Short Film Review: Feed the Black (2016) Duration: 32 min

Feed the BlackAs you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot of films in my day and always enjoy seeking out the most bizarre, abstract and downright weird films I can find. I can safely say however that I have never seen a film, especially a short, that starts with a guided meditation (!). But that’s exactly what happens at the beginning of Feed the Black, the viewer is instructed to close their eyes and empty their mind while a voice-over prattles on for almost five full minutes! That’s a significant chunk of time when the total running time is only about thirty-two minutes. If the V.O. contained important plot information or tied back into the film at a later point this could perhaps have been justified but as it is it feels incredibly extraneous.

After this, the film finally starts. The plot, such as it is, follows a nameless woman who visits a grave and shoots heroin for the next ten minutes of screen time while classical music plays. This is interrupted only by the occasional scene featuring quickly flashing images of religious iconography, a giant eyeball and other typical abstract film cliches. We are now halfway through. The remainder of the film continues along the same lines: she wakes up mysteriously in a forest, she walks through an old colonial town, a cemetery, there’s a human sacrifice, et cetera, et cetera. Throw in some mysterious shrouded figures, a few more seizure-inducing montages, trippy kaleidoscope editing effects, end on the titular line and….voila!

Truly, I haven’t seen something quite like this since my days in film school. In fact writer/director Klayton Dean falls into many of the same traps that film students do when trying too hard to create a significant, abstract work. First and foremost it’s pretentious as fuck. The Roman numerals dividing the sections, the classical music, the old English script for the end credits, it all tries desperately to impose a greater significance onto the footage that simply isn’t there. What’s missing is a cohesive story and a connection to the protagonist that is strong enough to make you want to take a bizarre journey with her.

A common misconception about abstract films is that they are supposed to be comprised of a nearly unintelligible collection of images that will take on greater significance simply by being confounding and bizarre. The reality, however, is that the director must lay a path for savvy viewers to follow so that the intended message of the film can be interpreted, otherwise it’s just weird for the sake of weird and has little value. This is a concept that surreal masters like Lynch and Jodorowsky understand as they layer their bizarre imagery with hidden meaning and complex social commentary. With symbolic imagery, there should be specific meaning tied to each image, most of which is also propelling the central story forward, not simply presenting vague ideas and general concepts like “the struggle between dark and light”.

Despite the shortcomings of this film I do feel that Klayton Dean has potential as a director. The film is well shot, the quality of the image is solid and the acting works. Unfortunately, without a solid foundation these qualities become irrelevant and Dean will need to get out of his own way before he can create something of real significance. However, with a solid, cohesive script in his hand he could be a force to be reckoned with.

In closing I also want to mention that it is a stretch to even classify this as a horror film. Honestly, the only thing shocking about this is that Dean sees fit to charge viewers to watch it. Even if it was much, much better than it is, it still wouldn’t be worth paying four bucks to own a thirty minute movie. This is the kind of film that should be free on YouTube, after it’s cut down to a third of it’s current length.

1 Star Red



Father’s Day (2011)

Father's_Day_PosterCorpse mutilation! Necrophilia! Cannibalism! And that’s just the first two minutes! Welcome to Father’s Day, motherfuckers! The 2011 film is the twisted brainchild of the five-man Canadian writing/directing team collectively known as Astron-6.

The central plot focuses on an unlikely trio comprised of a vigilante, a priest, and a gay prostitute as they try to track down and kill the murderous father-raping demon known as The Fuchman AKA The Father’s Day Killer. With an insanely low budget of $10,000 the Troma-produced film features enough gut-churning gore to put most of the Saw franchise to shame. So was the end result a worthwhile effort that can stand up against the sea of multi-million dollar horror flicks out there or was it just another overly ambitious indie film that falls short? Well, let’s discuss.

The first thing I want to mention is that you must go into this with the understanding that this is a stylized film and is meant to be viewed as such. The entire movie is an homage to the kind of over-the-top 80’s horror that you’d find a random VHS of on your local video store shelves, back when that was a thing. The look of the film is deliberately degraded, and the entire movie is presented with tongue-in-cheek, overly dramatic plot and dialogue that lovingly mimics the plethora of cheap films that do similar stories in earnest.

It is very difficult to create a film, especially with very limited resources, that successfully emulates and parodies bad films without actually becoming one itself. However, much like Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, this film was created by filmmakers with enough talent and knowledge of the source material to pull off a movie that really works. This is in large part due to the fact that the film is primarily a self-aware black comedy that incorporates elements of horror and scenes of graphic violence into the plot. What’s more is that the comedic elements of the film actually work and the story is compelling and interesting enough that you want to strap in for the crazy ride and see where it takes you.

The real star of the show here however is the gore, which is cranked up to astoundingly graphic levels. Eyeballs are sliced, heads are smashed in, dicks are bitten off and so much more in horrifying, unflinching detail. If that wasn’t enough for you the film also throws in copious amounts of boobs and taboo-smashing scenes of underage prostitution, incest and many shots of men being graphically raped. Yet all this is done in the context of a story that maintains a fun, goofy feeling and is not meant to be taken too seriously. Add to this some amazing stunt work, like jumping between real moving trucks and actors being set on fire (!), and some incredible otherworldly character and set design and you have a truly impressive indie film. It may not be breaking any new ground in terms of story and film technique but what it does, it does very well.

In conclusion, this is the kind of movie I’m always hoping indie films will be when I put them on. Something that shows a lot of passion and talent from the filmmakers involved and is able to push the boundaries way past what could be made within the Hollywood system. So crack open a cold beer, or six, and enjoy the gleeful insanity of what may be the greatest film Troma ever produces.

4 Stars Red

The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence (2011)

TheHumanCentipede2How do you follow-up one of the most shocking and original horror movies of all time? Is it even possible to make a movie that’s more disturbing than The Human Centipede? Well, I’ll save you the suspense….yes, it most certainly fucking is! Once again I enter the astoundingly twisted world of writer/director Tom Six to see how The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence stacks up against the ground-breaking original.

In the world of this film the first Human Centipede is just a fictional movie, one that Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), the mentally challenged parking attendant in a London garage happens to be obsessed with. When he isn’t busy jacking off with sandpaper while he watches it or feeding his pet centipede he likes to spend his time brutalizing garage patrons with a crowbar and putting them in the back of his van. Once collected, the unfortunate (that’s an understatement to say the least) victims are brought to his secluded warehouse so he can live out his greatest fantasy, creating a human centipede of his very own.

Before I get into this I just want to mention that I am always a big supporter of watching the completely uncut versions of films. Unfortunately, Netflix really decided to fuck over streaming viewers and only provides a censored cut. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still horrific but some key scenes were removed without any indication to the viewer that this is not the full version. Apparently, the Blu-ray features the fully uncut version so if you are inclined to watch it, I recommend getting that.

Alright, so the first film got a lot of mileage simply from the fact that it was a truly original concept with a plot so horrifying that many people cringed at the very mention of the title. Since the concept is no longer original the only logical thing Tom Six could do is go bigger and badder with the central idea, which is exactly what he does. All the dark, disturbing imagery from the first is brought back and cranked up to 11. The sheer level of graphic brutality on display is astonishing and this is without a doubt one of the most shocking and disturbing films ever made, making the original pale by comparison.

Beyond the gore though, there are also some very bold and interesting choices with how the film itself is constructed. The most notable of these is naturally the choice to make the film black and white. There has been a lot of online speculation that Six was forced to present it in this way due to it’s graphic content but in a 2011 interview with he clearly states that this was an artistic choice to make the film feel darker and more uncomfortable. The gamble pays off and the film not only takes on an even more grim, desolate tone but also differentiates itself from the style and feel of the original.

I also thought it was a bold and interesting choice to make the protagonist a fan of the original film who is inspired to do violent, horrible acts that emulate what he sees in it. With this, Six is really taking the unfounded argument made by so many people that violence in art causes real-world violence head-on rather than side-stepping or apologizing for it. Bolder still, he makes the villain the protagonist of the film this time, a reversal from the original, putting us squarely in the front seat of this twisted ride, unable to deny our own voyeuristic part in the acts we are witnessing.

This also plays into the wish fulfillment aspect of the film as Martin, who is both physically and mentally weak, is able to violently dominate anyone he chooses. I’m sure it’s also no coincidence that most, if not all, of the people he assaults have been rude, mean or violent towards him in some way. It’s artistic choices like this that make the viewer confront their own sick, violent nature which is perhaps the most unsettling part of all.

In conclusion, this is not a film to be underestimated or dismissed as mindless shock value. I can’t say the story is particularly complex or deep but the film takes the series exactly where it needed to go and creates a glorious, uncompromising vision and reminds us that horror is supposed to be horrifying.

4 Stars Red

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) vs The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

The Hills Have Eyes

Doing a comparison of The Hills Have Eyes original vs remake was challenging in the same way that the Black Christmas comparison was, although for the opposite reason. In this case both films were so well done that an obvious winner wasn’t instantly apparent as it is in some cases (ahem Dark Water).

Both films follow the same basic storyline pretty closely (not a given for all remakes) which involves a family crossing the desert on their way to California. Soon after stopping at a remote gas station, they crash their vehicle and become stranded. It’s not long before a family of cannibals descends upon them and shit gets real.

The main thing that makes both the original and the remake so effective, is that the characters are realistic and well-defined. I’m glad that the filmmakers in both cases understood that you don’t need long drawn-out scenes of exposition and character-development to make the viewer attached to the protagonists. Both directors wisely opt to efficiently establish everything you need to know about the characters with minimal, but telling, interactions. In both films you really feel for these people who are trapped in a horrible situation and feel that they are doing the best they can to figure a way out of it.

Both films are also brutal, mean-spirited stories without any levity once the action gets under way, which is what I love about them. It’s great to see serious, visceral horror with characters you actually care about. Movies like this also aren’t shy about killing them off so the stakes are actually high because any of them could die at any time. I find this to be a much more satisfying experience than waiting for a cast of cheap stereotypes to get butchered.

While the story and characters of the original are great, there are certainly some areas that could have been tightened up a bit. First on my list would be the outfits worn by the cannibal family, some of which have a bit of a “Flintstones-Halloween-costume” vibe to them. In addition to munching on human flesh, said family also had a bit of a habit of chewing the scenery and some of the performances would have been more effectively menacing had they been tempered a bit. Another issue is the gore which, while certainly good for the era, at times looks a bit dated and fake by today’s standards.

To be fair, the remake has the advantage not only of modern special effects, which look fucking great by the way, but also a solid story that is already laid out for filmmakers. Still, there were some interesting alterations that director Alexandre Aja made to Wes Craven’s original film. Perhaps the most noticeable of these is that the cannibals are significantly more deformed in the remake which is a result of nuclear radiation from tests performed in the area over the years. This makes them more monstrous than the cannibals in the original whose minor abnormalities stem back to a patriarch born with a mysterious genetic condition. Right from the brilliant opening title sequence that features chilling footage of real nuclear bomb detonation, Aja establishes nuclear proliferation as an underlying theme throughout the film and in effect the true genesis of the monsters themselves. To this point the monsters could in fact be perceived as representing the merciless destruction caused by nuclear weapons when used against average civilians.

In conclusion, the 2006 version is a rare example of exactly what a remake should be. You take a film from decades before that has a solid, worthwhile story and update it with sleeker production values and more visceral gore for today’s desensitized audiences. The most important thing however, is to keep the elements that made the original film work in the first place, which Aja has done while infusing it with his own style of gorgeous brutality. If more remakes followed his example the concept of remakes in general wouldn’t carry the well-earned stigma of simply being a way for Hollywood to make a quick buck with minimum effort.

Winner The Hills Have Eyes 2006

Michael Myers: Absolute Evil (2016)

Michael Myers Absolute Evil -bannerThe plot of Michael Myers: Absolute Evil can simply be summed as a mockumentary which discusses Michael Myers as though he were a real serial killer. However, unlike most mockumentaries this is not a comedy and is presented in the same kind of tone that you would find with a typical documentary about a real serial killer. This is certainly an interesting, unusual approach so the question becomes, does it pay off?

I do like the idea here but I think the very concept runs into a fundamental problem. The reason documentaries are engaging is because you’re learning details about a real person or event and the experience can be a fascinating journey of discovery. We accept that documentaries are mainly made up of talking heads, still photos and low production value reenactments because the information we are learning is compelling and real. On the other hand, mockumentaries are traditionally presented as dead-pan comedies that revolve around a completely fictional subject, think This is Spinal Tap, where the enjoyment is derived simply from the fact that the film is funny.

Since this film doesn’t meet either criteria I would have to assume that writer/director Rick Gawel created this to be viewed as a realistic documentary that just happens to be about a fictional subject. In this regard there are a few parts that could be tightened up to sell the idea that this is a real documentary. One example is a scene which contains an archival interview that we’re told takes place in 1964 but is clearly shot digitally with an after-effect put on during editing, which is noticeable. If the footage had actually been shot on film for that scene it could have come across as authentic. I had a similar problem with the title cards between interviews which are given a deliberate effect to make them appear old and flicker in and out of focus. The effect looks fine but creates a disconnect between the cards and the crisp, digital interview footage.

There were also some scenes shot specifically for this film that are created to expand upon the mythos but these largely fall flat. The cult leader especially didn’t read as charismatic or menacing enough to be believable and the awkwardly long short film that’s spliced in near the end never elevates itself beyond the typical found-footage films that have long since worn out their welcome.

This is a shame because the actual documentary parts of this film are quite well done and do for the most part feel like an authentic documentary. Gawel’s use of black and white stills is done masterfully as he takes the viewer through the history of Michael Myers as though it was one cohesive story, which is no easy feat considering how disjointed the films themselves could be at times. The interview subjects are for the most part quite believable and effective, although there are some notable exceptions including one man that appeared to be looking down at an off-screen script in-between lines (!).

Ultimately, it’s a very interesting idea that would be great as a short 20-30 minute film but begins to become tedious when stretched out to an hour and a half. It’s cool to see the overarching story presented in this way but there isn’t really much in the way of new insights or information to be gained by watching this that you couldn’t get from simply seeing the films. This is a clever concept with some nice touches, I like the subtle diss of the remake that was slipped in, but one that ends up being more of a novelty for fans rather than essential viewing.

2.5 Stars Red