will cotton to Father's Day. It's too absurd. It's too violent. It's too enamored with the era of fuzzy VHS bootlegs and direct-to-video 80s cheese. But from the conversations I heard in the crowd as we left the theatre, I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that this movie is becomes the must-see modern film among genre, trash cinema, and exploitation fans.

Troma releases a lot of crap, but I expect Father's Day to become the new jewel in Troma's Crown -- giving this generation what The Toxic Avenger gave its: sex, laughs, action, and gore.

October 13, 2011

History Repeating: THE THING about Bad Reviews

The reviews for the prequel/remake of John Carpenter's The Thing are starting to come in. Is anyone else getting a strong feeling of deja vu here? Some THING strange is going on.

On the eve of its release, the 2011 version of The Thing is already garnering plenty of negative criticism from mainstream critics and horror critics. Funnily enough, I'm reminded of how Carpenter's The Thing was also raked over the coals and considered a flop even though it's now held as a classic of horror in the 80s.

No one can predict whether The Thing (prequel) is cursed to repeat the history of Carpenter's version, but I have noticed something peculiar going on. In particular, let's look at Vincent Canby's 1982 review of Carpenter's film for The New York Times and compare it to Brad Miska's review of the prequel for Bloody Disgusting. In both, the critics are complaining about essentially the exact same things. See for yourself.

THE THING (1982) - "Like all such movies that don't trust themselves to keep an audience interested by legitimate dramatic means, ''The Thing'' shows us too much of ''the thing'' too soon, so that it has no place to go" (CANBY)

THE THING (2011) - "Early in The Thing, the initial creature is barely displayed. . . . Only, as the minutes pass, the filmmakers feel the need to show more and more causing an alarming amount of CGI to vomit across the screen" (MISKA)

THE THING (1982) - "[The Thing], which opens today at the Rivoli and other theaters, is too phony looking to be disgusting. It qualifies only as instant junk." (CANBY)

THE THING (2011) - "[T]here's literally a full-on CG shot of the creature standing 12 feet tall. It looked like something out of "Gears of War" or "Doom", like re-rendered video game footage. . . . Universal's new The Thing already looks more dated than Carpenter's, and it's not even in theaters as of this writing!" (MISKA)

THE THING (1982) - "a virtually storyless feature composed of lots of laboratoryconcocted special effects" (CANBY)

THE THING (2011) - "2011 crap that's nothing more than a boring CGI promo-reel" (MISKA)

THE THING (1982) - "Kurt Russell, Richard Dysart, A. Wilfred Bramley, T.K. Carter, Peter Maloney, David Clennon and other worthy people appear on the screen, but there's not a single character to act. All that the performers are required to do is to react with shock and terror from time to time" (CANBY)

THE THING (2011) - "It even sucks for the actors (and causes weak performances) because with CG there isn't anything physical for them to react to" (MISKA)

THE THING (1982) - "For the record, it should be immediately pointed out that this new film bears only a superficial resemblance to Howard Hawks's 1951 classic ''The Thing,'' though both were inspired by the same source material, John W. Campbell Jr.'s story ''Who Goes There?'' The Hawks film . . . is something of a masterpiece of understatement. It's also funny. The new ''Thing'' has been written with no great style by Bill Lancaster and directed by Mr. Carpenter without apparent energy or the ability to share his interest with us." (CANBY)

THE THING (2011) - "Everything that was great about the 1982 version (it was a small, claustrophobic film with strong characters and awesome special effects) is ignored" (MISKA)

Now I ask you, is history repeating? Or did they watch the same damn movie?

September 29, 2011

"The App Killer" -- Help fund a new horror film

What are the odds that I'd write two entries this week about movies where killers use apps to find their victims?

If the idea appeals to you, you can help make a filmmaker's dream a reality. Director Pau Masó is raising funds on IndieGoGo for his new project, The App Killer, which he describes as Saw meets Hostel meets Scream.

By contributing to his project,  you can claim some nice perks. Check out what's in store for you by donating to The App Killer.

September 28, 2011

X Marks the Spot (Short Film Review)

Review: X Marks the Spot (2011)
[Short film]

Director : Travis Legge

Looking to murder some vulnerable young women? There's an app for that!

In X Marks the Spot, the twisted short film from Twisted Central Productions, Abigail is a young woman addicted to the Friend Tracker app on her Blackberry. She won't get off the damn thing. She should have listened to the privacy warnings from her friend Chloe, however. Friend Tracker soon becomes a Fiend Attractor when a creepy dude name Patrick starts following Abigail's every move using the app: a stalker's mobile wet dream.

I love the premise of horror movies in which our own disregard for modern digital privacy comes back to bite us in the ass, but X Marks the Spot doesn't do much with its premise. The coming of the killer is telegraphed from the very start and plays out fairly predictably without much tension. As a low budget short, X Marks the Spot also suffers from rough sound quality and unfortunate day-for-night shots. Interestingly, X Marks the Spot doesn't attempt to stylize, dwell on, or glamorize its violence, but then again there's nothing particularly graphic about it to show. The whole short seems geared toward a visual gag at the end that, while darkly funny, doesn't seem to justify the short's entire running time.

A good idea, but X Marks the Spot mostly misses its target.

September 12, 2011

Fiend Without a Face (Review)

Fiend Without a Face (1958) 

Director: Arthur Crabtree

British science fiction films only flourished for a brief period of time, and British sci-fi / horror was on the scene for even less. As a result, a classic like Fiend Without a Face shines even brighter in the back catalog of genre cinema. Sincere, unexpected, and unprecedentedly grisly, Fiend Without a Face is the best of the evil brain films, and appropriately enshrined in the Criterion Collection.


A joint American / Canadian military operation is experimenting with atomic radiation to create an enhanced radar system for detecting missile attacks and keeping tabs on the Soviets. It's 1958, and the world is in the grips of the Cold War. Fear is in the air; even the town's people are distrustful of the military and blame problems with their cattle on the secret experiments going on behind closed doors and 30000-50000 feet in the air. But soon people start to die and their autopsies reveal that their brains and spinal cords are completely missing. Is this the horrible side effect of negligent military experiments?

I told you that cellphones cause tumors!
No, it's much worse. The killers are invisible brain-like creatures that feed on nuclear radiation and suck out the brains of their victims. Yet, they're not the military's fault. They are the horrible product of experiments by the reclusive Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) who has been striving to turn thought into reality. Using nuclear energy siphoned off from the military's experiments, Walgate manages to manifest his thoughts in the form of one of these fiends. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a mental vampire that escapes Walgate's control. Feeding on the radiation, reproducing, and growing stronger and more cunning, these fiends only become visible after causing the military's nuclear plant to go critical. By then, it may be too late for Major Cummings (Marshall Thompson) to stop them.

Rating: 4 / 5 Mental Vampires


Although Fiend Without a Face hails from that era of the 1950s B-movie, and it has all the hallmarks of the era that we satirize, Fiend Without a Face is serious and unpretentious. As a result, the grotesque nature of the fiends is not glossed over. Sure, the human deaths aren't very gory (especially since the creatures are invisible at first and the actors are pantomiming being strangled), but most of the horror is left to your imagination and accentuated by the superbly stomach-churning sucking/throbbing noise that signifies the presence of the fiends.

This is your fiend. This is your fiend on drugs.
The film doesn't get truly shocking until the final climax when the fiends attack and our heroes open fire. Whenever the fiends are shot or bludgeoned, they erupt in a squelching, sputtering explosion of chunky gore. They even melt into noxious, greasy puddles. It's incredibly graphic by 1958 standards, and still disgusting by today's.

Its only moment of silliness occurs when a partial-victim of the fiends resurfaces with brain damage and making the most ridiculously mentally-challenged noises.

Huurrrr. Derp derp derp.

After all these years, Fiend Without a Face still manages to offer some shocking ideas and disturbing  visuals, but it's also a well-acted, solidly-produced, and well-conceived film. The stop-motion creature effects are rough at times, but for the era they are excellent. Sometimes, they almost reach the levels of fluidity and immersion seen in the work of Ray Harryhausen. All together, Fiend Without a Face is a solid fusion of science-fiction, horror, and social subtext. It's not the power of the atom or alien invaders we need to fear but, instead, the evil things that come from within our own minds.

August 24, 2011

Ninjas vs. Vampires (Review)

Ninjas vs. Vampires (2010) 

Director: Justin Timpane

Ninjas vs. Vampires is already available on DVD in North America, but it is being released on Aug 29th in the UK from LEFT Films. I missed this film on its initial North American release, so the good people at LEFT Films hooked me up with a screener.

Let me preface this review by saying that movies like Ninjas vs. Vampires are hardest for me to to review. For one, they're low-budget, independent features, so these films become saddled with technical and budgetary restrictions that prevent the movies from being their best. At the same time, films like Ninjas vs. Vampires are clearly made by people like me and for people like me: fans of popular culture and genre film. Ninjas vs. Vampires, for example, is rife with references to other comic books, horror films, and comedies that I love. These filmmakers are people after my own heart and sensibilities, so I want to like them and their films. With this in mind, the temptation is to overlook the film's technical and budgetary problems. I'm not going to do that, however. That would be dishonest. Therefore, I'm sad to report that despite its potential,  Ninjas vs. Vampires is a boring and relatively forgettable mash-up of the horror-action-kungfu-comedy-fantasty genres with lackluster effects.  


Ninjas vs. Vampires is the sequel to Ninjas vs. Zombies, in which some friends are magically turned into Ninjas so that they can fight some evil soul-eating ghouls. Now, in Ninjas vs. Vampires, these magically-powered Ninjas -- along with a Witch and a Vampire-turned-good -- must tackle a group of evil bloodsuckers hell-bent on...well...becoming invincible or something. At every turn, the film distracts you from the plot with a large cast of characters that are poorly defined. We start with Aaron (Jay Saunders) and Alex (Devon Marie Burt), two friends who are attacked by vampires and saved by the Ninja super team consisting of Kyle (Daniel Ross), Cole (Cory Okouchi), Lily the vamp (Carla Okouchi), and Ann the witch (Melissa McConnell). After Ann wipes Alex's memory so she'll forget the incident, Aaron tracks down the Ninjas to find out what's going on. On the side of the villains, a needlessly large cast of vampires led by the PAINFULLY stale and uncharismatic Seth (Kurt Skarstedt) employ a growing roster of other eccentric-looking vamps to help kill the Ninjas. These weirdo vamps are all trying to be this movie's Boba Fett and include Manson (Daniel Mascarello), a sadistic psychopath bound in leather and chains; Maximillian (Will Stendeback) and Manguy (Dan Guy), who dress like they raided a costume store; and The Bishop (P.J. Megaw), a masked vampire and unintelligible leader of the identically-masked acolytes.

There are lots of scenes in houses, lots of crappy-looking day-for-night fight scenes in which people die, and I get increasingly bored with a film that doesn't make clear what's at stake or why we should care until too late into the proceedings. My favorite characters make some truly moving sacrifices, and then they are stripped of their emotional resonance by a pre-credit sequence intended to set up another sequel. Ho-hum.

Rating: 2 / 5 Bad Day-for-Night Scenes


My main beef with Ninjas vs. Vampires is that the film becomes incredibly silly in the absence of accomplished effects, impressive actors, and a big enough budget for costumes and equipment. Without these crucial elements, most of the action looks like footage of people LARPing in their homemade costumes touched up in Adobe After Effects. "Look at me, I'm a bad-ass Ninja! Heeeya!" / "No, look at me! I'm a Gothic vampire sex pot. Hiss hiss, purrrrrrr!"

This vampire gets a poster but two minutes of screen time
When you see a superhero movie being filmed in person, it never looks as cool as when you see it on the big screen after post-production. Ninjas vs. Vampires, however, looks like a superhero film being filmed in person. It's shot with little flare or visual style, I suspect because of the limitations of a low budget. Also, instead of practical effects, the film relies heavily on low-grade CGI to generate muzzle flashes, magic spells, and blood spurts. Unfortunately, this means that when a vampire is shot, for example, we'll see blood spurts but no actual exit wounds. And it looks fake as hell. The artificiality of the effects enhances rather than obscures the silly nature of story, which looked at objectively has all the sophistication of a superhero comic from the 1990s being dramatized by a group of adults playing Ninja with the patrons of a local vampire Goth club. I'm not saying Ninjas vs. Vampires is any less silly in premise than Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, or Captain America, but unlike these recent Marvel blockbusters, Ninjas vs. Vampires lacks the means to fully envelop us in its comic book-inspired universe. Captain America has the funds and the technology to make us forget how goofy it is to watch a man dressed like the American flag punch a skull-faced Nazi. Ninjas vs. Vampires, in contrast, is filmed on what appears to be a handheld digital camera and has costumes that look too real-world and effects that look too digital. It's an unfortunate place to be, but that's where Ninjas vs. Vampires lives.

Nothing in the movie looks as cool as this publicity still
When Ninjas vs. Vampires is viewed as a stand-alone movie, Aaron and Alex become our entry point characters into film, but we don't get to learn much about them, and their awkward relationship doesn't ground us in the movie's comic book plot. Aaron changes too abruptly from a dork into a kung fu master when he's granted magic Ninja powers whereas Alex spends most of the movie with short-term memory loss. Neither are very compelling characters, and with a few exceptions neither are the rest of the cast. The good guys are broadly defined almost solely by their female love interests (Cole loves Lily, Kyle loves Ann, Aaron loves Alex) whereas the bad guys are defined by their gimmicky wardrobe. To create drama, the women are always being kidnapped or killed or hurt. It's lazy comic book storytelling. I'm just surprised we didn't see any women in refrigerators.  

Characters are difficult to invest in when they can't remember anything
Limited in scope and limited in character, Ninjas vs. Vampires is also limited in technical prowess, and the result is a silly-looking movie. Although a lot of scenes are shot in houses (to save on shooting costs, no doubt), Ninjas vs. Vampires wants to be an action movie, so the fights do move outdoors. Unfortunately, since vampires are involved, the fights have to be staged in the evening or at night. These "evening" and "night" scenes are, in fact, painfully obvious day-for-night shots in which a filter is used to darken the characters in a shade of blue, but it does nothing to change the fact that the sky is bright as the God damned afternoon. Even worse, there are actual night scenes later in the film that just make the filtered scenes stick out like a sore thumb. Again, I feel for the filmmakers. Low-light shooting is hard to do, but the alternative -- day-for-night filters -- is no real substitution. Hokey and fake-looking, these scenes not only obscure the action but remind me of the film's low-budget as I watch.

Not Night
Finally, the dialogue is silly and shallowly dramatic. It's all "Final Hour" hero speeches and stale super villain monologing that might look acceptably cheesy in a comic book word bubble but sounds atrocious coming from the mouths of live actors. When the acting isn't painful, it's stale and perfunctory, with the exception of two performances. Daniel Ross as Kyle is a saving grace. He's genuinely funny, emotive, and fun to watch. His character is comic relief with a welcome bit of soul, and even when he's spouting line references from other movies they make me laugh rather than dwell on how much better those lines sounded in the original source material. The other standout performance is of Manson by Daniel Mascarello. Although none of the vampire villains get much back story, Manson feels like the most complete character. Despite his small amount of screen time, he feels like more of a character than Seth, the Big Bad.


All in all, Ninjas vs. Vampires is a disappointment. I empathize with the writer/director and the rest of the crew. The deck was stacked against them from the start; nevertheless, technical issues, low-budget effects, and stale casting and dialogue prevent Ninjas vs. Vampires from being the sort of comic book-inspired action and comedy film it wants to be.

I appreciate Ninjas vs. Vampires for what it wants to be, but I can only judge it on what it is. And it's neither a satisfying nor very interesting movie.

June 10, 2011

Creep Reel: Wild Beasts (1984)

Zoo animals high on PCP escape and go on a mad killing spree in the city.


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