Producing our debut feature film, The Marshes, a psychological horror set in far western NSW, has been one of the most rewarding and biggest learning experiences in my career to date. It was a 21 day shoot, most of which took place in the remote Macquarie Marshes, and involved a lot of important considerations to successfully bring our vision to life within budget.
Kicking goals overseas in both film and TV, the actress here plays the lead, whose missing boyfriend reappears on the same night that murders start taking place in small town USA. Also stars Ben Schnetzer and Jack Kilmer.
Paul William Dawkins's 13 minute Sydney-made black comedy will premiere in Australia at the genre fest following international play at Lime Light Film Awards (Best Short Film), Film In Focus, Short Cine Fest, SHORT to the Point and Indie Short Fest.
Horror anthologies can be a lot like the end result of a night’s trick or treating; a collection of sweet goodies that you probably shouldn’t consume in one go, because you won’t sleep but you’re pretty much going to anyway. Sure, one segment might not tick all your boxes, but there’s the promise of another one just around the corner.
There have been some absolute corkers over the decades, including Asylum, The House That Dripped Blood, Creepshow and for the more modern palate, VHS 2 with its brilliant death cult segment by Gareth Evans (The Raid). There’s also been some less than reputable ones that cash in on quantity over quality, such as ABCs of Death and the absolute nonsense of 60 Seconds to Die. Thankfully, The Mortuary Collection can certainly hold its own against its contemporaries.
Written and directed by Ryan Spindell, and marking his feature length debut, The Mortuary Collection sees Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption) as the brilliantly monikered Montgomery Dark. Dark, seemingly held together by cobwebs and dust, singlehandedly runs a funeral parlour in a small town and is actively looking for someone to help him in his duties. Along comes Sam (Caitlin Fisher), a twenty something college kid who doesn’t seem too uncomfortable around dead bodies.
Dark decides to test the steel of his potential assistant by recounting the gruesome endings of some of the clientele. As our host for the evening, Brown appears to be living his best life as the mischievous mortician, whilst Fisher listens incredulously to his seemingly tall tales. This sets up the framing device for Spindell to fire out four short stories, including his previous short The Babysitter Murders.
Set against a backdrop of early sixties American nostalgia, we become witness to haunted medicine cabinets, escaped asylum inmates, and pregnant misogynists. Spindell rides a fine line between the macabre and the humorous, which is shown to its full effect in the film’s third tale, where a man makes the decision to euthanize his very ill wife. Ultimately a sad tale about how hard it is to let go, Spindell seems to relish dishing out uneasy laughs.
It’s always a welcome surprise to come across an anthology where every story is as strong as the last and so it is with The Mortuary Collection. Eyes are gorged, genitals explode and human flesh is oven baked, but the film is never nihilistic or nasty. It puts a bony arm around us and encourages us to enjoy the ride. It’s a genuine delight to watch. This deserves a spin on anyone’s Halloween playlist.
Not to sound like everyone’s disapproving dad, but the rise of social media, including the likes of TikTok and Instagram, has exposed people to a potential shortcut to fame. For some, it’s a case of why persevere when you can just upload yourself doing a silly dance or unboxing a new pop culture toyline.
Then there are people who really harness the power of online fame. People like Father Max (Ryan Guzman, Notorious) and his friend Drew (Kyle Gallner, Ghosts of War), who have been preying on people’s fear of evil and love of redemption.
Each week, Father Max steps up to the holy plate to exorcise a poor, unfortunate soul live online. As the vomit flies and blood pours, it would appear the general public can’t get enough. It helps that Max is a bit of a Hot Priest too. The truth of the matter is that none of the exorcisms are real and participants that appear on the show sign strict NDAs. The whole things is a ploy to help make Max become bigger than Jesus, and sell a ton of merchandise.
When their latest actor fails to turn up for the next episode, Drew encourages his girlfriend Lane (Alix Angelis) to step in. As the camera starts to roll and Lane appears to be wandering off-script, it becomes apparent that a real demon has turned up to play the boys at their own game.
It’s clear that director Damien LeVeck (Dark, Deadly & Dreadful) was influenced by numerous genre films. Jumping from The Last Exorcism to the Saw franchise in a matter of minutes, The Cleansing Hour is about as subtle as a brick and all the better for it. Derivative of The Exorcist, as most films of this type tend to be, the unnamed demon puts the friends and their crew to the test. Didn’t think doing the Hokey Pokey could be lethal? Well, let’s throw in some broken glass and a ceiling fan that can cut through bone.
If it all sounds silly, well it is. This is the kind of movie midnight matinees were made for. Our demonic antagonist pops out cheesy one liners like she’s Freddy Krueger and characters suddenly announce that they studied Latin at college because the plot needs them to know a dead language. You are either along for the bloody ride, or you’re not. And if you let the film tempt you, then you’re in for a good time.
There’s a sweet spot between the sci-fi and horror genres, a glorious intersection of the two, and within that halcyon zone exists great bloody movies. Don’t believe us? Try Alien (1979), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), Event Horizon (1997) and Annihilation (2018), all examples of cross-genre excellence. Of course, it’s a hard balancing act and not everyone can get it right. However, Russian film Sputnik gives it a red hot go and the result is pretty damn impressive.
Sputnik tells the tale of psychiatrist Dr. Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), who has been given the top secret task of interviewing cosmonaut Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov), to find out more about his apparent amnesia regarding the death of his copilot. The year is 1983, with the Cold War on its last gasp, so tensions are high and become even more so when Tatyana realises Konstantin has brought something with him from space. Something that’s… not human. As more and more secrets are revealed, our pragmatic heroine must decide whether to side with governmental bureaucracy or the troubled man she feels increasing empathy for, all the while trying to understand the motivations of our extraterrestrial visitor.
Sputnik is a slick and stylish film, gorgeously shot with superb creature design that belies its relatively low budget. It didn’t cost a lot, but that money was spent wisely, and it shows in every gorgeous frame. It’s essentially a three hander, with Tatyana and Konstantin as our main characters, and the rather severe and taciturn Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk) rounding out the cast. Of course, there’s a wee beastie from beyond too, but this is a film best gone into with as little information as possible, so we won’t elaborate too much on that. Point is, the escalating tension, the skillfully realised horror set pieces and the solid cast all make this tale gripping and engaging. And while the ending isn’t quite as mind-blowing as it ought to have been, this is still a very well-told yarn that sits firmly ‘twixt sci-fi and horror, and brings modest but enjoyable helpings of both.
Horror comedy is one of those things that looks like a piece of piss, but is actually extremely difficult to pull off. For every Evil Dead 2, An American Werewolf in London or Shaun of the Dead there are heaving landfills’ worth of z-grade shlock that confuse “noisy” with “funny” and “rip off” with “homage”. Due to the high degree of difficulty associated with this cross genre balancing act, it’s always good to celebrate those rare occasions when it’s done right. With that in mind, we would like to introduce you to Bloody Hell: an Aussie horror comedy that’s an absolute little ripper.
Bloody Hell tells the tale of Rex Coen (Ben O’Toole), a charming but impulsive young man who is infamous for violently foiling an armed robbery, but served an eight year jail sentence on account of some collateral damage. After he’s done his time, Rex decides to bugger off to Finland for a change of scene. When he gets there… well, the scene certainly changes but it’s not one he ever would have hoped for. Without giving too much away, the rest of the film plays out as a wild ride that includes cannibalism, limb-lopping and a truly fucked up Finnish family with a dark secret.
As fun as the story is, what sets Bloody Hell apart from the horror comedy pack is its command of tone and style. Director Alister Grierson (Sanctum) brings a light touch, even in the more gruesome scenes, and deftly nails the comedic beats set up in the script by Robert Benjamin. However, it’s Ben O’Toole’s performance(s) as both Rex and Rex’s Id (or conscience or ego?), with the snarky back and forth banter – even if in the face of involuntary amputation or certain death – that gives the flick a pleasingly surreal vibe; like riding a ghost train on a low dose of psilocybin.
Bloody Hell is that rare horror comedy that manages to be both scary and funny, but more than that, it’s surprising. The plot is twisty and brisk, the characters well realised and engaging and the acting is unusually nuanced and well observed. In terms of indie Aussie horror flicks (bunging on American accents, naturally) it’s punching far, far above its weight. Ignore the torture porny poster art, and get your eyeballs on this delightful flick, because bloody hell, Bloody Hell is an absolute hoot!
Racial themes have been a part of genre films for as long as there have been genre films, but it certainly feels like they’ve been on the increase lately. That’s not surprising considering the tumultuous times in which we live, and quite often the result is a more cerebral, evocative movie.
Jordan Peele’s one-two punch of Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) managed it well at the cinema, and the recent Watchmen continuation by Damon Lindelof and the superb Lovecraft Country deftly paired racial themes and solid storytelling on the small screen. We’re mentioning these examples of allegory-heavy media done right, just so we can juxtapose it with new horror flick Antebellum, which offers an unpleasant crash course in how to do it very poorly indeed.
Antebellum is a film that serves as a vehicle for a big twist. It’s not a bad twist, mind you (although it’s straight out of an M. Night Shyamalan movie we won’t name because it would give the game away), but it’s revealed before the halfway mark and it sucks the air out of the whole thing. Up until that point, the story of a slave, renamed “Eden” (Janelle Monáe) is grimly gripping, albeit one note and disturbing to the point where your humble reviewer (who has cheerfully watched Cannibal Holocaust) was beginning to wonder what was the bloody point of it all.
The thing is, if you’re making a revenge film, you need to set up the fact said vengeance is justified. Antebellum does this and then some, but when the much-deserved retribution finally arrives, it feels limp and muted. This gives the entire film a profoundly unbalanced feel, and makes the journey initially distasteful and ultimately unsatisfying. Django Unchained, for all its flaws, did a much better job at executing the promise of its premise, whereas Antebellum feels like it has loads of shocking racism to show you… and that’s about it.
Directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz know how to showcase a beautiful-looking flick. The roaming camera, the sequences captured in a single take, the effective framing of action all show a considerable grasp of the craft. Story-wise, however, Antebellum is a bit of a mess. Is it a well-intentioned mess? Possibly. Does it contain a great performance from Janelle Monáe? Absolutely. Is it a film you should go and see? Unless you’re in the mood for overwrought, unpleasant melodrama with a half decent twist but fuck all to say? Nah, mate.