Archive for park city at midnight

Sundance Review: THE GREASY STRANGLER

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Sitting in the Yarrow Theater at 9 pm on January 23rd was a special experience. And by special I mean disgusting, bewildering, stupefying and inanely hilarious. It isn’t often that you witness the birth of the next cult phenomenon. In the midst of oily grapefruits, potatoes, hootie-tootie-disco-cuties and a vat of costuming grease, those of us in Park City can say we did just that. This film is THE GREASY STRANGLER.

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Looking back on it, I’m shocked to remember that there is a very coherent plot. A father and son duo, living together after the death of their wife/mother, begin a personal war when they fall in love with the same woman. But there is an even more dangerous scheme afoot – a murderer is stalking the streets, someone covered in grease and growling like a post-modern Wolfman. Also like the Wolfman, his kill of choice is a good, old-fashioned strangle. (The title is very literal.)

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Another surprise – the film is gorgeously crafted. The production design and lighting are vibrant and ultra-professional, lending it the aesthetic of a true Hollywood rom-com. That look only makes the bizarre aspects more delirious. From the opening, we are assaulted by totally insane images and conversations – greasy coffee, oozing sausages, men in pink short shorts, and endless Dada arguments about free drinks and potatoes. (Also, BULLSHIT ARTIST.) And don’t forget the prosthetic penises. Yes, I said it, prosthetic penises.

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It’s a hymnal to absurdist humor and the grotesque (in the classic sense of the word, which means ugly to a hilarious extreme). While there is a clear plot, which is more than can be said about many ‘normal’ films, there is nothing clear in the way it pans out. The film is utterly baffling in the most exhilarating way – an amalgamation of cartoonish comedy and endless goop that all serves to create a world we’ve never seen before. And I truly haven’t seen anything like this in film. Comparisons to John Waters can be made, but this film is so surreal, almost animated, that it creates its own brand of weird.

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This originality is only part of the reason I call it the next cult hit. The charm of this film hard to explain to someone who wasn’t in the theater. Listening to the audience erupt in almost-constant confused laughter, usually because the images on screen were just so out there, was undeniably special. Like “Rocky Horror” and “The Room,” I think this film is destined for midnight greatness. Its wacky quotability and immersive boldness will give it eternal life.

When viewing this repugnant and beautiful piece of work, leave all conception of film at the door. This is an experience like no other. And it’s worth it. Come mingle in the mire, the disco, and the colorful chaos that is THE GREASY STRANGLER.

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Sundance Review: ANTIBIRTH

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

What happens when a tripped out music video director befriends Natasha Lyonne and Chloe Sevigny and wants to make a movie? And what further happens when you add 80s body horror, conspiracy theories, class politics and some seriously weird costume design? Well. If it gives any indication, the resulting film is called ANTIBIRTH.

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Lyonne plays the hell out of Lou, a hard partier who blacks out one night – not an uncommon occurrence, but this time, she displays symptoms of pregnancy. Thing is, she hasn’t had sex in weeks. As she continues to hide behind drugs and alcohol, her symptoms get worse, and the mystery deepens – something that revolves a close-by military base, a prostitution ring, and an experimental drug. All of this comes into focus when a homeless woman – played beautifully by Meg Tilly – tells her of an alien conspiracy involving her body. Lou’s belly is growing fast, and she doesn’t have much time before this thing pops out.

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It’s no surprise that Danny Perez’s debut is visually fascinating. Transitioning from a successful music video career, Perez uses his camera and colors vividly, creating an entrancing aesthetic. The editing and soundtrack boost the visuals and cement the film’s unique style. While the plot gets muddled at times, the filmmaking is always crystal clear, rooting us in Lou’s psyche more closely than we’d like. And it gets visceral. Perez does not shy away from excretions, peelings, poppings, and more.

But he also pays attention to his characters. By setting this tale in the wasteland of Michigan, the intensity rises – no one will listen to an impoverished woman, even if something truly is going on. Lou and her comrades, through their desperate living situations, bring a new layer to a familiar body horror plot. Class issues are rarely touched in horror films, but here we see them on full display. Perez doesn’t judge Lou, either. She is our hero, flaws and all, and I for one cared about her.

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Like I said, the plot gets muddled, but it still satisfies. The culmination of spurtings and hallucinations is just what horror fans want. Perez doesn’t go gross just for the sake of shock, but he doesn’t skimp, either. The audience went wild during the climax – I will NOT spoil it, but let’s just say it’s one of the weirdest endings I’ve seen in horror lately.

It’s fair to acknowledge, too, that this film polarized the audience at the premiere. Half of the people I came with hated it, several viewers left (mainly during a scene involving neck skin); but Perez, along with Lyonne and Chloe Sevigny, showed so much passion about the film. It was a struggle to get made – not hard to imagine, considering the ending – and they saw that struggle through. Perez also knows horror. I certainly hope he continues as a director. We need more bold and wacked-out voices in this genre.

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Stay away from ANTIBIRTH if goo, aliens, wombs, blisters, and creepy monkey suits aren’t to your tastes. But if those things strike a cord, this film is a godsend. Harkening back to 80’s psychedelic horror and getting political to boot, here we have a wild, gross, and beautiful gift to genre fans.

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!

THE HALLOW (2015) – Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2015 by smuckyproductions

2015 has been one of the best years for horror in recent memory – between It Follows, Goodnight Mommy, Crimson Peak, and now THE HALLOW.

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Premiering alongside the much-anticipated The Witch at the 2015 Park City at Midnight, this film has generated a ton of buzz for several reasons – the director’s involvement in The Crow remake and the use of almost entirely practical effects being the most notable of them. While I will say that my expectations were high and were not met head-on, this film is nonetheless one of the best creature-features of the past ten years.

We’ve seen the plot before – urban family moves to rural area and pisses off something in the woods. Director Corin Hardy embraces the simplicity of his story and tells it with passion. He cares about each element – his characters, his monsters, his horror – so much that the film becomes earnest and fully realized through his intensity alone. Simple it may be, but The Hallow is full of hellish energy and intensity, anchored by two talented actors who convince you that they’re worth investing in.

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But the best part of this film is its creatures and the evil that they commit. Corin Hardy is a visual artist, and an avid horror fan, which comes through beautifully. The design is both aesthetically fascinating and disturbing. Any film featuring a killer fungus is a sure winner, too. It’s a lot of fun to see Irish folklore brought to life and milked for all the nasty stuff it contains. These ‘fairies’ are not Tinkerbell – but they aren’t purely abject, either, because Hardy gives them personality, and their design feels organic. To have them played by human beings, not computers, is also fabulous.

The scenes of horror are masterful for this reason. There’s both creature terror and classic body horror, with things invading and transforming in hideous ways. Hardy orchestrates the scary moments very well – the scene where everything kicks into high gear is just awesome, and the scene in the attic, good lord. And the gross-out effects aren’t only gross. There’s emotion behind the scares, which makes them resonate.

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Unfortunately, these elements also end up dragging the film down by its final act. I’ve only seen one creature feature that maintains the terror all the way through – that’s Alien – because it’s immensely difficult to keep something scary once you’ve seen it and know it can be defeated. The Hallow falls into this trap, losing its power of shock and showing too much. This isn’t all bad, of course – when the horror stops, the action begins, and the film maintains its entertainment value, just entering a different type of fun. I would have preferred the horror myself, but the genre switch does not sacrifice the film’s heart. I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers.

So, it is flawed, and doesn’t reach the level of terror that other recent offerings maintain. But it’s a terrific ride in its own right. This is a solidly effective and beautifully designed modern creature feature.