My Summer As a Goth (2018)

I totally did not expect to enjoy this movie at all and came away totally enjoying it. It’s the first film written and directed by Tara Johnson-Medinger, who definitely gets the tone and voice right for this coming of age film.

After the sudden death of her father, Joey Javitts (Natalie Shershow) goes to stay with her grandparents for the summer while her famous author mother goes on a book tour. While there, she meets the goth neighbor Victor (Jack Levis) and decides to change everything.

Oh to be sixteen again and Manic Panic-dying your scalp for the first time. My Summer As a Goth may not ring true for those deeply invested in the subculture, but for those of us on the outskirts or outside, it presents a charming tale of a young girl seeking to find herself. The supporting cast is really fun and I loved the way the movie chose to show text messages as animation.

It starts streaming on demand on November 11. Check it out. I think you’ll end up liking it too. Take it from someone who went to Darkwave nights every Sunday and felt out of place because he can’t dance and didn’t wear makeup. It gets the alienation right.

You can learn more on the official site and official Facebook page.

The World Is Full of Secrets (2018)

There have been plenty of movies about girls telling scary stories in the dark. However, this one has a style all its own, as its young actresses stare right at you in long takes of them voicing each frightening story, while narration is provided by the only one of them to survive a horrible night back in 1986.

Written, produced, directed and edited by Graham Swon, each girl’s story goes from the mistreatment of Christian women to how witches were hunted and finally to just how simple it is to go mad.

Your enjoyment of this movie is going to depend on how much you can handle the artiness of locking the shot and having twenty minutes of dialogue play as a character stares directly at you with no other action. I found it somewhat brave and an interesting choice, while Becca loudly encouraged me to turn this off and put in something else.

That said, all of the women in the cast — Elena Burger as Becca, Dennise Gregory as Clara, Ayla Guttman as Suzie, Alexa Shae Niziak as Emily and Violet Piper as Mel — are quite good at delivering the lengthy dialogue that this film demands, as well as the subtle emotions that need to be conveyed. It’s by no means a perfect film, but one that I couldn’t stop watching, even with the cajoling of my wife.

I’m so glad I never went to any parties where I was asked to look into mirrors or participate in seances. My teen years were strange enough without walking the left hand path. Once things start getting fuzzy and you start seeing double images, you’ve either be drugged or you’re about to be part of something occult, right?

If you’re willing to listen — and go along with this film’s leap — you can get this movie on blu ray from Kino Lorber, who were nice enough to send us a review copy.

Its Just A Game (2018)

Brianna (Hannah Cohen-Lawlor) is sick of dealing with mean girls and conjures up a cult who takes care of everyone she ever had an issue with, stabbing them right in the throat and even devouring their tongues. Yes, if you’ve ever been bullied, you may feel some level of catharsis through this one.

This was written and directed by Daniel Emery Taylor, who also made The HospitalThe Hospital 2Camper Massacre, Paranormalice and Repulse, which is in pre-production.

Once our heroine brings Sister Amelia and Brother Marco (Leah Hudspeth and Alex Zuko) into her world, no one that treated her badly is safe. They are joined by Brother Thaddeus (a cameo by Taylor), Sister Daphne, Skullgirl and the Pigmen, while following the orders of Mother Murder (Cassandra Bryson). This strange family of killers are all pretty interesting and I wish they had another film to expand on each of them further.

This makes great use of its $50,000 budget and lean 70-minute running time. There’s plenty of bloody mayhem — indeed, I’ve never seen two killers aardvark on the dead bodies of the teenagers they just murdered — to go around for even the most jaded of horror fans.

You can learn more at the official Facebook page and the Film Freeway page. This is available on demand from Wild Eye.

Lake Michigan Monster (2018)

Arrow has been steadily releasing some modern stuff in addition to their gorgeous rereleases, like The Deeper You Dig and Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway.

I love that they put this out, as this is one of the stranger movies I’ve seen in a while and imagine what that entails. The winner of the Audience Award for Best International Feature at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival, this movie feels like a mix of art film, cartoons, monster movies and old serials, all in black and white with occasional color.

Captain Seafield (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, who also wriote and directed) is hunting down the titular beast who killed his father. So he assembles a crew to take it down, including weapons expert Sean Shaughnessy (Erick West, who also ran camera, did makeup and produced), sonar whiz Nedge Pepsi (Beulah Peters, also on camera and producing) and former N.A.V.Y. (Nautical Athletes and Adventure Yunit) officer Dick Flynn (Daniel Long).

Along the way, the Captain screws up at every opportunity, losing his crew and even having to assemble a new one made up of ghosts before meeting the beast that just might be his sister. But you know, if you’re Ahab and you finally found your white whale, would you stop? And why do Milwaukee liquor stores close at 9 PM anyway?

You have to love a movie that brags that it’s been “banned in four lakes” and ends with the kind of eye damage that would make Fulci weep.

The new Arrow Video release — this is also playing on their on demand channel — comes with a sober and drink cast and crew audio commentary, as well as another option to hear critics talk about the film while you watch it. There are also interviews, behind the scenes on the effects and even the first season and pilot episode of L.I.P.S., Tews and Mike Cheslik’s sci-fi comedy web series.

You can get this from Arrow and I totally recommend it. It just works perfectly.

Call Me Brother (2018)

Lisa (Christina Parrish, who wrote the script) and Tony (Andrew Dismukes, who is a writer on Saturday Night Live) are siblings who have been separated for years. Now, they’ve been brought back together for a summer weekend where they discover that the feelings they have for one another are more than just because they’re family.

You know, I’ve said it before — so much of the horror fiction of the 1970’s was incestual in nature. And for some weird reason, this trend — and yes, I realize that it’s been a thing since 1980’s Taboo — is a big deal in adult films. But can it work in a romantic comedy?

Our heroes haven’t seen one another since they were young children. Lisa went to live with her mother and Tony grew up with their father,who has since remarried and is in a very sexual marriage. Now that their mother is about to be remarried as well, Lisa is brought back into the life of her brother.

Honestly, this movie could have been a prurient mess, but this is a really funny movie, punctuated with tons of profane language and acts, yet it has its perverted little heart in the right place. If you can get your mind around the idea that the two main characters are destined to be together without getting nauseated, then you understand the type of funny this is aiming for.

Can a movie be both charming and upsetting? Somehow, this covers both. Despite moments of cringe, it has a heart that pushes through and makes you want to root for its characters (even when they’re pooping in a tub while another couple makes out feet away).

This is the first film for director David Howe, who does a great job keeping the story moving while giving it an interesting visual style.

You can see this movie in the following drive-ins, theaters and virtual cinemas:

  • Los Angeles/New York/San Fran/Chicago/Atlanta/Detroit and more – LAEMMLE THEATERS VIRTUAL
  • Texas/Austin – BLUELITE STARLITE DRIVE-IN (with sneaks on November 5)
  • Texas/Austin – GALAXY HIGHLAND-10 Theater
  • Texas/Austin – VIOLET CROWN
  • Louisana/New Orleans – THE BROAD THEATER
  • Mississippi/Oxford – Oxford Film Fest (VIRTUAL RELEASE)
  • Texas/Austin : AUSTIN FILM SOCIETY CINEMA (from 11/13)

Housesitter…The Night They Saved Siegfried’s Brain (made in 1987, finished in 2018)

A horror movie filmed entirely in Kalamazoo, Michigan including the Henderson Castle, WMU, Kalamazoo College and the Kalamazoo State Theatre, Housesitter sat on the shelf for more than thirty years before finally being finished, thanks to sound engineering from Skywalker Sound and final picture from Paramount Picture’s color department.

Andy (Richard Gasparian, who co-directed this and went on to work in animation) is an idealist medical student with an Elvis obsession. He’s obsessed with changing the face of modern science with his rat-to-brain transfer, which takes him to the Reinhardt Institute. Meanwhile, his professor and mentor Doc Crosby has a black and white lab that he’s been using to create something even more astounding than Andy’s goals —  brain pyramid from 13 unwilling donors so that he can fix his severely damaged brain.

Directed by Robin Nuyen, who played a thief in Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, this 1950’s by way of the 1980’s hybrid that has an Elvis fan — who has a doll of the King that speaks directly to him — as the only person that can save us from science.

I wanted to love this movie, as it feels like it should be a perfect fit for everything that I love. And it also has a slasher kill where someone gets drowned in the toilet. But it never finds the right balance between horror and goofiness, which is a tough line to tightrope walk. You may find yourself enjoying it way more than me, however.

Housesitter is available on demand and on blu ray from Leomark Studios

Fugue (2018)

When Malcolm wakes up, he has no idea where — or even who — he is. A woman who tells him that she is his wife Helen reassures and reminds himself of his identity and that he’s recovering for an accident. But as others arrive, like Ian and a masked group that wants something that Malcolm has been hiding, nothing makes sense.

The first full-length movie by Tomas Street, Fugue has some moments of beauty mixed with darkness. Jack Foley, who was also in Lifechanger, is great in the lead role, suggesting a toughness beneath the surface of a man whose memory has left him. Laura Tremblay, who plays his — well, maybe — wife is also good in this.

It’s an intriguing idea for a movie that’s well-executed. What else do you want, you know?

Acute Misfortune (2018)

Archibald Prize-winning artist Adam Cullen — the award is the most prestigious portrait prize in Australia — asked journalist Erik Jensen to write his biography. Jensen moved in with the artist and ended up stayed for about four years, during which Cullen spiraled into drug use and weapons possession. In fact, to show his commitment to telling Cullen’s story, Jensen was shot in the leg.

After Cullen’s death in 2012, Jensen completed and published Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen. The writer was pretty much traumatized by the experience, but felt that he had to finish writing the book to exorcise it from his soul.

Thomas M. Wright co-wrote, produced and directed this film, taking his acting knowledge and transforming it into a film that many considered one of Australia’s best films.

The film focuses on the complex relationship between the artist and his biographer. Wright wanted to not just make a biographical film or just make the movie of the story, but sought to question the book itself.

Authenticity was important to everyone involved.  David Henshall, who plays Cullen, lost 49 pounds making the film. He wore Cullen’s actual clothes and used his paintbrushes in addition to meeting many of the people in the artist’s life.

While we don’t often cover films of this caliber, we recognize them when we do get to see them. If you’d like to learn the story behind the story, this is a worthwhile watch. This will be available on demand as of November 3.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 10: The Devil’s Passenger (2018) and Window Dressing (2019)

Day 10: Plastique Vivant: Manniquins are creepy enough standing still, but what happens when they come to life? (Window Dressing)

I came to my gig as the (chief) grease bit scrubber and dumpster pad washer at the ol’ B&S Bar n’ Grill by way of my screenwriting endeavors, which born out of my acting endeavors (which born out of my radio jock days).

As result, I’ve been to more than my fair share of film festivals, not only for the shorts I worked on, but for the films of others — in support of my fellow thespin’ brethren. And as someone who’s worked in the short film realm, take it from me: most of them are arduous, not only to work on, but to watch. As an actor, nothing is more heartbreaking than to pour your soul into someone’s vision to make it the very best short film it can be — only to see that filmmaker’s industry “calling card” disintegrate into an utter failure. And that’s not even counting the shorts that, through sheer directorial ineptitude and an indifferently staffed and in disarray film school, are never finished. The whole angle of the short filmVerse is that, while you, the actor, do not get paid, “you’ll get a finished film/clips for your reel.” And, as goes my luck, the filmmakers that never “paid” me with a finished film or so much as a clip (even after begging), far outnumbers the ones that did “pay” me. And, very few of those were of a quality to use as demo reel material.

Anyway, I digress . . . bottom line: I’ve seen lots of short films. I’ve long since surpassed my Hollywood-mainstream film attendances with my affection for the new breed cultivated in film festivals: I love going to film festivals, seeing short films, and acting in short films: the camaraderie of the indie environs is pure electric. It’s oxygen. It’s life.

And — in the hands of a knowledgeable and skilled filmmaker, one who checks their ego at the door and respects their actors and crew and realizes that film is a “team” effort — the short film story format works and there are, in fact, filmmakers who do not make you dread film festivals, but look forward to them. There’s nothing more pleasing, more exhilarating than to see all of those years of college and university-level film school classes pay off in spades. I am of the camp that doesn’t want those budding filmmakers to suck at their chosen profession: I want to see them succeed.

And succeed they do, as is the case with my reviews for Colin West’s Pink Plastic Flamingos, Marko Slavanic’s Project Skyborn, and Sara Gorsky’s Cockpit: The Rules of Engagement. Then there’s my recent reviews for Ben Griffin’s stellar sci-fi-on-budget excitement that is Ji, Marc Cartwright’s We Die Alone, Megan Freels Johnson’s Dear Guest, Brando Benetton’s top notch college thesis project, Nightfire, Greece’s Vahagn Karapetyan’s Wicca Book, Travis White’s Why Haven’t They Fixed the Cameras Yet?, and Chun-Ku Lu’s 2018 work, This Life, I am a flower pot (yes, he of 1975’s The Black Dragon’s Revenge).

And as I went down a You Tube rabbit hole, I discovered another Frank Barrone-moment, you know, a “holy crap” moment, with writer and director Dave Bundtzen’s The Devil’s Passengers.

Bundtzen’s been bangin’ at the Final Draft and eyein’ the Canon Reds since the early ’90s across fifteen shorts, with thirteen of them as a screenwriter, and a seventeen-film mix as a producer of his own shorts and of others. So it’s no secret that Bundtzen is bringing an A-Game to the table. He possesses an expert concept of what a short film should be: short. His films are well-written and edited and fully-character arced in less than five minutes, exactly as a short film should.

Ack! Please don’t delve into a college thesis on the craft of screenwriting, and act structure, R.D.

Don’t worry; I’m pulling back the reins. But take my word for it: Bundtzen’s short film days are numbered. There’s a feature film on the horizon.

His latest short-fiction work, The Devil’s Passenger, concerns a woman (a very good Colleen Kelly, who reminds of Dakota Johnson; I actually thought, at first, it was Australian actress Amanda Woodhams from 2020’s Dark Sister) in a traffic jam that desperately tries to help another woman she sees in the back of a van hold — held by a hand that appears from the dark background of the vehicle.

And that brings us to Dave Bundtzen and Colleen Kelly’s newest film (and the Scarecrow Video Challenge part), along with the expertly creepy Elaine Partnow, in a tale about Danielle (Kelly), a young woman who responds to an innocent “Help Wanted” sign in the window of the Rose Time antique dress shop run by Clara (Partnow), a kindly, senior shop keep. Now, if you know your British Amicus horror anthologies, you know about those little, out-of-the-way shops and their affable clerks. Yeah, this isn’t going to end well for young Danielle. The “Amicus” vibe of Bundtzen’s pen is buoyed by Gavin V. Murray’s stellar cinematography that gives the proceedings a very-Argento vibe.

The Devil’s Passengers and Window Dressing are currently streaming on You Tube, along with Bundtzen’s early efforts Siri (2012) and Tap (2018), courtesy of Flix Horror’s You Tube Platform. And, what I really dig: Bundtzen supports other short-horror purveyors, as his nifty “Great Horror Short Films on You Tube” playlist attests. Watch ’em once, twice, watch three times. Just an awesome day of movie viewing to be had over at Flix Horror’s page.

Colleen Kelly made one foray into network television with an appearance on ABC-TV’s Castle. Here’s to hoping she makes a much deserved transition out of shorts and indies and into more network television (yeah, you know me well: Law & Order: SVU and Blue Bloods) and A-List feature films. In fact, if you’re a Felissa Rose (A Nun’s Curse, Rootwood) fan — and aren’t we all — you’ve also seen Kelly’s work alongside Rose in Clawed (2017).

You can learn more about Dave Bundtzen’s filmmaking endeavors at Flix Digital’s website and Facebook page.

Disclaimer: We were not sent screeners or received a review requests for either of these shorts. We discovered them on our own and truly enjoyed both works.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes on Medium.

Song Lang (2018)

I always make the remark that we often get films that don’t fit into our normal genre, but you know, more and more, we’re expanding what we watch here.

Song Lang is a combination of an underworld and romantic story, set in 1980’s Saigon. It’s all about the friendship between the brutal debt collector Dung (Lien Binh Phat) and opera singer Linh Phung (V-pop star from 365daband, Isaac), whose struggling company performs Cai-Luong, a modern form of traditional Vietnamese folk opera.

Dung comes to collect the debts of the opera company, yet both men soon find that there may be more than just a friendship growing between them. This is an unexpected film that is written and directed by Leon Le. It premiered on the 100th year anniversary of Cai Luong performance arts, which is a form I had never heard of nor seen before this movie.

A tragic romance about two men set against the backdrop of Asian opera? And they say all we care about is Lucio Fulci movies.

Song Land is ready for a virtual theatrical release October 9 and will also show at Laemmle theaters ahead of an on demand and DVD release November 11.