Short films are challenging because in almost no time you need to establish the world, the stakes, and make the audience care about what’s happening. Final Gasp seems to struggle a bit with some of these concepts as it tells the story of a young woman (Catarina Carvalho) who receives a mysterious package while alone in the apartment. From a storyline perspective all the necessary information is provided, but since other characters play such key roles in the story, it would have been more effective if we had actually seen them rather than only having them referred to or interacted with through text convos.
This is largely a one person show and Carvalho does a solid job working within the space she is given. The film is very competently shot (not a given for microbudget projects like this) and director David E. Teixeira does an effective job building tension and dread within a confined space. I also enjoy the otherworldly quality the film takes on at times and Teixeira economically uses camera angles, everyday objects, and a haunting score to great effect.
Unfortunately, it also succumbs to common screenwriting pitfalls such as characters making illogical and perplexing choices in service of moving the story forward, when it’s always scarier to see someone do everything right and still be put in danger. I mean, maybe instead of just using your phone as a flashlight, take two seconds and try calling the police. A bit of a mixed bag ultimately, but still a decent film that could have been a very good film had there been a more stringent evaluation of each story beat prior to shooting.
No release date as of review, follow David E. Teixeira on Twitter at @davidemmanuelt for further updates and info.
Every movie is made for a reason. More often than not that reason is nothing more than the rapid commodification of something resembling entertainment that is regurgitated out onto the market simply to make money. Other films eschew any concerns of commercial success in service of presenting the artist’s raw, unfiltered expression of ideas. In the simplest of terms, this is what distinguishes an art film from a commercial one, but whether or not it is a good art film depends on how effectively those ideas can be conveyed to the intended audience. Justine is undeniably an art film as the graphic violence, abstract plot, and incestuous necrophilia (you heard me) are indicative of director Alejandro Hernandez’s uncompromising vision, unburdened by concerns of mass appeal or commercial viability.
The film starts with the titular Justine (Dan Zapata) bruised and battered, telling her story, seemingly to a nurse in a hospital, although the location isn’t explicitly clear. In the retelling, we see the events that lead up to her brutalized state as she is subjected to strange, horrific experiments by the vicious Dr. Rodin (Enrique Diaz Duran) and his colleague. The story is loosely based upon Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue by the Marquis de Sade, and while this text has been adapted to film numerous times, it’s safe to say that this is by far the most graphic and explicit version. While this version does try to pay homage to the classical style of the source material with its verbose and metaphorical dialogue, it’s less faithful to the storyline and subtext of the original work.
De Sade’s novel is widely regarded as a misanthropic commentary on how those who try to lead a virtuous life will ultimately suffer for it, while those who are overtly wicked will prosper, but Hernandez instead concentrates his focus on the more Torture Porny aspects of de Sade’s writing. This version is less about the futility of a young woman’s journey through a morally bankrupt society and more of a Stockholm Syndrome “love” story that takes place in a torture chamber. While I understand the intention behind using more poetic, metaphorical dialogue, it does make the evolving relationship between Justine and Rodin unnecessarily cumbersome to understand if not downright incomprehensible.
A purely cynical read of the film overall might suggest that the flowery dialogue, classical music, and Roman Numerals that separate the chapter breaks might be an overly aspirational attempt to inject profundity into a story that is, at its core, a very base Torture Porn. That wouldn’t be an entirely fair read, however, because despite shortcomings in some areas, there are other aspects of Justine that are executed extremely well.
The acting, for one, is truly impressive and while both leads shine in their respective roles and do the best with what they’ve got to work with, it’s really Dr. Rodin that steals the show. From the physicality to the pathos to the pure wickedness that seems to ooze out of him, Diaz Duran brings out a menace and a believability to the character that is utterly mesmerizing to watch. From a technical proficiency standpoint, this film is also incredibly well made with excellent cinematography and some top-notch brutal gore effects. A more minimalist approach to the dialogue with just enough information to move the story along and a complete excising of the VO narration would have helped this production considerably. Except in rare cases, VO is generally a storytelling crutch used by filmmakers who don’t feel confident that their images can speak for themselves and the visceral imagery in this film has plenty to say on its own.
Justine certainly swings for the fences and while its story is a bit too muddled to reach the emotional and intellectual resonance it so clearly seeks, I do admire it for attempting. This is not to say that it is rendered unwatchable as a result, far from it in fact, and the exquisite viscera and unfiltered brutality alone will make it well worth the price of admission for many gore fans. And the incestuous necrophilia? Well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
Availability: Upcoming Release
Film is releasing in 2023, current date unknown as of review. Visit https://tetrovideo.com for updates and info.
For many horror fans (especially those of us of a certain age) the Crypt Keeper holds a special place in our black little hearts. There have been many different types of horror anthology hosts ranging from the dignified and austere to the goofy and ridiculous. While the Crypt Keeper was certainly more the latter, there was something about that shriveled little monstrosity spouting out unbelievably cringey puns that just made him so goddamn endearing. The Keeper may not have been the first horror host, but he remains one of the more memorable ones and ever since, numerous horror anthologies have tried to put in their own host that can bring a similar level of macabre campy energy to the experience….with varying success. Enter Vampus, the titular host of Vampus Horror Tales, an old man in a black cloak whose odd, off kilter persona isn’t likely to be igniting any long-running horror franchises in the foreseeable future.
Going down well-trodden territory of not just Tales From the Crypt but also Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat, etc each segment Vampus introduces comes from the pages of a comic book. Although the film seems to frame our intrepid host as winsomely grim he comes across more as unhinged and homicidal between stories, as we see him bludgeon a woman to death with a hammer, and give a young couple hot dogs before chainsawing off their heads. At one point he beats a man to death with a shovel before turning to the camera and saying “I guess it was curiosity that killed the cat.” Oh, that wacky Vampus. I’m all for the violence (if anything there should have been more of it onscreen than off) but the film isn’t really able to strike the right balance in tone as it fails at attempts to flesh Vampus out as the morbidly charming character it clearly wants him to be.
The real meat and potatoes of any anthology isn’t the framing device, it’s the stories themselves and these horror tales tell a variety of stories such as a well-dressed couple trapped in a room, a birthday party in a haunted theme park, a blind woman stuck in a house with a dangerous man and a post-apocalyptic viral outbreak. The acting was solid across the board and the film is well shot, but the stories vary wildly scene to scene from the intriguing to the mundane to the borderline incoherent at times. This isn’t helped by the fact that this Spanish language film contains white subtitles that aren’t bordered and have a habit of repeatedly disappearing into any bright sections of the scene. There’s nothing inherently terrible here but there isn’t anything inherently great either and if you’re in the market for a Spanish horror anthology with some real bite to it you’d be better served sinking your teeth into Mexico Barbaro instead.
Availability: Widely Available
Available on multiple streaming platforms to rent or buy as of streaming debut in February 2023.
Film is primarily a visual language and if you want to convey something to the audience in under three minutes then your visuals need to be on point and memorable. Such is the case with White Willow which deftly communicates a gruesome little story about self mutilation that won’t soon leave your mind. The film’s sole performer (Emily Lamberski) turns in a solid, compelling performance which is further enhanced by the excellent SFX work by makeup artist Jess Marie. Writer/director Ryan Swantek’s quick cuts and eerie ambiance create a jarring, unsettling experience while establishing a character who I would be happy to see more of in a feature or another short. A fun, nasty little piece that’s sure to get under your skin.
Ambiguity in film is a difficult needle to thread, holding back just enough information to give the audience something to chew on afterwards without omitting key details required for supporting the action onscreen. In under fifteen minutes, Kiddo establishes a very intriguing world brought to life by excellent acting, a great visual style, and some nice moments of brutality. The sense of dread is palpable right from the beginning as we join middle-aged woman Kiddo (Lisa Howard) on a bus full of teens, all of them clad in matching pink jumpsuits. As the bus winds lazily through the bucolic countryside, it’s very clear that all is not right here and it might have something to do with the couple of rough-looking guys on the bus who aren’t dressed like the others.
I can’t go into more detail than that without getting into spoilers but suffice to say Kiddo has a very solid concept and executes it perfectly from a technical aspect. The only points where it falters slightly are a few moments of illogical character choices and some aspects of the world-building that don’t quite connect the dots. It’s still an incredibly accomplished piece of filmmaking and something that I would very much like to see expanded into a feature. This would provide more time to delve into the larger story and answer some of the burning questions about what is really going on to firmly solidify the reality of the world it created.
The Blood of the Dinosaurs is a strange, surreal experience that feels like the fever dream that would play through your head if you dropped acid after bingeing Mr. Rogers. The film opens with a fourth wall breaking convo between writer/director Joe Badon one of the actors (Tiffany Christy, credited as “Natural Mother”) who appears to sincerely be asking him, “what the hell is this movie about?” From there it moves on to the true beginning where a mixed media stop motion scene depicts the cataclysmic comet strike that ended the dinosaurs. After that we segue into the real meat of the film which focuses on Uncle Bobbo the dead-eyed lead of a children’s TV show who has a penchant for staring menacingly into the camera. Everything about the program feels more than a little off as Uncle Bobbo runs through his routine with the help of his young assistant Purity (Stella Creel). As Uncle Bobbo seems to be visibly struggling with mental health issues the world of the film plunges further and further into full-blown surreal territory.
Orgasms are overlaid with imagery of pumping oil derricks and ice cream, hard cuts to fake YouTube videos of DIY experiments, there’s a horrific birth, kaleidoscopic imagery assaults the viewer and so much more that all must really be seen to be comprehended. So, what the hell is it all about? That’s not an easy question to answer as the film is less about a conventional narrative structure and more about the visual exploration of themes and concepts such as reproduction, death, rebirth, and the cyclical nature of existence. Far from being a maddeningly obtuse series of images, The Blood of the Dinosaurs presents an intriguing surrealist expression of ideas with layers that benefit from close examination and interpretation.
No release date as of review, visit joebadon.com for further info.
“The goriest film since the original Fleas in 2016!” a quote attributed to no one boldly claims on the back of the DVD case for Fleas 2: Home Remedies. Now, (shockingly) I haven’t seen the original Fleas, so I can’t speak to its supposed levels of gore, but while Fleas 2 is many things, the goriest of any category it is not. Giving Evan Jacobs (director/co-star/co-writer of this two-man project) the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he meant it was the goriest film within the esteemed Fleas cinematic universe. Maybe (hopefully) it was a joke, but in case it wasn’t, Jacobs might want to take a cursory glance through the horror section on Amazon Prime or better yet see the real contenders for that title at Unearthed Films, Tetro Video or A Baroque House.
The plot (such as it is) follows Quentin (Mike Hartsfield, who also co-wrote) and Bob (Jacobs), a couple of dim bulbs that seem to have avoided the curse of total isolation through companionship with each other. Now, I should take a moment to clarify that “co-wrote” may be a bit of a stretch, as the movie appears to be not so much improved but….unscripted. Anyway, the faux-documentary style production is made up of a series of recordings that Bob makes of his friend trying to dig out an ingrown toenail with a razor, a task that gets more gruesome the longer it goes on.
Yes, that really is the entire plot of this hour long film, but within that limited scope there are actually some things that Fleas 2 pulls off really well. Chief among them is the opening shot which sets a strong tone with a self-mutilation scene that is so effectively cringe-inducing it’s sure to have you squirming in your seat. The FX are very minimal and DIY throughout, but for the most part do an admirably convincing job conveying the grotesqueness of the situation. I also appreciated how the actors managed to do a solid job creating characters that were decently fleshed out (and unsettlingly true to life) while having very little to work with.
The real problem here is that this is a unique and impressively uncomfortable ten minute film that is dragged down by fifty minutes of repetitive filler just to get it to the incredibly awkward runtime of an hour. Currently neither a short nor a feature, Fleas 2 is unquestionably made better by following through on the initial momentum of the opening scene and sparing the audience the incessant repetition of the phrase “you need to go to the doctor” and the brutally compulsive overuse of the word “dude”. If nothing meaningful is going to happen in the story then we don’t need multiple scenes of two guys picking up takeout or endlessly bickering about whether or not this particular home surgery is a good idea. An aggressively trimmed down cut would make Fleas 2 an intriguing curiosity and not the Sisyphean task of endurance that it currently is.
At what point does a sexually explicit art film simply become porn, and what is the distinction between art and porn exactly? A large part is the director’s intention but it’s also about the ratio between scenes with fucking and scenes without and where the real focus of the film is. Porn is porn because the main event is the sex and everything else is either lead up to that or filler. The only value the non-explicit scenes have is how much they prop up and enhance the explicit ones. A sexually explicit art film by contrast is focused on expressing ideas and uses sexuality as a tool in service of that rather than simply being a vehicle for titillating imagery. It seems obvious enough but aspirationally artistic porn films and excessively explicit art films have a way of muddying the waters.
While Hyde’s Secret Nightmare positions itself as an art film, a case can be made that it is nestled a bit more snugly in the gray area than it would like to admit. The story follows a young doctor/mad scientist Henry Chagall (Claudio Zanelli) who is desperately trying to find a scientific solution to cure his impotence. His work involves a lot of shady use of stolen female corpses and (somehow) he stumbles upon an elixir that turns him into a beautiful woman (Roberta Gemma) for a short period of time. Once he is in this new form, he adopts the persona “Eva Hyde” and starts exploring the world from a different perspective. This leads him on a journey of self-discovery filled with graphic ultra-violence and a whole lotta explicit sex.
There’s a lot to unpack in the movie’s more than two hour runtime but what jumps out the most here is that this is a film of strange choices. No, I’m not talking about all the genital mutilation, violent murders, necrophilia, and explicit fucking, that part I get. I’m more referring to the fact that the characters break into near-constant soliloquies delivered straight to camera that cover a range of lofty topics such as feminism, the ethical implications of animal testing, theology, etc. In case these unrelated divergences weren’t 4th wall breaking enough, writer/director Domiziano Cristopharo also occasionally includes the pre-take slates for, uh….some reason. Another piece that sticks out is the fact that Henry’s assistant Hans (Giovanni la Gorga) is constantly referred to as old and crippled but the actor looks barely older than Henry himself and no effort is made to cosmetically adjust his appearance to fit how the character is described.
Curious choices aside, there is also a lot that Nightmare does right and it unquestionably falls into the Extreme Cinema category. There is no shortage of graphic, unsimulated penetration and the film is also not limited to heteronormative coupling, which is nice touch. There are also some moments that really stood out to me such as a blowjob that turns into a dick being graphically bitten off and an unsimulated scene where a couple sews themselves together, piercing various parts of their bodies with a large needle including their faces and genitals. The performances are decent overall and Zanelli especially brings a great energy and earnestness to his role.
I always appreciate explicit sexuality being incorporated into a film but the sheer abundance of it, and the fact that the plot seems structured around it rather than vice versa, cheapens the experience. This is actually a situation where a “less is more” philosophy can give the explicit scenes more impact as seen in more plot-centric films such as Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell, or John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. The film does touch on some interesting ideas, such as gender fluidity and identity, but merely pays lip service to them rather than digging in and exploring more fully. This is unfortunate since a modern, explicit retelling of the Jekyll & Hyde story viewed through the lens of gender identity and societal stigmas could have been fertile ground for some interesting commentary. So, while light on substance, Nightmare does provide a generous amount of unfiltered sexuality and well-crafted violence that should make the journey worth it for fans of Extreme Cinema.
Queer horror is an underrepresented subgenre that despite being around for decades still struggles with visibility and acceptance. Certain filmgoers may be resistant to the idea that you don’t necessarily have to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community to be able to enjoy films created within it or at the very least aren’t actively seeking them out. Regardless, the subgenre continues to gain more mainstream traction as higher profile films are released. There’s a good chance you’ve seen, or at least heard about, 2018’s The Perfection or 2019’s Spiral and if you are part of the Extreme Cinema community, then there’s a very good chance you are familiar with 29 Needles. It’s a bit less likely that you are familiar with the surreal indie gem Playdurizm from 2020 but to be fair, there was kinda a lot going on that year.
After a trippy opening scene, the film starts off with a young man named Demir (Gem Deger) who wakes up with amnesia in a strange apartment that he is told he lives in by his apparent roommates Andrew (Austin Chunn) and Andrew’s (sort of) girlfriend Drew (Issy Stewart). Strange is the operative word here as everything seems a bit off; from the interactions, to the odd decorations and even odder characters who weave into the story. Although Demir has no recollection of his relationship to the people he is told he lives with, he seems to have awoken in the middle of a complicated and hostile situation where tensions are already running murderously high.
In addition to starring in the film, Deger also directed and wrote the short story upon which the film is based. It’s an impressive debut feature and, despite being a low-budget indie film, never feels cheap. The film is ambitious in concept but simple in design and Deger wisely chooses to keep the action contained to a few key locations. I appreciate that, unlike a lot of indie filmmakers out there, he understands that a film looks more professional if you focus on shooting scenes you can actually pull off instead of acting like you’re working with the budget of an Avengers movie.
This film is also weird and I’m there for it, especially when it veers off into surprisingly dark territory with incest, necrophilia and Cronenberg-style body horror. Fortunately, it also grounds itself and instead of just hitting the audience with “weird for the sake of weird” actually has a logic and an order to it that all becomes apparent by the end. Its structure very closely resembles another classic film, although I can’t mention the title without spoiling this one, but when you know, you know.
Now, I hate to call out a particular actor, especially in an indie production, but I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention that despite really looking the part, Austin Chunn’s performance was just a bit too stiff and not quite as convincing as the rest of the cast. It’s ultimately a minor quibble though, as it didn’t stop me from enjoying this strange, unique trip that felt like settling into a nice, cozy nightmare. If the only thing stopping you from taking this ride are some antiquated hang-ups about watching a gay-centric story then it’s time to move past that shit because you are missing out on some incredible and creative pieces of art.
Availability: Widely Available
Available on multiple streaming platforms including Amazon Prime, Google Play and Vudu as well as on Blu-ray.
As a site whose primary goal is to feature reviews of the most fucked up and grotesque films ever made, it’s long over due that the underground company A Baroque House (whose bread and butter is extremely graphic erotic horror shorts) had some representation. That’s not to say this is a review of the company’s varied output as a whole but since Sadistic Pleasures was a first time watch for me, it seemed a good one to start on for an unbiased and fresh take on the merits of that particular film.
It’s important to meet films on their own terms and understand the goal of a particular production to be able to assess how successful it is at achieving it. Since this film has about as much plot as early Guinea Pig entries, it’s not really fair to judge what is essentially just scenes of erotic titillation followed by graphic mutilation by conventional narrative standards. Instead, you must understand that this is down-n-dirty underground shock cinema meant to deliver a jolt to the more primal parts of your brain by delivering a taboo experience that you won’t be able to find on any conventional streaming service.
The film starts with a nameless young woman (Kaiia Eve) playing to the camera as she starts to put on a progressively more explicit show for the viewer. This continues for a little while until hands come into frame from an off-screen person (Leila Lewis) and things start to get a lot rougher, even escalating into a bit of cutting and knife play (simulated). The woman is soon drugged with a syringe full of a mysterious dark liquid and the real brutality begins.
Given the previously mentioned criteria, my main complaints center around areas that could have been tightened up to make the viewing a more cohesive and satisfying experience. The fact that the footage cuts between handheld POV and set-up shots is disorienting and makes it hard to establish where the characters are in time and space and what the viewers relationship to them is. The film would have been better served either leaning all the way into the handheld POV and framing the whole thing in more of a found footage context or visually distinguishing between the POV and the other shots so it doesn’t completely demolish the fourth wall when she looks right down the barrel of the camera.
It would have also been nice to have a little bit of dialogue to establish the context and maybe some interaction between the girl and the person behind the camera to make the situation she’s in a bit more clear. Regardless, the film has to be judged on what it does have and to that end there are some impressive visual elements that I want to call out. The scene that was particularity noteworthy was the image of the woman lying on the bed, brutalized and covered in bandages except where Eve’s real life tattoo of a demonic face on her lower belly remains perfectly framed by blood soaked gauze. Its a moment of horrific beauty and works excellently with the ominous sound design that accompanies it.
The FX here are also pretty on point, especially in a scene that features the best graphic breast cutting since The House that Jack Built, helped in large part by the attention to detail that went into making the prosthetic match Eve’s actual tattoos. So while Sadistic Pleasures may not have much to offer from a narrative or intellectual standpoint, it gets right down to business by delivering some edgy, uncensored content and at 23 minutes doesn’t overstay its welcome.