[CINEPOCALYPSE 2017] JASON COFFMAN @ CINEPOCALYPSE: PART 1

November 2nd:

SWEET VIRGINIA (Canada, dir. Jamie M. Dagg)

Three men are murdered in a small Alaska town in an apparent robbery. The killer, a young man named Elwood (Christopher Abbott), moves into a hotel run by Sam (Jon Bernthal), a former professional bullrider who retired years ago after a near-fatal injury and suffers from early-onset Parkinson’s Disease. Sam knew two of the men who were killed, and also their wives: Lila (Imogen Poots), only married for three years, and Bernadette (Rosemarie Witt), married for eighteen. Awkward, creepy Elwood befriends Sam after the two bond over Elwood’s stories of his father’s admiration for Sam’s bullriding. These characters cross paths repeatedly, and the longer Elwood waits around the more dangerous he becomes. SWEET VIRGINIA is a neo-noir set in Alaska, and director Jamie M. Dagg takes full advantage of the gorgeous scenery and unusual setting for what is at its core a familiar story. Dagg also gives the formula a number of unexpected tweaks, including putting Bernthal in a role where he’s physically fragile. Christopher Abbott is genuinely unsettling as Elwood. Rather than an imposing physical presence or giving the impression of being a criminal mastermind, Elwood unnerves with his bizarrely awkward behavior and sudden bursts of rage. The pace of the film is glacial, and there’s not so much of a story as the rough outline of one; Dagg is more interested in watching these characters interact with each other than anything else. It’s a little too self-serious and mannered, but SWEET VIRGINIA is an unusual take on neo-noir that’s well worth a look.

 

November 3rd:

PSYCOPATHS (USA, dir. Mickey Keating)

Infamous murderer Henry Starkweather (Larry Fessenden) is about to be executed in the electric chair, but he swears that a wave of chaos and murder will follow in his wake. As the omniscient Storyteller (Jeff Daniel Phillips) observes, either Starkweather’s prophecy came true or the events that followed were a tremendous coincidence: The Strangler (James Landry Hébert) starts off the evening living up to his name but meets his match and then some in Blondie (Angela Trimbur). Meanwhile, Alice (Ashley Bell) escapes from the van transporting her between insane asylums and goes on the hunt, and Mask (Sam Zimmerman) is on his own mission of revenge against Starkweather’s children, either literal or metaphorical. Mickey Keating’s follow-up to CARNAGE PARK pushes his aesthetic much further out than ever before. This is a nightmare of lurid color, fountains of blood, psychedelic imagery, and disorienting camera moves and angles. As far as form, it’s sort of like MAGNOLIA if everyone involved was either a brutal murderer and/or a victim of same. Jeremy Gardner is entertainingly unhinged as a maniac cop who may be more dangerous than any of the career killers on the loose, but Ashley Bell absolutely walks off with the movie with an absolutely incredible, terrifying performance that is totally unlike anything she’s done before. PSYCHOPATHS is much more about mood, atmosphere, and sensory overload than any traditional concept of narrative, so anyone who wasn’t a fan of his experimental influences in CARNAGE PARK and (especially) DARLING should probably pass on this. Anyone who loved that facet of his previous work should make it a priority to see PSYCHOPATHS as soon as possible, preferably on a very big screen with a very loud sound system.

 

THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE (USA, Todd Tucker)

Tim (Caleb Thomas) is a scrawny fifteen-year-old obsessed with movie monsters who lives with his mother Linda (Sarah Lancaster) and is a regular target of local bullies. The day before Halloween in 1981, he gets beaten up by Brian (JT Neal), Spaz (Mcabe Gregg), and Chuck (Niko Papastefanou) outside the convenience store where Tim’s former neighbor and Brian’s girlfriend April (Annie Read) works. On his way home, Tim finds a weird pumpkin, and when he gets back to his workshop he carves a wicked grin into it while he wishes he could scare the bullies to death. Soon thereafter, the Trickster (Doug Jones) appears to Tim and offers the chance of supernatural revenge. Todd Tucker is a makeup and special effects artist whose career spans dozens of films going back nearly thirty years, and THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE is his love letter to 80s teen horror films. The film is packed with ambitious and impressive practical effects, from the Trickster himself (a deft blend of practical makeup and CG) to a giant spider to a small army of evil marionettes. It does take a long time to get up and running–Tucker explained in his Q&A after the screening that the first half-hour of the film is directly autobiographical–but it’s well worth the wait and the character building pays off in the wild second act. It goes on a bit too long at the end, too, but given how personal this was for Tucker these are minor quibbles. Fans of 80s horror and practical effects are going to be very happy about this film.

 

THE LODGERS (Ireland, dir. Brian O’Malley)

In the aftermath of World War I, twins Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) live in a decrepit mansion set apart from a small village in Ireland. Edward hasn’t left the house in a very long time, and is angry with Rachel for her time spent outside. The two live under a strict set of rules set by a mysterious supernatural force that overtakes the mansion every night at midnight, leaving the twins trapped in their rooms until morning. Sean (Eugene Simon), son of the village’s general store owner Maura (Deirdre O’Kane), returns from the war to face the scorn of the young men in the village who see him as a traitor to Ireland. One day Sean sees Rachel in the shop and follows her after a group of men harass her, and soon Rachel is finding herself imagining an escape from a fate she previously believed inevitable. But Edward is intent on following the rules and the will of the mansion, and neither the house nor Edward will let her go easily. THE LODGERS feels very Victorian and specifically very much in the vein of CRIMSON PEAK. Both films are concerned with repressed sexuality, doomed bloodlines, and demonic architecture. Director Brian O’Malley and cinematographer Richard Kendrick conjure up a very different and effective atmosphere; you can practically feel the chill in the halls and smell the rot of the mansion. Charlotte Vega gives a solid performance as the conflicted Rachel, and Bill Milner is perfectly cast as Edward. He’s wan and ghostly, but dangerous in his obsession with his sister and the house’s strange rules. There’s some memorably beautiful and creepy imagery, and it ends on an unexpected note, but no doubt some viewers–the kind who find, say, THE INNOCENTS tough to sit through–will find THE LODGERS too slow and staid. It’s a haunted mansion film that hearkens back to a different style of horror, and is all the better for it.

 

GET MY GUN (USA, dir. Brian Darwas)

Amanda (Kate Hoffman) is working housekeeping at a low-rent hotel to save up before going back to college. When Rebecca (Christy Casey) starts working there, the two become fast friends. Their friendship is unfortunately cemented when Amanda is raped by a violent guest (William Jousset) on her birthday. Fast forward nine months and Amanda is pregnant and close to her due date, determined to take control of her life and have the child. But when she has some doubts, she contacts Catherine (Rosanne Rubino), a doctor who is looking to adopt outside the usual channels. While Amanda struggles with what to do about the baby, Catherine’s behavior becomes unsettling and a conflict looms. GET MY GUN opens on a note that feels like a familiar grindhouse revenge throwback, but quickly becomes something very different. The film spends a lot of time with Amanda and Rebecca, and Hoffman and Casey have an easygoing and convincing friendly chemistry. The introduction of Catherine in the film creates an interesting dynamic between the three female characters, with the male rapist character serving only as a catalyst in the storyline rather than its principal antagonist. It’s so good as a drama that it’s almost a disappointment when the story takes a turn into more standard genre territory in the final act. However, Hoffman’s performance is fearless and fantastic, and GET MY GUN is an intriguing twist on a familiar and notoriously problematic subgenre.

 

PRIMAL RAGE (USA, dir. Patrick Magee)

Ashley (Casey Gagliardi) is picking up her husband Max (Andrew Joseph Montgomery) as he is released from prison. He’s been gone a year, and Ashley is sober and caring for their young son. After a run-in with some local hunters, they get back on the road and run over a severely injured man on a stretch of mountain road. They end up lost in the forest, while the local Sheriff (Eloy Casados) investigates a series of mysterious disappearances that local weirdo Nickel Pete (Matt Herold) attributes to Bigfoot. Ashley and Max meet up with the hunters while trying to make their way back to the road, but on their tense walk back they’re intercepted by a murderous Sasquatch who uses more than his brute strength to hunt his prey. The creature that is the focus of PRIMAL RAGE is an impressive achievement in practical effects, and it’s the main event in a film packed with fantastic and gruesome makeup and effects. Director/co-writer Patrick Magee has worked in makeup and effects for decades, and his passion for it shines through in every frame of the film. Magee and co-writer Jay Lee base their “Bigfoot” on Native American folklore, and a parallel storyline follows the Sheriff as he tries to come to grips with his own long-ignored culture. Some of the repetition in both stories–the hunters antagonizing Ashley and Max, one bit of conversation that is repeated verbatim between the Sheriff and a deputy–make the wait for the Bigfoot action feel a bit long, but like Todd Tucker’s THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE (also playing Cinepocalypse), the Main Event more than rewards the audience’s patience. PRIMAL RAGE is a fun twist on the Bigfoot legend that begs for a bigger-budget sequel to pay off the promise of its final moments.

 

ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES (UK, dir. Dominic Brunt)

Two armed men burst in on a spectacularly boring afternoon of board gaming at the home of George (Andrew Dunn), threatening to kill him if his family doesn’t bring back a package from a vast rural estate. His wife Sandra (Kate Coogan), stepson Tim (Kurtis Lowe), and daughter Kim (Mica Proctor) have three hours to deliver or George gets it. The mission is complicated by the fact that the estate where the package is located is the site of a regular meeting of some of the richest and most powerful men in the world, who gather to be literally babied by sexy young “nurses” led by Nurse Margaret (Sally Dexter) and her sidekick/executioner Clinton (Joanne Mitchell). Barbara (Thaila Zucchi) is one of said nurses on her first assignment, and not entirely sure what it is she’s gotten herself into–especially after her charge grows a pig snout and tail after she starts feeding him his giant bottle. ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES is an outrageous super low-budget horror/comedy that relies heavily on gross-out humor of degrees ranging from “little smear of poo” to (literally) explosive diarrhea, but also strikes out into the surreal and absurd when the story behind the “Adult Babies” is finally explained. Depending on the viewer’s tolerance for a parade of weird, gross humor in the tradition of Troma, this is either going to be a riot or literally unwatchable. There’s no faulting the film’s game cast, who all commit admirably to any number of bizarre and disgusting assaults on both themselves and good taste. Director Dominic Brunt keeps the action and gags moving at a brisk clip, and as gross and weird as it is, it genuinely looks like everyone on screen in this film is having an absolute blast. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, but for anyone in the mood for something completely off the rails, ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES certainly delivers.

 

Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Jason Coffman
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