HAIL TO THE DEADITES (2020)
Hail to the Deadites is a documentary from writer/director Steve Villeneuve that takes a fun look at the Evil Dead franchise’s loyal and dedicated fan base. The film travels from convention to convention and puts the spotlight on some of the movies’ most avid fans, as well as features interviews with the series’ cast members like Betsy Baker, Ellen Sandweiss, the late Dan Hicks, Kassie DePavia and the man, the myth, the legend himself, Bruce Campbell. It’s a fun and interesting look at the fans of one of horrors greatest and most recognized franchises and the effect that loyal fandom has had on the talent involved with those movies, such as FX legend Tom Sullivan. If you are one of these diehard fans and want an entertaining look at some of your peers and how you have affected the lives of the actors you idolize, then this is a nice companion piece to the classic horror film series. Documentary is now available to stream on Shudder.
HELL OR HIGH SEAS (2021)
Documentary tells the story of Taylor Grieger, A Navy Veteran diagnosed with PTSD, who decides to accomplish a long-time dream of sailing around the dangerous waters of Cape Horn. Along with him is his high school friend Stephen O’Shea, and for part of the journey, fellow veterans Kellen Warner and John Rose. The men battle the tumultuous seas while Taylor battles with the tumultuous emotions inside himself.
Heartfelt and emotionally intense documentary is directed by Glenn Holsten and written by O’Shea and Holden. It starts out with introducing us to Taylor and his battle with the dark and troubling emotions caused by his condition. It then delves into the preparations for this harrowing 200-day, 10,000-mile journey on some of the world’s most dangerous seas. It’s not long before we are on the small sailboat and sailing on the unpredictable seas with Taylor, Stephen and company. It is not an easy journey, as it starts out with a massive hurricane directly in their path, and along the way there is nightmarish weather, fights between friends, pirates and critical damage to their craft. As we watch these men brave hazardous conditions, we are also made startlingly aware of just how many of our brave veterans come home with PTSD and sadly, how many take their own lives upon returning to civilian life. It’s not only a tense adventure of man against the elements, but a heartbreaking and eye-opening wake-up call to what our returning heroes are struggling with…and how Taylor and Stephen are trying to make a difference and make all of us aware. An intense and involving documentary with a powerful message. Documentary is now available for streaming on Vudu and Apple TV.
UPDATE: Now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video!
ALICE IS STILL DEAD (2021)
Heartfelt and sad documentary is directed by Edwin P Stevens, who co-wrote with Meredith Mantik and Joe Raffa, and focuses on his family dealing with the grief and loss of his sister Alice Stevens, who was gunned down on 11/3/13 along with her boyfriend Forrest Ison. The documentary paints a picture of a little girl adopted into a family, but growing into an emotionally troubled young woman. It tells the story of a girl growing up into womanhood, never really finding her place and not only getting into trouble, but into abusive relationships. It covers the murder itself, where she and her boyfriend Forrest, were shot and killed and the subsequent arrest of the suspects and the resulting trials. It then follows a grieving family through their loss and pain trying to deal with not only the painful emotions evoked by the brutal killings, but also unresolved issues between family members and the troubled Alice. It’s heartbreaking to watch and very effective in that the pain of her loved ones is on display and some of them will never have closure with some of Alice’s behavior and choices. The story is told through family interviews, with some very heart-wrenching testimony, especially from her older brother, director Edwin P. Stevens. The actual footage from one of the trials is an emotional wringer. It is hard to sit through. You can understand why this family will never be the same, even as they try to move past the pain…but Stevens does still end it on a hopeful note. Alice Is Still Dead is a documentary that may not be for everyone, but it is a well made, powerful and sometimes very emotionally intense film from Edwin P. Stevens.
Be warned!…there are some very graphic autopsy and crime scene photos shown that are not easy to look at. Documentary is now available to stream on Tubi.
THE ACID KING (2021)
Documentary covers the story of Ricky Kasso, who in 1984 murdered his friend in an alleged Satanic ceremony. Filmmakers Dan Jones and Jesse P. Pollack start us out describing the town of Northport, Long Island of the time, to give us some background and then go into Ricky’s upbringing and how a dysfunctional family life set him on a path to doing and selling drugs—hence the nickname “The Acid King”—grave-robbing and practicing Satanism. We also get some background on eventual murder victim Gary Lauwers, a troubled young man himself, and what sets him on a path to being friends with Kasso. It’s chilling as Jones and Pollack paint a grim picture of a group of troubled youths who gravitated towards each other—including Jimmy Troiano who allegedly assisted Kasso in the killing—and began a relationship tainted with drugs and dark behavior. This vivid and disturbing picture is painted through interviews past ands present, with people who knew Kasso and some of his associates, and were there at the time—including the only witness, Albert Quinones. It is unsettling to hear the accounts of those who knew there was trouble coming from Kasso and those he associated with, and detail an escalating behavior pattern that led to murder. Some of the local folklore and social conditions also figure into this unnerving story and is necessary to give us, the audience, a complete background on what led to the tragic events of June 19th, 1984.
Once the horrific crime is documented, we are then told of the disturbing events that followed, such as Kasso’s proud displaying of the victim’s body to his peers and the eventual arrests and trial, not to mention the Satanic panic that it inspired. It’s a very disturbing look at a true and very tragic occurrence and the media shockwave that was a result. If there is any flaw this chilling documentary has, it is that at almost two hours in length, it is a bit overlong and could have lost some runtime, and still had plenty of very effective material to tell the story. The second half dealing with the events after the murder, including the media frenzy, goes on way too long and the grip the documentary had, starts to wane. Otherwise, this is a very unsettling look at a horrible real-life event and the witch hunt-like aftereffects that followed. The Acid King will be available on VOD on 11/9/21!
ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL (2008)
Anyone who is a fan of music, especially heavy metal, should watch this fascinating, funny and sometimes sad documentary about the infamous Canadian metal band Anvil, from writer and director Sacha Gervasi. Though listed as inspiration to countless other bands, true success has eluded original Anvil founding members Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner, in their 30 plus years (now 40) together, and this documentary follows them as they continue trying. With a doomed European tour and efforts to put together their 13th album, the band simply refuses to quit despite constant adversity and disappointment. As a metalhead and former band manager myself, this brought back a lot of memories and had me rooting for these old rockers who won’t give up or grow up! Party on dudes!
NOTE: Since this documentary premiered in January of 2008, Anvil has changed bass players a few more times and recorded five more albums to date!-MZNJ
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)
Offbeat comedy/drama tells the story of teen Greg (Thomas Mann) who has little ambition other than to make movie parodies with his friend…or ‘co-worker’ as he likes to refer to him…Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg’s parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) force him to spend time with classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Soon a special bond forms between them that changes Greg’s life as her condition worsens and his feelings for her deepen.
Written by Jesse Andrews and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), this is a charming and sometimes very poignant story of love and friendship formed under unusual circumstances. As in most indie films like this, there are some very eclectic characters who are nonetheless appealing and Gomez-Rejon gets good performances out of our leads and support…though Offerman seems to be playing the same oddball he plays in everything he appears in. It’s sentimental at times and funny at others and obviously, there is a degree of sadness given it’s title. If the film stumbles somewhat, it’s in that, at times, it is a little too weird or too quirky for it’s own indie good. Random model animation sequences and Greg’s overly weird parents are sometimes distracting more than accomplishing anything to serve the narrative. Otherwise this is a sweet, sad and sometimes very funny movie.
THE NIGHTMARE (2015)
Documentary tackles the subject of sleep paralysis, a state where individuals are stuck in-between being asleep and being awake, can’t move their bodies and suffer from extreme hallucinations such as shadow-like intruders. Director Rodney Ascher talks to eight different subjects gathering there stories of extreme cases of this state which has been often mistaken for paranormal, even extraterrestrial activity…and some believe it is.
While the subject in itself is interesting, the documentary stumbles a bit which keeps it from being really compelling. First off, the re-enactments of the hallucinations/events all look the same and utilize the same imagery and techniques so repetitiveness sets in quick when dealing with eight subjects with multiple stories. Another thing is that the subjects chosen all tell similar stories, so despite how intriguing it is, the stories themselves also start to get repetitive quickly. By the third story, from the same person, tedium starts to set in. The documentary also doesn’t seem to arrive at any real conclusions as those interviewed have varied results as to dealing with this phenomena. Some of the subjects seemed to have solved the problem by themselves, commanding the ‘intruders’ away, or by interpreting it as the presence of a dead loved one. Other subjects seem to have their own issues apart from sleep paralysis, so one must wonder if it is something caused by emotional stresses. Still other subjects truly believe that in this state they can see and be seen, by other dimensions, so there is that. We also never talk to any professionals on the subject, so we never get any other side to the story than those telling their own tales. A counterpoint or professional opinion would have added some nice contrast and given us some kind of scientific analysis to consider along with the testimony of Ascher’s subjects.
As the actual phenomena has not been fully explained, there are different points of view and while it is fine that Ascher let’s us decide for ourselves, it also leaves us feeling a bit unsatisfied and like not much was accomplished. Interesting at times, but wears out it’s welcome about an hour in and the lack of professional opinions/diagnosis leaves a void in the storytelling.