Archive for trash fire

Smucky’s Favorite Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2016 was undoubtedly a strange, perhaps frightening year; and when it comes to horror, these qualities are quite promising. This was an incredible year for horror films. Reflecting on my favorites, I am reminded that I missed several of the best; yet I can’t resist writing about the ones I experienced. Thus, Smucky’s favorite horror films of 2016:

(For the record, the ones I regret missing are as follows: Under the Shadow, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2, The Untamed, Beyond the Gates, The Monster, Eyes of my Mother, and Evolution.)

9. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

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While I haven’t seen February yet (a continually delayed release), I couldn’t resist Oz Perkins’ sophomore feature. This poetic exploration of a haunted house is one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year. Perkins creates a mist-shrouded and cerebral atmosphere through magnificent imagery, patient revelations and musings on the afterlife that leave a lingering chill. It’s not a film to me, but a sensory immersion.

8. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

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Cliches and cheap scares aside – though these have their charms, too – André Øvredal’s return to the director’s chair is one of the year’s most original films. It builds its atmosphere of dread slowly, focusing on the mundane, and revealing its uncanny truths with the relish of a rotten advent calendar. With ingenious set pieces, stomach-churning suspense and an utterly terrifying villain, Jane Doe is a morbid blast.

7. GREEN ROOM

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I almost passed this one up; the premise sounded rehashed. And I have learned my lesson – this film cannot be missed. Jeremy Saulnier crafts both a masterclass in violent mayhem, and a layered character study. When your characters are so nuanced and realistic, it becomes even more disturbing when they die painfully. I will never enter a dive bar again without thinking of this film.

6. DEAREST SISTER

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Mattie Do is one of cinema’s most exciting new voices, and her second film is proof of her talent. This searing sociological ghost story is creepy, gruesome and disturbing, but not just because of the phantoms. Do’s exploration of politics, class, greed and family is rendered with brutal human realism. From a genre perspective, it’s entertaining and scary, but there is far more going on under the layers of flesh.

5. SOUTHBOUND

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Anthologies are tough to pull off; but the team behind Southbound seems to have it down to a science. With four stories that all exist in the same world – a purgatorial desert full of demons – the film adopts an atmosphere of the bizarre that harkens back to The Twilight Zone, while creating a dreadful experience all its own. I was enthralled by the environment, thrilled by the individual tales, and amazed by the film’s ability to end it with cohesion.

4. THE INVITATION

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Karyn Kusama is incredible; and this tense, utterly disturbing film is a reminder of her talent. A simple premise – a dinner party that begins dissolving into a cult gathering – becomes a deep and frightening exploration of grief’s effect on relationships. Being partial to Suburban horror stories and occult thrillers, this is right up my alley; and Kusama renders these elements brilliantly through her attention to suspense and character.

3. THE LOVE WITCH

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I adore this film for many reasons – it’s visually gorgeous and uses old school cinematic techniques with brilliance; it shocked me with its depth and tragedy; and it introduced me to the voice of Anna Biller. This lush, complex and upsetting thesis on objectification and sexuality could only have been crafted by Biller, whose attention to detail alone is mind blowing. As far as I’m concerned, she is one of the premiere auteur voices of the decade.

2. TRASH FIRE

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Not only does Richard Bates’ third film revive authentic Gothic cinema – satirical, pitch-black, and rich in grotesque imagery – but it broke my heart, then mended it (sort of) with its strangely empowering conclusion. Equal parts millennial comedy, familial horror and identity drama, this film surpassed my expectations in every way. It’s also one of the few horror films this year to feature a substantial queer character; let’s have more of that in 2017.

1. THE WITCH

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A standard choice, maybe, but it deserves the number one spot. Robert Eggers meticulously recreates a Puritan-era farm, populates it with characters who come loaded with neuroses and paranoias; then unleashes an utterly frightening supernatural force upon them. It’s unapologetically a horror film, a psychologically realistic one, that leaves the viewer harrowed and invigorated. I haven’t seen anything like it, and probably won’t anytime soon. It also introduces us to a new horror icon; who else has pledged their souls to Black Phillip?

In lieu of a 10th spot, I’ll list a few films that came out last year but I only saw recently; or films that haven’t technically been released yet, such as: the subdued and touching psychological thriller They Look Like People; Baskin, the decade’s coolest descent into Hell; a Lovecraftian effects extravaganza, The Void; and a film that both made me retch and blew my mind, We Are The Flesh.

 

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Dark Musings: The Art of Homage

Posted in Dark Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Returning from Sitges International Film Festival, I realize that three of the eight films I saw were explicit homages – SWEET, SWEET LONELY GIRL; THE LOVE WITCH; and THE VOID. If you get liberal, you might be able to throw THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE in there as well. These films make a point of visiting a bygone age of horror not only through style, but through plot, character and theme. LONELY GIRL is a psychosexual Gothic thriller with cold, beautiful imagery and a frail protagonist straight from the 70s; you could actually convince me that LOVE WITCH was filmed in the 60s, aside from the final act (more on that later); and THE VOID feels like a Carpenter film that never got made.

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This is no surprise – in fact, it has become almost commonplace. So many of the horror films we see today either feel like or are constructed as throwbacks to other eras. CRIMSON PEAK revisits Roger Corman and Mario Bava. THE CONJURING sits right next to THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and POLTERGEIST. WE ARE STILL HERE is a stylistic and thematic marriage of Lucio Fulci and H.P. Lovecraft, who had come back into vogue in the 1970s. We hear synths in the scores again, we see long and patient zooms, we find practical effects favoring CGI (for the most part).

This is, in many ways, a positive thing. Many fans would argue that these eras were the best, partially due to techniques that we seemed to have forgotten about in the early 21st century. To see them coming back into play is thrilling. It just means that many of the films feel like something that came before – there isn’t much originality going around. For the most part. Alongside the homages, there have been some incredible feats of meta-cinema. These are the films that continue to reshape and invigorate the genre.

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One of the best horror films to hit the screens recently was IT FOLLOWS – an homage in its cinematography, plot and score, all of which are masterful. But it also feels deeply rooted in this generation. The films it draws from (HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) mostly operate on the idea that sex leads to death, a classic slasher cliché. The plot of IT FOLLOWS reflects this – have sex and inherit a supernatural entity that stalks you until it catches you – but also inverts the idea completely, because in order to survive, one must continue having sex. The story is also rendered so uniquely by David Robert Mitchell’s direction and Maika Monroe’s heartbreaking performance. Rather than going for camp and cheese, Mitchell and Monroe create a portrait of trauma. The disease is horrifying, world-changing, but no one else can see it… until they experience it. Sexual shame and assault are much the same.

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Similarly, THE LOVE WITCH exists staunchly in the world of 60s soft-core cinema. The titular witch uses her brews and spells to seduce men. But, here’s the catch – this is not a supernatural film. Anna Biller, the director (and costume designer), recreates the aesthetic and atmosphere down to the quality of light; but the story does not follow quite as faithfully. Within the first ten minutes, someone calls the protagonist out for her old-fashioned views – her continual insistence that “We must give men what they want.” The film spends its running time dissecting dangerous ideas of idolization, romanticism and delusion, eventually proving that these ideas end only in tragedy. What could have been just another sexploitation pic becomes a commentary on the themes it embodies.

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These are not the only films that transcend homage, but they stand out vividly as an example for future filmmakers. It is possible to pay tribute to another era without falling into its trap and feeling like a replica. Horror has always been rich in theme and commentary, and much of past cinema explores ideas that are relevant in our era. Going back to those decades can unearth their commentary and make it fresh. WE ARE STILL HERE uses its 70s atmosphere to dissect grief and mob mentality; or THE WITCH, revisiting the occult obsession of the 60s and 70s, finds feminist themes that feel vital today. Here we find filmmakers who respect their cinematic history, but do not fall into its stagnant clutches. Art must always move forward.

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Then, of course, there are films that feel (to me) entirely of this generation – Mattie Do’s sociological Gothic chiller DEAREST SISTER; the already-infamous WE ARE THE FLESH; and Richard Bates Jr.’s TRASH FIRE, which, while taking grotesque cues from BABY JANE, still exists in the 21st century. They free themselves fully from nostalgia, in the process finding new themes and styles that invigorate the genre. They might be rarer, or less celebrated, because that nostalgia is such a strong pull (as evidenced by the success of THE CONJURING and STRANGER THINGS); but they give evidence that, one day, filmmakers may pay homage to the style of this decade.

It is a thrilling time for horror cinema, both of the past and present. New filmmakers must make the choice, though – exist in bygone eras or create something new, something of their times. For fans, it is enough to have a bit of both.

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!