Monday, March 5, 2018

My Favorite Flicks of 2017

Click below to read my picks for best movies of the year:

Fangoria Returns!

After a short time away, Fangoria magazine returns to haunt bookshelves . click before to read my piece:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Patti Cakes

Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle MacDonald), aka Killa P, aka Juicy Luciano, aka Marilyn Mansion, aka Jane Dough, aka Patti Cakes is an overweight, white, wannabe rapper who shares a house with her floozy mother (Bridget Everett) and sickly grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) in an impoverished neighborhood in Northern New Jersey. Her lyrics are sick, her delivery spirited, her flow impeccable. But, she’s fat, and she’s white, and she’s poor. She’s aka Dumbo Dombrowski.

She cleanses herself of misery and misfortune via song. There is a legitimacy to her rhymes about life for an undiscovered talent that outshines her competition. Her fiery delivery however conceals a sadness and an insecurity inside her brought on by her asshole peers and her undermining mother (who once had dreams of stardom herself). “The bigger the girl, the deeper the pain is.”

Though following a familiar coming-of-age arc, Patti Cake$ is infused with hip filmmaking techniques, unforced performances and a keen awareness of place. It just feels real. It’s messy, it’s raucous, it’s fun. It is difficult not to root for Patti Cakes, her Indian pharmacist Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and her basterd boyfriend (Mamoudou Athie). They live in poverty yet have dollar signs in their eyes. They’re given lines like, “Once the buzz spreads, we are on the highway to greener pastures baby” with nary an ounce of cynicism. The film even manages to create sympathy for Patti’s bitch of a mother. She throws the EP she created in her youth in the garbage and our hearts break a little.
Despite the grittiness of Bayonne, NJ, Patti Cake$ is a positive, hugely inspirational piece of coming-of-age cinema. It’s a story of triumph for any artist seeking recognition.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

My Favorite Horror Flicks of 2017

Anthony Perkins will forever be celebrated by fans of horror cinema for his role as the benevolent creeper in Hitchcock's ghastly thriller, Psycho. Now nearly sixty years after the release of that groundbreaking fright film, his son Osgood has bestowed the horror-viewing world a fresh work of macabre art.

The Blackcoat's Daughter, starring Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton as Kat and Rose respectively, tells the story of two Catholic school girls who must square off against a demonic evil when they get left at their boarding school over winter break.

The Blackcoat's Daughter doesn't succumb to the familiar tropes and overwrought spectacles that plague most demonic-possession tales (a la The Conjuring). Nor does it emulate the nudie-cutie pics that likely ran through your mind upon reading the above synopsis. Instead, it uses its supernatural storyline to get under the skin of viewers while engaging them in an examination of sadness and grief.

Building slowly (very slowly) with a few sumptuously haunting set pieces here, a bit of eerie sound design there, The Blackcoat's Daughter ultimately develops into a masterclass in expressionist horror. Taking its cue from Rosemary's Baby, Don't Look Now and other classics of the New Hollywood period, it relies on atmosphere, imagery and sound to build suspense. Nothing occurs by accident. There are visual cues in the movement of actors and the composition of shots that reveal Osgood's master plan. As the infernal force closes in on the girls, the picture tightens its grip until you realize you've been forced to the edge of your seat. You feel the mental anguish of the characters. Its impression lingers for days. It is truly a masterstroke of cinematic horror.

2. IT
As Gen-xers and younger boomers enter middle age, there seems to be a desire to return to a former time; a sentimental yearning for youth and the energetic movies of the decade of decadence. The nostalgic design and familiar tropes of IT provide an exciting, frightening homage to classic blockbusters and vintage monster pics. IT evokes memories of Stand By Me, The Goonies and the recent love letter to all things 80s, Stranger Things. I’m not quite ready to categorize it along with some of those time-honored works, but it’s got enough thrills and emotional depth to excite fans of genre cinema.

Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) terrorized a pack of youths in the late 1950s in Stephen King’s classic novel, menaced teens in the 1960s in the ABC mini-series adaptation and now threatens a group of youngsters in the 1980s in New Line Cinema’s killer reworking of the material. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his friends are all plagued by personal horrors. Bill recently lost his brother, Beverly (Sophia Lillis) has an abusive father, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) has an overbearing mother and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is picked on at school. Together they form The Losers Club and must square off against a mythic creature threatening their town.

That’s what makes IT so good: its sturdy observations about coming of age. That confusing period between youth and adolescence is a horror story in and of itself. The supernatural elements in IT are metaphorically tied to what it means to be a kid. The losers club stand up to Pennywise and in doing so, confront the horrors of their real lives. It doesn't take itself too seriously; there’s nothing overtly political at play, which is refreshing. It’s just great, old-fashion filmmaking with an affecting story and earnest performances.

Gracefully blending horror with humor and pathos, IT is a stellar fright flick in a year that witnessed an unusually high number of quality genre pics.

You really gotta hand it to them Australians boy, they can pull off some brutally unflinching, portrait of a serial killer type stuff. The sunburnt country offered us a twisted profile of a murderous criminal in Chopper (2001) a gruesome examination of torture in Wolf Creek (2005) and a terrifying study of mass murder in The Snowtown Muders (2012). Well crikey have they outdone themselves with Hounds of Love, the tale of an innocent teen abducted by a depraved couple and forced to endure unspeakable acts of sexual violence.

Writer/director Ben Young’s debut feature is loosely based on the crimes of David and Catherine Birnie (represented by Evelyn and John White here) who raped and murdered four women in 1986. At the film’s open, Evelyn and John dump their latest victim before turning their gaze to Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings), an alienated teen afflicted by her parents’ recent separation.

What’s most interesting about the movie is that Vicki is not the focal point. She endures a catalogue of horrors and is provided her fair share of wrists bound, mouth gagged displays of abuse, but the story really belongs to Evelyn. Emma Booth succeeds in creating sympathy for the crazed killer. She consents to rape and murder but seems to do so with internal protest. She desires the love and attention of her husband and so acquiesces to his savage behavior.

Young is sure to cut away from the violence before it becomes exploitative. Still, the movie features paralyzing moments of cruelty; it isn’t for every taste. If you can stomach the subject matter though, you’ll find it’s quite stylish in its direction, disturbingly well-acted and a viciously effective exercise in suspense.

I attended a horror convention this past summer where Val Kilmer and Peter Weller were the headliners. While many fans clamored for a chance to get a picture with Batman and Robocop, I was most excited about meeting Ethan Embry. The kid who tormented Ed O’Neill in Dutch and won Jennifer Love Hewitt’s heart in Can’t Hardly Wait has seen a career revival the past few years in genre pics.

In The Devil’s Candy he plays Jesse, a diehard metalhead who is possessed by a demonic force when he and his family move into a new country home. With his unyielding love for his daughter and his trusty Gibson guitar he is able to battle the satanic presence and its Earthly minion.

Sort of a mashing of those heavy metal horror flicks we loved as kids (a la Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare) with serial killer aesthetics and haunted house motifs, The Devil’s Candy subverts audience expectation while delivering heart-pounding scares. There’s a bizarre eminence to the picture. It’s fun but at the same time really disturbing. The soundtrack is at points comprised of glaring heavy metal and at others lacks any type of harmony. Distorted voices and discordant rumbles get under your skin and penetrate your soul. The chaos of sounds echoes the turmoil in Jesse’s life.

Meanwhile one of Satan’s fanboys (Pruitt Taylor Vince) ambles through town murdering young children; hacking up their bodies and burying them in suitcases. The imagery, emblazoned in garish hues of red, is hard to take. It’s one of the most compelling films of its kind.

Director Sean Byrne’s previous effort, the twisted tale of a wannabe prom queen seeking gory vengeance against the boy who broke her heart (The Loved Ones) took over three years to find distribution. The Devil’s Candy suffered a similar fate. Let’s hope his next movie sees a quicker turn-around.

Them dang Aussies are at it again. Killing Ground is a ferocious torture flick that despite its oft derivative plot, is quite effective.

Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) take a spontaneous pleasure excursion to a secluded beach deep within the woods of Australia. There they find an abandoned campsite, a traumatized toddler and a pair of sadistic bushmen.

First time director Damien Power doesn't expend much energy developing Sam and Ian. They're cookie-cutter characters who share a conflict-free romance. Yet, they feel real. They wear humdrum house clothes and share in unremarkable conversation. They are normal. They are us. That familiarity begets a sense of devotion that wouldn't exist if they wore skimpy clothes and discussed big ideas. Their subdued performances pitted against wide shots of the woodland force us to hug our popcorn a bit tighter; to breath a bit deeper. The same can be said for Margaret (Mya Stange) and Rob (Julian Garner) and their daughter Em (Tiarnie coupland), the family that formally occupied the abandoned tent.  

The star of the film though is the editing. Killing Ground's slim, often uninspired plot benefits from Katie Flaxman's stylish and inventive cutting. Her choice to break from conventional narrative structure forces us to ask questions and fills us with fear. It takes a moment to decipher the various narratives and their relationship to one another and once you do, you can't help but be impressed.

Killing Ground won't appeal to everyone. It's a grim, unapologetically brutal piece of torture cinema that while appearing derivative, actually demands a deeper examination.