Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Bluray Tuesday Featuring IT: Chapter 2, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood & The Fanatic

December 10th 2019

Our favorite day of the week returns! My number one most anticipated film of 2019, IT: Chapter 2 finally hits shelves today and I'm super excited to add to my collection. Best Buy will carry an exclusive Steelbook edition for this release including the 4K and standard Bluray. Next up is Quentin Tarantino's latest film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood that  has gotten great reviews from critics and fans alike. I missed this one in theaters and I'm really excited to check it out this week. Best Buy will carry an exclusive steelbook for this and Target an exclusive edition including a magazine. Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit made a horror thriller starring John Travolta titled The Fanatic and its a pretty crazy watch in alot of different ways. Many reviews I've seen people hated it but I actually enjoyed it and would watch again. Rounding out the week is Along Came The Devil 2, The Fly Collection from Scream Factory and Hustlers starring Jennifer Lopez. So what will you buy, rent or skip this week? Let us know in the comments. Until next week!

It: Chapter Two (Blu-ray) 

It: Chapter Two 4K (Blu-ray) 

It: Chapter Two 4K (Blu-ray)
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IT: Chapter 2: Amazon - $24.99
4K: Amazon - $29.99
Best Buy Steelbook: Best Buy - $34.99

Defeated by members of the Losers' Club, the evil clown Pennywise returns 27 years later to terrorize the town of Derry, Maine, once again. Now adults, the childhood friends have long since gone their separate ways. But when people start disappearing, Mike Hanlon calls the others home for one final stand. Damaged by scars from the past, the united Losers must conquer their deepest fears to destroy the shape-shifting Pennywise -- now more powerful than ever.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Blu-ray) 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 4K (Blu-ray)
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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 4K (Blu-ray) 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 4K (Blu-ray)
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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Blu-ray)

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood: Amazon - $22.99
4K: Amazon - $27.99
Exclusive Digibook Giftset: Amazon - $49.99
Best Buy Steelbook: Best Buy - $32.99
Target Magazine Exclusive: Target - $24.99

A story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton, former star of a western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth. Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a new next-door neighbor, who may be a rising star…Sharon Tate.

The Fanatic (Blu-ray)
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The Fanatic: Amazon - $12.99

Moose (played by John Travolta), a rabid film fan, who gets cheated out of meeting his hero, Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). Moose then hunts down Dunbar to get the celebrity interaction he feels he deserves. Harmless at first, Moose’s actions begin to take a dark turn. Against the advice of his friend Leah (Ana Golja), Moose begins to make frequent visits to his hero’s private home. As the visits continue to escalate, Dunbar find himself in increasing danger.

The Fly Collection (Blu-ray) 

The Fly Collection: Amazon - $59.99

Scientist Andre Delambre becomes obsessed with his latest creation, a matter transporter. He has varying degrees of success with it. He eventually decides to use a human subject, himself, with tragic consequences. During the transference, his atoms become merged with a fly, which was accidentally let into the machine. He winds up with the fly's head and one of it's arms and the fly winds up with Andre's head and arm. Eventually, Andre's wife, Helene discovers his secret and must make a decision whether to let him continue to live like that or to do the unthinkable and euthanize him to end his suffering.

Hustlers (Blu-ray) 

Hustlers 4K (Blu-ray)
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Hustlers: Amazon - $22.99
4K: Amazon - $27.99

A group of exotic dancers get their revenge on wealthy, drunk and abusive clients by maxing out their credit cards after they've passed out.
Freaks (Blu-ray) 

Freaks: Amazon - $16.99

In this genre-bending psychological sci-fi thriller, a bold girl discovers a bizarre, threatening, and mysterious new world beyond her front door after she escapes her father's protective and paranoid control.

Monos (Blu-ray) 

Monos: Amazon - $22.99

On a faraway mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow.

Lucky Day (Blu-ray) 

Lucky Day: Amazon - $14.99

Red, a safe cracker who has just been released from prison, is trying to hold his family together as his past catches up with him in the form of Luc, a psychopathic contract killer who's seeking revenge for the death of his brother.

The Wrath (Blu-ray) 

The Wrath: Amazon - $14.99

In the household of Lee Gyeong-jin, a high-ranking official of Joseon Kingdom, three sons die from an unidentified horror. A woman pregnant with a child of the third son soon learns of the evil spirit that haunts the house.

Along Came the Devil II (Blu-ray) 

Along Came The Devil 2: Best Buy - $14.99

After receiving an unsettling voicemail, Jordan returns home, looking for answers, only to find her estranged father and even more questions. A demonic force has attached itself to the town and no one is safe. The only one who seems to know anything is the small town's Reverend.

-The Impostor

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: Knives and Skin (2019)

A mystical teen noir that follows a young girl's disappearance in the rural Midwest and its effect on teens and parents.

7 of 7 viewers "Liked" "Knives and Skin" (2019, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

Lord Battle - "Mortality is trumped by being "in like", while adulthood is measured by one's emotional restraint in Jennifer Reeder's melodrama masterpiece, Knives and Skin. Now I don't often refer to films as a masterpiece but I really mean it here... Let me try to express why. Knives and Skin is like a TV show comprised solely of Degrassi cliffhangers, haunted by the cynical silent screams of Douglas Sirk. Knives and Skin is the emotional ambiance of Twin Peaks painted in the light of a Mario Bava set. Knives and Skin shows Laura Palmer what it's really like to be a McGuffin. Most importantly Knives and Skin is progressive, edgy, and earnest without being aggressively preachy. I loved it and can't wait to own it in a physical form to work through all the visual metaphor on a 2nd and 3rd watch." - 5 Stars

KillDozer - "Warning! This film seems to inspire some viewers into bursts of laughter or humming along with the soundtrack. With that being said the film "works" and succeeds as an emotional experience that causes an uneasy reaction driven by nervous anxiety. This works the same way a jump scare works with cookie cutter genre films. This is not a horror film in a traditional sense but it does have terrifying elements especially if you are a parent. What is scarier than puberty?!?! Knives and Skin is cinematic proof that a unique and extraordinary artistic vision can be accomplished in a world overrun with remakes. This is a film you experience. one more warning this is not a straightforward genre title!" - 3.5 Stars

Math Mage - "Surreal exploration of several dysfunctional families full of strange, compelling characters. Very good though not my favorite type of film, the drama that wasn't quite a musical." - 3.5 Stars

Dr. Gonzo - "This film was meant for a select audience, particularly if you're a fan of David Lynch, Twin Peaks style characters. The bizarre story implemented crossovers and conflict. It took us in so many directions. Yes, it's a story of a girl who's killed, but it leaves us thinking and wanting to create our own timeline of the events. All the characters in the movie are relatable. My favorite is the sad clown. Might seem so irrelevant to a casual audience, but I understood the metaphor. This film is full of metaphors. You can pick and choose which ones you relate to. Enjoy this movie, it went there, and wasn't scared to take us. It was a fun film, I recommend it." - 4 Stars

Clark Little - "Jennifer Reeder has reinstilled my faith in contemporary melodrama. Knives and Skin is a creative, funny and heartfelt examination of adolescence and parenting. The cast works in perfect harmony due to the meticulous direction of their maestro, Reeder. If you need the comparison to Twin Peaks to compel you to watch this, so be it. However, this film is of its own universe and should be treated as such." - 4.5 Stars

Wondering Panda - "Girl goes missing and the effects on the people/community with low key musical symphony/duet/solo. On paper this film should be up my alley, right? But the more I write about it the more disappointed I get, because this could have been great as a full on musical that tackles dark subjects like Sweeney Todd or Les Miserable. But they didn't do that!! They open so many doors but don't fully commit. In the end I felt like one of mister Todd's patrons, numb and sliding head first to hard concrete. I'm sorry that's too rough, it's an okay movie in the end." - 3 Stars

Huntress - "Knives and Skin is a teen drama full of dark humor, heartbreak and a touch of fantasy. It’s set in a small town that is devoid of good role models but full of awful adults, so it’s not hard to understand why all the teens we get to know can’t wait to graduate and leave. The movie looks amazing with many of the uncomfortable and tense moments being set to gorgeous neon lighting, which in no way detracts from their tension but does make them more interesting to look at. I was conflicted about the musical numbers at first, but the format quickly grew on me. And judging from the number of people singing along, I think the rest of the audience agrees. I was left with a lot of questions but I don't think Knives and Skin will not have a hard time finding an audience that will love and celebrate it." - 3.5 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

After the Overlook screening of Jennifer Reeder's Knives and Skin, there were many discussions going on. People enjoyed the song selection and commented on other audience members' animated reactions to certain scenes. And then the subject of genre came up, as one theatre creature commented that this was not a horror movie, at least not in the typical sense. To that, KillDozer (the only parent among us) responded that it most certainly is! And being that he was the only one able to connect to the film from the point of view of a father of two girls, he had plenty that he wanted to ask. And Jennifer was graciously willing to answer everything.


KillDozer: As a writer and director, how do you begin to assemble a complex film like Knives and Skin? When did the initial inspiration hit? Would you consider this a compilation of many ideas or did you have a single focus in mind?

Jennifer Reeder: Knives and Skin is related to themes I have explored in some of my recent short films (A Million Miles Away and Blood Below the Skin for instance, which are both free and public on my Vimeo page). I have made many films about the experiences of girls and women. Specifically, teen girls who are empowered and empowering, and adult women who are experiencing a kind of second coming-of-age. Knives and Skin was born directly from an image (that is used in the film) of three misfit teen girls walking to school along a rural two-lane road. That contrast is semi-autobiographical. Then I built the story from there making sure it had some robust internal logic. The world of Knives and Skin is specific.

KD: I have read reviews telling me that Knives and Skin is a "female movie" and full of "extreme feminism", do you feel that this film connects more with a female audience? Does that idea do a disservice to your work?

JR: This is a film about female empowerment, but I believe that when women are empowered, ALL genders win. My feminism is a spectrum where we all belong. We should all be committed to human equality. Perhaps some reviewers are emphasizing the female characters because so many other films do not consistently offer multi-dimensional female characters. This is a film for EVERYONE. I promise.

KD: The color pallet of Knives and Skin is incredible. The lighting is intense but never distracting. Was this part of the script? How did you go about using these color and lighting techniques in a way that wouldn't take away from what was happening on screen?

JR: The production design of this film, which includes the lighting and the color palette, are part of the narrative content so I never considered that this would distract from the plot, but only enhance. I wanted this film to feel like it was hovering above reality and vibrating with grrrl power energy. For me, cinema is art and no direction should ignore the visual language.

KD: In your opinion does Knives and Skin fall into a particular genre of film? I read it described it as "Mystical Teen Noir" and "a coming of age thriller", do you agree with this or is that something you would rather leave to the audience?

JR: I totally agree with these descriptions. This film is a lot at once, which was totally intentional. It’s almost as though the film itself is experiencing coming of age….it’s transforming as you watch it.

KD: Have you attended screenings of Knives and Skin? What has your experience been like seeing your work in a theatre? Do you pay attention to the reaction of the audience? Are you ever surprised at the reaction your work receives?

JR: I love watching this film with an audience. I am always surprised what parts make people LAUGH, GASP, SOB, WINCE…. There is a reaction for everyone. It’s quite a range, which was written into the script of course.

KD: Was it hard to find support for this film? Knives and Skin is not something I would consider easily marketable. How do you get people to buy into your artistic vision?

JR: It was not hard to find robust support for this film. As I mentioned, it’s related thematically to a handful of recent short films that have been properly vetted in coveted film festivals here in the US and abroad. I had a solid fan base who was ready for a feature length film. Audiences in general are ready for challenging content…..they are smart and curious. More producers, like mine, should take chances.

KD: The music of the film is brilliant. How were you able to use such familiar songs in your film? I have heard that acquiring permission to use "hit songs" can be extremely costly and difficult.

JR: I worked with a great company called Groove Garden. We only needed to secure the publishing rights since the songs were re-arranged and re-performed. I am especially obsessed with the score which was composed by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He is brilliant.

KD: How involved were you in the casting of the film? The performances felt both powerful and organic. Did you have people in mind when casting or writing the film?

JR: I hand picked every actor in this film. I do not have a film without the performances. We cast this entire film out of Chicago, which has an extremely well respected theatre community….the very best in the country I would say. The awkwardness of the dialogue is grounded in the performances which are solid AF. No film director should EVER underestimate theater actors….they are fearless. I am in awe of the performances in this film.

KD: How do you react to the film reviewers who compare this film to Twin Peaks? Are you inspired by the work of David Lynch? Do you feel that this is a fair comparison or observation from those seeing Knives and Skin?

JR: I don’t mind this comparison. In terms of Lynch though, I have been much more influenced by Blue Velvet or Lost Highway…..my favorite film about a dead girl is River’s Edge rather than Twin Peaks. I hope that soon some who have seen Knives and Skin first watch some Lynch and wonder if he has been influenced by me. Lynch and I went to Art School rather than Film School and I appreciate how he injects surrealism into storylines.

KD: By the end of this film I was left wanting more. I wanted to live in that world a little longer. Did you have total control when editing the film? Was anything left on the cutting room floor that you regret?

JR: Oh gosh, we (my editor Mike Olenick and I) cut out a lot, which will be available when IFC releases it. But I did have full creative control over the final edit. And I am in development with a new film, so you are about to get your next fix!

KD: You capture the intensity of loss and letting go in a way that prompts me to ask if those elements of the film were written from personal experience?

JR: I have experienced loss…heartbreak and death and I wanted to make a film that portrayed grief as intensely personal and particular. The primary autobiographical element is the courtship between the substitute teacher and the student. I did not know how to process that situation until I was an adult. This is a very much a film about abuses of consent among girls which I started writing before #metoo.

KD: What do you hope people will experience in viewing Knives and Skin?

JR: I like to fast forward to the cosplay sing-a-long screenings of this film. I want audiences to lean WAY into Knives and Skin.

KD: Okay time for some fun/silly questions.... If this film was remade 10 years from now as a Hollywood blockbuster who would direct and who would star?

JR: I would direct with the exact same cast.

KD: What was your favorite film as a teenager and why?

JR: I was obsessed with Hitchcock’s Rebecca….. it’s a female led love triangle/ghost story….from a novel written by Daphne Du Maurier who is a master of psychological thrillers. I would love to remake Rebecca.

KD: What is your favorite high school TV show of all time? 

JR: My So Called Life!!!!!!!!!!

KD: What film impressed you the most from 2019 and why?

JR: I am obsessed with Queen and Slim! More films like this please!!

Be sure to check out Jennifer's previous work on her Vimeo page!
And look for Knives and Skin on VOD and Digital HD starting December 6th!


The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Residence for a screening on 11/7/2019

*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not affect the rating.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Listener Sam Reviews: Daniel Isn't Real (2019)

Adam Egypt Mortimer made his feature debut in 2015 with a film called Some Kind of Hate. I remember not only really liking Some Kind of Hate but watching it twice upon release. Thus, I was appropriately excited to see his sophomore venture. Five years on, I recall little about Some Kind of Hate, other than it being a character-driven horror flick about self-hating teenagers and a self-hating ghost. I can assure you that Daniel Isn’t Real won’t be so easily forgotten.

In anticipation of my viewing of Daniel Isn’t Real at FilmQuest, (a little genre film festival in Provo Utah that punches well above its weight class), I had planned on re-watching Some Kind of Hate. -- I didn’t. -- I don’t necessarily feel bad about it, though it’s probably the true overlooked film of this article. Regardless, Mortimer himself has said that Some Kind of Hate didn’t meet his vision, which is a shame. Some Kind of Hate was already an excellent film and after seeing Daniel, I can only imagine what the end product might have been.

That said, part of me still wanted to rewatch Mortimer’s debut feature in anticipation of re-watching Daniel Isn’t Real at Beyond Fest. When push came to shove, I was so enthralled with the first viewing, that when seeing this a second time, I only wanted to further immerse myself into this film. The visuals, acting, and frenetic editing almost cast a spell, and the end result is mesmerizing.

Instead of digging deeper into Mortimer’s filmography, I instead committed to further immersing myself in the world of Daniel Isn’t Real. My first step was to begin reading the book that this is based off. “In This Way I Was Saved” is the debut novel from Brian DeLeeuw, co-writer of this film, Some Kind of Hate, and a handful of other screenplays and novels. I haven’t quite finished it yet, so I’m going to withhold comment, but I can say that DeLeeuw’s writing is phenomenal, and I can see how Mortimer found the book worthy of adaptation.

Both the novel and the film tell the tale of Luke Nightingale (played by Miles Robbins, best known for his appearance in Blockers) and his imaginary friend Daniel (played absolutely amazingly by Patrick Schwarzenegger). Luke manifests Daniel in his childhood as a coping mechanism to deal with neglect and trauma. However, when his childhood relationship with Daniel becomes unhealthy, he’s forced to lock the figment away in a dollhouse, to be forgotten for the next 12 years.

The film focuses on the reemergence of Daniel in response to Luke’s struggle with the pressure of college. The imaginary friend, invisible to all but Luke, helps him develop social skills and cope with the circumstances of his life. Though initially, his presence improves Luke’s life drastically, it quickly becomes clear that Daniel has ulterior motives.

Daniel Isn’t Real is a film defined by the quality of its performances. Robbins and Schwarzenegger make a perfect pair. Robbins portrays Luke as shy, unconfident, and all-around doofy. He’s unfashionable, untalented, and outwardly disinteresting. We see it through his tense body language, and through his drab costuming, especially when compared to Daniel. It’s an excellent and difficult performance, that’s made all the better as his character goes through a downward spiral, where Robbins really shows an impressive range.

While Robbins’ portrayal of Luke is great, it’s Schwarzenegger’s role as Daniel that steals the show. His character is a slick mix of Patrick Bateman and Tyler Durden. He swaggers around in gaudy outfits -- lamΓ© dress shirts, vibrant faux leather, mesh t-shirts. Other times he appears shirtless, and he is pure eye candy. He’s the opposite of Luke; confident, handsome, smooth, while also being arrogant and impetuous. Schwarzenegger’s performance feels incredibly natural, whether he’s lounging in a bathtub, goading Luke to prank his roommate, or engaging in more nefarious plots. It’s worth seeing the film for his role alone.

What follows is a tense and uncomfortable journey as Daniel works to become a real boy and Luke tries to stop him. In doing so, he builds a relationship with a struggling artist, Cassie (Sasha Lane), and Daniel coaxes him into another relationship with Sophie (Hannah Marks). This goes as poorly as expected and sets Luke careening into a fight for his own mental health, his love, and ultimately his life.

I don’t want to spoil too much about this one. What I’ll say is that I enjoyed it thoroughly both times. There are some sequences that surprised me and hit hard during the first viewing, and I want everyone to experience them as I did. What’s great, however, is that they played well on second viewing too, and I never felt any less interested the second time around.

I’ll also say that this film goes to crazy places. The imagery is at times reminiscent of Gaspar Noe, or perhaps Argento, but it also evokes Cronenberg and undeniably draws inspiration from Bergman’s Persona (but what doesn’t). It has a sex scene that I found extremely uncomfortable. It has gruesome and unexpected body horror that echoes the best of Cronenberg. It sends Luke on a descent into madness where Robbins gets to show off his acting range. We get to see both supporting actresses be badasses in their own way, especially Cassie, who gets an opportunity to kick some ass. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the production design courtesy of Kaet McAnneny (Blue Ruin). While the location scouts nailed the Brooklyn setting for the (relatively few) exteriors we see, the sets of this movie really shine. Luke’s mother lives in a beautiful Victorian brownstone, Cassie lives in the hipstery-est artist loft imaginable (how she pays rent is beyond me), there’s even a scene set in a series of steam tunnels that feel filthy and infested in the best way.

Last, but certainly not least, there are some fantastic creature effects supplied by Martin Astles, who’s best known (at least, among horror nerds) for his work on Event Horizon (but also The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Greasy Strangler, the three of which make a weird triple feature). Astles’ work is top-notch, and the gooey, grotesque creatures and makeup we see are some of my favorites of the year. This might be a spoiler, but it involves a few sequences that necessitated Schwarzenegger spending 7 hours having makeup applied. 

One element of Daniel Isn’t Real that makes it a joy is the fact that Mortimer put a ton of love into this movie, and it shows. Not only that, but it’s clearly a passion project that’s also a great movie, which at times can be a rare combination. It explores mental illness in a way that feels painful, personal, and loving.

This really came through in the Q&A he did at BeyondFest. He printed and brought his own T-shirts to give away, answered a bunch of questions in a ton of detail (seventeen if I remember correctly, one for each shirt). He even got playfully heckled by Kevin Kolsch, director of Starry Eyes and Pet Sematary (2019), which, for me, felt like horror geek Christmas (which is I think is technically just Halloween).

Mortimer is proving to be a phenomenal director, and I’m thrilled to see what he does next. Not only that, but the film's production company SpectreVision is proving to be a real threat. Between this, Mandy, and Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, and some of their past releases like Cooties, Toad Road, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and The Greasy Strangler, Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah have shown that they really understand what genre fans want. 

This one’s slated for release in theaters and VOD on December 6th. If you get a chance, catch this on the big screen with a crowd. Although I’m sure it’ll view fine on VOD, some of the scares play great in a theater, and the effects are beautiful enough to merit it. 

-Listener Sam

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: The Shed

A teen and his best friend endure nonstop torment from bullies at school, but that soon changes when one discovers a bloodthirsty creature that resides in a country shed.

6 of 9 viewers "Liked" "The Shed" (2019, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

Lord Battle - "Shocking kills and excessive gore used to be all I needed in a film. The Shed delivers on both and despite a confusing collateral damage kill, it's awesome! I would pitch this film to fans of Dream Warriors or The Lost Boys but the narrative feels more like nostalgic virtue signaling than homage. Honestly Fright Night might be the best comparison to make, yet I can't bring myself to do it. Tom Holland's 80's vampire adventure was loved by a young Lord Battle because of its clear acceptance of televisions rules for vampires. The Shed seems to pick and chose rules carefully surrounding convenience and ultimately excluding religion. As someone who praised Insidious for removing religion from a haunted house and making it work, I find it lazily ignored here. Kinda like they chose to ignore the invitation rule because it would require a conversation with the antagonist where motivation or backstory may be needed... Again, the gore is great! - 2.5 Stars

KillDozer - "13 year old me would have enjoyed this based off the blood and Salem's Lot style vampire alone. 39 year old me needs more. So rent this for the kids, pop some corn, and have fun!" - 2.5 Stars

The Berkeley Blazer - "There's a lot of fun to be had in this movie, it's not smart but it does have many moments where it successfully subverts expectations mainly in terms of how it controls jump scares. Characters start out with potential but fizzle into the random plot points that spiral out of control. Entertaining but forgettable and had some impressive effects work. It's also impressive how much tension and suspense is built using the shed as a horror fun box." - 3 Stars

Math Mage - "It's a vampire. There's a vampire in the shed. That's not a spoiler 'cause it's directly shown in the first 4 minutes. However, they can't say vampire for some reason, except indirectly through a movie in a movie in a dream sequence. In most movies with a fake out dream sequence, they only do it once (unless it's about dreams) but this one has several so they get more out of it. Unfortunately, that's the only interesting thing in the film." - 2.5 Stars

Wondering Panda - "Combine a trouble teen, war vet uncle, recently turned vampire who hates sun, a shed, an asshole best friend, a love interest, and a werewolf looking not a werewolf bully and you have The Shed!! This film has a lot of problems but I can honestly admit I had a good time. Its tone is all over the place where it flip flops between genres and never takes itself seriously and I believe it works for the film. The Shed is a fun, just throw it on and let it play." - 4 Stars

Huntress - "I was already rooting for The Shed solely based on the name, premise and half of the trailer. After a tense and bloody opening scene, I was sold. But the more I realized that this was not a movie about a monster in a shed, the more my enthusiasm quieted. There are a lot of great elements to this movie, and I loved the ominous portrayal of the dark little shed. But this movie doesn't know what it wants to be, and I'm not thinking that hard about it." - 3.5 Stars

Jiggly Bits - "The story was predictable but managed to hold my attention throughout. The shed was a nice touch because it created an element that anyone who has ever had to pick something up from their shed or basement could relate to. The shed, basement, small bathroom, and attic all utilize the space or lack thereof to contribute to the overall tension of the scene. This cinematic feature that has been used in many horror genre films in the past continues to be a source of fun in this film. Staging and use of light and sound were also effective cinematic features utilized in the film to enhance the tension of the scenes in which it appears. Overall, the combined use of genre specific elements created a solid genre horror film, but was lacking in that there was nothing in the film that deviated strongly from that formula." - 3 Stars

The Impostor - "The Shed's poster really intrigued me with its simplistic and mysterious nature. I had no idea what it was about but went in excited, looking for something entertaining and fun. The main characters grew on me as the story unfolded but lost me as the final act approached. A few jump scares for me were effective even when I saw them coming. Overall solid film, it's not perfect but kept me entertained with some unexpected moments and cool gore thrown in. I'd recommend it as a Friday night popcorn film with friends." - 3 Stars

Dr. Gonzo - "Giving this a 3 for entertainment value. A very simple vampire tale. It starts off with a man trying to escape a vampire, vampire bites man, man runs to a shed, man turns into vampire in the shed. A troubled teenager finds a vampire in the shed and tries to keep it a secret. the hero girl we have the asshole friend and the asshole bully, and that mean ass grandpa. It's a new age film with an 80's setting. The kills were fun, but it was too predictable. Watching this once was good enough for me." - 3 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

In a Hitchcockian fashion, The Shed shows us a monster in the first few minutes of its runtime. The beast is quickly trapped in the titular shed where it transforms into a living metaphor.

The Shed played second on its review night, following a film that had a... deliberate pace and all of the creatures in attendance were eager to watch something a little more upbeat and fun. Although The Shed turned out to contain both of these things no one was ready for what the film was actually about.

The Shed is superficially a story about a teen and his pet monster, ala The Pit, and audiences who expect this will be extremely disappointed. The true monster in The Shed is a teenage boy's anger, which is represented by a vampire stranded in a small shadow in a large sunny field. Tonally the film feels confusing as we jump back and forth from a story that could easily end in a school shooting to a PG-13 genre film from the 80's.

When the film came to a close it seemed like the audience was split when talking about which parts of the film they enjoyed. Some creatures thought the impressive gore effects distracted from the real horror in the story, while others thought even attempting a serious narrative was a mistake. Everyone seemed to agree that a less seasoned audience may really enjoy the film. And as pretentious as that sounds, the message is really saying show this your friends.

-Lord Battle

The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Residence for a screening on 11/7/2019
*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not affect the rating.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Listener Sam Reviews: Wounds, The Visible Filth

Babak Anvari’s Wounds is, without a doubt, my most anticipated horror movie of 2019. It’s also a film that has been tantalizing me all year, like a carrot dangled from a string -- seemingly close but constantly moving further away. It premiered at Sundance on January 26, 2019 (my birthday, no less) and was slated to release to Netflix on March 29th.

I tuned in on the 29th thrilled to watch it, but it never showed up. It took a few days to learn that it was shelved, but there was little-to-no other explanation. Now, after a six-month wait, it’s somehow managed to slink over to Hulu, where it’s being released on October 18th. I’m not quite sure what chain of events led to this, but I’m thrilled to finally have had a chance to see this.

Wounds is the film adaptation of Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Visible Filth,” A 73-or-so page novella that is one of the best pieces of horror literature I’ve ever read. If you’re unfamiliar with Ballingrud, now’s a great time to begin catching up on his back catalog.

Ballingrud currently has two published short story collections. “North American Lake Monsters: Stories,” is his debut collection, published in 2013. He followed it up with “Wounds: Six Stories From the Borders of Hell” just this year. “The Visible Filth” also received its own standalone printing in 2015, but it’s also included in Wounds, and the collection is worth it for the other stories. The Butcher’s Table, in particular, is a unique piece of pirate-horror and is an absolute triumph. It deftly manages an ensemble cast, creates an amazing sense of dread, builds incredible mythology, and crafts a wholly unique and alien vision of hell.

In addition to his books, and Wounds (the film), his first collection has been picked up by Hulu and is being made into an 8-episode series. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Ballingrud is a new horror master, and I’ll read anything he writes without a second thought.

Before I go on, I want to mention that I’m writing this article in two parts. The first half is on “The Visible Filth” and is being written before seeing Wounds. The second half will inevitably be about the film, analysis, my thoughts, and comparisons to the book.

Ballingrud’s stories explore humanity at its worst, and while the supernatural elements are terrifying in their own right, much of the horror comes from the human-ness of the characters, their broken lives, and their awful, desperate, and pathetic actions and inactions.

The stories in his collection, "North American Lake Monsters" often delve into the fragility of the working-class. While he’s by no means a feminist author, his stories often portray the absolute worst elements of masculinity, and his protagonists are often as pathetic as they are testosterone-driven.

“Wild Acre” is about the aftermath of a man’s failure to stop a werewolf from killing his friends. “SS” hauntingly follows the initiation of a lonely teenage boy into a white supremacist group. “The Good Husband” tracks the fallout after a man fails to stop his wife’s suicide attempt. All his stories feel dangerous and transgressive. They fill the reader with a sense that they are experiencing something forbidden, and they evoke a variety of primal fears. Fear of loss. Fear of rejection. Fear of responsibility.

The Visible Filth is no exception.
The story centers on Will, an affable deadbeat who tends a bar at a filthy New Orleans dive. One night, some underage kids stumble in, and Will serves them regardless. Not long after, a regular, Eric, gets into a fight where he takes a broken bottle to the face. He wins the fight, thoroughly pummeling his assailant, but his face gets mangled.
Throughout this, Will does nothing but mop up the blood. While doing so, he finds one of the kids’ cellphones and takes it home with him.
The fight eventually gets broken up, no thanks to Will. The kids flee. Eric’s attacker flees. Eric refuses treatment -- he can’t afford the bill -- instead, he drags his ruined face out of the bar and to his apartment on the building’s second story.

Horror tropes lead us to expect that these teens are future hapless fodder for whatever horror lurks in the stories pages. “The Visible Filth” subverts that. Instead, Will begins receiving text messages on the phone from someone named Garret, who begs him for help. Will chooses to do nothing. He silences the phone and goes to sleep. He awakens to find more pleading texts, followed by a picture of a pile of bloody teeth.

That’s where Will’s strange journey begins.

While the novella includes disquieting depictions of violence and trauma, it’s Will’s actions that seem most despicable. Though relatively charming at face value, he’s so listless that while he may not be the arbiter of the awful things that come to pass, his constant, pathological inaction either leads to the story’s horrors or exacerbates them. Even the few times he takes action, it’s wrongheaded and narcissistic. Yet, even though he’s inarguably a bad person, Ballingrud crafts such a compelling story around him that it’s impossible to turn away. 

Ballingrud excels at making degenerates compelling, and we sympathize with Will as his situation becomes increasingly worse. Because of his charisma and charm, and because his situation isn’t quite his own fault, we feel for him as a protagonist. We want things to turn out alright for him in spite of himself. We want him to take control of his life, rather than following the stories tumultuous currents like flotsam in a hurricane.

Ballingrud doesn’t just excel at plot or character. The man writes horror stories that at times feel as gritty as a Jim Thompson novel and leave you feeling outright filthy while maintaining compelling and unique prose. At times, his words are downright beautiful. “The Visible Filth,” for example, begins by describing cockroach mating season at a seedy New Orleans bar:

“The roaches were in high spirits. There were half a dozen of them, caught in the teeth of love. They capered across the liquor bottles, perched atop pour spouts like wooden ladies on the prows of sailing ships. They lifted their wings and delicately fluttered. They swung their antennae with a ripe sexual urgency, tracing love sonnets in the air.” (p.1)

The prose remains fantastic throughout, using unique examples of simile and metaphor that are surprising but still manage to come off naturally. The effect is at its best, perhaps, when describing violence and the stories (almost titular) wounds.

“The right side of Eric’s face was a Technicolor nightmare of scabbed and torn flesh.” (p. 20)

This prose among the many reasons I’m so excited for the film. While a face full of scabbed and torn flesh is easy to imagine, I’m excited to see how Babak Anvari decides to depict the “Technicolor” part. This segment alone isn’t the only bit of surreality in Ballingrud’s depictions. Much of the imagery depicts surreal and impossible events, and while I’ll let you discover the true horrors of “The Visible Filth” as a reader, the central terror that Will discovers is nightmarish, and I’m thrilled to see it depicted on screen. 

I’m not too concerned with the presentation. Babak Anvari’s previous film, Under the Shadow, demonstrates some serious horror talent. While the subject matter is significantly different, Under the Shadow is beautiful, and delivers excellent scares and tension. It also contains some amazing production design and does a fantastic job with its limited setup.

With Under the Shadow, Anvari also shows an excellent attunement for the weird. The previous film delivers scares through clever unsettling imagery, without relying on too many special effects. Sheets floating through the air, a naked man lurking in a doorway, a girls face becoming one gigantic mouth, it’s an aesthetic that could lend itself particularly well to “The Visible Filth,” which shares a similar weirdness.
I have a lot of confidence in Anvari, and it helps that the trailer looks gnarly in the best possible way. The cockroaches are present in droves, and the wounds look downright nasty, and it shows things that aren’t explicitly in the book, but seem to be a perfect fit in the world and ideas laid down by The Visible Filth.

Seriously, just go read this story. It shouldn’t take more than an hour, and I suspect you’ll be compelled to read more of Ballingrud’s work. If you do like it, a few stories that I’d recommend most highly are: “The Butcher’s Table” and “The Atlas of Hell” from Wounds and “Wild Acre,” “North American Lake Monsters,” and “The Good Husband” from North American Lake Monsters. If you’re interested in sampling, he has a few stories published online:

And now, our feature presentation.

I watched Wounds the night of its release to Hulu, brimming with excitement. I’d spent the last two weeks poring over the source material and couldn’t wait to see it on screen. I watched Babak Anvari’s previous film the night before in anticipation. I’d been trying to avoid them, but I’d seen that Wounds had been getting some mixed reviews, but that didn’t bother me. I was ready.

Around 9:00 pm, I hit play.

And I watched it.

I wish I could say it lived up to my expectations.

It did not.

It’s plain to see that Anvari is a technically impressive filmmaker. He understands the craft and directs admirably. With Wounds, he delivers a smoldering slow burn that tracks us down the path of Will’s plunge into narcissism, obsession, and madness. 

Wounds is a technically well-made film. The cinematography and set design are both great, particularly the homes of Will and Eric, which both feel lived in and sufficiently right for the characters. Rosie’s bar feels a little too nice at times but is mostly satisfying as the dive it’s supposed to be.

The casting was excellent. Armie Hammer and Zazie Beetz are great, and I particularly loved Brad Henke as Eric and Karl Glusman as Jeffery. The melange of college kids were fantastic and scummy in a way that matched the books. The only let down was Dakota Johnson whose performance as Carrie felt flat and ineffective, but I’ve felt that about her in other roles, and I can accept that that’s her acting style

This film has a lot of cockroaches, and while I suspect that many of them were CG, there were definitely a number of real ones (evidenced by the presence of a roach wrangler, Karen Milliken, in the credits), and they all looked fantastic. 

The other CG and the makeup effects were similarly great. There’s an image of a ragged eyeball that pops up that’s particularly impressive, and when we see it, Eric’s “Technicolor nightmare of scabbed and torn flesh” is impressive made up in grotesque red, black, and yellow. Other, more spoilery imagery looks incredible as well. To that end, I’m inclined to say that the film is worth watching for these few sequences alone. To they extent that they’re included, they provide nice payoffs to the graphic horror sequences in the book.

I wish I could say that all of these things coalesce into a great film, but they don’t. When it comes to telling a good story, Wounds simply falls apart. 

I may have buried the lede when talking about “The Visible Filth.” While the novella has incredibly described imagery, the sequences are few and far between, and much of the story’s horror and intrigue are internal. It’s what Will is thinking and feeling and how he’s reacting to those emotions that unsettle the reader, and the gruesome images help serve to gild the story’s true horror.

Wounds fails as a feature film because it’s too faithful an adaptation. It follows the story almost exactly, to the point where next-to-no new dialogue has been added, and I could count the scenes that don’t appear in the novella on one hand. 

While that may sound great to a purist, it’s important to remember that film is a visual medium. “The Visible Filth” is a 73-page novella that spends much of its time in a character’s head. There’s just not a lot to put onto film. What we get instead are shots that simmer and brood for too long, filling space that would be better served by being trimmed or reconfigured to tell the story through an audiovisual medium.

It’s also important to realize that novellas, short stories, and short films allow for different story-telling structures than full-length novels and feature films. As a society, we’re conditioned to expect certain things in a feature film. We anticipate a beginning, middle, and an end where a character experiences some kind of emotional arc where they experience a fundamental change. 

Short-form media, on the other hand, rarely meets these expectations, and to a degree, we expect that too. Short media delivers a story more like one would deliver a joke -- through setup and payoff. “The Visible Filth” is an example of this. Across its 73 pages, Will remains unchanged as a character. In fact, Will’s resistance to change is central to the novella. 

Without giving too much away, if you were to look at “The Visible Filth” as part of a full-length novel, it would end somewhere in the mid-to-late second act, as Will realizes that he’s broken as a human being and needs to somehow be made whole. Instead, this conclusion serves as the punchline to the joke that is Will’s pathetic life, and in the short story format, it’s excellent and affecting and moving.

There’s also an expectation that in a short story or novella characters may not be as fleshed-out as in a longer piece. This really shows in Wounds. While Will seems like a relatively complete character, neither Alisha nor Carrie has been developed into anything more than a pastiche of a human being, there to serve the plot and nothing else. This works fine in the novella’s 73-pages but leaves us wanting in a feature-length film.

While Babak Anvari remains an impressive director, after seeing Wounds, I’m less convinced of his prowess as a writer, or at least as a writer adapting other media. I understand respecting the source material, but I’m legitimately curious how he managed to turn a 73-page novella into a ~95-page screenplay while changing as little as he did.

The good news is that this film isn’t tanking anyone’s career. I still have high hopes for whatever Anvari follows-up with, and shooting just started on the Hulu series adaptation of Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters. I’m inclined to stay positive, but I’ll certainly temper my expectations next time.

...No excuse me while I reread “The Visible Filth” again.

-Listener Sam

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: Portals

A sci-fi anthology from four iconic horror directors, tied together by a single event-the appearance of cosmic portals around the world. While many flee from them, the real terror sets in when others are drawn into these mysterious voids.

3 of 8 viewers "Liked" "Portals" (2019, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

Greyranger - "It took multiple filmmakers to take 2001: A Space Odyssey into the dullest and muddled anthology horror movie in recent memory. It is both too vague and too explicit, dulling the enigma at its heart and giving us no reason to care about any of it. The movie assumes we'll be as awed by the monoliths in this movie as the ones in 2001, which is pompous and lazy. Besides, they look like fucking plasma screens. It's not smart enough to deliver on the hard science, not imaginative enough to deliver on the enigma." - 1.5 Stars

Huntress - "Portals is a good looking movie but it left me wanting more. The segments felt like they were taken out of something bigger, or like they were intended to be episodes of a series. And towards the end, the mythology behind the portals got too muddled and chaotic for me to follow. There were elements I really liked; interesting settings, a mad scientist and some good body horror, but those well crafted horror moments were interspliced with a lot of confusion." - 2.5 Stars

The Impostor - "Horror anthologies are a favorite of mine. Portals is a film I've heard nothing about and if I saw the cover I'd probably skip it, but hearing it was an anthology piqued my interest. Overall, this sci-fi horror anthology isn't one I'd recommend. "The Call Center" story started off interesting and fell flat. "Sarah" was a great short that I'd want to see more of and definitely raised a point on the star status. With a wrap around, around another wrap around, things got confusing and I thought there were too many endings. This is a Portal I would go through to avoid seeing it again but I'll most likely forget this film in a few days." - 2 Stars

Lord Battle - "An army of Monoliths have appeared all over Earth! In Portals we are given different perspectives from 4 locations all of the planet and time-space! 😱 I love watching all walks of anthologies. What I find most important when delivering a good anthology, is a solid wrap around. Portals gives us two often confusing wrap arounds... Quantity over quality is really the theme of this film as the Monolith army quickly becomes uninteresting kinda like the way a slasher or ghost can become boring when they have to much screen time. I mean these damn Monoliths are everywhere! The worst part is that people react in the lamest ways to this phenomenon. There are some really cool things hidden within the... "Portals" (πŸ˜‰), like some surprisingly effective gore, a couple interesting ideas, and a solid short that takes place within a parking garage. I also love when an anthology has strong connective tissue like a theme or just shorts written for the feature. Would I recommend Portals? Nope, but I do think Portals would play well as a random watch on Amazon Prime." - 3 Stars

Listener Sam - "I'm giving this a 2 primarily because it has two wrap-arounds. That was wild. It's not normal for any film to roll credits before it's over, and it rarely works. Gaspar Noe can pull it off. Portals can't. But it fails amusingly. So Portals is a 3-4 part anthology where portals show up and people react to them. Sometimes they go crazy, sometimes they become zombies. Other Stuff happens... The highlight was "Sarah" which was essentially a zombie short, but was well shot and had what may have been the film's only scare. I guess it's also ambitious, which was at least respectable. The CGI is fair. There's a creepy eye. A head explodes. There's just nothing that stands out. It puts the poor in Portals." - 2 Stars

Wondering Panda - "A movie that bends time, space, and travel. Sounds like a fun sci-fi movie, right? Well it's okay. I have no problems with this film, it's shot okay, the sound and lighting are okay. A little over-dubbing post edit. This movie is mediocre at best, it doesn't really excel at anything. Plus it's kinda dense where there's a lot going on, but not really. Portals makes me wish it was real so I can hop in one and disintegrate away to a better reality." - 3 Stars

Math Mage - "I recall The Triangle and how the fear came from the unknown (Where are we going? Is this a good thing?) and now I realize that it would have been less scary if the dinosaur talked. I kept feeling like they were due for a "Beyond Good and Evil" speech but they never did. I should have felt relieved (I hate these) but no, they're just evil. We're even spared the mystery of whether they are portals at all. I mean for all we know, crazy call center guy could just have been crazy and the "doors" were just disintegrating people. But no, they're evil doors that send people to another dimension and turn people into zombies for no reason. And the No Reason wouldn't bother me normally but the doors won't shut up!" - 2.5 Stars

Theatre Ghost - Positives: Nice creative group project, interesting concepts. Favorite of 3 is “Call Center”
         Negative: Overall poor combination of Us and Bird Box. I feel “The Other Side” only accomplished gore fx. Lack of continuity (ear plugs missing and reappearing, multiple lines of reasoning behind “The Door”, etc.) took me out of the story. Good character development with the father and daughter.
         “Call Center” was my favorite but a simple take on current social issues of mental health, workplace/gun violence, ineffective public safety and media. Nothing new learned or any new perspective. Also, if the blonde lady can’t find her daughter, why does she keep showing up on the phone?
          “Sarah” was a zombie rip off that couldn’t decide if it was from radiation, visual effects, or crying dead babies. This had the worst continuity. I understand their choice in disorienting camera but feel they did not use its full potential. Good casting, poor script.
           “Liverpool” was a scientific documentary attempting to connect the three storylines but became a half made forth story. It did nothing to further the plot, only to meet full feature time requirements.
I liked the effects used for the doors/portals. I feel like the documentary or/and other side would be better as independent full length features." - 3 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

Portals didn't really work for the Overlook's fickle creatures. Everyone seemed to have questions when the credits rolled. Luckily, one of the film's directors, Liam O'Donnell, was gracious enough to address a couple of them. 

Why the double wrap-around?

We originally just had a couple of opening title card of the black hole forming but once we finished the film it just felt like we needed a little more setup and a little more scope. I had gotten to know a really talented British science fiction director Haz Dulull over the years and thought he'd be perfect to bring in for that. So we started talking about what that could be and it just evolved into a slightly bigger sequence with a fun mid credit scene to tease what could come next.

Was this ever conceived as a found footage movie?

Not that I know of. When I came aboard Call Center and Sarah had already been shot. So that was never really a discussion.

In making an anthology with a central connecting theme, how much time did you spend laying out ground-rules. Did you go into the segments with certain things that the portals can and can't do, or were you just given the idea and told to go ahead?

When I came aboard I spent a lot of time talking with creator/producer Chris White about the Portals, about the rules, the origins, how much to explain, how little. But it was all very flexible and malleable to what worked best for each individual story. I definitely had the benefit of seeing the other segments cut together so I knew what I was matching to and building around which was a huge help and inspiration. I loved that each one was sort of genre mash in its own right. Call Center was a sci-fi hostage situation. Sarah was a sci-fi zombie apocalypse. The Other Side took its cues from Misery at first that sort of devolves into a John Carpenter inspired Prince of Darkness fever dream.

Did you find any differences in working on an anthology film as opposed to a full feature?

 There's a lot of big differences of course, in scale and time - it was incredibly refreshing to make something and have it come out a few months later as opposed to something like the Skyline films that take around 2 years all in. I think the biggest difference from a writing stand point is that audiences are much more up for nasty endings in short stories/segments. We actually originally had a more happy ending for The Other Side but it felt a little too nice! We needed to see something more sinister at the end which really helped bring things full circle.

How much was cut out of the segment you worked on?

Not much, almost everything we shot made it in. We had a very aggressive shooting schedule so we really tried to trim as much fat as possible before filming. The interrogation scene where Adam faces off with his reflection was a little longer though with a few of the more mysterious questions asked and contemplated but it felt like we were maybe giving a little too much away and it slowed things down too much so we trimmed some there.

You can rent Portals on iTunes and Amazon Prime today to experience it for yourself