April 9: Easter Sunday – You don’t have to believe to watch and share a religious movie.
In the spring of 2010, there was a lock-in at the First Baptist Church. Two days later, Justin would confess to his parents that he had experienced evil and had it all on video. Yes, the boys brought a pornographic magazine to the lock-in and after upsetting everyone with it, a demon arose from its pages and made their lives literal hell.
Yet this is not the only Christian found footage horror movie in which porn unleashes a demon. Harmless is about a box of old dirty magazines that unleash a poltergeist that attacks a father and son.
You know who directed that movie?
You know who directed The Lock-In?
What are the odds that someone would make two movies about wank material unleashing demons?
Anyways, Pastor Chris tries to burn the magazine and it shows up again unsinged, which did not happen when my college girlfriend discovered the stack of magazines under my bed and forced me to burn them in front of her and then I singed my hands trying to pull the January 1993 Hustler out of the inferno, but I mean, come on, it had Madison on the cover.
There’s some incredibly bad improv in this movie, mostly from the mother of one of the kids and it makes for a tone that is wildly uneven but come on. You expected that. What you may not expect is the scene where a sound guy shows up in a reflection and he’s not even holding a boom mic but the smallest microphone ever. It actually made me sad for the sound guy.
I didn’t get the barn door speech and had to look it up. It comes up a few times and maybe I was born a Catholic so I’m not supposed to get it. Pastor Chris even says, “Didn’t your parents teach you about the barn door?” Is it Matthew 13:30 that explains that Jesus will gather one group into his barn and the other will be burned in God’s harvest of judgment. This is your chance to teach me.
Why is the demon a child?
Why does this have a twist ending?
Why haven’t I been able to stop thinking about this?
Because this is a movie that has the dialogue “There is a correlation between pornography and demon activity.”
I went to a lock-in once and all I remember is going to Eat ‘n Park afterward, which if you live in Pittsburgh, is a lot like dealing with demons.
April 9: Easter Sunday – You don’t have to believe to watch and share a religious movie.
I saw Jerusalem Countdown but in no way was I prepared for Harold Cronk’s God’s NotDead, a movie that I’ve been considering over and over, deciding what to write about it.
Written by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, who were inspired by Rice Broocks’ book God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty, this feels like the kind of echo chamber afforded by cable news and self-owned social media networks. I always wonder how white upper middle class Americans constantly can feel like they’re under assault and people are trying to destroy their way of life when they continually win.
Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) went to college to be a lawyer, but the school he chose was the third choice of his girlfriend Kara (Cassidy Gifford, yes, the daughter of Frank and Kathie Lee). That said, she’s planned their whole life together. What she was not ready for was the class of atheist philosophy Professor Jeffrey Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), who makes all of his students sign a paper claiming that God is dead. Josh disagrees and begins a movie-length battle with his teacher who acts as no instructor ever before, going all in to hate the Lord and his believer Josh. Their final debate ends when Josh asks Radisson why he hates God so much, to which the man replies, “He killed my mom,” and instead of reacting with empathy, Josh says, “How can you hate someone you don’t believe in?” and then Martin (Paul Kwo) stands up and says, “God’s not dead,” the class joins in and the professor runs from the room after being dumped by his girlfriend Mina (Cory Oliver) and gets hit by a car and dies, but not before Reverend Dave (David A. R. White) helps him pray and then an entire Newsboys concert is led by Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty into haughtily laughing that Josh got one over on his teacher, which is intercut with him dying in the street.
Also, in the middle of all this, is Mina’s brother Mark (Dean Cain) who hates their dementia-having mother who reveals that Satan made him successful, a Muslim woman named Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu) being thrown out of her house for converting her religion, Mark dumping left wing blogger cancer news getting Amy (Trisha LaFache) as she goes after the. aforementioned Duck Dynasty and man, this whole movie feels like 21 Grams except the stories never really wrap up. But I can imagine that people — well, persecution complex having folks — loved this, because it tells it like it is, as nobody has shades to them, there are no multitudes in anyone, just shrill God-hating liberals out to decimate the American way of life, which, when I checked, guaranteed religious freedom even if it was written by unrepentant slave masters.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cinematic Void will be playing this American giallo on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the Central Cinema in Knoxville, TN. For more information, visit Cinematic Void.
Astron-6 is — well, was as the recent release of the collected Divorced Dad is supposedly their last project together — a Canadian film production and directing company founded in 2007 by Adam Brooks and Jeremy Gillespie which later expanded to add Matt Kennedy, Conor Sweeney and Steven Kostanski. They’re known for producing low-budget horror/comedy films that evoke the 1980s. The fact that their name sounds a lot like Vestron is no accident.
After their initial films — Manborg and Father’s Day — the team moved on to create this tribute/parody of the giallo genre. Gillespie and Kostanski also directed the incredible 2016 horror film The Void, which moves away from the humor of Astron-6.
Film editor Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks) was once a brilliant editor — the best in the world — but that time is far away. Now, he struggles to complete Francesco Mancini’s latest film Tarantola with his assistant Bella. He needs her, as an accident while lost in the madness of editing cost him all of the fingers on his right hand, which are now made of wood.
The loss of those fingers all goes back to Ray getting his start working for Bella’s father, art house director Umberto Fantori, whose debut film The Mirror and the Guillotine won him the success he craved and introduced him to his wife Josephine Jardin (Paz de la Huerta, Nurse 3D, Enter the Void). Eventually, Josephine went mad on Mancini’s next film, which was made to be the longest movie ever. Now, Ray is getting footage of murders sent to him. And to complicate matters, while his wife treats him with disdain, Bella tells him that she loves him.
An unknown killer stalks the studio, killing lead actor Claudio Valvetti and his girlfriend Veronica in a scene that echoes the curtain ripping and blood spraying of Argento’s Tenebre. Margarit Porfiry — another actress on the film — stumbles upon Veronica’s body — hung exactly like the first murder in Argento’s Suspiria — and is struck blind on the spot, making her look exactly like Emily from The Beyond, which the film extends by giving her a dog named Rolfie instead of Dickie.
While her husband Inspector Peter Porfiry (Matthew Kennedy) interviews suspects, co-star Cal Konitz (Conor Sweeney) has his hopes of taking over the movie ruined when a stand-in is found for the lead. Porify’s boss Chief O’Connor wants the case dropped because Margarit is his daughter, but the cop is convinced that the editor is behind the killings, as each murder takes away the fingers of the victim.
Rey has a vision of a dark man with bright blue eyes — Ivan Rassimov, we miss you so — coming after him. Meanwhile, the inspector goes to the insane asylum where Rey lived for some time, meeting Dr. Casini (Udo Kier!), who tells him all about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The detective returns home just in time to make love to his wife in a near shot-for-shot remake of the glass smashing love in Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. The killer then makes his or her way into their home and when the cop tries to break into the room with an axe to save her — kind of, sort of like the cemetery scene in City of the Living Dead by way of The Shining — the killer throws her in the way. In order to not be seen as a murderer, Porfiry cuts off his wife’s fingers and feeds them to her dog.
His boss — and remember, the father of his dead wife — screams at Porfiry back at the station while the killer calls to taunt the cop in a scene much like The New York Ripper. That won’t be the last callback to that Fulci film, either.
Rey has gone over the edge, believing himself to be the killer as his wife treats him horribly. He dreams that he is trapped in a world of smoke and gigantic film cans that seems much like the world inside the painting in The Beyond. He gets a psychic flash that Bella is to be murdered but arrives too late to save her.
Giancarlo tries to finish the movie himself, but an army of spiders — again, The Beyond— attacks and he is killed as well. Rey is brought back onto the film and Father Clarke (Laurence Harvey, Frankenstein Created Bikers) explains to him that editors are the vital connection to the other world that Rey glimpsed in his vision. We’ve now gotten to the part of the giallo where reality stops and the Lovecraftian vision takes over.
Everything goes even crazier, if that’s possible, with Cal menacing Rey with a chainsaw before attacking his wife in front of him, ending with his wife laughing it off as she’d been having an affair with the actor. There’s also an ancient bell tower, more tarantulas, a film canister filled with fingers, occult rituals, Josephine declaring herself to be death itself ala the end of Inferno, a fake-out ending that pulls off The Wizard of Oz while again recalling Fulci — both The Psychic, The Beyond— and a post-credits happy ending where Rey and Bella end up together.
This is one strange film. If you’re not hyper aware of giallo, you may be lost by all the references. And if you are, you may be unable to totally take in the narrative as so much of the film feels like spot the reference. That said, I found myself liking The Editor and excited to see where it would go next. The final sequence as the detective and the editor battle the real killer is actually pretty thrilling. And wow, the music is awesome, with Claudio Simonetti composing the main theme.
James DeMonaco was born in Brooklyn but spent eight years in Paris. When he came back to America, he “put a microscope” on his life after realizing the difference in the relationship our country has with guns. He stated, “I’m terrified for my country. So I think that cynicism seeps into the film. America itself becomes the canvas, instead of the haunted house, the canvas is America. We don’t need ghosts or vampires anymore when we’re just killing each other, you know?”
Then, a drunk driver nearly killed him and his wife and she said — she’s a doctor, mind you — “I wish we could all have one free murder a year.”
That’s how we got The Purge.
In 2014, the New Founding Fathers of America are voted into office, promising to fix the economic collapse. One of the ways that they do that is by passing a law sanctioning the Purge, an annual event where all crime is legal and emergency services are temporarily suspended.
Somehow, it works, because the news claims that the U.S. is crime-free and unemployment rates have dropped to 1%. However, that only works if you’re upper middle class and white, just one of the many ways that these movies — while a bit too on the nose — really reflect reality almost way too much.
The Purge (2013): Just like Sinister, the first movie in this series stars Ethan Hawke and really is there to lay the groundwork before the much more interesting sequel. Not that either movie is bad, but they create the world that the other film (or films) get to explore.
Hawke is architect James Sandin and his family — wife Mary (Lean Headey), son Charlie (Max Burkholder) and daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) — are aware that the Purge is coming but he’s invented a security system to protect them all. Well, it works until a stranger shows up injured and Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) decides to bring a gun and confront James about their relationship.
What follows is a night of horror as the assembled neighbors, led by Grace Ferrin (Arija Bareikis), want the homeless man that asked for James’ help and to gain revenge against them as the Sandin’s wealth has come from all of them, as everyone needs the security system that he has invented to survive this night.
That mysterious man, known as the Stranger (Edwin Hodge), will become more important as the series continues. The budget for this was low and the idea of multiple Purges wouldn’t be possible, but DeMonaco said, “We only had 19 days to shoot and $2.7 million to work with.” And if he ever got the chance to do another, it would be like Escape from New York.
Good news. He got the chance.
The Purge: Anarchy (2014): Frank Grillo is the kind of actor that I love, someone who would be starring in Cannon movies if this was the 80s and instead is the lead in this movie as Leo Barnes, an LAPD Police Sergeant who wants to use Purge Night to avenge his son’s death, with the killer going free as the boy died on Purge Night.
Before the sixth Purge can begin, a resistance group led by Carmelo Johns (Michael K. Williams) and Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the Stranger from the first movie, hijack the American media to denounce the government and the fact that the Purge has reduced poor and non-white people to target practice.
The other storyline in this concerns waitress Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) and her terminally ill father Rico (John Beasley) who has sold himself to a rich family as someone to be hunted so that Eva and Cali can live in confront after his death.
There’s also Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple ready to leave one another, who also are trapped in the inner city on the worst night of the year.
Complicating matters is that the Purge has not worked out how its creators thought: people wait to enact revenge based on personal grudges, killing friends and family instead of random poor people. The government has sent out death squads to up the body count and destroy the lower class.
The Purge: Election Year (2016): It’s kind of crazy how The Purge finally found its real footing three movies in, moving Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) into a Secret Service hero protecting Senator Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a U.S. Senator running for President on an anti-Purge platform. She has a true belief in this, as her family was killed during the first Purge.
The New Founding Fathers of America use the Purge to try and kill Roan legally, as this year government officials have no immunity. This film also goes all in on just how close the NFFA is to right-wing religious zealots, even praying for death in church and having a sacrifice on an altar. Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) is the other Presidential front runner and he’s been targeted by the underground led by Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge).
Of all The Purge movies, this feels the most like something John Carpenter would make, as it feels like a non-stop chase and the good guys up against the wall for the entire running time. It expands the world of the film without forgetting the normal people caught up in the Purge, those truly battling for their lives and not just arguing about money and politics.
This is also the most violent in the series with 116 deaths, nearly one every single minute. It also shows that the rest of the world has begun to be part of the event with death tourism increasing along with the government sponsored death squads.
Justine (Haley Bennett) is going to college on a scholarship and can’t afford to fly home for the Thanksgiving break. Instead, she’s all alone, as even her boyfriend Aaron (Lucas Till) and roommate Nicole (Erica Ash) have both gone home. Of course, she’ll be safe, because the security team — Wayne (Matthew St. Patrick), Dave (Al Vicente) and Scott (James Ransone) are there. That night, she meets the pierced and hooded Violet (Ashley Greene, leaving behind Twilight to be a really intense villain) in a convenience store, a strange woman who keeps calling her Kristy. It’s unsettling, but things grow worse once that same face shows up on her laptop, along with snuff footage of her leading a group of masked killers as they obliterate young women. Now, she is their target, a woman who they see as a pure, beautiful and privileged follower of God.
Directed by Oliver Blackburn and written by Anthony Jaswinski, this was originally called Satanic and Random. The title doesn’t matter. What does is that this is that rarest of film: a slasher that actually is good after the 1980s. Unlike so many modern slashers that don’t have the stalking moments that are packed with tension, this film has Justine on the run for the entire running time. Like The Strangers with anti-religious zealots trying to destroy young women — and succeeding across our nation — this works way better than it should, blasting out under ninety minutes of taut suspense along with a heroine who by the end of the film has gone from final girl to capable killing machine who is totally fine with leading aluminum foil-masked maniacs to their doom while still shedding tears for what they’ve made her do.
It also really feels like this wasn’t a throwaway film for the filmmakers who just wanted to make something that was elevated from horror. They also find some ways to make it weird, with strange camera angles, odd speeds of the film, off-sound design and just plain smart moments where we hear instead of see things happen. Yet it’s not ashamed to be a big dumb slasher and give you moments to just yell at the screen. Wow. I’m an evangelist for this one. Watch it!
Director Kevin Macdonald also made State of Play and The Last King of Scotland. For this movie, he’s working from a script by Dennis Kelly. Black Sea is all about the recently fired and divorced Captain Robinson (Jude Law) deciding to go into business for himself with a ragtag crew that is made up of misfits and Russian Navy sailors to get the gold of a sunken u-boat.
Of course, the communication between the half British and half Russian crews gets out of control, leading to numerous disasters, all while the company that fired Robinson is actually behind this entire job, planning on leaving the old sailor out to sea again after he finds the gold for them.
Influenced by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Sorcerer, I was surprised by just how effective this movie was and how much I enjoyed it. It’s truly the gem amongst the Mill Creek Through the Decades: 2010s Collection.
With movies named Rat Scratch Fever, Frankenstein in a Women’ Prison and Giantess Attack, Jeff Leroy knows that some of the battle is fought when you name your movie.
Also known as Grand Auto Theft: L.A. — a title that is pretty good you know? — this takes a Mad Max-style name to tell the story of the Calles de Infierno neighborhood in L.A., a place where a gang of women is trying to get rich or die trying. But to get there, they have to fight other gangs, the cops, a vigilante and even one another.
Vixen, Sarita, Kandy, Electra and Katie sell drugs, sure, but their drugs don’t kill people. So they decide to kill — well, Vixen decides to — kill Kane, the dealer behind it, only to learn that he has another boss Andre. But the real boss selling this Death Meth is The Phantom. Or The Shadow. Who knows, the movie bounces around a lot and has cut scenes to look like, yes, a video game.
Also: a band called the Reach Around Rodeo Clowns have two songs in this and they play more than once. It is rockabilly. In a movie about street gangs.
Jeff Leroy also knows that you need a nice looking piece of art. He did that twice, once for each title.
Women, drugs and violence all sell. This movie is proof yet again.
One of the amazing things about late in the career movies of big stars is that you can get stuff like, “What if Arnold Schwarzenegger was in a loose adaption of the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None?”
Yes, before he made the first Suicide Squad, David Ayer made this, which he co-wrote with Skip Woods and cast Arnold as John “Breacher” Wharton, the leader of a DEA’s Special Operations Team who steal $10 million from a drug cartel and blow up the building to cover their crime. Now, after being reinstated, members start dying and the police want to know why.
One of the team, “Smoke” Jennings, was killed during that raid. Now, Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini) has also been murdered when someone tows his mobile home into the path of a train. Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) and her partner Darius Jackson (Harold Perrineau) are on the case, which has them find the next victims, Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway) literally nailed to the ceiling and Agent Bryce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance) was has been shot. It looks like the cartel has come to collect their lost money.
James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington) and his wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos) were also part of this mission and reveal to Brentwood that the cartel had kidnapped Breacher’s family and sent videos and pieces of their bodies to taunt him. The team had told him to get over it — how can you get over it? — and it’s also revealed that Brentwood is sleeping with Breacher.
It turns out that two of their number — Lizzy and Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard) — have been behind the murders, framing the cartel for sniper shooting Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello) as well as all of the others. But the mystery is not done.
Sabotage had the worst box office of a Schwarzenegger movie in over thirty years. That said, it’s a fun Italian Western-like film that has no small amount of blood and guns.
Peter Strickland — who directed and wrote this film — also made In Fabricand Berberian Sound Studio, two movies that felt like they were not of our time. This movie isn’t just in the world of Jess Franco; it was nearly a remake of the Spanish director’s Lorna the Exorcist.
The difference is that where Franco would make smut and say — not all the time, but enough — that it had political or literary reasons beyond just flesh, this is a movie that cloaks itself in the language of exploitation but is a romantic story about two people trying to remain in love when the opposites that attract them start to feel like they could all be too much.
Strickland even discussed the films that inspired this: Les Biches, Belle de Jour, Fox and His Friends, Marta, The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant (which also inspired the poster for director Kevin Kopacka’s Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes), Terry and June, Mano Destra, The Image, The Lickerish Quartet, All Ladies Do It, Venus In Furs, A Virgin Among the Living Deadand Lorna the Exorcist. He referred to Franco’s “very dynamic, very unique beautiful films” and “hypnotic trance,” which is so much of the reason why I keep watching his movies.
In The Duke of Burgundy, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is the teacher of Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) — the class is lepidopterology, the study of butterflies and moths — and while Evelyn is the maid in her non-classroom hours, she is really the submissive to Cynthia’s dominant side. But the truth is that Evelyn is always topping from the bottom.
The couple re-enacts the same scenes day in, day out — BDSM is nothing if not ritual — with Evelyn scripting Cynthia’s role to her satisfaction. Evelyn gets off on their play; Cynthia worries non-stop and keeps worrying that she’s screwing everything up.
At night, Evelyn asks Cynthia to lock her in a trunk as mock punishment, which ends up bothering Cynthia in two ways: the physical separation upsets her and it reminds her of her age, as she hurts her back moving the heavy trunk with her lover inside it.
On Cynthia’s birthday, Evelyn takes her displeasure out on her by making her bake her own cake, then she eats it while rubbing her feet all over her younger submissives face, not even stopping at their safe word. This is when the true nature of a bad relationship reveals itself in BDSM; Fifty Shades of Grey was not a rough lover. It was a man taking advantage of trust, which is even worse in the context of a master-slave relationship. Again — the very nature of who is in charge in these relationships can be debated.
Cynthia begins paying attention to other teachers and Evelyn becomes depressed. It’s only when they attempt real communication that any progress seems made, even if the film ends with both playing the same roles and the same ritual and the same games over again.
Between the in and out of focus, the lighting, the colors and the way the film takes the feel of the sexual — without ever becoming base and crass — this film feels like Franco, except that it probably cost more to make than every film from Jess’ last two decades of filmmaking put together. I do love that the strange neighbor woman is named Lorna and played by Monica Swinn, who was in twenty of Franco’s movies including Shining Sex, Barbed Wire Dollsand Female Vampire.
What does the title mean? The Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) butterfly was given that name for reasons unknown, or as Matthew Oates said in his book In Pursuit of Butterflies: A Fifty-Year Affair, any reasoning being lost in the mists of entomological antiquity.” That bit of insect intrigue makes sense seeing as how this is a movie that has the Featured Insects in Order of Appearance in the end credits.
A movie with no men, two women in love yet struggling and one that is actually sexy without being clinical, The Duke of Burgundy is a film that more need to see.
Christopher Ray is, of course, the son of Fred Olen Ray. And Mercenaries is the female version of The Expendables starring Vivica A. Fox as former CIA operative Donna “Raven” Ravena, Zoë Bell as ex-Delta Force soldier Cassandra Clay, Kristanna Loken as one-time Marine Corps Scout Sniper Kat Morgan, Nicole Bilderback as Mei-Lin Fong the team’s explosives expert and pilot and Cynthia Rothrock as CIA Agent Mona Kendall. They’re going up against who else but Brigitte Nielsen as Ulrika, who has kidnapped the President’s daughter Elise and is holding her in a former Soviet prison known as The Citadel.
Speaking of prison — and The A-Team — all of Kendall’s ops were once in U.S. prisons, a place with a population of 2 million people — a 500% increase over the last 40 years — making America the world’s leader in incarceration according to The Sentencing Project.
Originally, Rothrock was going to play the Brigitte Nielsen role, but had a scheduling conflict. Her part was to originally to have been played by Rebecca DeMornay. She had just one day to get ready for filming.
Also known as Prison Raid and the wonderfully titled Expendabelles 3.0, this is about as good as you would expect it to be, whatever your expectations.
There was also another female Expendables in the works starring the women of the Andy Sidaris universe and how could that not have been made? There was also an official female version that would have had Sigourney Weaver play Stallone’s ex-wife.