BARE BONES: ARTIK (2019)

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ARTIK (2019)

Artik (Jerry G. Angelo) is a man who lives on a sunflower farm and likes to draw comics. He’s also a man who likes to imprison children to work on the farm and kill people. He’s trying to teach his son (Gavin White) the serial killer trade, until his son befriends a stranger (Chase Williamson) who starts to open the boy’s eyes about his dad’s “hobby”…and by that we don’t mean the comics.

Film is actually well directed by Tom Botchii Skowronski from his own script. It has some disturbing moments and some gruesome violence, as we watch a man teaching a boy to become a killer. We add in that boy coming of age and having conflict over what he is seeing, especially when he makes a friend who crosses the brutal Artik’s path. It adds an intriguing element to a familiar tale. Sure, we’ve seen countless serial killer flicks before and the serial killer mentoring a youth has been done already in Bereavement, but Skowronski presents it well and gets really good performances out of his cast. He gives the scenes of violence some impact and intensity and the film doesn’t wear out it’s welcome at just under 80 minutes. Worth a look. Also stars indie horror familiar face Lauren Ashley Carter as Artik’s demented partner (wife?) Flin.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: IMITATION GIRL (2017)

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IMITATION GIRL (2017)

Strange but appealing sci-fi flick has a black ooze falling to Earth in New Mexico and taking the form of a woman on the magazine it lands on. That woman is New York based porn star Julianna Fox (Lauren Ashley Carter). The film follows the imitation as it learns about life and love through, Saghi (Neimah Djourabchi), a young Iranian man she encounters and his sister Khahar (Sanam Erfani), while shadowing Julianna who is beginning to question her life of sex, drugs and excess. Despite being miles apart, Julianna and her doppelganger are destined to meet.

Interesting film is written and directed by Natasha Kermani and paints a portrait of a young woman from opposite sides of the spectrum. While Julianna has fallen into a life of vice and having love-less sex for a living, her imitation is learning to enjoy the simple things in life and to truly appreciate those around her. It’s almost as if the imitation is who Julianna would have become had she pursued her piano playing instead of porn. It’s an intriguing portrayal of two sides of the same woman and both are very well acted by lead Carter. The rest of the cast perform their roles well, too and Kermani displays that she is a filmmaker to keep an eye on with her skill for visuals and a deft handling of a movie that could have been very silly if not handled by someone so capable. Also stars genre favorite Catherine Mary Stewart as Julianna’s former piano teacher, who presents her with a potential life-changing opportunity.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

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THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

In Almost Human writer/director Joe Begos gave us a horror/sci-fi with some nice homages to flicks like Fire In The Sky and John Carpenter’s The Thing in a gore wrapped story of alien abduction and a creature within stalking a small rural town. Here Begos returns to pay tribute to David Cronenberg’s Scanners with a story of individuals with powerful psychic abilities, even setting his flick in the early 90s. The story tells of Zack (Graham Skipper) and Rachel (Jug Face and Darling’s Lauren Ashley Carter) who are two people with incredible psychokinetic abilities and are being held by Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos) for his own nefarious purposes. The two escape and thus begins a tale of pursuit and revenge that leaves a trail of bodies in it’s wake.

Joe Begos certainly knows his influences and his affection for that which he pays homage is certainly apparent through his past two films. That being said, the same applies here even more so than Almost Human in that, while it is entertaining, the film is a little too close to it’s source material to really have it’s own identity. Almost Human was, at least, a bit of a mash-up within it’s own story. Here the flick is basically just a stripped down version of Cronenberg’s classic, right down to exploding heads…a tribute, we get that…to the climactic duel between good and evil psychokinetic powered individuals. Again, it is a fun tribute, that while it spares us the more complicated conspiracy aspects of Scanners, ups the gore and violence quotient in it’s place. As with Begos’ last flick, the film is moderately paced, which to be fair, is much like the films it purposely evokes. Also like Almost Human, the acting is again a bit wooden especially from the overacting Speredakos, who might have been a bit more threatening bad guy with some moderation and less eye-rolling. The gore FX are quite good, Begos has a good visual eye and style and there is a wonderfully nostalgic electronic score by Steve Moore to give it that 80s/early 90s feel.

Overall, this was an enjoyable tribute to a classic flick from a filmmaker who has an eye for what made those flicks work. As with Almost HumanBegos shows potential as a good low budget filmmaker who certainly has some classic influences and his heart in the right place. Now it’s time for him to take what he has learned from the films he grew up with and do his own thing…and looking forward to it when he does. A fun Cronenberg love letter that while isn’t overly original, successfully evokes what it is giving homage to. Also stars indie horror flick icon Larry Fessenden as Zack’s dad and Noah Segan who is racking up quite the horror resume.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 beers lifted cinematically to David Cronenberg.

worlds end rating

 

 

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BARE BONES: DARLING and GHOST WORLD

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DARLING (2015)

Strange flick tells the story of Darling, (Jug Face’s Lauren Ashley Carter) a pretty young woman who takes on the job of being the caretaker of an old Manhattan apartment that is allegedly haunted. As Darling spends more and more time there, we start to find out that Darling has just as much of a past as the house…and thus start to question who is more haunted, the apartment or it’s caretaker.

Written and directed by Michael Keating this is an unnerving film told in six chapters and with minimal characters, focusing mostly on Darling. It has more of an offbeat narrative and evokes flicks like Eraserhead with it’s stark black and white photography, somber mood and split second flashes of disturbing imagery. It has some brutally violent moments and an ending you can see coming but works well anyway. When all is said and done, it is an unnerving little movie made so by both it’s story and it’s style of storytelling. Also stars Brian Morvant as a man who Darling meets and brings home and Sean Young as the owner “Madame”.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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GHOST WORLD (2001)

Quirky offbeat comedy tells of two friends (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) who walk to the beat of their own drums, but need to find their direction after they graduate high school. Rebellious Enid (Birch) seems to be content to let things remain the same, despite being unhappy at home, while Becky (Johansson) decides they should move into their own place and get jobs. Becky’s forward motion starts them growing apart and Enid’s quest to amuse herself leads her to befriending a strange and lonely older man (Steve Buscemi).

Ghost World is based on Daniel Clowes graphic novel and as directed by Crumb director Terry Zwigoff, is a charming and sometimes funny study of two offbeat young girls at a crucial point in their lives. Birch and Johansson are good and work well together, thought the film focuses more on the cynical Enid and her sarcastic view of those around her. Buscemi is charming as the nerdy and shy Seymour and succeeds in making the character sympathetic and likable when he could have been very creepy. Zwigoff takes us on a strange journey as these characters find their own paths through their interaction with each other and while some may not like the ambiguous end, it does fit the tone of the film. Not for everyone, but for those who enjoy the offbeat and different, Ghost World is an entertaining little movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: SANTA’S LITTLE HELPER and POD

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SANTA’S LITTLE HELPER (2015)

Moderately amusing and heavily cliché’d flick has selfish businessman, Dax (WWE superstar Mike “The Miz” Mizanin) out of a job and being tested for a new one by mysterious woman, Billie (AnnaLynne McCord). It turns out Billie is one of Santa’s elves and old St. Nick (Eric Keenleyside) needs a new right hand man and based on his kind-hearted youth, feels Dax is the one to be his new “Ho Ho”…not making that up. Standing in Dax’s way is ambitious and arrogant elf, Eleanor (WWE superstar Paige) who is outraged that a normal human is being courted for the job and not her…and vows to stop him.

Silly flick has it’s amusing moments, but is so cliché that it needed a lot more entertainment value to overlook it’s extremely familiar story from James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin’s script. As directed by Gil Junger it is very-by-the numbers and only McCord’s adorable perkiness adds some life. Both Mizanin and Paige seem to just be playing versions of their WWE ring persona’s and the film doesn’t try hard enough to give itself some real Christmas spirit. Completely bland and forgettable, but not without some small amount of charm…probably more due to watching it during the Christmas season than the film itself. At least the girls were cute.

Kids may find it more amusing, especially if they are fans of Miz and Paige, but after her work in Excision, McCord deserves better.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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POD (2015)

Sci-fi/horror has psychiatrist Ed (Dean Cates) picking up his alcoholic sister Lyla (Jug Face’s Lauren Ashley Carter) and heading to a remote cabin to check on brother Martin (Brian Morvant). Martin is a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of violence and emotional problems who recently sent Ed an ominous and upsetting message. They arrive to find the house and Martin, in complete disarray with the ex-soldier claiming to have been part of government experiments and that one of those experiments, has followed him there. Does Martin really have a creature locked up in the basement or has he finally lost his mind?

Written and directed by Mickey Keating, this isn’t a bad movie just an extremely familiar one that offers nothing new to this conspiracy type tale told many times before and better…including 2014’s Extraterrestrial. The directing is competent and there are a few suspenseful scenes, but it’s predictable and we’ve seen it so many times before. The acting is decent, though Morvant’s raving gets really tiresome especially since it goes on for over 30 minutes. Worth a look, if you like X-Files flavored stuff, but don’t expect much or anything fresh or new. Also stars indie horror icon Larry Fessenden in a cliché role that I won’t spoil.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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-MonsterZero NJ
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JUG FACE (2013)

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JUG FACE (2013)

Jug Face is a very odd and offbeat low budget horror and while it wasn’t scary or particularly suspenseful, it was unsettling, effective and original. So, as someone who supports and is a big fan of low budget indie horror, especially something unusual and off the beaten path, I did like this little movie for it’s unique and atmospheric tale.

The Tennessee filmed story takes place in a remote little backwoods community that is presided over by a supernatural force/being that resides in a large sinkhole in the woods nearby. It watches over the village and heals their ills and in return requires an occasional sacrifice. Those who are chosen are selected through an eccentric potter named Dawai (Sean Bridges) who enters a trance-like state and creates a ceramic jug with a village resident’s likeness. That villager is then taken to the pit and offered up as sacrifice. Enter teen Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) who has two secrets that she is keeping from her parents (indie horror fixture Larry Fessenden and Blade Runner’s Sean Young). One, she’s been having sex with her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche) and is pregnant…and two, Dawai, who is smitten with Ada, has sculpted a jug with her likeness and she found and hid it before he came out of the pit induced trance. Denied a sacrifice, the thing in the pit is taking out it’s displeasure on village residents in gruesome fashion and Ada must decide what matters more, her own life and that of her unborn child, or the lives of the village members who are paying the price of her deception. Worse still, the entity in the pit forces her to envision the violent and painful death it exacts on each of it’s victims.

Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle gives his off-beat little horror some nice atmosphere and a sense of foreboding and wisely works within the confines of his low budget and gives it a charming aura of being set in it’s own little backwoods world. We rarely leave the little community except for a few short instances where the characters go into the city to sell moonshine, which is their trade. And doing so, it makes us more accepting of the possibility that this place and it’s supernatural resident could exist deep in the woods in rural America somewhere apart from what we consider the real world. As stated, the film is never really scary or suspenseful and once the credits roll, we realize that there are no big revelations or dramatic conclusions, but it is a small tale that only breaks out of it’s subtle telling for some startling splashes of blood and gore when our creature of the pit vents it’s wrath. Kinkle does use his subtle style to his advantage as when he needs to shock us with spurting blood or flying limbs…which are effectively portrayed…it works because we are not ready for it. As for Kinkle’s sinkhole inhabitant, we never fully see it, but it is given menace and and it’s presence can be felt through the behavior and strong beliefs of the characters, giving it far more life then some cold digital effect might have. Jug Face is refreshingly old school and it works.

The director also gets good work out of his cast with the pretty Carter successfully carrying a lot on her shoulders and Bridgers creating a likable and somewhat sad man in Dawai, who doesn’t really want to be the one through which the creature selects it’s offerings, but does what he is asked to do regardless. Fessenden and Young also create a portrait of simple people with simple ways and a very strong belief in the traditions of their life centered around the pit and that adherence to it’s ways transcends individuality or family, for the greater good. And that also seems to be a theme running subtly beneath Kinkle’s chilling story, the question of whether following tradition or rebelling against it is a good thing or bad thing and we are left to draw our own conclusions as either seems to bring consequence.

Jug Face is an interesting and effective little movie that will not appeal to everyone, especially those who prefer their horror more traditional, but you have to give Kinkle and crew points for making something original and outside the box, as well as, making a film effectively within their means and with a more down to earth style in an age where filmmakers are far too eager to pull out the digital toys. It’s an interesting and odd little horror and if off the beaten path is where you prefer your horror to take you, then you might want to give this little flick a try. Chad Crawford Kinkle may prove to be a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

3 jugs.

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