Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CLAIRE 'FLUFF' LLEWELLYN'S DIRECTOR'S CUT: A CHEEKY LOOK AT THE MAKING OF AN INDIE HORROR FLICK


Starring, written by, and produced by Claire 'Fluff" Llewellyn, DIRECTOR'S CUT is a cleverly tongue-in-cheek short film looking at the process of making an indie horror film.  Directed by Christopher Kahler, DIRECTOR'S CUT is about a smarmy Indie movie director who inadvertently hires a seductive and evil girl named Jeannie to play the role of a demon in his no budget horror flick.  The director is played by Happy Dave Haskell and he is the epitome of the obnoxious indie horror director.  The delusional mindset that his film is going to "change the horror genre," his poor treatment of his actresses, and his bragging about shooting it on a RED cam was hilariously on par.  Llewellyn has clearly had to deal with her fair share of asshole directors, because she wrote a hell of a bad guy.  "I WILL HAVE NUDITY!" screams the inexperienced (and power hungry) director! The supporting cast of Yvonne Nieves, Janet Mayson, Dana Bernadine, Tina Boivin, Alexandra Roach, Thom Oswald, Mike McCune, Frank Kam, Christopher Kahler, were all fun to watch and gave some pretty solid performance.  Llewellyn's writing is definitely the strongest aspect of this no-budget piece, and at about a half hour, it's an enjoyable piece of independent cinema.  

Find out more about DIRECTOR'S CUT by clicking any of the links below!

Monday, November 18, 2013

FEARING THE FLESH: A REVIEW OF THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE

Dustin Wayde Mills of Dustin Mills Productions is without a doubt one of the most adventurous indie/DIY filmmakers on the market.  The mastermind behind the horror meets Avenue Q flick THE PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE, the Faustian HEART ATTACK! (aka NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES), the brilliantly blasphemous EASTER CASKET, and plenty more dynamite films, Dustin Mills films can usually be expected to contain snappy dialogue, gratuitous nudity, and over the top gore.  It's hard to go into a film titled EASTER CASKET and expect to take it seriously, and the fun aura surrounding his filmography is something I always look forward to.  When I was given the opportunity to watch THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE, I anticipated a hysterical film about a dude without skin.  Well, I got it half right.  THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE is unlike anything I've ever seen of Dustin Mills' work, and it was one of the most refreshing surprises I've ever endured.  If I may be so bold, I believe that THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE is the pinnacle thus far of Dustin Mills Productions.

The story follows the genius Dr. Peter Peele and his partner (and the receiving end of his unrequited love) Dr. Alice Cross.  The two doctors have figured out a way to cure skin cancer and hope that their findings can lead to curing all forms of cancer.  When they are informed that their funding is hanging on the results of unethical testing on stray animals, it appears that the future of their project is coming close to an end.  However, as Dr. Peele himself is secretly suffering a form of skin cancer, he takes matters into his own hands and decides to test on himself.  It quickly becomes apparent that this cure is imperfect, and Dr. Peele's skin begins to deteriorate before his eyes.

Brandon Salkil as Dr. Peter Peele
THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE is not a humorous tale like Mills' earlier creations.  With the disgusting skin deterioration of THANATOMORPHOSE, the struggle of the self testing scientist of Dr. Brundle in THE FLY and the obsessive need to keep hold of the one he loves like MISERY, the story of Dr. Peele is a lovingly sewn together piece of familiar concepts intertwined in unexpected ways.  You genuinely feel for these characters and despite the shoestring budget, the film is a little hard to watch at some moments.

Erin R. Ryan as Dr. Alice Cross

Acting is easily the strongest aspect of the film.  Brandon Salkil plays a very convincing villain, but his lines are often muffled by the flesh mask worn to cover his "skinless" face.  However, considering he was unable to act with his facial expressions, he successfully portrayed all of his emotions and desires through body motions and character ticks.  Think BRUISER with a couple more loose marbles.  However, it's Erin R. Ryan that completely steals the show.  Ryan is no stranger to the independent/low-budget horror world with a rather extensive resume, but she absolutely blew this one out of the water. Her performance is fearless and she goes to lengths many actresses would never dare to explore.  She was convincing, committed, and proved that she's so much more than just "that girl in all of Ohio's horror films."  I always enjoyed her work, but this was the first time where I ever sat back and thought to myself, "Damn, this girl can really act."

Reminds me of "The Tale of the Dead Man's Float" episode of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

As with all of his other films, Dustin Mills also showcases an impressive talent with special fx.  There are minimal CGI effects throughout the film, and his practical effects are just out of this world.  There's plenty of gore to satisfy even the hungriest of gorehounds, and in traditional Dustin Mills fashion, there's plenty of nudity.  Full frontal women, and an appreciated instance of the typically taboo male nudity.  It sounds stupid, but the fact Dustin Mills is a filmmaker that treats his genders equally in terms of nudity is incredibly refreshing.

Dustin Mills went on a totally different track with this film, and it was a well ventured path.  Mills has proven that he can make a wide variety of horror flicks.  Do yourself a favor, check out THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE and support a worthy piece of diy/low-budget/indie horror.

You can buy or rent a digital copy of the flick for as low as a dollar, or you can snag a DVD or Blu-ray you right here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES: THE UNDISCUSSED HORROR STAPLE OF FEMALE CHARACTERS

The slut, the virgin, the bitch, the girl next door, the mother, the creepy old lady, the evil little girl, and the final/survivor girl.  Female archetypes and stock characters within the horror genre are rampant and well known.  From a movie poster alone, we can often times figure out exactly what a woman's place and purpose is in a horror film.  However, there's another "type" of woman that we frequently see in horror films that no one seems to want to talk about.  
"God closed my eyes so I could see only the real Gwynplaine"

Physically, sensory, or mentally disabled women have been popping up in horror films from the very beginning.  THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is often regarded as the first horror film, and the female lead was a beautiful, blind woman.  From the very beginning of the horror genre, the damsel in distress character was the quickest way to write a story.  "Girl needs saving from someone or something, man saves girl from someone or something, girl is indebted to man and thanks him by kisses or marriage, the end."  Whether it was because male writers needed to make their female characters SUPER vulnerable or whether they needed an excuse to make a woman "weaker," adding a physical/mental/sensory disability to a woman became a quick way to differentiate female characters from the usual damsel in distress.  The beginnings showcased disabilities as a major reason for the demise of female characters.  1959's THE TINGLER had a creature that could only be killed by screaming.  The death in the film that acts as the catalyst for the entire movie was centered around a woman who was a deaf/mute, and therefore, could not "scream for her life."  We can't have a woman be brave enough not to scream when frightened, so we must make her mute.

Fiona Dourif as "Nica" in CURSE OF CHUCKY

Physical disabilities appear in many films as a way to hinder otherwise "strong" female leads.  The 1979 midnight movie THE VISITOR showcases a woman forced into a wheelchair by her evil daughter in order to prevent her ability to escape her child, and to make her a weaker target for her boyfriend to impregnate her.  More recently, we've been exposed to a wheelchair bound protagonist in CURSE OF CHUCKY whom also plays the only character with any sort of intellect and moral compass.  Putting a character in a wheelchair completely raises the stakes.  Stairs are out of the question, speed is a major concern, the ability to hide is greatly reduced, and the fact someone could easily come behind and control the movement and direction of a character is horrifying.  However, throwing a wheelchair on a character immediately develops a sympathetic relationship between the character and the audience.  We immediately understand the difficulties that can be present for being in a wheelchair, and before anything happens, we immediately feel for her.  This concept presents itself regardless of the age of the woman in the wheelchair.  WOULD YOU RATHER? contains an elderly woman in a wheelchair and from the very beginning of the film, she is immediately the character the victims of the game of "Would You Rather?" want to protect.

Jennifer Lynch's BOXING HELENA
This then brings us to the characterizations of amputees.  In horror films, amputated women seem to fall into two categories.  We have women who have been amputated as some sort of a punishment, and women who have turned their amputations into something of empowerment.  In Jennifer Lynch's controversial directoral debut, BOXING HELENA, we see a woman who is amputated solely so she cannot run away.  In SAW VI, Tanedra Howard's character must amputate her own arm to survive one of Jigsaw's traps, and is later shown in SAW 3D as a painfully angry victim who although survived death, has been forever punished as a one armed woman only gaining a positivity in the form of better parking at the mall.  To counteract these women punished with amputation, we have characters like Cherry Darling in PLANET TERROR who have taken a very Ash J. Williams approach to amputation by replacing the missing limb with a weapon.  Her machine gun leg has made her character an iconic figure and one of the most recognizable women with a disability in horror.

The mute protagonist of MS. 45

Sensory disabilities (blindness, deafness, muteness) are often used as a catalyst to further along story lines.  MS. 45, THE EYE, THE BEYOND, JULIA'S EYES, and even ORPHAN  included either sensory disabled protagonists or supporting characters. The loss of sight, sound, or speech is something that many people fear to begin with, so much like having a character with a physical disability, presenting a major character unable to see, hear, or speak immediately raises their stakes.  Female characters are often blind or deaf, giving the freedom for story tellers to write circumstances they would normally be unable to construct.  Why can't Ms. 45 call the cops and find justice for her attack?  She cannot speak.  Why can't little Max tell when her adopted sister Esther is plotting her demise?  She cannot hear.  Characters in horror films vitally depend on their senses for survival.  Taking one of their senses away change the way the protagonist must play the game to be alive at the end of the film.

Fairuza Balk after going "crazy" in THE CRAFT


However, the most problematic portrayal of women in horror lies in the representation of mental illness and mental disabilities.  Unfortunately, society already has a stigma in place for mental illnesses, and artforms reflect this poor mentality.  In 2012, Bitch Flicks wrote an AMAZING piece titled "That 'Crazy Bitch': Women and Mental Illness Tropes in Horror" that encompasses everything that I could possibly write about this topic.  My favorite quote from the piece states:
And the Crazy Bitch trope helps perpetuate mental illness stereotypes. It has many sister tropes infesting horror too. Like the Hysterical Woman, where female characters are depicted as overly emotional and irrational, The Madwoman in the Attic, a trope where a character with mental illness is locked away, isolated from society, and the Nervous Housewife, where men doubt women’s paranormal experiences and patronize them. Jen Doll at The Atlantic Wire gives us “10 tropes about women that women should stop laughing about,” including “the crazy.” As Doll astutely observes, calling someone “crazy” is a way to put people (often women) down and for the accuser to feel better about themselves, all while being insulting to those who who struggle with mental illness. -Megan Kearns
Ultimately, it appears that the growing awareness of ableist behavior is changing the way we treat people with disabilities in cinema, especially with female characters in horror films.  Female tropes and archetypes will always exist, but gaining a stronger educational grasp on why characters are written the way they are is the most sure-fire way to learn how to provide better portrayals and influence less offensive media.  I must thank comic artist and Day of the Woman reader, Shannon LeClerc for suggesting that I tackle this topic.  Of course I in no way scratched the surface of disabled women in horror films (is there a book on this subject?) but the best way to make a change and gain a better understanding, is to open a dialogue and actually discuss the situation.  Women with disabilities are a prominent character type, and we will only gain a solid understanding if we talk about it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

INCEPTION MEDIA GROUP DOUBLE FEATURE: COMPLICITY AND SILENT BUT DEADLY

Watching independently released films is probably my favorite part about running Day of the Woman.  Much like finding that super underground band none of your friends have heard of, finding gems in the fields of low-budget/limited release films is one of the best feelings imaginable.  Inception Media Group, LLC is (from their website) "based in Los Angeles, California and is a diversified media company specializing in the production, acquisition and distribution of motion pictures and other filmed entertainment across all media platforms and channels of distribution."  I've reviewed three movies from Inception Media Group, LLC previously, and will admit the films can be a mixed bag.  Some films are much stronger than others, but there is usually a great deal of potential residing in these filmmakers.  Last night, I kicked back and had a double feature of two of their newest horror releases, COMPLICITY and SILENT BUT DEADLY.

The evening started out with a familiar feeling film, COMPLICITY.  The story follows the traditional format of popular 90s horror films.  Following the story of a high school party at Shannon's place while her parents are gone for the weekend, the night takes a turn for the worse when Shannon's friend Kim accuses a boy of rape.  Without knowing the full details, some of the partygoers take matters into their own hands and kill the alleged rapist in a fit of fury.  The kids are now stuck with a dead body on their hands and must figure out where to go from here.  If it sounds like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER without the slasher, it's because it is.  Written and Directed by C.B. Harding, the film feels like a collage of cherry picked horror staples haphazardly thrown together.  The characters are all interchangeable and with the exception of T.J. Wilkins' portrayal of "Dwayne the Football Star," all of the characters are painfully unlikable.  These teenagers aren't unlikable because they make poor decisions, they just feel like stereotypical high school students written by someone who hasn't been to high school since Oregon Trail was a classroom activity and is basing characters off of CW television show commercials.  It was frustrating, because the film isn't poorly made.  The lighting is fantastic, the cinematography is beautiful, and the actors are actually really solid.  It was just the painfully unoriginal premise and stereotypical dialogue that just ruined the entire movie.  I think C.B. Harding did a great job at directing, but I don't think he's meant to be a writer.  I'd love to see what he does with another story, because he clearly understands how to make a beautiful film...just not necessarily how to write one.  Keep on the look for the cameo performance by Sean Young, that was a lovely surprise.

Wrapping up the double feature was the horror-comedy flick starring Jason Mewes SILENT BUT DEADLY.  I had been looking forward to seeing this film since it showed up in my mailbox, and I'm still unsure if I loved or hated this film.  Jason Mewes plays a relatively mute goat lover who goes on a wave of murder to anyone that poorly treats goats.  It's never fully explored if he loves goats as animals the way the internet loves cats, or if he's dabbling in inter-species erotica.  Regardless, it's a horror comedy where Jason Mewes has less lines than Johnny Depp in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.  Mewes really does try to showcase his emotions with body language and facial expressions, but denying someone with such perfect comedic timing any dialogue was a missed opportunity.  Fortunately, the supporting cast delivers some incredible zingers.  My personal favorites came from Mewes' father character, a backwoods redneck who married two Russian mail order brides that would rather fondle each other than their husband.  Some of his lines included calling them "Soviet Sluts" or "Carpet Munching Commies."  Cherry on top of that sundae?  The father is played by William Sadler.  Without a doubt, the strongest performance was given by Jordan Prentice as the local racist/sexist/homophobic Sheriff in town.  Prentice commands every scene he's in and having the ability to say "cock barf" without laughing was well worth a few rewinds.  The comedy is definitely there, the horror, not so much.  The practical FX were fabulously executed but the CGI effects were painfully bad.  The more I watched it, the more it felt like they were actually going for the bad FX.  If that's the case, they more than achieved their goal.  Ultimately, the film is fun to watch and paired quite nicely with my pizza and pop night with my man.  Of the two films, SILENT BUT DEADLY was definitely worth the watch. 
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