2017 marks the first year for Cinepocalypse, the new incarnation of what used to be known as the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival that had its home in Rosemont, IL. Held at Chicago’s historic Music Box Theatre, Cinepocalypse highlights new genre films and retro screenings curated by special guests. The festival runs from November 2-9.
The official opening night of the festival featured only film.
SWEET VIRGINIA is an oddly paced film with which to open a genre film festival. While it falls firmly within the crime genre (specifically, the “perfect” murder gone wrong subgenre), director Jamie M. Dagg maintains a grim tone that undercuts some of the potential for entertainment. Despite the restrained, grim feel, there is plenty to like in the film, most of it courtesy of Jon Bernthal as a gentle-natured former rodeo bullrider. He turns in a believable, mumbly, touching performance that serves as the perfect complement to Christopher Abbott’s aggressive, socially awkward murderer as the two cross paths and fates in a small Alaskan town.
Dagg commendably keeps the violence realistically messy and sudden even as he tries a little too hard to remove much of the pulpy DNA in this specific subgenre. I understand the desire to try and “class” up the material (especially given the stacked cast that also includes Rosemarie DeWitt and Imogen Poots), but I can’t help think that SWEET VIRGINIA might be a more interesting—and entertaining—film if Dagg had embraced some of the trashiness inherent in its premise.
PSYCHOPATHS was one of my most anticipated films of the festival. Writer/director Mickey Keating has emerged as one of the most prolific and stylish horror filmmakers in the last six years with favorites like DARLING and POD. Even CARNAGE PARK—a film that did not completely work for me—had a scummy charm to it that showed him as a filmmaker fully in control of tone and style. A hyper-violent horror flick about several of the titular characters wreaking havoc sounded right up his alley, so I expected great things. I got nearly great things—which I will take with a smile.
When a serial killer (Larry Fessenden) is executed, his evil spirit disperses into the ether and lands in the bodies of several “vessels.” These vessels go out on a killing spree that Keating follows through three different storylines that occasionally intersect, but largely stand on their own, making the film feels more like a collection of shorts rather than a feature. That is not necessarily a criticism.
It is easy to see that PSYCHOPATHS is going to be a divisive film. The characters are thinly drawn and the story is borderline-incoherent at times. But I dug the hell out of the impressive visual style that Keating brings to the film and the unchecked tonal insanity as one violent encounter leads to another in a series of right turns.
Beyond the gorgeous cinematography by Mac Fisken and the memorable combination of grisly imagery with meticulous compositions, the film works as a showcase for Ashley Bell. Her performance as the most unhinged of the killers is astonishing (I’ve always thought she was good, but her work here is next level).
While the violence is graphic and the story is nihilistic, I found PSYCHOPATHS exhilarating, but I understand why someone would hate it and find it pointless. It is a definite case of style over substance, but in the case of PSYCHOPATHS, I found that more than enough.
The borderline experimental and psychedelic graphic violence of PSYCHOPATHS led into the surprisingly traditional THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE.
Tim (Caleb Thomas) is a troubled, yet talented teenage artist who crafts monster masks and draws horrific creatures. Already dealing with the double whammy of abandonment by his father and being small for his age, things get even worse when he runs afoul of a trio of bullies. Despite a loving mother (Sarah Lancaster) who is doing her best as a single parent, Tim is understandably vulnerable when he is approached by a strange being named The Trickster (veteran creature performer Doug Jones), who promises to help Tim get revenge on this bullies. Not surprisingly, things quickly get out of hand as The Trickster’s way of meting out justice is far bloodier than Tim expected.
In his Q&A that followed the film, director Todd Tucker talked about how much the first thirty minutes of the film (focusing on Tim’s broken family and bullying) was autobiographical. Unfortunately, this section of the film felt the clunkiest. The film did not have the budget to pull off its early ’80s period setting and the acting is not strong enough to convincingly handle the dramatic material of Tim being bullied.
But once The Trickster enters the picture and the film goes full supernatural horror, things improve markedly. The monsters are mostly created via impressive practical effects. While the film never exactly becomes scary, there is an undeniable creepy factor to some of the creatures and—despite the intended muddying of the moral waters—it is satisfying to see them take down the bullies one by one.
I wish I could more whole-heartedly recommend THE TERROR OF HALLOW’S EVE, but the rough opening and an unnecessary epilogue detract from the overall package. It does merit a viewing for fans of creature features and there is something admirable about its attempts to meld a message about bullying with a traditional supernatural horror flick, but it doesn’t quite put all the pieces together.
With the exception of some of the retro screenings, TRAGEDY GIRLS is probably the highest profile film showing at this year’s Cinepocalypse. With that in mind, I will not bother with any real set up of the plot since there are already hundreds, if not thousands of reviews of it out there.
Overall, I enjoyed the hell out of TRAGEDY GIRLS. It is just as funny, snarky, gory, and nihilistic as advertised. The cast is great across the board and co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre puts the whole thing together in a slick package. I just wish the film had something deeper to say than “social media can be toxic and encourage sociopaths to do horrible things.” That point is made over and over in the film, but it never delves into the trickier psychological issues of its two protagonists. Like I said, I had a blast watching it, but it remains a slight film that quickly disappears from the mind.
There are dozens of Bigfoot films out there in the wilds of used VHS tapes, bargain bin DVDs, and the seemingly hundreds of streaming services now available. But let me be one of the first to tell you (since the film had its world premiere at Cinepocalypse), PRIMAL RAGE is the Bigfoot movie you didn’t know you needed.
Recently released ex-con Max (Andrew Joseph Montgomery) and his wife Ashley (Casey Gagliardi) find themselves trapped in the woods after an automobile accident. When they find themselves in the presence of a group of creepy rednecks out on a hunting expedition, things go from bad to worse. The hunters relentlessly antagonize Max about his ex-con status and look at Ashley in a way that can only be described as rapey. But before things truly come to a head with this semi-familiar situation, Bigfoot shows up and rips the hunters apart in ways that are jaw-dropping (in one case, literally).
Co-writer/director Patrick Magee has worked as a special effects artist for twenty years and it shows. He takes some time to set up the characters of Max and Ashley before getting to the good stuff of watching Bigfoot (a terrific design that was created and performed by Magee) rips heads off rednecks and engage in tense stalking and battle scenes with Max, Ashley, and a Native American sheriff (Eloy Casados).
It cannot be overstated how great the gore effects and Bigfoot material is in PRIMAL RAGE. The story and characters feel perfunctory at best (and unnecessary, in the case of the Sheriff’s crisis of faith subplot), but Magee gives us what we always wanted with a Bigfoot movie: a cool-looking creature tearing people apart in creative ways. It is pure fun.
What can possibly follow a bloodthirsty Bigfoot ripping rednecks apart? ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES, of course.
You cannot accuse director Dominic Brunt of false advertising. There are indeed Adult Babies and they do indeed attack at a couple of points in the film. But there are so many moiré absurd elements to the film than grown men behaving as babies (complete with diapers they soil).
A nonstop mixture of slapstick comedy, splattery gore, and overt socio-political commentary, you cannot call it a horror film because it is never scary (nor does it want to be) and the strain of anger at the still present class system in the U.K. is too obvious for it qualify as nothing but a silly comedy. In short, it’s an absolute mess of a film that revels in the bad taste of extreme gore effects, countless human shit gags, and the anarchy of its absurd story. If that description makes it sound like a great midnight movie, that’s because it is. If you get the opportunity to see it at a midnight show, jump on it. This is a film that benefits from being seen with a rowdy crowd.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)
Tags: Andrew Joseph Montgomery, Ashley Bell, Attack of the Adult Babies, Bigfoot, Caleb Thomas, Carnage Park, Casey Gagliardi, Christopher Abbott, Cinepocalypse, Darling, Dominic Brunt, Doug Jones, Ely Casados, Imogen Poots, Jamie M. Dagg, Jon Bernthal, Larry Fessenden, Mac Fisken, Mickey Keating, Patrick Magee, Pod, Primal Rage, Psychopaths, Rosemarie DeWitt, Sarah Lancaster, Sweet Virginia, The Terror of Hallow's Eve, Todd Tucker, Tragedy Girls, Tyler MacIntyre