Archive for Sundance

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!

Smucky’s Most Anticipated Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2015 was an incredible year for horror. Now, with a legion of festival favorites, directorial returns and a few arthouse surprises, 2016 promises to be even better. Here are the films that Smucky looks forward to most in the coming year:

BEFORE I WAKE

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The release date for Mike Flanagan’s newest film have been confused, but by all accounts, it comes out this winter. After “Absentia” and “Oculus,” Flanagan has proven himself to be a fantastic genre director. This latest effort looks like a continuation of this streak. Following a boy whose dreams come to life – in suitably scary ways – “Before I Wake” promises to be surreal, beautiful, and unsettling as hell.

THE NEON DEMON

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I like it when arthouse directors tackle this genre. Efforts from Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski and David Lynch have proven to be some of the best horror films ever. Here’s to hoping that Nicholas Winding Refn, the indie-darling-director of “Drive,” delivers on this tradition. A violent and beautiful horror film set in the world of fashion has endless potential, and a director of Refn’s skill is the one to make it work.

THE GREASY STRANGLER

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Little has been said about this one, and it’s technically not released yet, but its Sundance slate has me excited. The fabulous folks at SpectreVision bring this to Park City at Midnight: a horror/comedy about a killer, likely unpleasant-looking, stalking the seedy streets of an unknown city. I’ll be seeing this at Sundance this year, and I can’t wait to see what new vision it presents.

FEBRUARY

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After its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, this film got quite a bit of buzz for being subtle, slow, and totally unsettling. While the reviews are semi-split, the promise of a thoughtful and well-crafted demonic thriller caught my attention. Whispers hint that it’s both moody and shocking, sad and terrifying, a combination that I’m dying to see.

THE WITCH

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While technically a 2015 release, as it premiered in January at Sundance, this highly talked-about creeper will not appear in theaters until February of this year. All the more reason to anticipate it. Aside from being one of the best and scariest trailers of 2015, the reviews have been stellar. It sounds like a claustrophobic, sublime, and transgressive horror film – about witches in Puritan America, no less. I’m in.

Dark Musings: MUMBLEGORE

Posted in Dark Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2015 by smuckyproductions

I’ve already expressed a deep love for indie horror, and praised what seems like a Renaissance in the area. It’s difficult to fully encompass the indie scene, though, without acknowledging a rather controversial subgenre that actually makes up quite a bit of the selections. This is not a category that Netflix would acknowledge, but I think it encapsulates the general vibe of this type of film. We will call it MUMBLEGORE.

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What the hell is that? you say. I laughed pretty hard when I saw that phrase first, too. It references a movement in indie film – ‘Mumblecore’ – used to describe a movie that is basically just people talking. Well-known examples include “Frances Ha,” “Drinking Buddies” and any film involving the Duplass brothers. These films tend to be the subject of some ridicule because the characters are usually over-hip and a bit (or a LOT) pretentious. Regardless of personal preference, this is a substantial area in low-budget filmmaking, and the pool of collaborators (the Duplass bros, Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Lena Dunham) have a considerable amount of talent.

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And how does this relate to horror? Well, I think it’s easy to acknowledge that horror and comedy are the two easiest genres to produce successfully on a low budget. Thus, these filmmakers switch between both, and take their mumbly-hip style with them, to give birth to Mumblegore. The earliest example is probably the Duplass brothers’ “Baghead,” released in 2008. I saw this film a few years after it came out, and honestly, it ended up frightening me quite a bit.

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Following in its footsteps, the scene welcomed the likes of Ti West and Adam Wyngard, who have both slipped solid entries into the genre canon – “The House of the Devil” and “You’re Next,” respectively. Other efforts include “Silver Bullets,” “The Innkeepers,” “The Sacrament” and, arguably, this year’s “Creep” (starring Mark Duplass as a horrifically creepy motherfucker).

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Films like these have sparked some pretty intense hatred, because of their slow pace and dialogue-heavy openings (though they tend to conclude in a glorious amount of viscera). I agree with some of the criticism, particularly that the characters are a bit too sharp and snazzily dressed to pass as fully realized people. But horror has always been imperfect, especially the characters, who are usually not even fleshed out beyond their name and the way they die. What matters is the story, the style, and the honesty of the filmmaking.

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These three reasons, among others, are why I celebrate the filmmakers involved in the mumblecore/gore movement. They have built a pool of talent that works together constantly and successfully outside of the studio system. Regardless of anyone’s personal opinion on this content, it’s encouraging and exciting to see that such a community can actually exist and thrive in today’s industry. The films that come out of this movement have created their own space in the genre and expound a vision that, while perhaps not everyone’s preference, is undeniably unique. I’m sure some will disagree, but I see this as a beacon of hope for aspiring filmmakers like myself. There is still a space for creators who want to be their own brand.

So, I personally dub the prolific and energetic producers of mumblegore films a group of talent to watch closely. There are quite a few horror projects in development now, including a comic-based television series called “Outcast” (pilot directed by Adam Wingard of “You’re Next”) and a classic-sounding stalk-and-slash flick “The Woods.” Other surprise releases can always be discovered in the Park City at Midnight section at Sundance.

Well, horror fans, what’s your opinion on this rising genre? And what’s your favorite mumblegore film if you have one? Comment below and let the grave know.