The Ungovernable Force (2015)

Ungovernable ForceIn this review, the underground film production company Ungovernable Films takes it to the streets with their Punk exploitation film The Ungovernable Force. Being that this is the same company that created films with titles like Honky Holocaust and Gay Jesus you have a pretty good idea what kind of film experience you are in for if you are at all familiar with their other work. So the question is “Does this Troma-style film capture the gleeful, grotesque magic of movies like Father’s Day or is it simply an hour and a half of boobs, cheap but explicit violence and porn-level dialogue?” Well, I guess there’s only one way for you punks to find out!

The film follows the exploits of Sal Purgatory (Jake Vaughan) a porn store employee who reconnects with his punk friends after being dumped by his girlfriend. His broken heart is quickly mended, however, once he’s finally able to work up the courage to talk to mysterious punk girl Louisa (Lindsay Winne) who he keeps seeing around town and becomes instantly infatuated with. When they stumble upon the body of a raped and murdered homeless woman, it sets them and their rag-tag group of punks off on a twisted adventure full of Nazis, corrupt cops, bum armies, strange chemicals and a whole lotta fucking.

First of all, I do want to point out that this is not a horror movie, although it does contain a lot of horrifying imagery and is without a doubt an Alternative Film. I feel fairly confident it will be a cold day in Hell before mainstream films start featuring unsimulated scenes of masturbation, shitting on the floor and a guy driving a nail through his tattooed cock(!).  And yes, I do mean for real.

These are some prime examples of the kind of Punk Rock, Anarchist energy writer/director Paul McAlarney is clearly trying to capture for this film, and in some ways he does. An early scene at a Punk show effectively embodies this feeling as McAlarney infuses it with the kind of kinetic energy and authenticity of someone who clearly knows the culture. In addition to this, a solid Punk soundtrack plays throughout the film and clothing and set design both feel incredibly legit.

That being said though, a film is only as good as the story it is telling and unfortunately, this is where The Ungovernable Force comes up painfully short. At an hour and forty minutes, the film’s I-don’t-give-a-fuck style of film-making quickly wears thin and without a solid relationship to the characters or the story, it becomes less and less compelling to watch. Much like underground Punk films such as Threat and Mod Fuck Explosion, this is an example of a movie that effectively captures the look and feel of the subculture but lacks the competent storytelling and technical proficiency to be a successful film.

This is most evident in the forces of antagonism, or lack thereof, within the story. I know this is a purposely campy film with a virtually all-punk cast but regardless of the kind of unhinged feel you want a movie to have, you have to take some aspects of it seriously or the story simply won’t work. For instance, if you want to have an anti-authoritarian feel, then it’s not the best idea to have a cop with neck tattoos and a fake mustache acting like an over-the-top clown. It would have been far more subversive to play the cops straight and corrupt which would not only establish a feeling of genuine disgust for them from the audience but also give credibility to the struggles of the protagonists against them. As it is, it’s far too silly to make you care at all what happens and the times when the film does actually ask you to take it seriously, you simply can’t.

I find it ironic that despite the rebellious, counter-culture feel McAlarney is trying to achieve, the actual viewing experience itself becomes very similar to watching a sanitized Hollywood blockbuster. In both cases you are viewing films where you can’t take the characters or the plot seriously, so are not invested in either and are simply watching for the visual stimulation. The fact that that stimulation is nudity, cheap violence and gross-out gags rather than top-notch special effects doesn’t change the fact that it is mindless, escapist entertainment.

I also have to talk about the acting in this film. I’m not going to mince words here, it’s bad….really bad. To be fair, the occasional actor here or there was able to drum up a passable performance but for the most part the acting was unwatchably awful. I’m sure this was largely due to the fact that a lot of the primary cast seemed to be made up of non-actors or newcomers, save a few cameos from several (somewhat) recognizable actors. I’m not sure whether McAlarney wanted non-actors for a more authentic feel or if that was simply all he could get, but either way, having people who are unable to effectively create a suspension of disbelief makes the experience feel less authentic, not more.

Overall, I did enjoy the more fucked-up aspects of this film and the general look and style of it. If McAlarney had actually included a cohesive and interesting story and put some effort into at least trying to make the characters feel fleshed out and realistic, this could perhaps have been an effective film. As it is though, it looks more like something a bunch of college kids got together and shot over a weekend, using a loose outline instead of a script and paying the actors in beer.

1.5 Stars Red

Short Film Review: The Last Halloween (2013) Duration: 10 min 15 sec

The Last HalloweenIt is still a bit early yet to think about but, believe it or not, Halloween is right around the corner. In the spirit of that horror-themed holiday which is so near and dear to our black hearts, I decided to review the 2013 short The Last Halloween.

The film was written and directed by Marc Roussel and tells the story of four kids trick ‘r treating in a post-apocalyptic town that has been decimated by an unknown epidemic. Despite the dismal setting the evening seems to be progressing well enough for them. That is, until they get to the last house where the owner, Jack, (Ron Basch) is less than welcoming.

For an indie short, the film certainly does have good production values and the decrepit town is well designed and detailed. The story is also interesting and Roussel does a good job building tension in a short amount of time. There are also nice touches throughout, such as Jack’s wife Kate (Emily Alatalo) looking forlornly at an empty crib which is genuinely sad moment that is subtly and effectively executed. In addition, I would be remiss if I didn’t properly acknowledge the excellent sound design which adds a level of professionalism to the production.

All that being said however, there were some significant issues to be found with the film as well. I don’t like to call out particular actors but I have to point out that while Basch’s performance was fine, it wasn’t quite to the level where he was fully selling the suspension of disbelief. During his screen time I felt quite aware that I was watching someone act and as a result wasn’t able to be fully immersed in the story.

The next issue involves the climax of the film and is simply too big to be ignored. I won’t give full on spoilers but if you are insistent on going into the film as fresh as possible I recommend taking the ten minutes now to pull the film up on YouTube before finishing the review.

Alright, all set now? So, suffice to say, the climax involves several monsters which, and there’s just no other way to say this, aren’t realistic enough to look scary. In fact, the scariest and tensest moment of the film was right before the monsters are revealed. After that, there is no denying you are looking at people in latex masks, quality ones certainly, but clearly masks nonetheless. In fact, at this point in the film the tone shifts to something more closely resembling a haunted house at an amusement park then a genuinely scary horror film.

Now, of course I understand the limitations of indie budgets but I feel that if the scene had simply been shot in a different way the end result could have been drastically different. For instance, obscuring the creatures in the shadows more and favoring quick edits rather than drawn-out closeups may have helped to create an atmosphere of genuine menace while also hiding the imperfections.

Overall though, a solid film that is definitely worth taking ten minutes to check out especially if you want to get into the spirit of All Hallows Eve as it draws ever closer.

2.5 Stars Red

Short Film Review: Familiar (2012) Duration: 24 min

FamiliarWith this review I conclude my current binge of Richard Powell shorts with his 2012 film Familiar, which was made between his shorts Worm and Heir. After seeing the caliber of his other films I was very intrigued to see how this one would stack up to the others and if he could in fact maintain the high level of quality I’ve come to expect from his films.

Naturally, the film stars Robert Nolan who also played the lead in both Worm and Heir. Similar to his character in Worm, Nolan plays John Dodd, a man who projects a facade of dutiful kindness but inside seethes with hate and disgust, this time for his wife and teenage daughter. As his hateful inner monologue becomes more angry and extreme, the question becomes “how far will he go to indulge the ugliness that lives inside him?”

It’s no surprise that Powell continues to use Robert Nolan as the lead for his films because he once again delivers a spot-on performance that subtly conveys the complex emotions of his character through his nuanced and skilled acting. It is not easy to play a character that is simultaneously hiding his true emotions from the other characters as well as subtly revealing them to the audience, but Nolan walks that line perfectly. Of course, supporting actors are also essential to the success of a film and Astrida Auza and Cat Hostick (John’s wife and daughter respectively) also deliver excellent, realistic performances that help immerse you in the world of the film.

In my review of Worm, I mentioned that although it was in fact a great film there were a few areas I felt could have been improved upon. Powell must have had similar thoughts when he made this because what he has delivered here is essentially a very similar story but with the supernatural elements as well as the brutal, gory climax that I felt Worm was lacking. This also allowed an opportunity for him to employ some gloriously grotesque special effects which look great even by Hollywood standards and are very impressive to see in a short film.

The storyline, which I always consider to be the most important part of any film, was also very well done here. I appreciate that it was well paced and showed what needed to be shown to move the story along without getting bogged down in unnecessary details or allowing the scenes to drag. The story is also genuinely unpredictable and set in a world where truly anything could happen.

Bottom line, another great one from Powell and company. I really hope he’s able to break into feature film territory soon because if he does, he could be the kind of unique and brilliant voice that is always needed out there in a world full of remakes and refuse. My one piece of advice for him would be to maintain his artistic integrity at all costs. The world doesn’t need any more directors of watered-down Hollywood sequels and if he can deliver the same kind of uncompromising brilliance in a feature film that we’ve seen in his shorts, then he just may carve out a place in film history as a significant filmmaker that is talked about for years to come.

4.5 Stars Red

Short Film Review: Worm (2010) Duration: 21 min 02 sec

WormFor this review I once again go into the dark mind of Richard Powell and dissect his 2010 short, Worm. After giving out one of my very rare five star ratings to his 2015 short Heir I was certainly interested to see how his other work compared. Does it stand on equal footing with the later film or is there a progression to the quality of his films that culminates in the outstanding 2015 film? Well, let’s discuss. By the way, some aspects of the ending are referenced here, not a full on reveal of course but all the same I feel a spoiler alert is warranted for this review just in case.

The plot of this film can be pretty simply summed up as a look inside the mind of an angry, burned-out high school teacher who has to put on a polite facade to interact with a world full of people he despises. This is definitely a concept that many of us can relate to, the difference between the fake, polite side we have to show the world and the true feelings that lurk underneath.

Frequent Powell collaborator Robert Nolan stars as said angry teacher and, as I expected, delivers another excellent performance full of subtly, realism and complex emotions that linger just beneath the surface. In fact, the entire cast, made up mostly of high school age teens, does a great job and portray their roles very effectively. I was pleased to see this because I feel like the competency of all actors in any given film, right down to the extras, is a detail that can make or break the overall quality of the film itself.

As far as the story is concerned, I do like the concept but found the overall film a bit anti-climatic. Now I’m sure this was a conscious choice by Powell to take the story in an even more unconventional direction but still, I was hoping there would be a supernatural element tied in or at least some gruesome violence.

I by no means think that gore and violence are a requirement for a film to be compelling or even disturbing, but in this case I feel that Worm needed a larger sense of purpose and a more significant event to occur in the protagonist’s life to bring the story to the next level. I would also mention that while the idea of a teacher losing his mind to progressively violent fantasies is in fact frightening conceptually, I would not actually classify this as a horror film, more of an unsettling drama.

Overall though, a very solid film that is well acted, well shot, and certainly compelling enough to easily hold your interest through the duration. Not quite Heir but still an interesting and engaging short that offers a glimpse of great things to come.

3.5 Stars Red

Comic Book Review: Lucio Fulci’s Zombie-Issue #1 (2016)

zombie_coverFor this review I’m doing something a little different and I will actually be reviewing issue #1 of the comic book adaptation of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. Since comics are such a different medium than films I felt it didn’t make sense to use the same star rating system I typically use for films. So for this review I will be omitting that entirely and simply letting the review speak for itself.

Most Horror fans are already well acquainted with Fulci’s classic film and those of you who aren’t should become so in a hurry. Issue #1 covers about the first quarter or so of the film’s storyline which, for the uninitiated, is as follows: A seemingly abandoned sailboat floats into a New York City harbor and before long it’s lone zombie passenger begins spreading the infection to others. Meanwhile, Ann Bowels, the adult daughter of the ship’s conspicuously absent owner, teams up with investigative journalist Peter West to solve the mystery of what really happened to her father.

The comic stays quite true to the source material but this is by no means a shot-for-shot retelling and some adjustments were certainly made from the original film. However, that is not meant as a criticism because the tweaks and adjustments that were made, most of which minor, work entirely to the benefit of the story.

The largest change is undoubtedly the Voodoo-themed opening which does not appear at all in the film but does a fantastic job of setting the delightfully gruesome tone for the comic. In addition it also establishes the importance of the Voodoo mythology as a central theme and integral part of the story. Writer/editor Stephen Romano keeps the pacing tight with a storyline that pays appropriate homage to the film while also moving the plot along effectively. By virtue of the medium, the comic is also able to delve into the thoughts and backstories of the characters a bit, thereby adding a layer of depth to their experiences.

As with any form of zombie art, the gore is a key element. I knew going into this that it would be a determining factor in deciding if this was a worthy adaptation or not. While the effects of the original film may seem somewhat dated by today’s standards, there is no denying their visceral brutality as Fulci took them to gloriously graphic levels. Well, I am happy to report that the comic does not disappoint and gleefully soaks the pages in waves of crimson brutality. The art is well-rendered and visceral and perfectly captures the uninhibitedly gruesome tone of the film.

Also included at the end is an article in which Romano discusses the backstory of how this adaptation came to be in the first place, which is in and of itself is an interesting read. All in all a great adaptation and an excellent first issue that does justice to the film and kicks the series off right!