Playdurizm (2020)

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.

How to Raise Women from the Dead (2021)

Mutilation performance artist/musician Daniel Valient is back with another batch of twisted videos from his band White Gardenia. While Blood Tastes Like Perfume was more of a standard collection of the kind of videos fans of the band would expect to find (and may have already seen online) How to Raise Women from the Dead takes a big swing with some new content and goes in a very different direction. In art, taking risks is often necessary for growth but is also inherently a gamble, so lets discuss to what degree it did (or did not) pay off in this case.

The first disc in this two disc set is the Blu-ray featuring four separate videos on the main menu. The primary draw here is the short The Secret Perfume of Decay which marks Valient’s first foray into proper narrative storytelling as a director. This departure from the more abstract and experimental work that White Gardenia is known for is part of the risk I was referring too but ultimately was not nearly as significant a change as the other videos would end up being. These are experimental in a whole different way as all three of them are comprised of a series of static images with audio clips playing over them that discussed transhumanism and the singularity in depth with a particular focus on the scientist Frank J Tipler.

For the uninitiated, the concept of transhumanism ultimately boils down to a philosophical and intellectual movement based around the goal of conquering death through advanced technology. The singularity is the hypothetical point at which artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, becomes self-aware, and creates an irreversible and uncontrollable change that permanently alters the course of humanity. If this is a subject that interests you then you may find these segments to be informative and enlightening but if not then watching them feels a lot like being cornered by a belligerent family member who is dead-set on converting you to their religion. This is certainly a rich topic to explore but it would have been better done through some kind of artistic interpretation rather than an information dump of raw audio interviews.

On the other hand, in The Secret Perfume of Decay Valient does a good job portraying the story of a nameless serial killer and his most recent victim, both played by uncredited actors. The short still features Gardenia’s trademark self-mutilation, off-kilter tone, and a very interesting appearance by Valient himself which was the highlight of the whole experience. I also enjoyed learning about the real-world practice of re-creating paper mâché busts of unknown victims in the 60’s and 70’s which lead to some incredibly uncanny and downright creepy results. While very different in form from the other shorts it is still tied to them thematically as transhumanist views of death and resurrection play heavily into the story. My only major complaint here is Valient’s over reliance on text cards when he would have been better served following the classic “show don’t tell” rule of filmmaking.

The other disc in pack is labeled as “Extras Disc” and in a bewildering formatting choice features another copy of TSPoD which has been unceremoniously dumped onto an auto-play DVD with no menu, rewind or chapter separation along with ten other Gardenia films. I’m very pleased at the inclusion of these films as this is the first time any of them have been released onto physical media but am confused why they weren’t featured prominently on the main disc with the long form audio interviews more fittingly relegated to the extras section.

While I did like TSPoD, the real gem of this collection is the inclusion of some classic WG shorts that I absolutely adore. Films like (m.i.p.a.m.h, Mobius Strip and Video for Teilhard de Chardin) exemplify White Gardenia at its best, showcasing the surreal, abstract and disturbing content they are known for. These are the kind of deeply unsettling, genuinely strange videos that feel like something you would wander into in the darker corners of the internet and help to make up for the inclusion of some overly tepid BDSM and the absolutely egregious inclusion of the censored version (!) of A Perfume Made from Blood and Tears. In short, the disc is a mix of highs and lows which is an apt description of the overall collection itself but in both cases there is enough great content to be found within to make it well worth having in your collection.

Availability: Limited

Limited copies of the two disc set are available https://www.abaroquehouse.com while supplies last.

Short Film Review: Mirror Mirror (2021) Duration 10 min 52 sec.

Mirror Mirror is a tight, 11 minute film that focuses on a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (David Brown-King) as his personalities Anthony and Tony wrestle for control of his body. Brown-King is a one man show and does an excellent job carrying the entire film on his own, no easy task considering that the bulk of the movie is confined to a single, claustrophobic bathroom. Even within this limited space, writer/director Harmeet Singh Grewal does an effective job keeping the tension and audience engagement up thanks to compelling camera work and an ominous, foreboding soundtrack.

When dealing with the subject of mental health it can be difficult to walk the line of creating a heightened situation while not coming across as exploitative. I’m no mental health expert but from my perspective, the film did a solid job presenting the condition in its most extreme and dangerous form without crossing over into parody territory. The text at the end re-enforces the fact that the short was made with the intention of bringing awareness to the situation and those afflicted by it rather than using it as a cheap tactic to elicit drama. That’s not to say it’s without entertainment value though, as Mirror Mirror delivers its message with a healthy dose of psychological horror and dread.

Availability: Moderately Available

Film can be viewed in its entirety for free on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/577752191.

Double Feature: The Girl with the Cutter/Golgota (2021)

Today I’ll be doing something a little bit different as I talk about the recently released double feature by underground Extreme Cinema director Mikel Balerdi (Vore Gore, Larva Mental). The release features both The Girl with the Cutter and Golgota whose combined running time only totals about 78 minutes and as they are packaged together, I will be discussing both within the same review. Things kick off with the more produced of the two,The Girl with the Cutter, which stars Cofi Valduvieux as a woman struggling with mental illness and the urge to self-harm with a boxcutter.

Information about both films is pretty sparse, but from what I understand TGwtC was inspired by a set of real pictures that gained notoriety within certain circles of the internet featuring an unknown young woman who had performed some of the most graphic and extreme self-mutilation ever seen. The film itself seems to be a creative reimagining of her life, the events that lead to her cutting, and where it may have ultimately taken her. Even though the untranslated (Italian?) text in the beginning seems to state that this was based on real events and some of the actual source photos are intercut throughout the film, her story is really more of a creative springboard to launch the fictional narrative than an account of what actually happened.

Golgota on the other hand is a different animal entirely and is about as down-n-dirty and to the point as Extreme Cinema gets. There is no plot to speak of just real footage of a Dark Web performer known only as Wendy putting on her debaucherous show while Balerdi films her in a forever tainted hotel room. Aside from minimal editing and some background noises put in to further enhance the unpleasantness of the experience, this is really just six segments (labeled as 1 hour, 2 hour, etc) that feature ever heightening acts of depravity. Think Two Girls, One Cup crossed with a White Gardenia video so, needles to say, those with weak stomachs need not apply.

TGwtC represents a significant step forward in terms of technique from what we saw from Balerdi in Larva Mental most notably in the editing department. The glitching effect he employs throughout the film really adds a level to the fragmenting reality and surreal aspects of the story as we see Valduvieux’s character spiral further down the rabbit hole. He is also able to create some effectively scary shots using relatively simple make-up effects and camera work. Credit also must be given to Valduvieux who delivers a committed and compelling performance through what I imagine must have been a physically taxing shoot. The graphic special effects are incredibly well made and the inclusion of the real pics adds a disturbing layer of reality to the whole experience.

While this segment is ultimately very successful and well made, there were still a few notes I had about the production. Chief among them is the footage of her everyday life as well as some idyllic memories that I know were meant to give depth and dimension to her character but ultimately succeeded in slowing the film down. The scenes were too disjointed and random to effectively add to the storyline and Balerdi would have been better served by either further expanding the whole segment into a proper narrative with a fleshed out story or excising them in favor of creating a more streamlined and purely surreal, fast-paced experience. Furthermore, opening text tells us the film takes place in 1990 which is a baffling choice as it adds nothing to the story and only succeeds in making the cars, smart phone and the Asus laptop feel incredibly anachronistic.

As for Golgota it’s hard to judge its merits as a film as it isn’t so much a movie as a shock video. Still, there is something compelling and intriguing in the presentation and as soon as the ambiguous title screen comes up you know you are about to journey into some very dark territory with imagery that can shock and repulse, even in this jaded age of easily accessible atrocities. I will say though, the fact that the shot of her actually shitting and everything that happens next is separated by an edit may undermine the credibility of the horror that follows for some. While I can’t say with unimpeachable certainty that what we see isn’t a well-crafted forgery as Pasolini did in Salo, given what I know of Balerdi’s work and the underground nature of the production, I find it extremely unlikely that this is anything but genuine.

So, while these two films may be different in some key ways, they do work together to create an effectively disturbing and truly extreme work of boundary-pushing art. It may not be perfect but in the end it manages to be a harrowing experience that any fan of truly provocative cinema owes it to themselves to partake in. Plus, Golgota has the unsavory distinction of being the only film I’ve ever seen that made me physically gag while watching it. So there’s that.

Availability: Limited

Limited copies of the DVD available on http://www.tetrovideo.com and http://www.goredrome.com while supplies last.

Short Film Review: Last Orders (2021) Duration 21 min

Regardless of the length, a good film should hook you right from the start, and what better way to do that than an intriguing premise that establishes a mystery that you can’t wait to get to the bottom of. Last Orders does just this with a bartender (Alastair Parker), a gunman, and a mysterious man named Samael (Steven Elder) who knows far more than he’s letting on. The story is brought to life by the excellent, realistic performances from the leads and exquisite, professional production values that make the world feel truly lived in. Throughout most of the runtime it seemed as though Last Orders was on track to hit it out of the park but film is akin to gymnastics in that the flourishes don’t mean much if you can’t stick the landing.

I’m not saying that the incredible amount of talent on display is fully negated by an unsatisfying ending, but it does diminish the overall experience. It’s unfortunate to see such a well made film fall into the same trap that so many other movies (and to a greater extent TV shows) fall into by setting up an amazing premise that it isn’t able to fully deliver on. The film puts forward some very interesting ideas and while I can see where writer/director Jon James Smith was trying to go with it, the pieces simply don’t fit together to get it there. What I’d really like to see is a re-cut version that connects the dots and lets this become the great film it was meant to be.

Availability: Unavailable

No release date as of review, visit http://www.jonjamessmith.com for updates and further information.

Demigod (2021)

Imagine just how many lives could have been spared in horror movies had outsiders simply heeded the warnings of the Crazy Ralphs of the world and stayed the hell out of cursed areas. Although, that would be significantly less fun for the audience who has signed up for the twisted pleasure of watching at least most of the stubbornly disbelieving travelers be eviscerated in gruesome and (hopefully) creative ways. It really doesn’t need to be a case of either/or, though. I would like to see more characters take the threat seriously but still be unable to escape so that the inciting incident can occur and the fun can begin. Demigod opts to tread down the more well-worn trail to set up the conflict but we’ll see if it can rise above its conventional structure to bring a compelling and original story to light.

Upon receiving news of her estranged grandfather Karl’s passing, Robin (Rachel Nichols) heads to his now vacant home in the Black Forest of Germany to tend to his affairs, bringing her husband Leo (Yohance Myles) along for the ride. Once there, they encounter Arthur (director/co-writer Miles Doleac), an eccentric hunter and former friend of Karl’s who warns them about the supernatural presence that resides in the woods. Before long the three find themselves (along with several other unfortunate locals) embroiled in a desperate fight for survival against an ancient evil that lurks within the woods and the coven of witches that summoned him.

The lesson would seem to be “trust the locals and get the hell out while you can” but since Arthur finds himself in the exact same predicament as the outsider couple despite having intimate knowledge of the dangers that lurk in the woods, it turns out that it doesn’t matter after all. This feels less like an intentional choice by Doleac and more of an oversight, especially as it is far from the only inconsistency we witness in the film. That’s not to say that there isn’t still a lot to like about this movie and, despite the predictable set-up, there is a lot of tension to be had and a story that is compelling enough to grab your attention.

The experience of watching it is pretty much the definition of a mixed bag as the film will hit high points that are undone by low points which repeat the cycle to ultimately land somewhere in the middle. The visual style of the film itself is a good example of this as the overall quality falls within the flat look we’ve come to expect from low-budget digital only to be broken up by a strikingly creative shot or a very well executed special effect. The end result settles in the area of “good” but a more aggressively abstract filmmaking style, acting that is brilliant rather than fine, and a storyline whose tension didn’t peter out towards the end due to some unnecessarily long-winded speeches could have bumped it to the category of “great”.

The part that sticks out more than any other however is the look of the demigod himself. It’s hard to have a convincingly scary monster on an independent budget and Doleac wisely opts to shoot around the creature throughout most of the film offering glimpses rather than full-on shots. Unfortunately, he chooses to abandon this practice towards the end of the film letting the audience come face-to-face with the sheer terror of a sensibly-priced Halloween mask (and yes the red, laser eyes hurt more than they help). Still, the end result is a film with some effectively bloody kills and a few solid stretches of genuine tension so, while it may not be a masterpiece, it’s a decent enough way to spend an hour and a half.

Availability: Upcoming Release

Film is being released in select theaters and on VOD on 10/15/21.

Short Film Review: Sleep Tight (2019) Duration 8 min

Horror and comedy so often go hand-in-hand but the key to executing the combination effectively is to ensure that its not just the jokes that land but the scares, too. Sleep Tight portrays a scenario that will no doubt strike a familiar chord with parents of adolescents as a father tries to get his teen son to turn off his video games and go to sleep. The tone is light but there is an inherent truth to the interaction as the father comes to grips with his maturing son, who in turn takes every opportunity to petulantly age-shame his father. When the horror does come, it’s the real deal and writer/director Lewis Taylor does a great job of not only building tension but also following through with well-crafted costume and effects.

There is a great sense of life and movement in the camerawork which is important, especially when confined to a single, small location. The humor isn’t exactly laugh out loud but it mostly works and I appreciated the subtler touches such as the posters in the background for films like Slenderman 2: The Slendering. The only part that really sticks out as a strange inconsistency is a particular shot involving the Necronomicon that feels bizarrely out of place in the world of the story and seems to be little more than a throw-away joke made at the expense of maintaining a cohesive reality. While it may not be perfect, Sleep Tight is still a fun, well-shot film that delivers on the horror and a damn fine way to spend eight minutes.

Availability: Upcoming Release

Film will be available to watch on YouTube on the Omeleto Horror channel starting 09/16/21.

Short Film Review: Waiting (2019) Duration 6 min

“Show, don’t tell”, an old adage that rings especially true for the visual medium of film and one that writer/director Anthony Cally has fully embraced with his dialogue-free short, Waiting. It’s a credit to Cally and everyone involved that his story about a group of people waiting in a bar was so engaging that I wasn’t even cognizant of the fact that no one had spoken a word until after the film finished. It’s a bold move to try and communicate a concept without words, but the brilliant acting, gorgeous, professional production design, and the exquisite use of sound to guide the narrative all work in concert to create a stunning final product.

The story itself is very clever and while it might take viewers a couple of watches to pick up on exactly what is happening, all the clues are provided if you look carefully. As more information is revealed the tension becomes palpable as this seemingly innocuous location is clearly anything but normal. While it does function perfectly as a self-contained story, the world was so engaging that I would love to see it as a springboard into a feature-length continuation. At just about six minutes, this bite-sized short left me hungry for more and as soon as it was finished I immediately had to watch it again. Here’s hoping we see a lot more of Anthony Cally in the future, and that we’re not left waiting too long for his feature debut.

Short Film Review: Filtered (2021) Duration 5 min 39 sec

As we rely more and more on technology to make connections (especially as the ever present quarantine isolation marches on) it makes sense that tech based horror would become more prevalent in the genre in new and interesting ways. Just as Host did last year, Filtered is able to effectively communicate horror and anxiety in the simple yet brilliant format of video chat. With a runtime of less than six minutes, writer/ director Vincenzo Nappi doesn’t have a lot of time to establish characters or backstory, yet is able to make both Jasmine (Jasmine Winter) and Marco (Marco Carreiro) immediately feel genuine and real with the sparse information provided. This goes a long way to making their initially mundane conversation all the more familiar at the start and therefore more frightening by the climax. With simple yet effective imagery that recalls the classic David Lynch shortThe Alphabet at times, this is an amazing piece of bite-sized horror that feels very apropos to the moment.

Short Film Review: Forced Entry (2021) Duration 24 min 24 sec

Typically in short films it’s best to dive right into the action and Forced Entry does just that as it plunges you into the world of psychotic drifter duo Arthur Maddox (Tom Lodewyck) and Donovan Hatche (James Bett Jr). The film follows the pair on a brutal killing spree over the course of a couple of days and was inspired by real life murderers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris who raped and killed five young women in 1979. Even though brief footage of the real killers is shown at the end, the connection they have to the film probably wouldn’t have been clear to anyone who didn’t have the luxury of reading the highly detailed press kit. Even so, the shots do still serve to illustrate the point that our real world is filled with brutal, sadistic violence that usually occurs without much motive or rational explanation.

The story here is definitely pretty bare bones as most of the twenty-four minute runtime is taken up with extended scenes of mean-spirited violence. That’s not at all a bad thing in this case though, because even without a more robust narrative, the film still manages to be highly compelling with some truly impressive practical gore effects and excellent performances from the victims. It also makes sense given the fact that K.M. Jamison (who co-wrote/co-directed with James Bett Jr) said in a statement that the film is intended to function as a kind of showcase for what will hopefully be turned into a feature someday. In that regard it’s highly successful and I’m very on-board to see this nasty little story get fully fleshed-out in all its blood-soaked glory.