Archive for January, 2016

“On the Way Home” Published in 9TALES TOLD IN THE DARK #9

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Delayed but good news from the grave!

On January 22nd, my original short story ON THE WAY HOME was published in 9 TALES TOLD IN THE DARK #9.

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The story examines the uncanny mundanity of the suburbs as a boy gets lost on his way home, but soon finds that beneath normality lurks the greatest monsters. (Inspired by an incident when I did indeed get lost in a suburb where everything looked the same.)

CLICK HERE to read “On the Way Home,” along with many others!

Sundance Review: TRASH FIRE

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

It’s hard to find good Gothic cinema these days. And I don’t mean the twee fey of Tim Burton – I’m talking grotesque, blackly humorous, and eviscerating works that examine the extreme darkness of humanity. Who would have known that this genre could be revived by a film about millennials with relationship issues? Leave it to Richard Bates Jr. to bring us a masterpiece in the form of TRASH FIRE.

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After seeing Excision several years ago, I’ve kept an eye on Richard Bates. His nihilistic, tonally various and visually gorgeous style is wholly unique in modern horror. I didn’t expect him to surpass his previous efforts with this film about a man who can’t deal with the death of his parents: in a fire that he thinks he started. When his girlfriend gets pregnant and threatens to leave him, however, he is forced to confront his past: literally. They take a high-stakes trip to his grandmother’s house, where his burned sister lives, so he can reconcile. But that’s the least of his worries.

The cast here is phenomenal. Adrian Grenier is repugnant and sympathetic at once, Angela Trimbur is empowering as his vulnerable but adamant girlfriend – but Fionnula Flanagan and Annalynne McCord truly shine as the family left behind. The former rivals Bette Davis for a Grand Guignol villain, and the latter is heartbreaking (but dangerous), the only character who has really done no wrong. Yet. Place all of these great actors in a creepy Southern house, add some snakes and fire and hallucinations, and you’ve got this film.

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It isn’t a horror movie in modern sense – it will not frighten or startle like a ghost story or survival flick. Instead, it attacks the mind, exploring very real situations with a vicious eye and finding the rot underneath. Bates reaches the heights of Robert Aldritch with his revelations, all without a supernatural occurrence. It’s Baby Jane meets Shirley Jackson meets Gen Y. This combination may not be ‘mainstream,’ but it’s all the more horrific because of that. The ending will leave you shaking and torn between morals.

Hearing Bates talk about his process after the Q&A only cemented my love for this movie. He is so passionate about these stories, and pours his own soul into them – which is why they feel so human. His personal touch makes these tales of terror touch the soul, finding their dread in humanity, but also their heart. Once the shock wore off, I felt a sense of deep melancholy – a feeling from which this film was born. I wanted to cry for these characters. That sense of catharsis and connection is the reason I love horror so much. It exposes these dark emotions in a way that we can examine and confront.

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Those who like their horror superficial can turn away now. But for a cathartic, gorgeous, funny and disturbing experience, TRASH FIRE won’t be surpassed. Bates has revived the true Gothic film – let’s hope it stays alive.

Sundance and Short Film BYBLIS

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Greetings, all! Apologies again for the long silence – I returned from Sundance yesterday and, in addition to being exhausted, am so happy about the experience.

I was able to see four of the midnight films, as well as two in competition narratives and the Midnight Shorts program. Many of the filmmakers involved were present at these films, and were so generous in talking to me about their process, and our mutual love for movies. Stay tuned for all of my reviews, the first of which comes out tomorrow!

In addition to movie-going, I also directed a short for the Creative Mind Group. Our team was challenged to make a film in five days, which we accomplished. It screened on Tuesday, taking home awards for Best Editing, Best Performance, and Best Director.

Watch the full film, called BYBLIS, HERE:

Send the film around, and watch out for reviews of TRASH FIRE, ANTIBIRTH, THE GREASY STRANGLER and more!

Update: Sundance 2016 Thus Far

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Greetings, all! Many apologies for the long delay in posting – it’s been a busy week, to say the least. But in the best possible way.

Most of my initial time was spent wandering Main St. and getting a feel for the layout of the festival. It’s wide-spread and a bit tough to navigate. The main area is gorgeous, though, and chock-full of people.

I was able to attend the opening night party on Thursday, where I met the guys from SpectreVision and had a great talk with them (though we had to shout – Elijah Wood was DJ-ing). Witnessing the energy of this event cemented Sundance’s spirit for me: so many people from the most random of places, all congregating to celebrate film and music. It was a rowdy and exhilarating experience.

Come Friday, there was work to do – we had to shoot a film. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but the shoot went exceedingly well. It will be complete by Tuesday, when I can post it online for you.

Film-wise, I haven’t seen a grand amount yet – but what I have seen has been awesome. So far, I’ve attended screenings of the MIDNIGHT SHORTS PROGRAM and my most anticipated, THE GREASY STRANGLER – which was beyond bizarre and destined to be a cult classic. I’ll post full reviews next week.

Today, I’m on my way to see TRASH FIRE and CHRISTINE – the former another of my most anticipated, the latter a dark drama from the cool guys at Borderline Films. Stay tuned for news on these.

I’ll continue to post reviews and updates as I have time, but until then, wish me luck!

Horror Heaven at Sundance 2016

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Throughout this week and the beginning of next, Smucky will be attending the cinephile’s dream: Sundance Film Festival.

As many horror aficionados know, Sundance is home to Park City at Midnight – a selection of 9 films that explore dark, weird, and often gory places. Representing Smucky, I will be first in line for as many screenings of these films as I can manage.

My two most anticipated are:

THE GREASY STRANGLER 

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Produced by Drafthouse Films and SpectreVision, this horror comedy promises to upend the slasher stereotypes with a father-son tale – marred by the appearance of a particularly oily murderer. If these companies’ previous films are any indication, this one will be utterly bizarre, unique, and fun.

TRASH FIRE

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Richard Bates splashed boldly onto the horror scene with 2012’s EXCISION. Now he returns to Sundance with a relationship comedy that goes very, very far south. With a super cool cast and Bates’s notable suburban aesthetic, TRASH FIRE will offer Americana nightmares, and probably a few laughs as well.

Hopefully I will also get to see UNDER THE SHADOW, a Middle Eastern demon thriller; ANTIBIRTH, a surreal drug-trip nightmare; and possibly YOGA HOSERS, Kevin Smith’s latest comedic-horrific effort.

Stay tuned for reviews and general festival anecdotes – it’s an exciting lineup, and I am so grateful to be here!

Forbidden Tomes: SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER by THOMAS LIGOTTI

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2016 by smuckyproductions

It’s a terrible shame that so many great genre authors active in the 70s and 80s – Ted Klein, Karl Edward Wagner, and Kathe Koja, to name a few – have gone out of print and are so difficult to find. This past year, Penguin rereleased a collection of cosmic horror stories that had beforehand been flying under the radar. These stories come from the warped, wicked, and brilliant mind of Thomas Ligotti – the first of which is called SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER.

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I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title. These stories range in setting – from mundane suburbs to decaying side streets, and even surreal dreamscapes – but all touch on a deep nihilistic brand of horror that even Lovecraft doesn’t touch. Most of Ligotti’s characters are hyper-intelligent outcasts who long for a different existence, perhaps in another dimension. Their searches bring them to horrible truths that grant them their wish in the worst possible way.

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Placed in dark Expressionistic streets and warped buildings (perhaps echoing the decay of Ligotti’s hometown Detroit), populated by grotesque humans and not-unconscious puppets, Ligotti’s stories are uncanny from the first sentence. It is hard to recognize anything within them as worldly, though many of them feature elements that must have come from our present time. This removed reality is like a Tim Burton set left to its own rot-filled devices. It is the perfect environment for the transgressive horror that presents itself: horrors of the mind that force us to question our own perceptions.

Ligotti’s writing is dense and philosophical, much more so than your average horror story. At times this style can become hard to decipher; but for the most part, it elevates the terror to a mental level that makes it impossible to shake. The nightmares within these stories stem from world-bending theories – of alternate lives, killers who absorb their victims, and madness that takes physical form. And the protagonist never escapes the evil they encounter.

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There is a true sense of madness as well, embedded in the hyper-intelligent prose – a sense that Ligotti himself has witnessed these horrors himself. He transcends the influence of Lovecraft in this way. The protagonists are not only fighting a cosmic terror from another reality; they are battling their own deteriorating minds, which become the most fearsome villain. With corporeal traits – alcoholism and insomnia being the main two – to offset their intangible mental decline, these characters become close to home. It’s easy to imagine their breakdowns as our own.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer, (Jun 1991, Thomas Ligotti, publ. Carroll & Graf, 0-88184-721-6, $4.50, x+275pp, pb, coll)

With this unique brand of cosmic horror, Ligotti’s stories present a devastating and terrifying panorama of monsters. His imagery shocks and his ideas rattle. It is unlike any horror prose I’ve encountered before, and I am thrilled that I can recognize him now; and now that I know him, I cannot forget him. Like his protagonists, Ligotti opens mental doors into ideas that may be better left unseen. But to see them is incredible.

New MINUTE MORBIDITIES: GROWTH

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Happy Friday, horror fans! We’ve spent this week cultivating and harvesting a new morbidity for you.

Watch GROWTH here:

Share the scare!

And CLICK HERE to SUBSCRIBE for weekly doses of the macabre.

“TOAD ROAD” and NO-BUDGET HORROR

Posted in Dark Musings, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Very few people have heard of “Toad Road,” let alone seen it, but we all know its ilk – a no-budget film, mostly improvised, that is content to explore ideas rather than follow a story. There is a reason these types of films rarely grace the mainstream screens: they frustrate and infuriate viewers who want to see plot, drama, and emotional beats. Yet, they still find their place – and it is vital that us filmmakers celebrate their existence.

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“Toad Road” is the brainchild of Jason Banker, documentary specialist, who built a film around the urban legend of the Gates of Hell in York, Pennsylvania. Into the framework of this legend he places a group of drug-addicted friends – actual friends and non-actors who he found on MySpace – and simply films them interacting. Interspersed in their verite scenes are moments of horrific poetry, glitchy cameras and bloody faces, surrounding the idea of the Gates. There is something of a story, too – one of these friends gets a girl addicted to this legend (and a number of drugs), and ends up walking through the gates with her, but only one of them returns.

It’s all very nebulous, and one might compare it to a student film – after all, it’s as unglamorous as you can get, and the actors aren’t acting. But that’s what sets it apart. Banker orchestrates his non-cast so realistically, using his documentary instincts, and not a moment of their friendship seems false. It’s more visceral than any found-footage film because it is, essentially, real. (It must be noted, also, that the lead actress passed away before the film premiered – a tragedy that makes a mark on the film itself.)

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So most viewers will despise it. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed it myself – but I fell in love with the idea of it. In this money-guzzling industry, where it’s near impossible to get financing for your film, there is nothing wrong with shooting a film in the style of “Toad Road.” Why don’t more people do it? And why is it not encouraged in film school? Filmmaking is not about earning a paycheck (though at some point it becomes so) – it is about creating art, telling stories. “Toad Road” does this in its own way, and the effect is lasting. Even if its plotting lacks, its atmosphere, visuals and characters are drawn with skill.

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Films like this remind me of “Blair Witch” and “Marble Hornets,” even the original “Evil Dead” – you can see the tatters and the seams, but who cares, because the entertainment value is so damn high? The challenge with these films becomes getting people involved – convincing them that it’s worth the time. Because people don’t place much value on these no-budget efforts. I want that to change.

“Toad Road” left me with one vital emotion: inspiration. I wanted to go out and make something like this even while I watched the film. And so, forces willing, I intend to do just that. We live in the age of the internet, a free distribution platform – we must take advantage.

Poem: SOLO CUP PROPHECY

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2016 by smuckyproductions

A rather grotesque poem for you all today.

SOLO CUP PROPHECY

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Look at the bottom
Of the sinking solo cup:
This is where your future lies.

These beaten voices
Wrote their own script but
Forgot to teach me

Try to decipher their scrawl
Your cry to a dead spirit
Ridiculed and stamped into pulp
Comical while your frozen
Mimes shriek unknown sorrow
Desecrated in an abyss
Boned and obscured by sweat
Sexing locked to your parts

Just stop this thing they call
Breathing

Wash all into the gutter
Sizzle away, unknown,
But seen

Forbidden Tomes: THE WOMAN IN BLACK by SUSAN HILL

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Around this time of year, everyone loves a good ghost story. Most of them are suitable for some momentary shivers, perhaps a glance over the shoulder, and a hearty (albeit nervous) laughter at the supernatural. But there are some ghost stories that leave a lingering chill. Their fears extend past the fun of fiction into something darker, more clinging. One such ghost story is Susan Hill’s classic, THE WOMAN IN BLACK.

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Many people have seen this story done on screen, either in 1989 or recently in 2012. The lucky ones have witnessed it on stage. For those who haven’t, the tale goes forward as such: an ambitious young solicitor travels to the distant, foggy climes of Eel Marsh House in order to sort the affairs of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. But something else lingers in Eel Marsh, and the neighboring town. When the young man sees a mysterious woman dressed in black standing in the local graveyard, and meets undue paranoia from the townspeople, he begins to unearth a horrible secret.

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Susan Hill sets herself up with delightful Gothic elements from the get-go. Recounted by the young man several decades later, the story feels like one told by a campfire, but his reluctance to tell it gives a feeling of unknown dread. The landscapes are wonderfully mist-shrouded and dreary, the house itself is gloomy as one could want, and the mystery surrounding it all has an air of danger: you don’t really want to know the truth. The image of the titular woman, wrapped in black and almost skeletal, is chilling. Then the real horror begins.

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Even in the films (preferring the 1989 version over the recent adaptation, though that one is decent too), the story conveys several layers of fear. There is the spooky apparition, the somber house; but then there is the terror of the townspeople, who refuse to discuss the woman in black. We get the sense that something awful lingers beneath the creepy trappings. Hill delivers on this, too. The revelation of the woman in black is the stuff of nightmares. It goes beyond a simple chilly encounter, branching into almost existential horror, because there is no escaping it.

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It’s difficult to discuss this darkness without ruining the surprise, so I’ll leave it at this: for those who like their horror with a dose of gravity, “The Woman in Black” is ideal. It will have you looking in the distance a bit too hard, searching for the form of a specter with a terrible prophecy.