Crash Reports: My 1,700th Horror – and More

I had tried to pick something that would cap another horror viewing milestone, and Cockneys-vs-Zombies-Trailer-This-Is-How-a-Zombie-Comedy-Should-Look-LikeMatthias Hoene’s COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES (UK, 2012) seemed like the right choice.

The film featured the amazing Alan Ford (who stole every scene) and veteran lovely, Honor Blackman even made an appearance. But in this tale, where cockney kids rob a bank to save people at an old folk’s home only to embattle zombies, didn’t live up to horror/comedy expectations. Most often, scenes were long and at times slow paced. Even worse, the CGI horror and blood spatter was only a step above a Syfy movie. The worst element was the blatant foreshadowing from the first ten minutes, which clearly telegraphed the movie’s end. So much for COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES (1.5 out of 5 stars).

During the last 100 horrors, I did have the pleasure of indulging in Brandon Cronenberg’s amazing surreal horror, ANTIVIRAL (Canada, 2012), and immersed myself in the bloody ambience of the MANIAC (2012) remake. Better still, I finally managed to dive into Takashi Miike’s phenomenal “Imprint” (Japan/USA, 2006), which had been unceremoniously banned from the “Masters of Horror” television enterprise. The best horror related surprise was Chad Crawford Kinkle’s unique JUG FACE (2013), and the awesome sci-fi/horror spectacle that is Richard Raaphorst’s FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (Netherlands/USA/Czech Republic, 2013).

Unfortunately, the amount of quality horror continues to wane. Since I have been streaming as of late, due to a bevy of shattered discs from Netflix, the pickings have been less than stellar. Most horrors have been rated one star or less from fans. Sigh.

I can only hope that filmmakers, regardless of budget cuts, will resort to better storytelling than third-rate CGI and overused jump scares. Though FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY relied on mad scientist creature creations to blow one’s mind, the storytelling carried the film. In addition, MANIAC, JUG FACE, and ANTIVIRAL all proved that well crafted stories and characters with depth and variety can win the day no matter how many gallons of blood are spilled.

Even so, 2013 certainly was not the best year for horrors, but the fledgling New Year can still bring great things from imaginative, independent filmmakers. We’ll see soon enough. In the meantime, I’ll rely on the old standards, like THE THING, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, THE CHANGELING, ALIEN, and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, because those films resonate – and continue to bring the all-mighty creep factor.

What are your favorite “go to” horrors?

(Photo from News.Softpedia.)

Crash Discussions: Director of the Damned: Wes Craven

PodcastimageFrom THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to the upcoming “Scream” television series, Wes Craven has resurrected the slasher genre almost single handedly – on more than one occasion. Learn about the man’s life and how his journey brings life to the characters and their dilemmas on screen. Just keep telling yourself: It’s only a podcast, it’s only a podcast…

Crash Discussions: Scientifically Horrific: Why we love sci-fi/horror

PodcastimageSince FRANKENSTEIN, science fiction and horror have been a happily wedded dystopian couple. Billy Crash and Jonny Numb take a look at the scientifically horrific: ALIEN, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, VIDEODROME, THE THING, CUBE, and many more great films. But it’s not the cool special effects or futurism that makes this marriage work, but the themes and fears that capture audience imagination.

Crash Discussions: Battle for BYZANTIUM!

PodcastimageBilly Crash and Jonny Numb square off in a steel cage death match: Jonny loves Neil Jordan’s 2012 vampire opus BYZANTIUM, and Billy’s enraged by the spectacle. Find out why the movie works, why it fails, and which one of the cast members to keep an eye on… Plus, why you shouldn’t open the door to ROOM 237 and why the CHILDREN OF THE CORN franchise should have stopped at number two.

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Crash Analysis: FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (Netherlands/USA/Czech Republic, 2013)

They’re Alive!

Action/sci-fi/horror coolness…

Before Richard Raaphorst’s FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY made it to screens, stills of the doctor’s creations hit Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Those killer images captured one’s frankensteins_army_xlgimagination, like collector cards from another era. After all, it wasn’t hard to not be hooked by the tremendous Steampunk like images – as if that bratty kid from TOY STORY had grown up and really got to work on monstrous manifestations.

It’s the end of World War II and a group of Soviet soldiers are deep into German territory. But this mission must be special because an officer films the band’s every step with color film – a hard thing to come by in the day. And that makes the regulars skittish, especially when they come across a village with a secret that brings the story of Viktor Frankenstein to reality.

What Raaphorst brings us is a World War II fantasy of stellar proportions with enough conflict to rival any serious drama. Beyond that, it’s hard to watch FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY and not wonder what the hell will happen next. Once the soldiers leave “the big one” behind and enter the surreal nightmare world that seems to be a conspiratorial fabrication between Salvador Dali and Hieronymous Bosch, we’re truly in no man’s land. It’s cold, dark, gritty, and you can smell the grease of what becomes the equivalent of a funhouse incorporated by reanimated cyborgs.

Bart Beekman’s cinematography is spot on fabulous, and Jindrich’s Kocí’s production design will amaze. The two join forces to bring the audience a compelling labyrinth of steel and concrete that only adds to the creepiness – especially when one of Viktor’s (Karel Roden) monsters can jump out, jump down, or jump in to tear someone apart at any given moment.

Yes, it sounds like a gorehound’s dream, or a horror video game for the brainless. Not at all. As Viktor states, “My father said men will be more efficient if they have hammers and screwdrivers instead of fingers.” And this leads to one of the films most thematic elements. Near the end of World War II, the Nazi regime was desperate. After all, the so-called “superior” Arayan race was losing to a bunch of worthless Slavs, Brits, Americans, and other lesser cretins. Hitler’s henchman and his elite SS couldn’t do the job. They failed as men as well as a self-imposed pure, chosen race. And what does Viktor use to fill the void and pick up the slack? The dead mixed with machine, a menagerie of death dealing mayhem to turn the tide.

But we’re in the middle of nowhere and Viktor doesn’t seem to have a rock steady Igor by his side. This is a madman, like Hitler, with blinders on, ready to go full steam ahead. Where Hitler had an ideal, a final solution, and a desire for an opera house in every city, Viktor wants life-sized toys to wreck havoc as if he were a villain from a lost James Bond movie. This is FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, not the fuhrer’s, and Viktor could care less about political rhetoric or desire.

What’s in it for Viktor? Who the hell knows. That’s what. He’s a man with a talent and he’s delivering the mechanized material that will unleash chaos. Maybe he’s Batman’s Joker, the man without a plan who just wants to watch the world burn.

Raaphorst brought to the screen a blast of a film that should have been doomed. Yes, as an art director, he’s served on the phenomenal World War II drama BLACK BOOK (Netherlands, 2006), the ill-fated horror, SLAUGHTER NIGHT (Belgium/Netherlands, 2006), and he even worked with Stuart Gordon on DAGON (Spain, 2001), among others. But the concern for potential doom comes from the fact that FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY stemmed from the minds of four writers. Normally, only three writers maximum receive credit, and they are usually the final three to work on the script, and not all at the same time. Mary Shelley gets credit for the characters, but “story” credits go to the director and Miguel Tejada-Flores, who is also listed as a “writer” along with Chris W. Mitchell. One would think the end result from so many heads coming together would be a Frankenstein monster of failure, but Tejada-Flores has been a notable writer since his REVENGE OF THE NERDS screenplay became a hit in 1984, and SCREAMERS (Canada/USA/Japan, 1995) has many a Philip K. Dick and Dan O’Bannon fan. Mitchell may not have Tejada-Flores’s pedigree, but like Raaphorst, he’s no stranger to collaboration.

Film is a collaborate process, and Raaphorst proves that he loves the collective creativity it takes to make a film. I can see him, along with Tejada-Flores and Mitchell having a blast like little boys as, like Viktor, they create their action-based masterpiece. All three, along with the teenage vision of Shelley, bring us a fullblown tale of monsters and Victorian era like macabre that’s as exciting and as fast-paced as any other action film.

Sure, you have to throw reality out the window: Everyone speaks English instead of their respective Russian or German, and I have no doubt this was influenced by American co-production interests because, sadly, US audiences have a collective aversion to “reading” movies. And the color film quality is stellar. If we’re supposed to believe the images of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY were from found footage, the film should be far less crisp. I actually searched for Soviet World War II color film footage and came up with only photographs.

Richard Raaphorst’s creature designs will have one’s head spinning. And one can imagine comic books, video games, and sequels stemming from what he’s developed. In this sense, Raaphorst himself is Viktor Frankenstein – and that’s a great thing for those of us who want to enjoy a wild ride with endless possibilities.

Indulge in the fun, wit, and chaos of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY. It’s a definite keeper for any collection. And I certainly hope the team is working on a killer sequel – because I want more. Much more. I guess you can say Raaphorst created a monster…

4 out of 5 stars.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Discussions: Found Footage Frenzy

PodcastimageTo date, nearly 85 found footage films have been made since 1980’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Billy and Jonny explore the subgenre, explain its history, and reveal why there’s only more to come. We look at THE LAST BROADCAST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and V/H/S – and many lesser knowns, including THE TUNNEL and LAKE MUNGO. And we can’t help but take a bite out of DIARY OF THE DEAD and go for a ride with EUROPA REPORT.

Check us out on iTunes — and leave us a review.

Crash Analysis: JUG FACE (2013)

2013’s Best Horror

Killer premise, killer themes…

I’d given up on 2013. Other than the superior and atmospheric remake of MANIAC, the jug_face_ver2_xlgsurprisingly far better than expected DARK SKIES, and the coolness of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, the year was pretty bleak for horror. After all, the EVIL DEAD reboot lacked character, THE CONJURING was an over-rated cliché ridden tale, and MAMA was devoid of substance. Even worse, the mega-hit WORLD WAR Z was so family friendly, the zombies left their victims with glorified love bites. Aww…

Then, I received this DVD for preparation of my THE LAST KNOCK end of the year show with Jonny Numb. We hadn’t heard of Chad Crawford Kinkle’s JUG FACE, but as soon as the credits started to roll, we knew we had something special: Larry Fessenden, Sean Young, Lauren Ashley Carter, and Sean Bridgers made up the acting stronghold. More greatness came with Lucky McKee, director of MAY (2002) and THE WOMAN (2011), as producer. Most captivating was the music of Sean Spillane: a droning, alternative rhythm reminiscent of something Angelo Badalamenti might create if he had post punk rock sentimentality. The movie grew from there.

JUG FACE tells the story of Ada (Carter), a young woman growing up in a backwoods community in Tennessee. But her life’s in danger due to the trappings of an otherworldly pit, and she must escape.

Normally, when one hears “backwoods” and “Tennessee,” assumptions of crazed and stupid rednecks may arise, but Kinkle avoids the tropes and pitfalls of such ludicrous over-generalization. Sustin (Fessenden) is not only Ada’s attentive father, but a sensitive community leader. And those in the village seem to respect each other in a mutual manner. Due to his pottery making talents, the slow Dawai (Bridgers), who may have a form of Asperger’s Syndrome, is left to his own devices.

The pit, however, sits at the heart of the community, and it is the uncanny force that holds sway over all who reside in the village. A feminine vessel, the pit is vagina-like in its red clay and blood enriched bottom. The mother from the bowels of the earth that gives birth and takes life. A mother to be feared and respected, but never really loved.

The role of the feminine in JUG FACE is quite strong. Yes, the community has a traditional male leader, and even Ada’s mother, Loriss (Young) advises her daughter to follow her man. But Loriss maintains a strong, matter-of-fact presence in the community, and treats her children as if she is the supreme ruler of their collective domain. Ada, however, incorporates many of the same trappings of her mother: independence and not one to bow down, though Ada is more passive-aggressive. The difference between mother and daughter is this: Where Loriss has a strong sense of community, Ada is selfish. Thus begins the young woman’s journey in JUG FACE.

Chris Heinrich’s exemplary cinematography enhances the world created by production designer Kelly Anne Ross. One of the most profound images is that of jug maker Dawai in his shack. The place is bare bones and dark, yet light comes through the walls from little holes. The rays shine down on Dawai as he crafts, as if he’s receiving word from a god in a sparkling Universe. In this case, a female deity no doubt since he produces clay jugs, another feminine vessel. But he doesn’t just create jugs to haul moonshine. At times, he may be called to the pit to extract its red clay to prepare a “jug face,” which will undoubtedly change the face of the village.

As Dawai, Bridgers is absolutely remarkable, which is in direct contrast to his role as the psychopath father in THE WOMAN. Bridgers loses himself in the role as a Zen-like figure with an emotional attachment that ultimately effects the lives of others. Fessenden, Young, and Carter also immerse themselves into their respective roles, which leaves us with a wonderful, dramatic horror whose imagery creates depth and substance.

Kinkle moves JUG FACE along at a steady and revealing pace with rhythmic precision. Better still, he makes one care for characters that we never really get a chance to know, which is a feat unto itself. Quite often, background characters are so forgettable they are like redshirts in a STAR TREK movie, but not with Kinkle at the helm.

JUG FACE is loaded with surprises, and there is much to be amazed by as the mystery unravels. The only problem with the film, if there is one, is the notion of “the shunned,” which could have been incorporated in a less supernatural manner. The film was creepy enough with a stationary pit having so much power over its “herd.”

Regardless, JUG FACE resonates, and one can only imagine what the first-time director will bring us next. Therefore, don’t fall victim to the over-hype for the mundane. Take the road never before traveled and indulge in a unique horror tale that will follow you for days.

4 out of 5 stars.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)