Masks (2011)

Decades ago, Matteusz Gdula invented an acting technique that made his students the best in the world. Of course, a bunch of them also died mysteriously and he ended up killing himself, so his method was banned. So why is there now a school devoted to his teachings? And why would they invite Stella (Susen Ermich), a driven if unaccomplished actress?

If you weren’t thinking Suspiria already — remote performing arts school, young girl unsure why she was asked to attend, mysterious past — the fact that Stella arrives just as Britt (Franziska Breite) is running away from something. To hammer it home, no one is warm to our heroine at all — not the students, not headmistress Yolanda (Teresa Nawrot), director Janowska (Magdalena Ritter) or Dr. Braun (Michael Balaun). Only Cecile (Julita Witt) — a young actress who teaches Stella how to open up her emotions while creating new emotions of her own that she doesn’t quite understand — is kind, but then why is her body covered with bruises?

Someone attacked Britt. Cecile disappears. And Lydia (Katja Lawrenz) has shown up dead. Maybe going to far off-performing schools run by dead people isn’t necessarily the best of higher education.

Then again, Stella is becoming a better actor. Instead of only using the pain in her past to become angry, now she can draw on it to become someone else. Perhaps this is the place for her. But at what cost?

Where films like The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears copy the look of the giallo, Masks goes further and understands the story and pacing of the best films in the form. Plus, the idea of a hidden part of the school where you must literally allow a mask to take over your mind so that you can become a role is a great one and the film does so much with it. It also understands something that the new school of giallo has forgotten: the kills must be as spectacular as your camera angles, your lighting and color theory. This is filled with genuinely shocking murders that stay within the giallo world without resorting to being torture porn.

Director Andreas Marschall also made German Angst and Tears of Kali, as well as music videos for Coroner, Moonspell and Sodom.

All Superheroes Must Die (2011)

What if you combined a superhero movie with Saw? Well, this would be it.

Directed, written and produced by Jason Trost, who made The FP and also stars in this movie as Charge, this movie finds him, Cutthroat (Lucas Till, who was Havok in X-Men: First Class and MacGyver in the reboot of the series), The Wall (Lee Valmassy) and Shadow (Sophie Merkley) waking up in an abandoned town, their powers gone and facing their arch foe Rickshaw (James Remar, always amazing) in the kind of death trap Arcade used to put the X-Men through.

This is probably as close as we’ll get to a Brat Pack movie. I kind of liked way more than most reviews I’ve seen, as I liked the end of the superteam dynamics of the film, the way we learn about the heroes dynamics and origins through the actions and how Charge must continually make tough choices.

Did you read stuff like Grips and Aircel comics in the 90s? Or the post-Image grim and gritty comics made by comics fans that did one comic and never another one again? Do you like Stephen Platt? Then you’re going to like this way more than the average filmgoer.

There’s also a sequel, All Superheroes Must Die 2: The Last Superhero, that I need to find.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Mill Creek Zombie Collection: Harold’s Going Stiff (2011)

Harold Gimble was the first man to be infected with Onset Rigors Disease and unliked everyone else, he hasn’t become a zombie yet, unlike everyone else. He’s just growing old, but inevitably, he’s going to become one of the undead, unless a nurse helps him. Or the scientists trying cure after cure. Or, most probably, he’s beaten to undeath by a gang of vigilante zombie killers.

This is a movie that really stands out in the zombie genre, using it to tell a story about how we treat the aging, how nationalism destroys the innocent and about the inevitability of death. The fact that it does this within a humorous zombie film is a major achievement, breathing some life into what has become a moribund collection of films.

Director, writer and editor Keith Wright hasn’t made anything since this movie. Here’s hoping that he’s planning something else, because I ended up really enjoying this.

The Mill Creek Zombie Collection has four different comedic zombie films, including Attack of the Lederhosen ZombiesGranny of the Dead and Attack of the Killer Donuts. You can learn more on the official page and buy it at Deep Discount.

Adam Chaplin (2011)

Directed, written, scored and starring Emanuele De Santi — I imagine he also made sandwiches for everyone — this movie is billed as the most bloody movie ever and lives up to that in buckets and buckets of non-stop plasma.

Heaven’s Valley is controlled by a mob boss named Denny Richards, who has killed our hero Adam’s wife. So Adam does what any of us would do in a place where the cops are the criminals and he has no power. He gives himself over to a demon and starts punching gigantic bloody holes inside people that spray gore all over the camera.

There’s a sequel — here’s a page about it — from Hotel Inferno (and uncredited co-director and co-writer) Giulio De Santi and Hotel Inferno 2: The Cathedral of Pain director Tiziana Machella in production.

Basically, imagine if The Crow had a few drinks with Riki-Oh and they decided that a movie that’s a non-stop fight scene punctuated with upside down crosses was a good idea. Well, let me tell you, it’s a great idea. Sure, there’s no story, but when has that ever stopped us before?

Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven (2011)

Rena Riffel, I really want to get to know you better. Like seriously, I want to buy you a nice lunch and discuss your life and learn more about it. I want to know how this movie came to be, what got it made and what you’re doing now. Because man, this movie…I’m not frequently surprised by movies, but you’ve punched me repeatedly in the head and my brain hit my skull and everything is swimming.

A movie concussion.

You’ve given me a movie concussion.

Showgirls is either a movie that you absolutely hate or completely love. You’ll not be surprised to know that I fall in the later camp. So when I learned that Rena, who plays Penny in that movie, had made her own movie, I just had to devour it.

But how did it come to be?

I got the chance to ask Mike Justice, who played Bob — Beer Drinker 1 and the assistant editor on this movie, to shed some light on it.

B&S About Movies: So how does a movie like this happen?

Mike Justice: Because Carolco was bankrupt and the rights reverted back to Paul Verhoeven and she asked him and he just sort of chuckled and said, “Go for it.”

B&S: And why?

Mike: Rena just had TONS of fringe Hollywood friends; like sub-sub Dr. Drew Rehab/Surreal Life types. Horror hosts and strippers and ex-junkies and shit like that. She’d made a DIY musical called Trasharella that was a minor hit, so she thought her best course of action to get one of her adorkable home movies starring all her weird friends noticed was to make a “sequel” to Showgirls. And I guess she was right.

B&S: But how did she get the cash — beyond a Kickstarter — or the money to think that she could do this?

Mike: She was managing an apartment building in Hollywood and didn’t have to pay rent. She also didn’t really like fixing things or managing the apartments, so she had tons of free time to make DIY WTF “movies.”

Rena was sort of like a nicer, less aggressive, non-drug-addicted Anna Nicole Smith; everyone around her was to varying degrees obsessed with her/in love with her/willing to do anything for her. And she was pretty smart.

B&S: So what was it like being part of it?

Mike: I remember when some extras showed up responding to an ad looking for people for the sequel to Showgirls. They walk into this cheap Mexican restaurant and are met by Rena and a guy in a paper mache devil mask. They almost ran away.

I was on that set for a few weeks doing data management. It was surreal.

What I love is when the artist becomes the auteur, so not only did Rena direct, write, produce and edit this movie, but she stars in it as Penny Slot, a girl with a dream. Isn’t that always the way?

And what if — in a sequel to Showgirls — the movie stars with Penny being ripped off by the same drifter (Dewey Weber) who robbed Nomi Malone? Everything seems normal but then she’s nearly killed by the MILF Murderer and barely makes it to Hollywood, where she’s either going to get on Stardancer, star in Showgirls 2 or die trying. After all, she has a Hollywood producer interested in her who has Hollywood producer right there on his business card.

Somehow, violinist Godhardt Brandt wins her attention — for some time — before she learns that he’s an occult devotee of theosophist Helena Blavatsky who makes snuff movies and is given to pimping her out and then dragging her over the fact that she’s selling herself for money when he himself set it up. Ah, negging, the classic move of every antagonist.

Also, at some point Penny becomes Helga, she gets a maid who works for free, there’s a plot to kill her, a double boiled hot dog eating scene, she gets trained to dance by Godhart’s ballerina fiancee Katya, a cocaine tooth brushing scene, a makeup meltdown, she tries out for the TV show but has to get naked and she finally decides to go to Broadway before running into the drifter again, just like Nomi, tomatoes for dinner, a moebius strip of remake and remix that lasts two and a half hours or more while having the canny ability to repeat the pool sex scene but with two ladies of a certain age all set to the music from Birdemic.

This either feels like a mid-90s Rinse Dream movie without penetration or the unsexiest sex movie ever or if Bruno Mattei had replaced Paul Verhoeven or if we’d sent Showgirls on the Voyager Probe as an example of our finest art and years later, Kirk and crew touched down on a world that treated a Joe Eszterhas script as a holy tract and based their entire culture around it and Spock was like, “How fascinating, Captain. It would appear that they are doing a ritual where they shove the oldest woman down the steps and initiating another to take her place. Most logical.”

It’s also:

A Dark Brothers movie where no one is slapped in the face with a fish.

A David Lynch movie on a $30,000 budget without David Lynch or a trip to Bob’s Big Boy.

A movie about a fallen angel, as Penny’s From Heaven suggests a divine origin for our heroine, which given what happens here with all the talk of Seven Sisters and rituals, I can completely believe.

An episode of Real Housewives of Tarzana gone wrong, so wrong, but so right.

What happens in the customer lounge of a Pottery Barn after three mimosas.

A film that demands a sequel.

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

Oh man, Dimension Films.

Their rights to make Hellraiser movies were running out, so they had to make this movie within weeks or risk losing the rights to the film series. Due to the rushed production, Doug Bradley decided not to return as PInhead and Stephan Smith Collins took on the physical role and Fred Tatasciore (the voice of Megatron in the movies) did the talking.

At least one person was coming back. Gary J. Tunnicliffe created the makeup effects for every movie in the series from Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth to Hellraiser: Hellworld, wrote this movie and would write and direct the next movie, Hellraiser: Judgment.

Two boys — Steven Craven and Nico Bradley — have gone missing with the only evidence being a video filmed by Steven that documents their final moments. And oh yeah, there’s an ornate puzzle box left behind that the Mexican authorities return to their families.

So what was on that tape? Oh, only Nico killing a girl after having sex with her, then implicating Steven, then getting a Lament Configuration and then…well, you know.

Emma, Steven’s sister and Nico’s girlfriend, watches the tape and finds the box. She’s able to open it and free a bloody Steven, who warns her that the Cenobites are coming. Emma has become obsessed by the box, which leads her to try seducing Nico’s father and her own brother before the man who gave the box to Nico appears and kills Nico’s dad — man, that guy just almost got everything he wanted — and then Steven kills his own dad with a shotgun. And as everyone tries to escape, they realize they are stranded.

Oh the drama! Steven’s father and Nico’s mother were having an affair! Nico killed Steven and is wearing his skin! Pinhead admires Nico’s sexual proclivities! A shock ending!

The ads for this movie said that it was from the mind of Clive Barker, who went on Twitter to say, “I have NOTHING to do with the fuckin’ thing. If they claim its from the mind of Clive Barker,it’s a lie. It’s not even from my butt-hole.”

Bradley has revealed that he decided not to make the movie when he was told there would be no second draft of the script and that his salary from previous films would be, in his words, cut down to “the price of a fridge.” That has to be a reference to Ashley Laurence, who played Kirsty Cotton, and was paid exactly enough money for Hellraiser: Hellseeker to purchase a refrigerator of her own.

Bradley also referred to the film as “a cinematic ash can copy,” which is a concept taken from comic books. Publishers would make small print runs of comics — the original Creepy #1 is an example — to establish trademarks on potential titles and characters. These books were not intended for sale. Which reminds me, this movie screened in exactly one theater.

The director of this movie, Victor Garcia, also made the sequels Mirrors 2Return to House on Haunted Hill and 30 Days of Night: Blood Trails.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Garden of Hedon (2011)

Kevin Kangas (Fear of Clowns) directed and wrote (along with Luke Theriault) this film, which concerns a detective who awakens to find himself in a pleasure palace where all manner of decadent pleasures last eternally, from the simple act of eating to — you guesses it — any fetish there is. But when a dead body shows up in what seems like heaven, this become a mystery that needs solving.

This flirts with the giallo and has some great ideas, even if the costumes suggest Eyes Wide Shut on a Spirit store budget. Actually, isn’t that what we want so often? A movie that has ideas that are bigger than the money on hand to film it and the willingness to dive right in and try to make something great?

So yeah — you may not have seen anyone in this movie before. You may never see them again. But the central idea in here — is this heaven or hell or just somewhere strange on Earth and there’s a murder that needs solving — is solid.

Now, if you just gave it a more giallo-esque title instead of the punny Garden of Hedon, we’d be getting something. Ensnared in the Arms of HeavenThe Case of the Perverted EternityAutopsy of an Angel?

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s shot on digital, it could definitely use another pass on the script, some better acting, improved audio and less of that piano tinkling over and over and well, over. But hey — what have you done today? Did you convince a bunch of people to dress up and traipse about a mansion and make a horror movie for less money than some people make in a year?

Maybe I was in the right mood for this. I think watching forty giallo movies in two weeks kind of numbs you to reality which is exactly how I want to live my life.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Sotto il vestito niente – L’ultima sfilata (2011)

There’s a goofy part of me that loves Nothing Underneath and Too Beautiful to Die because they’re trying to keep the giallo alive in the sad dry years of the mid 80s before everyone realized that they could make money making Basic Instinct and Cinemax After Dark clones because hey, those movies are just giallo with less style and verve.

I have no idea want this other than me, much less greenlit it and gave them the kind of budget that let them shoot all over Europe, have a great look and even get Lady Gaga on the soundtrack. Then again, Too Beautiful had Huey Lewis and the News, Toto and Frankie Goes to Hollywood while Nothing Underneath had Murray Head and Gloria Gaynor, so there you go.

Rest in peace, Carlo Vanzina. You made two fashion gialli and they’re both ridiculous and I love them. Shout out to Dario Piana, who went from making Too Beautiful to directing The Death of Ian Stone and a Lost Boys direct to video sequel. Please come back to giallo and making another movie with a ridiculous sword weapon.

Even better, this was written by Franco Ferrini, whose Eyes of Crystal is a great latter day giallo, as well as The Stendhal SyndromeDial: HelpOperaPhenomena and Red Rings of Fear, speaking of a third film in a giallo trilogy that no one realizes is a trilogy. He was joined by Enrico Vanzina, who worked with him back on Nothing Underneath.

Anyways, let’s get to this one. The first big surprise is that Richard E. Grant is in this. He plays stylist Federico Marinoni, who is enjoying big success at the Milan Fashion Festival along with his partner Max Liverani and their top model Alexandra Larsson. But there ends up being a murder, the wrong people see the bodies and the intrigue begins.

I’m really hoping that this becomes part of the Vinegar Syndrome release of the first two films, because to find this, I had to get a non-subbed version off a Russian site that had a Soviet translator screaming the dialogue over the Italian soundtrack, which is quite the disorienting way to enjoy cinema.

After Party Massacre (2011)

The Afterparty Massacre starts at a death metal show with the bands Incantation and Soulless playing at Peabody’s Down Under in Cleveland, Ohio. As the show blares on, Scarlet gets attacked and has a flashback to the times that an ex-boyfriend abused her. This transforms her into a killing machine that begins the, well, afterparty massacre.

Basically, you should read that as extended performances by the two bands, some NC-17 arrdvarking that never goes full D’Amato and then a few murders. There’s a good idea in here to mix metal shows and murders — that stairwell one victim runs down makes me feel real anxiety, remembering the days of lugging an Orange OBC810 cabinet up the steep steps and praying that one slip wouldn’t send me backward with a vintage monster of noise following me with death in its amplified eyes — but it just doesn’t live up to the great poster.

There is a suspension scene and a death by dildo, so it has that going for it.

But dude, how do you make a horror metal movie in Cleveland and not have Midnight show up?

You can learn more at the official site.

The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

Paris’ legendary Grand Guignol theatre has inspired so many films and this story actually begins in a theater much like that infamous historical landmark. As a Enola Penny walks into Theatre Guignol, she is gifted with the six stories that make up this movie, all while she becomes more of a puppet and the host — Udo Keir — becomes human. The framing sequence was directed by Jeremy Kasten (The Attic Expeditions).

The first segment, “The Mother Of Toads,” was co-written (with his former partner Scarlett Amaris* and Emiliano Ranzani) and directed by Richard Stanley. I have to say that this segment looks gorgeous and hits all the right buttons for me, as its based on a Clark Ashton Smith story. It also has  one of Fulci’s recurring actresses Catriona MacColl in it as Mere Antoinette, which delighted me to no end.

“I Love You” — directed and written by Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock) really didn’t work for me. It’s a simple story of a man finally being dumped by a long-suffering lover, yet I was struggling with the fact that it just seems to end.

“Wet Dreams” gives Tom Savini a rare chance to direct in a chapter devoted to a man telling his psychiatrist (Savini) about his nightly dreams that concern his wife (Debbie Rochon) castrating him.

Plus, you get “The Accident” from Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America director Douglas Buck. This may not be a horror story as much as a meditation on life and death.

Karim Hussain’s (the cinematographer of Possessor) “Vision Stains” is all about a serial killer who has lost the ability to dream, so she uses a needle to extract them from the eyes of her victims.

Finally, David Gregory — who also directed Lost Soul and Blood & Flesh — wrote and directed “Sweets,” about the break-up of a couple who use food in their lovemaking. Big points for getting Lynn Lowry in this story.

A co-production between Severin Films and Metaluna Productions, each director was given the same budget, schedule and narrative directive. Other than that, they were given free rein to create their own story. The results may not be even, but you can tell that this was made by filmmakers who understand that a horror anthology can be a very powerful movie.

*As a Stanley fan for some time, her story of the abuse suffered at his hands has soured me on his work, which kept me away from watching this for some time.

You can buy this at Severin Films.