Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Masked Mutilator Enters the Ring Straight Out of 1994


Masked Mutilator (2019, 1994)
76 Minutes

Directed by: Brick Bronsky (aka Jeff Beltzner)
Written by: Ed Polgardy and Dale Schneck
Starring: Brick Bronsky, Jeff Sabbich, Doug “Flex” Yasinsky

Available from Severin/InterVision Films DVD/Blu-Ray


At a glance, Masked Mutilator doesn’t look like it has a lot going for it. The cast barely exists on IMDB, it released to DVD/Blu-ray with little fanfare, and the film itself looks grainy and outdated. Shit, they barely got the name right — doesn’t “The Masked Mutilator” sound better? 

Despite the stacked odds, Masked Mutilator not only punches, but also dropkicks, body slams, suplexes, headlocks, lariats, and piledrives way above its weight class. This film serves as a bizarre window into the world of 1994 Pennsylvania and its independent pro-wrestling community. 

When you watch Masked Mutilator, you’ll immediately realize that something is off. A few scenes, depicting an interview for a podcast, are crisp, digital, and high res. The majority of the movie, however, is shot in grainy 16mm — genuine 16mm, not an effect or filter. That’s because the majority of the film was shot in 1994 then sat largely forgotten in the producer’s basement for the next 25 years.


Stories about this film’s failed production seem nigh infinite, but here’s a brief summary of what happened, to the best of my understanding. Following his roles in Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and Class of Nuke ‘Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (and possibly Nuke ‘Em High Part III), Troma wanted to give actor and pro-wrestler Brick Bronsky (aka Jeff Beltzner) the reigns to direct and feature in his own movie. 

In 1994, on the promise of funding, the cast and crew started shooting in an abandoned funeral home in Eastern Pennsylvania. They worked on deferred pay and managed to film a good deal of Masked Mutilator

The shoot was grueling. The funeral home they shot in lacked air conditioning, the craft services consisted solely of pizza, and many of the stunts ended in injury. As filming progressed, there was a disagreement on the ending, funding seemed to dry up, and the movie was shelved. 

Members of the production got back together in 1996 and started filling in the film’s blanks. But for reasons unclear to me, it again was shelved, not to be seen until 2019, when InterVision (the archival branch of Severin Films) somehow scrounged up the footage. They filmed a few present-day scenes with one of the original actors, threw in Jim “Tank” Dorsey, and miraculously brought Masked Mutilator back to life. 


At a lean 76 minutes, Masked Mutilator doesn’t have a particularly dense plot, but I’ll go into that later. For now, what you need to know is that it’s about a former pro wrestler, The Masked Mutilator (aka Vic Mangiano, played by human freight-train Jeff Sibbach) who retires after he accidentally kills his opponent in the ring. After some time, he comes to run a group home for wayward teens. One day, however, someone dons his Masked Mutilator persona and begins killing those teens.

As you may have already guessed, the plot isn’t necessarily Masked Mutilator’s biggest strength, although it’s absolutely serviceable. That said, as I started writing, I struggled to express precisely what did make me enjoy this film so much. After some thought, I realized that Masked Mutilator is great because it has charm. In 1994, a bunch of amateur pro-wrestlers went all-out making a goofy little slasher. There’s a lot of heart in this movie, and while there are elements that are rough around the edges, the charm smoothes it out. 

It takes the style of an 80's slasher and mixes it with 90's aesthetics. One character (aptly named Rocker) is an over-the-top punk rocker. Doug “Flex” Yasinsky dresses like a musclebound Kurt Cobain. There’s heaps of flannel, just as much denim, and an overabundance sleeveless shirts that show off the bulging muscles of the wrestlers that star. Of course, they’re still meant to be teenagers in a group home, which makes the hulking biceps and tree-trunk necks ridiculous, but it’s all part of the movie’s charm.

Now, because many of the characters are played by amateur actors, the performances are mixed, but because they’ve come straight from the squared circle, there’s no shortage of theatrics. These become center stage in the film's fight scenes, where characters fight with headlocks and dropkicks. This is heightened by the film’s surprisingly good practical blood and gore effects, supplied by effects artists Paul Sutt and Glenn Hetrick, who both co-star, and who both went on to have impressive careers.


Despite being a 1994 production with a 2019 release, Masked Mutilator feels like a better fit in the pantheon of 80's slashers. 1994 gave us films like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and In the Mouth of Madness alongside Interview with a Vampire and The Crow. Meta-horror was in, and everything else was driven by pure angst. By the time this was being filmed, the traditional slasher was long dead, and wouldn’t be back until Scream kicked off years of lame knockoffs.

With that in mind, I spent some time thinking about where Masked Mutilator would fit into that 80's pantheon. Final Exam (1981) was the first movie I thought of, due to its bare-bones plot and inconsistent tone, but Masked Mutilator is definitely a step up from it. As far as quality (or at least enjoyability) I’d put it way above Madman but a little below Blood Rage and The Mutilator. It’s got a lot of the same goofiness of the latter films but doesn’t manage to match their over-the-top gore. 

Plot-wise, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning might be the closest comparison, as they share the home for troubled youth setting, and both have vague mystery elements. Personally, I’m a fan of Friday 5, but it catches a lot of flack for not having Jason. Don’t let that deter you, Masked Mutilator is really a thing all its own. Had it been released in 1985 as a completed production, I could imagine it being a cult classic.

Hopefully, at this point, you’re sold on Masked Mutilator. If not, feel free to tap out. Otherwise, I’m about to go into spoilers, so if you’re worried, watch it first, but even then, it’s got such a threadbare plot, that I don’t think you’ll find anything earthshattering.


Masked Mutilator begins with opening credits that don’t quite feel deserved, but get over with quickly enough. You might notice here that the film has a fairly impressive score, supplied by Fabrizio Bondi, who, at a glance, seems to have done a fair bit of work in Italy. The credits fade and we move to the present day, as Brian (played both past and present by Steve Taylor) and his girlfriend come in for an interview on a podcast about neglect in youth homes.

We soon jump to some time prior to 1994, as the Mutilator dons his mask. A dead-eyed announcer announces his match, and the fight begins. Very quickly, The Masked Mutilator kicks his opponent in the chest, clotheslines him, then puts him in a headlock. As the ref checks for a pulse, the Mutilator snaps his opponent’s neck, killing him. The performances of the announcer and the ring girl are baffling, perhaps to the point of being distracting, but the scene itself provides a great hook, and really sells the movie’s tone.

It then jumps to 1994, in the home for troubled youth run by Vic Mangino, the wrestler formerly known as The Masked Mutilator, where we meet the teens and watch as Rocker (Glenn Hetrick), an over-the-top, leather-clad punk, threatens to “slice a pretty boy” with a can opener, as recompense for touching his records. Vic quickly breaks up the fight, and throws Rocker in “The Cell.” A basement room meant for solitary confinement. 

For whatever reason, Vic makes a phone call, while Marcy (Amanda Kupchinsky) tries to flirt with him, but he’s on the phone with a naked woman, who herself is gyrating on top of a fully clothed man. As far as I know, none of this serves any purpose plot-wise, except maybe as a red-herring when the murders start. It seems, however, like this may be the remnant of a subplot that never got filmed. Vic calls this mysterious woman a bitch and hangs up, and we move on.

We jump to breakfast. There’s lousy food, big muscles, and an unidentifiable juice — Vic’s, in particular, contains a fingernail. During the meal, a social worker brings in Steve Carson (Brick Bronsky), Vic’s new intern. Brick is fantastic in this, his acting is spot on, and his wardrobe really helps sell the film’s campy vibe. He’s frequently clad in oversized blazers, which look absurd on his massive frame, other times he’s dressed in preppy combinations of chino shorts and polo shirts, and his overacting is some of the film’s best.

Shortly after, we meet the 1994-Brian, who’s been sent to the home because his hair was too long. Vic forces him to get a haircut and drags him back to the group home. He replaces Rocker in one of the bedrooms and asserts his authority by showing how much of a badass he is with nunchucks. If that doesn’t sound like the most 90's thing you’ve ever heard, it’s only because I failed to mention that he does this while wearing a pink denim vest. It is glorious.

As the film progresses, the intern questions Vic’s methods and releases Rocker so he can lift weights. As Rocker works out, someone dressed as The Masked Mutilator kills him, dismembers him with a hacksaw, and tosses him in the building’s surprisingly large furnace.

Through the rest of the film more teens die, there’s a vague mystery over who the killer is (is it Vic? Is it the intern? Is it Carl the Cook?). Eventually, the real killer is discovered, there’s a great fight scene, and the day is saved. 

Like I said, the plot is thin. 

Trust me though, it remains thoroughly amusing throughout. One of the major perks of having a cast of wrestlers is that the fight choreography is great. The punches and kicks feel impactful (according to the commentary, it’s because some of them did impact). The kills also make impressive use of wrestling holds, which is a fun gimmick. Altogether, it makes the performances feel surprisingly genuine, even given the cast’s inexperience. While it’s goofy at times, nothing ever took me out, and even when it’s ridiculous, it’s engrossing.


At this point, I’ve written more about this film than I thought I had in me, but I’ll end with a note on the special features. I mentioned them a few times already, and I’m no authority on Blu-Ray extras, but they include an audio commentary, a bunch of interviews, and some old audition tapes which are pure gold. It seems like a pretty meaty selection given the film’s history, and really shows that a lot of love went into making this, even if it took 25 years. The commentary, in particular, gives some great details on the film’s troubled production but approaches it with constant positivity. Just another bit of the movie’s charm.

If at the beginning of 2019, you had asked me to predict my top 10 horror movies of the year, some choices would’ve been immediately apparent. Us, Midsommar, The Lighthouse, and Brightburn all would have seemed obvious. There’d be some welcome surprises and other disappointments, but I feel like I could have gotten close to nailing 8 out of 10.

While this predictability can be boring, it only serves to make it even more delightful when an outlier emerges. Each year, a film or two comes out of nowhere and smashes me in the face with something strange and wonderful. Revenge, The Evil Within, and Cat Sick Blues have been some from the last few years, and it looks like Masked Mutilator will be this year’s outlier. 

So if you’re also a fan of 80's slashers, campy horror, and cult oddities, Masked Mutilator is definitely worth your time.

Move your stack of bootleg WWE tapes, put your feet up, crack open a Yuengling, and enjoy. 


-Listener Sam

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: Depraved, Larry Fessenden's


A disillusioned field surgeon suffering from PTSD makes a man out of body parts and brings him to life in a Brooklyn loft.

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

Lord Battle: Modern retellings of the Universal Monsters do not interest me in the least. I have no need to see the Creature from the Black Lagoon run around Florida in a leather jacket... Okay, I take that back, but I'm not joking about "Modern" retellings being guilty of just dressing up the same old characters in whatever is currently popular. Depraved, however, stands out for not only updating Frankenstein's Monster's look (the SFX are amazing!) but also all of Mary Shelley's themes. Mad scientists testing pharmaceuticals on cadavers conjured up all of my hatred for Purdue Pharma and with all the unethical treatment they've had with the living. I wouldn't put it past them to make some awful deal with the minorly less corrupt VA to make this nightmare a reality... Larry Fessenden has managed to drag some strong emotions out of me here and I was completely caught off guard. Those of you who consider yourselves casual film fans need to stick through the first act, it's a little slow but the payoff is well worth the wait." - 4 Stars

TroubleShoot: "A modern microcosm of Frankenstein doused in a heavy blanket of PTSD, this one displays a wonderfully physical and melancholy performance. But despite some interesting ideas it doesn't quite sustain its runtime. Some of the editing choices were jarring and strange with superimpositions of chemical reactions and synaptic firings working about half the time. Though he didn't have the budget he needed, Larry Fessenden continues to prove himself as the Godfather of Indie Horror with shaky chaos complimented by flat stillness and a strong current of extreme sadness and depression. It would have benefited from more focus on the father/son dynamic instead of corporate shenanigans. Simpler may have been better." - 3 Stars

The Impostor: "Depraved is an intriguing film that kept me engaged from beginning to end. I went into it blind and with the name like "Depraved", I didn't know what to expect. With a story that has been told over and over, Depraved tops my list. The acting in this film was so good, especially from the main character Adam, that I believed this was really something that happened. Overall, a solid Franken flick that I can't wait to own in the near future." - 4 Stars

Huntress: "I wasn't a big Frankenstein fan going into Depraved, but this retelling made it easy to sympathize with the heartbreak and rage that Adam (Alex Breaux) goes through. The film's deliberate pace through his recovery and re-education, amplified by the subtle reduction of scarring and eye discoloration really makes it feel like we're watching him come to life. When he starts rebelling against creators, it's very satisfying. If Larry Fessenden hadn't already established a reputation for amazing low budget movies I would have never suspected that Depraved was, in fact, low budget. And the more I think about it, the more I enjoy Frankenstein in a big city setting." - 4 Stars

KillDozer: "A beautiful retelling of a classic cautionary tale. The horrors of loss, love, parenthood, and the human condition. This is a refreshing vision of a monster kid classic." - 4 Stars

Speed Demon: "No matter what good intentions you have, playing God never works out. An Emotional Modern Frankenstein." - 3.5 Stars

Math Mage: "Rules for the care & feeding of your creation:
  1. Read Mary Shelly's Frankenstein
  2. Don't make him super strong on purpose
  3. Don't make him out of people you personally kill
  4. Do study both early child development and rehabilitation techniques
  5. Do respect the wishes of your creation. Take it seriously as an adult
  6. Don't give your Frankenstein cocaine!
  7. Accept that it may kill you, despite your best efforts." - 5 Stars
Wondering Panda: *Fell Asleep* - 2 Stars (Default)



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


Appropriately, Frankenstein has had many faces and the story has seen many renditions spanning decades and genres. It's a unique story that has many different levels that an audience can relate to, be it with the creature who is alone and didn't ask for any of this, or with his creator(s) who are quickly realizing they are in way over their head. That being said, I was still extremely nervous during the Overlook screening of Depraved

I'm a big fan of Larry Fessenden, who wrote and directed this nearly two hour long movie, which like I mentioned in my review takes its time building up. And this particular screening was being attended by a new reviewer. It has become an unintentional tradition that when someone new enters the Overlook Theatre, their first screening becomes a real endurance test. Some have not returned. I got into my head about the audience being quiet, the movie being too atmospheric, and horror coming too late... and that was all wrong. 

To an extent, Adam is the movie. The special effects that give his scars life make everything he does visually engrossing. The body horror aspect of his recovery doesn't need any additional distractions; it's our bonding period with him. We bare witness to his isolation and hunger for human contact, to the situation he was thrown into due to greed, corporate irresponsibility, and a veteran's desire to eradicate death after seeing too much of it. And all of these scenes make the end of this movie more than worth sticking around for.


-Huntress

The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Residence for a screening on 7/25/2019
*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.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Awesome Theatre's HOLY SH*T THAT WAS SCARY PART 2: THE CITY


Presented by Awesome Theatre

WRAPAROUND
Written and Directed by Colin Johnson

THE LANDLORD
Written by Sunil Patel 
Directed by Colin Johnson

START FROM THE BEGINNING
Written by Christopher Magee
Directed by Puja Tolton

THE DARKNESS
Written by Red Durkin
Directed by Tanya Acosta


I’d be lying if I said that I knew all that much about theater. My experience doesn’t go much further than a kindergarten performance of The Three Little Pigs and an eighth-grade performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I played the Big Bad Wolf and Puck respectively.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I was an adorable big bad wolf.

Beyond that, I’ve seen a few film adaptations of stage plays (William Friedkin’s Bug comes to mind). Like most, I had to read some Shakespeare in high school and I’ve watched Stage Fright (1987) a few times. That’s the extent of my theatrical knowledge.

At its core, I think there’s something inherently intimidating about theater. Society leads you to believe that (school plays be damned) it’s an activity reserved for the Bourgeoisie. I felt a degree of anxiety on my way to Holy Sh*t That Was Scary. I imagined a high-brow production, presented by a clique insular thespians, and aimed at an audience far above a plebeian like myself.

What I got was a revelation. I adored Holy Sh*t That Was Scary. As a lifelong horror fan, it managed to be one of the most visceral experiences I’ve ever had in a theater.

Let me set the stage.

I leg it to Market at about 6:30 pm and head for PianoFight. Having never been there before, I gave myself a little extra time to make sure I found it alright. Coming from 4th, I took Market to Turk, to Mason, to Eddy, to Taylor. I haven’t spent a ton of time in that part of the city and forgot just how much of it overlaps with the Tenderloin.

I’m not necessarily uncomfortable in the TL, but it’s inarguable that it’s the bad part of the city. It’s hard to not feel a little unease crossing from the tech-startup bloated streets of SoMa to the poverty-stricken streets of the ‘loin.

It’s not just the neighborhood though. For those unfamiliar with San Francisco, much of the city doesn’t feel like a city. Buildings rarely rise above five or six stories, and in places, the transition from city to urban sprawl is indecipherable. Downtown, however, is a tangle of skyscrapers, tight streets, and Gordian knots of foot and vehicle traffic. The constant shadow of the metal and concrete behemoths, and the nonstop thrum of humans makes me claustrophobic.

Regardless, I round the corner onto Taylor and make my way to Pianofight. I hopped inside, grabbed a beer, and headed for the theater.

The first thing I saw upon entering, besides the splotchy black of the stage, was a pile of tarps, garbage bags, and other refuse. I almost thought I’d walked into the wrong room or maybe out a back door. I wondered for a moment, “maybe thespians are messy. Maybe these are mess-pians.” (I’m sorry.)

Then I looked left and saw the audience. I took a seat, sipped my beer, chatted with my seat-neighbor, and waited for the show to start.

Okay, I’ve wasted your time with about 300 words describing a trip that amounted to maybe 10 blocks. You’re welcome. Let’s get on with the show.

Holy Sh*t That Was Scary is comprised of three segments and a wraparound, not unlike the formula of found footage classics, V/H/S and V/H/S 2. Although I don’t have much experience with theater, I felt like this format worked well, especially in the realm of horror. The breaks between segments were comprised of blackness and video segments that included titles and credits for each segment as well as found footage clips central to the wraparound.

Below, I’ll detail each segment individually. There’ll be spoilers galore, but because (to the best of my knowledge,) this was a one-time production that shouldn’t be a concern. Rather, I’d recommend reading it for fun, and to gauge interest in future productions from Awesome Theatre, Colin Johnson, and the others involved.

---

WRAPAROUND

The play begins with a video segment, where the two leads (Olivia Brown and Melissa Keith) meet in an apartment to discuss a missing friend. We learn that they were sent a mysterious package that contained a videotape.

Despite the extremely distorted video, they realize that the tape shows a person with the same birthmark as their missing friend. We eventually learn that the friend had allegedly died in a ferry accident, though her body was never found. With only a return address, they embark on a journey to a seemingly abandoned building in a bad part of the city.

This is how we transition to the stage portion, where we find our leads in the basement of an abandoned warehouse. Eventually, they find an audio recording, and we begin our first segment.

---

THE LANDLORD

This segment opens with a man planting the recorder that our wraparound characters later find, and then confronting his landlord about an unfair “Asylum Tax” that she charges him because he’s an undocumented immigrant. The tax has become too much, on top of his already high rent, and without a reprieve, he’ll no longer be able to support his family.

The segment, for the most part, plays out as an argument between the landlord and her tenant, before diverting into the supernatural. The dialogue is quick and punchy, and the acting was superb. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the names of the actors for this article, but they deserve recognition. The tenant is portrayed as haggard and downtrodden, and the landlord (depicted with a twangy southern drawl) excellently captures the “I’ve got mine” mentality of a slumlord.

As their argument reaches its climax, the tenant reveals his recorder, and plays it back to his landlord, only to realize that it’s captured something otherworldly. A demonic voice rumbles from the tapedeck and seems to possess the landlord.

We learn that the landlord is little more than a thrall for this being, and is only allowed to remain alive because she keeps providing the demon sacrifices, in the form of the undocumented immigrants she preys on. Speaking through her voice, the demon reveals that the landlord is late with her sacrifice, and is no longer of use.

The segment ends with the demon taking over the body of the tenant to replace the landlord and continue providing the demon with new lives. When the demon takes over, the performances stay strong, as both actors take turns being possessed, showing off some particularly effective body movement to give the sense that something else was controlling their skin.

This segment is by far the most political of the three, and insomuch as it was, felt the most timely and relevant. It also had one particularly effective “jump scare” involving a desk. Together, these provided a great introduction to Holy Sh*t, giving us an idea with what to expect (and what will be unexpected) without providing all its scares upfront.

After this scene, the wraparound continues, providing additional context into the first segment. The women find newspaper clippings that reveal that the tenant grew to become an infamous serial killer who murdered his tenants, apparently continuing the sacrifices for at least 10 years.

Soon after, the leads find a body bag, corpse and all, and we segue to our next episode.

---

START FROM THE BEGINNING

Start From the Beginning was my favorite segment but is also the most difficult to write about. It follows a discussion between a woman and her therapist (Jan Gilbert and Michael Magee), as she discusses a past trauma involving a man whose face appeared “wrong”.

Throughout the conversation, the story becomes simultaneously more outlandish and more real. As the segment progressed, the therapist repeatedly asks the patient to “start from the beginning,” beginning a new iteration of the same story.

By the conclusion, the therapist has become a raving lunatic as the man with the “wrong” face has come to take him to his inevitable fate.

I’m not doing it any justice, but the whole segment is pure, beautiful dream logic with a heavy dose of cosmic horror. It felt like equal parts Lynch and Laird Barron, and the effect was amazing. I wish I could talk more about it, but it would be a disservice to Christopher Magee’s phenomenal writing. This is almost part of why it’s great. As I write this, I recall it more as a nightmare than a true experience, and it’s rare that any kind of media would affect me like that.

On the topic of writing, the dialogue, especially as the lead actress's monologue about the indifferent and terrifying cosmos, was fantastic. I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft and most horror in that vein, but it’s not known for having particularly engaging characters. Seeing it delivered with the fervent passion of these actors was transcendent.

This segment ends, and we return to the wraparound, where the leads get as close as they ever will to their lost friend.

They find a camcorder and play the tape inside.

---


THE DARKNESS

The final segment again features two actors, one playing the role of the missing friend, the survivor of a ferry accident, and the other as a madman who’s kidnapped her.

We learn that she’s been selected by some malevolent force (perhaps the same one as in The Landlord), to act as a vessel. Her kidnapper holds deep resentment that she was selected instead of him, but because he fancies himself an acolyte of this malevolent being, he’s not committed to outright murdering her.

This segment above all others has extremely impressive physical acting. The leads, Sarah Coykendall and Travis Maider, both take on far more physical tasks than we saw in previous segments.

As the villain, Travis constantly spasms and twitches, toeing the line between neurological condition and demonic possession. He plays a near-perfect maniac.

Sarah, on the other hand, is a fantastic hero, who provides what may be the most cathartic moment in the entire performance. To escape her imprisonment she manages to get the jump on her captor and bludgeons his head in with a telephone.

This near-final scene has all the brutality you’d expect, masterfully hidden (just barely) by the garbage bags I’d mentioned earlier in this article. By using a rotary phone to do-the-deed, each hit provides a satisfying audio element.

---

Despite being a bit skeptical of theater coming in, I enjoyed the hell out of Holy Sh*t That Was Scary and I’m looking forward to Awesome Theater’s future productions, and the output of the creators involved in this production.



You can find more details about Awesome Theater at AwesomeTheatre.org.

~💀~

-Listener Sam

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Digging Up the Dirt with KillDozer and Carl King, Writer of That Monster Show



Every monster kid loves spotting cleverly placed horror references in cartoons. A solid example is all of the Shining references in the Toy Story franchise. After a while you start to day dream about a cartoon made just for you where it's not a team of cool kids and a talking dog tracking down fake ghosts or even a hotel where monsters stay for the summer. Well thanks to an extremely talented group of monster kids, that dream is a reality and we can all cheer that a successful crowd funding campaign has brought us an "Adult Swim" style cartoon series titled That Monster Show! I was lucky enough to dig up the dirt with the brilliant composer and jack of all trades Carl King who is one of the minds behind this awesome idea!




KillDozer: That Monster Show looks incredible and seems to be the cartoon that the horror community has been waiting for. Where did the inspiration begin? Was it always planned as an animated show? 

Carl King: Thank you very much! After screening my animated episode called "The Oracle of Outer Space" at L.A. Comic Con last year, I decided I wanted to tell a story that was more intelligible. The Oracle of Outer Space was too weird, and suffered from a problem that Upright Citizens Brigade calls “Crazytown.” I made MANY storytelling / writing mistakes, and I wanted to start over with a different premise. As for the genre and inspiration… I grew up watching this guy called Dr. Paul Bearer on WTOG, Tampa / St. Petersburg. He had a show called Creature Feature from the 70's to the 90's. I also collected Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine since I was a teenager. My favorite part of that was reading the letters from the readers, and the old ads. I think those two “60's Monster” elements make for a great aesthetic / starting point for an animated show. The rest of the equation / inspiration is stranding the monsters in 1960's Florida. I grew up in Florida, with all the flamingos and golf courses and seashells and orange groves. I know what it’s like to be stranded there in the sun.


KD: With an idea like this do you start with characters and build a world around them? Or did you already have the setting and feel planned out in your mind?

CK: I started with the simple recipe: 1. characters 2. in a location they don’t want to be. 60's Monsters don’t belong in the Florida sunshine. It’s classic fish-out-of-water. It’s one of those storytelling templates that create instant conflict. I’m spending a lot of time fleshing out their personalities and quirks, as well as their story arcs. Each character will deal with obstacles and go through a change. It’s fun to pair up characters who are opposites, watch them struggle and argue.


KD: Can you tell us about the characters in the show? Are they all of your own creation? Who were they inspired by?

CK: All of the protagonists are vaguely based on the traditional horror creatures we know about. A vampire, a Frankenstein monster, a mutant / alien, a werewolf, a ghost. But they’re all warped versions. They have flaws and personal problems, which causes them to not always get along. They all have their own needs and goals. There are also lots of Floridians in the local town, some villains, etc. Each character’s personality is definitely based on aspects of people I have known. I tend to be curious about people and their psychology. I try to figure out what makes them act the way they do, or what they REALLY want. You can find all these personality archetypes in real life and borrow them for the show. You just boil them down to their essence… whether it is the need for attention or the need for control or the need to feel superior.


KD: What was it like to cast the voice actors for That Monster Show? When working on an animated project like this, do you have an idea of what a character will sound like already?

CK: That’s a great question, and the first thing I look for is pre-existing vocal abilities, acting skills, and professionalism. I don’t mean to sound cynical but everyone wants to be a voice actor. It seems like such an easy and fun job on the surface. But I don’t want to hire someone that is impossible to get ahold of or get back into the studio for another session. You can’t have people that are only there for the immediate excitement of it. Second, sometimes a person just has a striking voice and they’d be just right for a single role. So even if they’re not a professional voice actor, sometimes it’s just someone I know that is perfect for a character. I want to make sure that each main character sounds totally different. There needs to be contrast. I start by thinking about the character’s personality — the range of emotions they need to express. Then I match that to the voice actor that I think can best embody that.


LeeAnna Vamp has a very “vulnerable” and “sweet” voice in my opinion. So I casted her as the ghost girl, Victoria Em, because that’s what the story’s character needs… a purity and innocence.


Joanie Brosas can do very cartoony kid voices or a sassy southern waitress and it sounds authentic to her! She’s full of energy and charm and it's just exploding from her. So whatever the character and actor, it needs to sound authentic, rather than a person “doing a voice.” It has to be believable.


This guy Dan Foster does an incredible voice of Professor Sylvanus Huxley, the host of the show — and he has tons of acting skills, works in Hollywood professionally.


Same with Julia Aks, who is playing Draculaana, the Vampire Queen — she does a lot of comedy acting video directing, and even sings opera!


On the other end of the spectrum, I’m also working with Cole Johnson, who is new to voice acting but has a natural and maybe undiscovered talent for improv comedy. I’ve spent whole weekends with him at conventions and he is just hilarious 24/7. In my experience, a lot of comedians are mean, for whatever reason. But he’s got this friendly and empathetic personality. I tested him, and he can take a line of dialogue on the page, extract the essence, expand on it, give me ten variations with different phrasing and add his own touch. And he happened to have the perfect voice for our Werewolf character, Bernie, who is sort of a lovable stoner surfer type. It just fits him. So you don't necessarily need to be a professional with a huge reel to get into this. Most importantly, whoever the actor is, the voice just needs to be there and flow out. You don’t want a struggle. One other thing I’ll add… it’s crucial that a voice actor can read a scene and understand it. They need to get the inherent drama of it. What are the characters doing, what is the scene about, etc. These are basic acting skills. It’s not just about making your voice sound funny.


KD: What were the first steps you took to make That Monster Show a reality?

CK: The first step was figuring out a concept and a name for the show. I spent many hours over a period of weeks with a huge list of names, and making them into logos. I bought all these extra reference coffee-table books of old movie posters and went back through my Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines looking for inspiration. I actually settled on a different show name and poster design and domain name. At the last minute before launching the Kickstarter I did one last Google search to make sure it wasn’t used before. My worst nightmare: the concept and name I picked already existed. Not as a cartoon, but as a fiction story. I decided to take a couple of months and rework it, and move forward with my second favorite option, That Monster Show. Not the greatest, but it summed it up and I figured I could come up with another title as I went — if one occurred to me. But it ended up fitting very well with the story itself! 


KD: Congratulations on the successful Kickstarter campaign! What has the process of crowdfunding been like? Any suggestions you would give to others looking to fund projects such as yours?

CK: Crowdfunding has always been a massive amount of work. It becomes nearly as much work and stress as the project itself. So in a way, you end up doing TWO projects when you set out to do one. My advice is to be prepared for the 30-day marathon. Come up with a list, in advance, of stories you can tell every day. Map it out. You’ll need to find a reason to post about it constantly without annoying all of your friends. Unveil concept sketches, announce voice actors, music, guests, news, anything you can think of. Try to keep it happening during those 30 days. There is also a dead-zone in the middle of the campaign where you can’t stop pedaling that bike. Every little bit builds momentum. Don’t just launch the campaign, then wait 30 days and tell everyone it’s ending. Find a way to keep it alive and changing. Also, try to recruit people into the project that will help you promote it. It helps if you can find actors or musicians or collaborators who understand how much work it is to create something like this out of nothing. I think it was Peter David who (somewhere) wrote (and I am paraphrasing) : "to have a successful comic book, you need two of the following three things. One, a famous character, two, a famous writer, three, a great story”. As an independent creator I always think about that. If no one knows who I am and no one knows what the thing is that I am making, it’s going to be an uphill battle. This is why movie studios spend so much on having star actors and directors. You see this in the art world as well, at events like Monsterpalooza. Paintings and shirts of famous movie characters far outsell original characters. That’s not to sound cynical, or that it absolutely can’t be done, but if people don’t immediately identify what it is you are offering and are already interested in it, you’ve probably got a torturous amount of work ahead of you.


KD: What does the future hold for That Monster Show now that things are in full swing?

CK: Lots of research and planning right now! I have a big color-coded spreadsheet of scenes and story arcs and episodes. I think, “What is this series missing?” I just rewatched the first two seasons of Twin Peaks as conceptual reference. What does that show have that draws me in so much? How would I achieve that with my own character and world? What mistakes did they make that I can learn from? It helps a lot to have conceptual references...


KD: Tell me about the people writing for the show. Is the talent made up of fellow monster kids or horror enthusiasts?  

CK: I am the only writer at this time. I have considered hiring a professional writer to help me, but so far it’s going well. Just taking a lot longer than I hoped. It’s a trade off. I’m not sure the chaos and problems inherent in having more writers are worth it right now. If this show were to continue to grow I’d definitely need more writers. Some of my voice actors have a talent for improv acting, so inevitably some things will change once we’re recording. So that’s always an enjoyable second phase of the creative “writing” process. We always think of random things when recording. Usually a lot of laughing, too. 


KD: Being a monster kid father I have to ask: is That Monster Show family friendly? Is that a question that ever had a different answer?

CK: I’m not settled on that, actually. By default I planned to make it based in Adult Swim -type humor. But as it is right now, it’s a cohesive story that any audience should be able to enjoy. I don’t have a goal to make it full of poop jokes and blood and profanity. It’s probably more along the lines of Star Wars... but we shall see! 


KD: What do you hope audiences will get out of the show?

CK: The personal challenge for me is writing something that audiences will understand. The writer (now director) Aaron Sorkin says all he wants to know from a reader is “Did you understand it?” That is a bigger challenge than you’d expect. I took a bunch of screenwriting classes and we’d take turns reading everyone’s scripts, acting out the parts. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 9 out of 10 screenplays made zero sense to me. I couldn’t tell what the scene was basically about, who the characters were, and my mind would wander. The writing was always too pretentious and flowery. I wanted to say, “Put away the thesaurus”. So… the simple answer beyond hoping people UNDERSTAND my story, is that they will be entertained. We’ll see if I can reach that secondary goal! 


KD: How many hats do you wear in making That Monster Show come to life?

CK: Everything aside from doing the voices and the drawing. I write the story and scripts (this is the central job, maybe underestimated by everyone including me), plan the character personalities and visual appearances, cast and record the voice actors, score the music, edit everything together with sound effects, put together a “text animatic", beg my animator to change a few last things, and make sure everyone gets paid. Lance Myers is my artist / animator and I have some very talented voice actors who perform my ideas and bring everything to life. I am “Everything Else." 


KD: Are there any difficulties that come with producing an animated project that doesn't exist when working in live action?

CK: This is a really good question! I love it. As far as I can tell, the answer is definitely NO! That’s why I love animation. Far fewer problems. When you work with live action there are so many variables — you are a victim to everything... from people’s moods, to lighting problems, to weather, to sound problems, to gear setup and breakdown, to scheduling — live action is a nightmare in my opinion. So many people standing around, so much time going by. I worked in documentaries and a lot of promotional videos for years and it was generally unpleasant. I mostly found myself wishing I were at home getting something done. I love the control that animation gives me. I’m only limited by what I can write, what I can get my voice actors to say, and what I can make Lance animate. It fits my temperament. 


KD: Where can everyone go to view That Monster Show? Where can we follow you on social media?

CK: As of right now the plan is to release Episode 1 of That Monster Show everywhere I can online (YouTube, Vimeo-On-Demand, etc.) and the following 4 episodes as an audio podcast on iTunes. The story will also be accompanied by additional visuals, because there are going to be some fun characters and scenes to see. If I can somehow get a manager / agent to help me sell the show, then it can be released in more places. My website is CarlKingdom.com, and I’m on Facebook and Twitter as carlking, and Instagram as carlkingdom. 


KD: Okay, time for some silly questions. If you could combine this with any other cartoon universe which would it be and why?

CK: My favorite cartoon universe has always been Masters of the Universe. I love the blend of fantasy and sci-fi, and how colorful and distinct the characters are. But that also made me think — wouldn’t Twin Peaks make an awesome animated show? If it were done in a 60's / 70's style? As far as combining cartoon universes, I think that’s always a great idea. Let’s mix them all up. 


KD: If the show became big enough to have its own theme park what would it be called?

CK: The show was actually conceived as taking place in a theme park. I don’t want to say what it was called because I don’t want to somehow run into weird legal issues. But wouldn’t it be awesome if Haunted Mansion were as big as Disney itself, and you could stay in it?


KD: If there was a That Monster Show arcade game would you want it to be a pinball machine or an old school standing video game?

CK: Oh, man. A standing video game. You’ve made me think back to Rampage and Gauntlet. I miss those sorts of simple games, where you throw in a quarter and play with a joystick and a button or two. This team of Monsters could definitely work in a game like that, each with their own magic abilities and visual effects… 

~💀~

You can still support That Monster Show on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo!
And get to know the cast of voice actors on Carl King's YouTube Channel.


-KillDozer

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: Iron Sky: The Coming Race


A follow-up to the film Iron Sky (2012) in which Nazis plan to take over the world after lying dormant in a secret military base on the moon.

5 of 7 viewers "Liked" "Iron Sky: The Coming Race" (2019, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

KillDozer - "I love when a sequel outdoes its predecessor and Iron Sky 2 is a fun filled mix of Land of the Lost meets Star Wars with a dash of Jurassic World for good measure! Basically, it doesn't take itself seriously and is in on its own jokes. Iron Sky 2 manages to succeed where part one failed. This is a fun popcorn movie that should be enjoyed with friends. If you are in the mood for silly action-packed fun, look no further!" - 4 Stars

Huntress - "I haven't seen the first Iron Sky but I still went into the sequel pretty defensive, expecting a single-target barrage of jokes. And I couldn't have been more wrong. No one was safe from ridicule in Iron Sky: The Coming Race, whose caricatures weren't at all selective. This was 90 minutes of blind-siding situations and bizarre jokes. And somehow it worked!" - 3.5 Stars

Greyranger - "Packs in so much stuff that none of it is interesting. Nice Laibach tunes, anyway." - 2.5 Stars

Eddie the Gamer Ghoul - "Good! Stupid! Outrageous and something special! All in one and I couldn't ask for more. Both nothing and yet everything I expected at the same time. Jus' one last movie to watch dis year and my life is great!" - 4 Stars

Lord Battle - I discovered that Tom Green was playing a tech cult leader and despite hating most comedies (especially parodies) I somehow came into Iron Sky 2 excited. Five minutes into the film and I was already confused. The world-building seemed inauthentic/ironic like they were making fun of the blockbuster format but secretly love that format. If that's confusing wait till you see Iron Sky 2. The film feels like it was written by online polls that filled in all the script's nouns and adjectives like a Madlib puzzle. That said, I laughed a lot towards the end. The beginning was very rough and cult leader Tom Green was mostly boring." 😞 - 2.5 Stars

Math Mage - "There's a popular legend about the association between Nazis and the Occult. Historically, the connection is tenuous at best. but it makes for good storytelling. Nazi sorcerers searching for Atlantis with cyborg henchmen make great antagonists so the idea persists. Most of the occult trappings added to Nazis owe a lot to the Theosophic movement from the 1800's early 1900's. Specifically the idea of Atlantean survivors with magic/psychic powers. There's a lot of racism (especially antisemitism) associated with this belief system, so it's a good fit for Nazis and the makers of Iron Sky ran with this to build a plot for the sequel. Really. it's two separate movies: one grim tale of the last living humans clinging to life on a derelict moon base; the other a colorful adventure story about stealing the holy grail from lizard people in the Hollow Earth. There are some serious tone problems, and a lot of terribly dated humor (president Palin wasn't that funny in the first Iron Sky). A few great scenes are scattered through the film (the president of the United States jump kicking a T-Rex ridden by Hitler), but the film in between those scenes is an awkward mess of "cool" moments that aren't cool and jokes that aren't funny." - 3 Stars

Wandering Panda - "Hitler riding a T-Rex, check. Journey to the center of the earth, check. Lizard people controlling all major positions, check. Humor and goofy comedy, check. Kept me entertained, check! I loved this movie. It's not for everyone and it's gonna offend a bunch of people but it's a fun ride beginning to end. I will recommend this film and unleash the insanity upon anyone who listens. Watch it!!" - 4.5 Stars



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

After screening Iron Sky: The Coming Race, and having a lot of fun with it, we really wanted to talk to the director to get some insight on this crazy sequel. But when schedules couldn't align, we deployed our resident interviewer to dig up some dirt with director Timo Vuorensola.



KillDozer: Did you know from the beginning that you would be taking your idea beyond its first installment?

Timo Vuorensola: I did, although I wasn’t sure if the first installment would ever have wings enough to allow a sequel. I always knew I wanted to continue the story to Hollow Earth, but of course, just putting together a scifi action film in Finland, not to mention on an insane topic like Nazis on the Moon, I needed to see first if we could pull it off and only then proceed.


KD: The visuals of the film are extremely well done. Did it help to know when working on the sequel that GC would be heavily involved? Does a decision to use CG help to gauge how far you can stretch a budget?

TV: The thing about CG is that it’s as much a matter of attitude as it is a matter of budget. One can do insanely amazing things, if you have a VFX supervisor and VFX company who’s fully invested to be on board – or one can spend all the money in the world and get very little if it’s just a job for the VFX people. We had the luck of getting to work with a company – Pixomondo – who really wanted to make the film look great, so they were patient, inventive and supportive with us, who were constantly fighting against budget limitations, to provide us with the most amazing results.


KD: Congratulations on your successful crowdfunding campaign! What have you learned through crowdfunding that might help other independent filmmakers?

TV: The more you are willing to connect with the crowd, the easier all activities with the crowd are. It’s hard to crowdfund if you are not willing to put yourself on the line, but if people feel that you are personally involved and invested in working with the community, it’s much easier.


KD: This installment seemed to be more focused on action and adventure and less on the comedy. Did you scale back the comedy for the sequel?

TV: Depends, my sense of comedy is a bit less laugh-out-loud and more parodic, satiric and tends to find the comedy from under the surface. The action and adventure are surely the driving forces, but the comedy is there, it’s just more on taking a piss on conspiracy theories, religions and stuff like that. I mean, it’s still fun but it’s maybe less obviously so.


KD: How did you go about casting Tom Green? Was his role specifically written for him?

TV: Tom’s character was already written, and I was looking for an American comedian to play the role. Tom’s name came up with a mutual friend of ours on Facebook, and I fell in love with the idea of getting to work with Tom instantly. He really fit the idea of the character better than anyone I could’ve thought of.


KD: How much further do you hope to take the Iron Sky franchise?

TV: We have plans for a TV show, we have one spinoff in post production and other game- and so forth topics waiting to become reality. But let’s see what the future brings!


-KillDozer

The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Residence for a screening on 6/27/2019
*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.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: DEADSIGHT, Jesse Thomas Cook's


A man with partial blindness and a young pregnant police officer must work together to escape from a deadly virus that has spread across Grey County.

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

Lord Battle - "Zombies populate a cinematic world created by George Romero. Other filmmakers may explore this world and even change it to suit their needs. Deadsight chose not to retread Romero's water by explaining rules to a savvy audience but instead used this extra narrative time to set a tone with dilapidated rural homes and colorfully lit underground mazes populating our unlikely survivor's 90 minute journey. Zombie fans may not enjoy the gore (especially a couple of CGI headshots that stand out) but may enjoy the strong cinematography, bleak storytelling, and post-apocalyptic exploration." - 3.5 Stars

Huntress - "Deadsight follows two rationally unskilled, extra vulnerable people as they make their way through a zombie ravaged world. Most of their run-ins with the infected felt like they were won simply due to dumb luck, which I really liked. But the overactive background music smothered the potential for tension to build. Deadsight simultaneously felt like several movies smashed together as well as its own thing, which is becoming increasingly uncommon in a genre that's been through as many renditions as zombie movies have. Our leads had the uncomfortable chemistry of an arranged marriage, which also adds to the authenticity of their relationship." - 3 Stars

Wandering Panda - "Deadsight is full of hits and misses for me. If the characters were not fumbling in the dark or in an actual dire situation the film would be so much better. The two characters at times feel like they have complete mastery of what they're trying to do. I also love the joke of "let's hand the blind guy very dangerous things." Like seriously, he was handed an axe and a shotgun. A frickin' shotgun!!! He's blind!!! Also, he had perfect aim for some reason or whatever." - 2.5 Stars

Eddie the Gamer Ghoul - "I made the mistake of taking it seriously... and the start of the movie sold its seriousness. Too soon I was laughing with the others at the blind swordsman/gunslinger rolling 20's with weapons he'd only used once (of which there were several). All in all, a great zombie comedy! That no one should suffer more den once... I was left with so many questions. Why did some zombies require headshots and some didn't? What happened to Patient Zero? She was like, 'I once was an infected like you, till I took a bullet to the knee.'". - 3 Stars

Math Mage - "Fargo + 28 Days Later sounds promising but goes nowhere, explores nothing, and is full of lame tropes (especially all weapons are single-use, zombies spawn in front of you, aim for the head, etc). Also, the blind guy rolls nothing but 20's." - 2.5 Stars

Greyranger - "It's cheap, none-too-original, but it's surprisingly affecting! Far from perfect, but it's sticking with me. Stellar opening, too!" - 3.5 Stars

KillDozer - " I appreciate a film made by filmmakers who want to make a film. A beautiful score and some moody atmosphere make for a watchable independent film that will remind you of minimalistic 28 Days Later." - 3 Stars




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

I decided to play Deadsight first on this particular Overlook Theatre Thursday and it was the first time in years that the reviewers questioned my choice. I was surprised by this since the film paired to play with Deadsight was Iron Sky 2: The Coming Race, which had a lot of baggage and was a ridiculous comedy. I knew if I had reversed the two that the audience would be less open for a slow-paced film, which I was only guessing Deadsight would be.
I should mention that the Thursday screenings that have been going on for over 3 years now take place at 6:30PM to give people enough time to eat/change or whatever before coming over. If you open up a double feature with a thoughtful/deliberately paced film, you are catching people just as they are unwinding. I found this to be a great spot for a film that demands attention. The only problem is if it's really "heavy" or just really good you may be kneecapping the following film. Also, keep in mind 99% of the films screened on Thursdays are unvetted.
Deadsight started strong and held the audience's attention completely until the beginning of the 3rd act. As the action amped up and we got a couple of "How the hell did the blind guy..." comments accented by some CGI head explosions, cross conversations broke out.
I will say that we had a couple of strong outliers during the film who continued to focus through the chatter, so the conversation can be considered mostly rude.

~💀~

After this screening, we were joined by Deadsight director Jesse Thomas and co-writer/co-star Liv Collins for episode 149 of The Overlook Hour, where they elaborated on their stylistic choices with the film and talked about the entire filming process. There were some slight technical issues we had no control over, which we talk about in the intro, but if you just want to skip directly to the interview, it starts at 1:08:43.





Also available on 
iTunes
Spotify
Stitcher

Thanks again to RLJE for sending us an early screener of DEADSIGHT!

- Lord Battle

The Overlook Theatre materialized in a Residence for a screening on 6/27/2019
*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.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Math Mage Reviews: "The Hateful Place" Table Top RPG



Through a common love of horror films, I ended up befriended Dave Mitchell (creator of THP) over Instagram. When I found out he had a Lamentations of the Flame Princess style tabletop game I had to buy some of the books. I got 2 Core rulebooks and 2 copies of No Rabbits in Rabbit Wood. One set was for me and the other was for the Math Mage,he trade-off being he had to write up his thoughts on the product. Below is the honest neutral opinion of a mad wizard with 20+ years of Dungeon Master experience. Enjoy.
-Lord Battle
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“The Hateful Place” is an RPG that hates you, and not just in a narrative sense with its bleak setting and unfair odds.  “THP” hates you on a mechanical level.

If you play this game your character will die.  I don’t mean that in the “I hate you but secretly I love you” Dark Souls way; your character will die miserably and permanently and that’s the point.  The system is a very simple 3 stat system* that can be covered in a single page.  This makes character creation (relatively) quick and easy.  Which is good since you don’t want an emotional investment in someone who’s going to die in half an hour (or sooner, more on that later).  Here’s why you’re going to die: all attacks deal 4d10 damage (except demons, they do 5d10 damage), PCs have ~30hp, monsters have 40, and demons have 100. Attacks include everything: thrown rocks, dagger in the face, laser cannon, stubbed toe, and way more.  Assuming the scenario doesn’t simply begin with you bleeding to death already, any conflict at all will lead to your gruesome demise.  This is not a game of heroic adventurers battling evil, or even underdogs struggling against impossible odds.  This is a game about watching your character die in horrible and (hopefully) entertaining ways.

"A map from the upcoming VICTIMSHIRE"

The setting is the real selling point.  Left intentionally vague so that the system can be applied to a variety of genres, the whimsical and horrible dark fantasy comes through in both mechanics (as explored above) and in the prose and advice.  Except not really.  All of the books read like the notes an improv-loving GM would write to himself**, and there does seem to be a default setting if one reads between the lines.  It’s North-Central Europe in the age of pike and shot and if you told me that this was intended to be a campaign resource for Lamentations of the Flame Princess I would believe it.  The simple monster/demon rules would be an excellent solution to LotFP’s general lack of monster support.  This setting seems eerie and grim and I would love to play in it, but I can’t with just the info provided.  To paraphrase the title page, the Hateful Place only exists in its creator’s mind.

Additionally, as much as I praised it above, the system’s simplicity is also its biggest weakness. There’s no real way to differentiate between a toxic plant spraying acid in your face and a werewolf eating your leg if both deal 4d10 damage.  You can, of course, make up new rules for those specific situations, but if you’re doing that, why use these rules at all.  Even worse, as simple as they are, the character creation rules still require rolling stats and choosing classes such that character creation could take longer than the scenario.


"Rumor Table from the upcoming VICTIMSHIRE"

So should you buy this system? Emphatically yes! Although as I can’t recommend it as a game system, it is a wonderful campaign resource for any GM looking to inject some whimsical horror into their game.  The random tables especially help fire up the imagination, with entries like: STARTING PLACE (burning an innocent person alive as a witch) and YOU ARE (bleeding to death).  I’m planning to send my ACKS campaign to the Red and Pleasant Land very soon and these books will be a great resource.
I would recommend “3” especially.  Although it reads like random ideas on post-its rather than a sourcebook, most of those ideas are good ones.  And the random tables could sell the book on their own.  Providing creative answers to questions like WHAT’S IN MY MOUTH and WHOSE HANDS DO I HAVE?

*which makes me nostalgic for Big Eyes, Small Mouth but that’s another story.  
**I know because my notes look like that :)

Keep an eye out for VICTIMSHIRE which should be released the end of September!
And check out all of The Hateful Place books at Dave Mitchell's page on Lulu.com.


-Math Mage

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Some Much Needed Attention to Nicolas Pesce's PIERCING

Piercing (2019) 
81 minutes 

Directed by: Nicolas Pesce
Written by: Nicolas Pesce (Adapted from the novel by Ryu Murakami)
Starring: Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska

Available:


PIERCING tells the age-old tale of a man, Reed, who must face his fears head-on. For Reed, that fear is that he might stab his infant daughter with an ice pick. 

To confront that fear, Reed realizes that he must murder a prostitute with an ice pick. 

That's how we begin Nicolas Pesce's follow-up to his debut arthouse horror flick THE EYES OF MY MOTHER. If that sounds bizarre, you’re on the right track. PIERCING is an immensely strange movie, but if you’re familiar with the director or the source material, you should already have a good idea of what to expect.

PIERCING is an adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s (AUDITION, IN THE MISO SOUP) 1994 novel of the same name. For those uninitiated, Murakami follows in the footsteps of Edogawa Rampo (The Human Chair, Moju: The Blind Beast) and Japan’s peculiar tradition of erotic-but-rarely-sexy-thrillers (See: Pinku films). Murakami’s own psycho-sexual thrillers explore Japan’s sleazy underworld, Tokyo’s paranoid nightlife, and the odd characters within. 
PIERCING is no exception. The novel takes the profoundly weird setup described above and uses it to comment on the overworked Japanese businessman, escort services, fetishes, and fatherhood, all while delivering heaps of wry, pitch-black humor.

Pesce comes into the film with large shoes to fill. As the second director to adapt Murakami, he follows in the footsteps of Takashi Miike’s 1999 extreme J-horror classic AUDITION. Knowing the book and Murakami, I came into the film with no idea how a director could adapt it into something palatable, coherent, or successful. 

Then, I remembered that Nicolas Pesce made THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, a grisly movie that pulls no punches and is boldly stylish, presented in harsh black-and-white with a great deal of the dialogue in Portuguese. In his debut film, Pesce demonstrated an ability to expertly marry style and strangeness in a way that suits the surreality of PIERCING.

Going into PIERCING, I hoped Pesce’s short but impressive track-record would prove to be a perfect starting point from which to adapt a book that would otherwise be unadaptable. As much as anything, I at least hoped Pesce would present the story in its delightfully perverted whole.

My hopes were mostly met.

Before diving into the film, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how goddamn stylish it is. 

Unlike the greys of his previous film, Pesce paints the frames with vibrant reds, yellows, and blues, and combines them with striking angular arrangements of set-design and lighting. Vertical and horizontal lines stripe the frame and make it feel like a film noir collided with a Mondrian painting. The result is reminiscent of the films of Argento and Bava, with more than a splash of De Palma, all swaddled into a beautiful cubist nightmare.

The interiors, on the other hand, feel straight out of ERASERHEAD. Props and set-pieces seem to be pulled out of 70's and 80's Eastern Bloc states, then dyed bright colors and jammed into a hotel that would only exist in noir films and sleazy Italian slasher flicks. 


The world of PIERCING is an anachronistic mix of art-deco and baroque fixtures that would feel out-of-place anywhere but inside the impossible architecture of the movie’s miniature cityscapes. 

Did I mention the miniatures? To accentuate the visual style, the exteriors in PIERCING are comprised entirely of miniature sets, with towering walls of skyscrapers that often take up the full frame as we float up to the appropriate apartment. Toy cars fill the streets. At times, paroxysmal birds jitter past the buildings, seemingly cut from cardstock and animated with stop-motion.


Pesce combines the striking visual style with a unique, wonderful, and at times jarring choice of soundtrack. PIERCING uses music that’s almost entirely borrowed from Giallo films. Most notably Goblin’s main theme from DEEP RED, and another piece from TENEBRAE. While they’re used to great effect at times, they can also take the viewer out of the movie.


These, combined with gratuitous use of De Palma-esque split screens, lend to an acute awareness that what’s happening on screen is somehow not real, and lends the film a dreamlike quality. The style itself makes the viewer so aware that what they’re seeing is a movie that it’s almost surprising that the characters don’t know they’re in a movie.

PIERCING'S frequent references to De Palma, Argento, Fulci, Bava, and others, serve as an homage to the glorious sleaze of the 70's and 80's. The references are overt and amusing, and while they might evoke the overeager mimicry of a film student, it’s clear that the director comes from a loving, reverent place. As a fan of said sleaze, I was giddy every time I caught a glimpse of the aforementioned filmmakers’ distinct styles.

Now, on to the film itself. If you haven’t watched, spoilers are to follow but are mostly limited to the first act. If anything I’ve said above interests you, go watch the damn movie, then read.

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PIERCING begins with a pseudo-helicopter shot of the miniature skyscrapers. 

We zero-in on an apartment and quickly meet Reed (played by Christopher Abbott) as he watches over his newborn daughter and runs an icepick across the infant’s cheek. For some, this may be an uncomfortable scene, but I appreciated its boldness. It’s an unpleasant image that’s highly evocative and serves to foreshadow the grotesquery to come. 

It becomes clear that Reed has a dire need to stab something, or someone, with an icepick. This is evidenced by his own infant telling him so, in the first of a number of hallucinatory scenes that are some of the movie’s highlights. Reed narrates the requirements of his victim: a prostitute who must also speak English so he can understand her screams.

Reed quickly kisses his wife and infant goodbye and takes his murder plots to an upscale hotel, where he meticulously runs through his plans in one of the film’s most powerful scenes. 

We watch Reed (in a fantastic feat of physical acting by Abbott) mime through his plan, as he drugs his victim, drags her to the bathtub, stabs her with an icepick, then dismembers her. All his mimed actions are accompanied by the sound of the actions, such that we hear the squelch of the stabs and the grinding of the bone saw, followed by the oozes and rips as he mock-removes her head.

We next meet the prostitute he’s hired to be his victim. Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) wakes up from a halcyon binge to a call from her pimp, letting her know she’s got a job. She packs a duffel-bag of sex toys and catches a cab. Her cab ride is presented alongside Reed’s plotting, in a moment pure De Palma style split-screen that left me wide-eyed and giddy.

Jackie and Reed meet, and we quickly learn that Jackie isn’t all there. We get a sense that she’s not just uninterested in her work as an escort, but in human interaction altogether. After an extremely awkward introduction, followed by an even more awkward attempt at seduction. Jackie asks to take a shower and disappears into the bathroom of Reed’s hotel room.

What follows is a gruesome comedy of errors, filled with blood, gore, and weirdness. PIERCING takes you on a wild ride that will leave you saying “what the fuck” throughout. 

I wouldn’t want to spoil more than that. Although I can say for sure that the film holds up even knowing beat-for-beat what happens, I can almost guarantee that the film works better as a blind watch, or an introduction to the book, followed by a rewatch afterwards.

Abbott and Wasikowska do a fantastic job embodying the leads. As Reed, Abbott expertly portrays a socially abysmal weirdo. His affect and manner almost recall Christian Bale in American Psycho, but without a shred of the charisma. 


Wasikowska plays a different type of lunatic. Her body language, tone, and mannerisms are straight out of the uncanny valley, and the effect resonates. She moves like she doesn’t belong in her skin, mumbles half her lines, and at times hefts herself around like she’s carrying an invisible weight. 

Together they have an excellent dynamic. Throughout the film, both characters play cat-and-mouse like roles, however, being a comedy of errors, neither character seems sure which is the cat and which is the mouse.

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I omitted something when I described PIERCING-the-book. Murakami’s novel spends far, far more time in the characters heads than it does on their actions. Both characters, on the page and the screen, suffer from dire mental illness. Thus, the motivations range from baffling, demented, to outright psychotic.

Pesce’s adaptation reproduces the novel almost exactly, but he omits a great deal of the internal dialogue that both characters entertain. This leaves us with is a movie about maniacs pursuing vaguely defined, self-important goals, doing absolutely insane things to achieve them. 

A lot of the themes are lost between the novel and the film. Fear of fatherhood slips away, as does the plight of the businessman, and only minimal commentary on sex-work remains. Instead, Pesce has created a movie about roles of power in a relationship, and of dominance and submission. 


As the film progresses, we see Reed and Jackie swap roles. Reed begins as a cold psychopath ready to control and murder Jackie, but he degrades into a sniveling whelp. Jackie, on the other hand, constantly sucks agency away from Reed, and by the end becomes the dominant force in their relationship. Although in ways, it’s a divergence from the novel, it feels completely natural and fits into the strange world that Pesce has crafted out of Murakami’s source material.

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For some, the utter surreality of the film will be a turn-off. For others (including yours truly), it’ll be a joy to watch. Even knowing what to expect, the leads portray their insane roles so well that I found myself constantly on edge, wondering what the hell will happen next. Reed and Jackie are unstable power-kegs that could explode at any moment.

For me, I loved the utilization of absolutely bizarre flashbacks, some great phone-call gags, random acts of violence, and bizarre, but understandable character decisions. It misses some of the wry humor of the novel, but replaces it with new elements of visual weirdness, and introduces new humor while exploring the same themes.

Should you watch PIERCING? I’d sure-as-hell say so. While it’s not a perfect movie, it’s a hell of a ride, and if you’re anything like me, I suspect you’ll learn to love its weirdness. 

It’s a feat of style, with good performances to back it up. The soundtrack is clever, even if it’s out of place at times. The make-up effects are impressively gross, and it’s got some flawed but still awesome CGI.

Pesce is slated to direct the reboot of the American adaptation of THE GRUDGE(Ju-on). Who knows what that’ll look like, but I’m excited to see what he does with it. It’s a series with a lot of bizarre mythology, and I think Pesce’s style-followed-by-substance approach will fit it excellently.



-Listener Sam