Rondo and Bob (2020)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, Re-Animator, From Beyond, Tourist TrapDon’t Go Near the Park. Beyond the villains and stars of these films, they’re memorable for the scenes they take place in, the look of menace within each. That’s all due to Robert A. Burns, the man who taxidermied an armadillo and built the bone furniture with the Sawyer home, that made Mr. Slausen’s home so frighteningly strange, that created the adult shop that Dee Wallace finds a werewolf in and even plays a customer that runs past her.

Beyond the films and art pieces that Burns created, he was obsessed with Rondo Hatton, a man who turned his acromegaly into three films for Universal before dying way too young. The disease caused Rondo’s face, hands and feet to grow monstrously larger than the rest of his body, which caused him to hide from the world until his second wife Mae gave him the support that he needed.

The image of The Creeper, Hatton’s horror film character, would become a symbol of Burns’ lifelong belief in his inner ugliness. It’s this idea that director and writer Joe O’Connell (Danger God) explores in this combination documentary and narrative film on two lives.

With appearances by Fred Olen Ray, Daniel Pearl, Edwin Neal, Joe Bob Briggs, Stuart Gordon, Dee Wallace and more, the film also steps away from being a straight documentary to dramatize the life of Hatton (Joseph Middleton) and Mae (Kelsey Pribilski). She later meets Burns (Ryan Williams), who we see meet Tobe Hooper, become friends with Gunnar Hansen and be on the front lines of the day Charles Whitman opened fire on the University of Texas.

This is a messy movie that doesn’t always perfectly work, but that’s actually to its benefit. It’s like drinking at a party and someone trying to explain just how amazing their friend was, why you would have loved them and all the wild, strange, dumb and sad things that their friend did. And now their friend is gone and you can only experience them through the art and tall tales that they left behind.

And yes, the Deep Throat pinball machine shows up.

Rondo and Bob is available on digital platforms from Electric Entertainment. You can learn more at the official site.

Machination (2020)

There’s a fine line between watching a movie inspired by the pandemic and your own experiences during it. Therefore, if being reminded of the last two years would make you overthink the last two years and shudder, well…don’t say you weren’t warned.

Machination is 62 minutes of Maria (Steffi Thake) losing her sanity during the time of the coronavirus. She never left that first stage that we were all in, disinfecting herself and everything that comes into her home, avoiding everyone she can. Becca has photos of my first trip out of the house to get groceries and I look like I’m about to escape the Bronx or enter Bartertown.

Shot for around six grand and in ten days in Malta, the film stays on Maria for most of the film as she deals with calls from her boss, her landlord, her boyfriend and a family member whose abuse is at the root of her germaphobia and agoraphobia in the first place.

But is Maria insane for overreacting to COVID-19? I mean, am I, the only person who wears a mask in public these days dumb for how I feel? Is it a critique on those that did take care of others? Is it exploitation as it concentrates so intently on numerous shower scenes? Is it some strange fetish video of watching someone prep during a pandemic? Who can say?

You can watch Machination on digital from Nexus Production Group.

Castro’s Spies (2020)

An elite group of Cuban intelligence agents — recruited and trained in the U.S. — are released in America in this film that shows what it’s really like to be a spy. Using never seen before footage from the Cuban Film Institute’s archive and first-hand testimony from the people who actually lived to tell, Castro’s Spies is an intriguing doc about the era of Cold War espionage.

This film tells the true story of the Cuban Five — Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René Gonzále — agents who were given new identities and sent to Miami to watch over people of interest for the Cuban government.

Meanwhile, their families were told they were deserters and traitors.

In September 1998, the Five were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, acting as an agent of a foreign government and other illegal activities — including failure to register as a foreign agent, which seems like a strange crime when you’re a spy. Three years later, the Cuban government admitted that they were intelligence agents looking at the Cuban exile community, not the U.S. government.

The Five appealed their convictions, which were overturned in 2005, then reinstated shortly afterward. The Supreme Court refused to review their case and it wasn’t until 2014 that the last of the Five was able to return to Cuba.

Directors and writers Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon have taken footage from the past and mixed it with interviews with the Five, their compatriots and their enemies. This is a story I’d never heard before and I was so interested to learn more about this secret tale.

You can see Castro’s Spies at the following theaters:
Icon San Angelo (San Angelo, TX)
2020 N. Bryant St.
San Angelo, TX 76903

ICON 15 Colorado Springs with ICONIC (Colorado Springs, CO)
1818 Spring Water Place
Colorado Springs, CO 80921

Apex Cinema Roswell (Roswell, NM)
900 West Hobbs St.
Roswell, NM 88203

This documentary is also available digitally from Gravitas Ventures.

A Taste of Blood (2020)

Based on Aleksey Tolstoy’s 1839 short story The Family Of The Vourdalak — you may remember that tale being made as part of Black Sabbath and the movie Viy — director and writer Santiago Fernández Calvete’s (The Exorcism of GodThe Second DeathSangre Vurdalak — retitled A Taste of Blood for U.S. audiences — this movie retells the tale of a vampire hunter named Aguirre (Germán Palacios) who has returned home in the moments between day and night to his locked-up family, unsure if he’s been turned into a vampire himself.

The family dynamics between his daughter Natalia (Alfonsina Carrocio), his son  Manuel (Lautaro Bettoni), wife Eva (Naiara Awada), youngest daughter Malena (Carmela Merediz) and Natalia’s boyfriend Alexis (Tomás Carullo Luzzio) form the basis of this film, as they debate whether to let Aguirre into the home, as some are convinced that he has become a vourdalak, others believe he’s still human and we’re left to believe that outside of the supernatural, the patriarch of this family may have always been a monster.

It’s brave to try and make a story that Bava made so well, but this film moves the story to modern times, add guns and cars, yet ends up none the worse for it. It’s got some great tension and ends up standing quite well on its own.

A Taste of Blood is available on VOD and blu ray from Cleopatra Entertainment.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 29: Watch the series: Freaky Friday (1975, 1996, 2003, 2018, 2020)

Freaky Friday started as a novel written by Mary Rodgers, based on Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers by F. Anstey, a story in which the protagonists are father and son. In Rodgers’ book, 13-year-old Annabel Andrews and her mother spend time in each other’s bodies. The novel was so popular that Disney as made it four times an Rodgers also mae several sequels herself, such as A Billion for Boris/ESPTV and Summer Switch (which ABC made into TV movies). The major difference between the novel and the films is that an outside influence switches the mother and daughter against their wills.

Freaky Friday (1976): “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day.” That’s all it takes to start off this crazy adventure for Ellen Harris (Barbara Harris) and her daughter Annabel (Jodie Foster).

Based on the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers — who also wrote the screenplay — the magic that switches the mother and daughter in this movie is quite simple. In Friday the 13th, all you have to do is say, “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day” and it happens.

Actually, this whole thing reminds me of Goofy Minds the House, a 1977 Disney Wonderful World of Reading storybook that features the character Goofy and his wife switching jobs for one day and learning that they both have rough lives. That story was based on a Norwegian folktale and taught me that women were much stronger than men. Also — Goofy once had a wife named Mrs. Geef and Mrs. Goof, but now he’s thought to be dating Clarabelle the Cow, so something happened at some point. Perhaps even odder, Goofy was once called Dippy Dawg.

But I digress.

Just as much as that story is part of my childhood, so is Freaky Friday, a movie that I know for a fact that I saw at the Spotlite 88 Drive-In in Beaver Falls, PA.

Ellen Andrews and her daughter Annabel are constantly battling with one another until they switch places, which enables each of them to see life from the other side, connect better with other people and, of course, water ski.

The cast of this movie is made up of people that a five year old me would see as big stars, like John Astin, Dick Can Patten, Charlene Tilton, Marc McClure and, of course, Boss Hogg. Strangely enough, George Lucas wanted Foster for the role of Princess Leia, but her mother wanted her to complete her contract to Disney.

Disney can’t seem to stop remaking this movie. And really, no one else can either, because it’s the mother of body switch comedies, including 18 Again!All of Me, Dream a Little DreamVice Versa and Freaky, a film which combines the Friday the 13th of this story with the slasher side of the holiday.

Freaky Friday (1995): This made-for-TV movie has Shelly Long as Ellen and Gaby Hoffman (the daughter of Warhol superstar Viva) as Annabelle. A pair of magical amulets causes the two of them to switch bodies in this version and waterskiing has been replaced with diving.

Ellen is also a single mother dating Bill (Alan Rosenberg) and designing clothing, which is the 90s version of being a housewife. What livens this up is a great cast with Drew Carey, Sandra Bernhard, Carol Kane and the much-missed Taylor Negron.

Writer Stu Krieger wrote The Parent Trap IIA Troll in Central ParkZenon: Girlof the 21st Century and Phantom of the Megaplex while director Melanie Mayron is probably best known for playing Melissa Steadman on Thirtysomething even though she has more than sixty directing credits on her resume.

The other big change is that when Annabelle is in Ellen’s body, she tells Bill exactly how much she dislikes him, thinking it will push him away. Instead, he proposes.

Forgive me for being weird, but…do these characters ever have to make love in these bodies? Because, well, that could be awkward.

Freaky Friday (2003): I spoke too soon about the sexual side of Freaky Friday, as this movie, while chaste, does not shy away from the fact that Jake (Chad Michael Murray) has feelings for Anna (Lindsay Lohan) no matter if she’s in her body or the body of her mother, Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis). The attraction that Jake feels, while mental, is way hotter than the way Marc McClure reacted to Barbara Harris.

Written by Heather Hach (Legally Blonde: The MusicalWhat To Expect When You’re Expecting and a gym teacher in this movie) and Leslie Dixon (OverboardLoverboy, the 2007 Hairspray) and directed by Mark Walters (who worked with Dixon again on Just Like Heaven; he also directed Mean GirlsGhosts of Girlfriends Past, the gender-swapped He’s All That and Mr. Popper’s Penguins), this take on the story retains the single mother idea from the 1995 TV movie and has Mark Harmon play Ryan, the potential new father in Anna’s life.

Lohan’s character was originally written as a goth girl and she didn’t think anyone would relate to that, so she showed up dressed like a preppie. Somehow, she was convinced to play a grunge girl instead. I mean, she has a band called Pink Slip and plays guitar instead of water skiing or driving.

The McGuffin that drives this film is a pair of fortune cookies mixed with an earthquake switches bodies for Anna and Tess, which leads to Anna lecturing teachers and Tess being more loud and wild.

As for the casting, it really works. The original idea was for Jodie Foster to play Tess, but she didn’t like the stunt casting. Then, Annette Bening and Kelly Osbourne were going to be the leads — with Tom Selleck as Ryan — but Bening dropped out and Osbourne’s mother got cancer.

Probably the only downside is that this movie falls back on that Hollywood cliche of Asian people being able to magically change lives.

Is it weird that I know that the band Orgy taught Jamie Lee how to play guitar? Why do I have these facts inside my head? And how weird is it to hear “Flight Test” by the Flaming Lips in a Disney movie? Or Joey Ramone covering “What A Wonderful World?”

Freaky Friday (2018): It’s wild that Steve Carr made Next Friday and a Freaky Friday sequel. And this time, I had no idea I was getting into a musical. Cozi Zuehlsdorff from the Dolphin Tale movies is Ellie Blake and her mother Katherine is played by Heidi Blickenstaff, who played the role on stage. Seriously, this is a full-blown bing singing musical and also a version of the story that leans in on Ellie being a total slob with a filthy room, a girl who always wears the same clothes every day and who would totally be the kind of arty disaffected young girl who I’d be too shy to talk to and leave mixtapes in her locker. Or maybe text her Spotify links now, I guess, right?

A magical hourglass — given to Ellie by her late father, a Freaky Friday story beat retained from the last few versions — is the storytelling device that switches the daughter and mother. There’s also a scavenger hunt that an entire school is absolutely obsessed by, making this also an updating of Midnight Madness.

This was the first Disney movie made from one of their stage plays and it didn’t get great ratings. It’s fine — obviously there are a ton of different versions of Freaky Friday for you to watch. I’d place it slightly ahead of the Shelley Long version, but way behind everything else.

Freaky (2020): By all rights, I should hate this movie, a semi-remake of Freaky Friday that instead subverts the source material by turning it into a slasher. But you know, it ended up hitting me the right way and I was behind it pretty much all the way.

Directed by Christopher Beau Landon — yes, the son of Michael — who wrote Disturbia — that’s not even a word — and several of the Paranormal Activitymovies before directing the Happy Death Day films. If you liked those, well, this will definitely give you more of what those movies offered, this is set in the same universe — Landon said that, “They definitely share the same DNA and there’s a good chance Millie and Tree will bump into each other someday” — and was originally titled Freaky Friday the 13th.

Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton, Big Little Lies) is a teenager who has been tormented by bullies, both of the teenager and teacher* varieties. Meanwhile, the urban legend of the Blissfield Butcher continues, as he keeps killing her classmates. Now that he possesses a McGuffin called La Dola — an ancient Mayan sacrificial dagger — he looks to gain even more power. But when he runs into our heroine — her mother (Katie Finneran, who is great in this) has left her behind at a football game where all she gets to do is wear a beaver mascot costume — she battles the Butcher and when he stabs her, they end up switching bodies.

So yeah — this turns into a body swap comedy and you’d think, after the gory as hell open, this is where they lose you. But no — if anything, this gets way more fun.

Millie’s friends make for some of the best scenes in the film. Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) have been with her through the worst parts of high school, so having their best friend in the body of a killing machine is just another trial to be endured.

Speaking of that killer, Vince Vaughn shines in this. There’s plenty of silly physical comedy, but also some really nice scenes like when he admits to the love interest that she left the note he treasures (body swap pronouns are a little hard) or when he has a moment with her mother while hiding in a changing room.

Landon — who wrote the movie along with Michael Kennedy — said that the film was influenced by the Scream series, along with Cherry FallsFright NightJennifer’s BodyThe Blob and Urban Legend. There’s also a fair bit of Halloween in here, particularly the opening series of murders, and references to Heathers, Child’s Play, Creepshow, Galaxy Quest, Carrie, The Faculty, The Craft and Supernatural. There’s also a bottle down the throat kill that came directly from the 2009 slasher remake Sorority Row.

I had fun with this. Here’s hoping you do the same.

*The funny thing is that the teacher that is the worst to her is Alan Ruck, who knows a thing about bring bullied, what with playing Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

REPOST: Schemers (2020)

Editor’s note: We originally shared this movie on May 12, 2021. It’s available on VOD and DVD from Gravitas Ventures. You can learn more about this movie on the official Facebook page.

David wanted to be a football player before an injury. Now he’s in love with a nurse named Shona and the concerts and disco he’s running – with his buddies Scot and John — have all been to impress her. After a few successes, our hero decides to go all in on a hugely ambitious Iron Maiden show. However, to make that happen, he has to throw in with a gangster named Fergie, which means that the biggest show of his life may just be his last one.

This film is based on truth, as the early years of Dave Mclean’s life in the music business really did have him promote a Maiden show at Dundee’s Caird Hall on June 12, 1980. For Maiden fans, they opened with “Sanctuary.”

This is Mclean’s first movie as a writer, director and producer. He brought plenty of American grunge and punk bands to the UK, including Nirvana, Mudhoney, The Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day before managing Placebo.

He’s to be forgiven for making his film look, feel and play a lot like Trainspotting, because both films cover a lot of the same ground. It does have a good soundtrack going for it, including Saxon, Hawkwind, Dead Kennedys, The View, Placebo and, of course, Iron Maiden.

Godforsaken (2020)

Filmed in Harriston, Ontario, Canada — hometown of star Chad Tailor — this movie uses some found footage to show the story of a documentary crew who has come to town to learn how and why a dead woman rose from her coffin during her funeral and behaved like some possessed demon.

Seeing how this girl is the childhood friend of one of the filmmakers, this combines that hoary nugget we see so often — someone trying to go back home — with possession and found footage, which is what it takes to get a film streaming.

Godforsaken was directed and written by Ali Akbar Akbar Kamal (who directed 2016’s Faceless and is working on a movie titled Once Upon a Time In Afghanistan) who said, “Growing up in a religious community in the Middle East, I always had a fascination with other worldly beings. As a child I would often hear things like “You will burn for eternity if you commit a sin” or “You will go blind if you question God.” All of which struck terror in my heart.

As a horror fan I always found that feeling of terror to be captivating. The fear of unknown beings that hold unlimited power over us. I wrote Godforsaken with that fear in mind. Our objective was to make a movie that touches on those feelings but most importantly I wanted to make something that was fun and exciting to watch.”

Godforsaken will premiere on the Terror Films Channel on March 25 followed by a worldwide digital release April 8.

It’s Not All Rock & Roll (2020)

Before I saw this movie, I had no idea who Swearing At Motorists was.

They’re a two-piece rock and roll band made up of Dave Doughman (vocals and guitar) and drummer Martin Boeters. While the band formed in Dayton, Ohio in 1994, they’ve made the majority of their music overseas, specifically in Hamburg, Germany. And by that, Doughman seems responsible for most of the band’s output.

Directed by Jim Burns, who co-wrote the movie with Angela Slaven*, It’s Not All Rock & Roll is a literal warts and all biography of Doughman, who plays every show like he’s on the biggest stage there is, an escape from the real life of fatherhood, driving a forklift and depression. So whether he’s playing for six people or battling an unruly bar patron who won’t stop playing pool while he’s rocking his heart out, Doughman is devoted to someday being a working musician.

Known as “The World’s Local Band,” I started this film being disinterested in this band and unsure about Doughman, but by the end of the movie, I found myself cheering them on. You get a big window into the world of being a musician, even at the level the band is on. That said, they’ve released six albums and have toured the world, even if they carry their own gear. Take it from someone that’s slowly lifted a giant Marshall stack up a steep staircase in the middle of winter. Angus, Malcolm and Bon weren’t lying when they wrote, “Gettin’ old, gettin’ grey, gettin’ ripped off, underpaid. Gettin’ sold second hand. That’s how it goes, playin’ in a band.”

Whether or not you’ve ever heard of the band or care about their music, I highly recommend this film. Keep an eye out for it, as it doesn’t have American distribution as of yet.

You can learn more about Swearing at Motorists at their site and the movie at the production company’s site.

*They also made Serious Drugs, a documentary about the band BMX Bandits.

Heckle (2020)

Stand-up Joe Johnson (Guy Combes, Kill Ben Lyk) has just been hired for the role of his life, playing his hero comedian Ray Kelly (Steve Guttenberg) in a film about the dead funnyman’s life. Except. that the last hack up for the starring role is dead and a heckler (Clark Gable III) is bound and determined to ruin his life and not only from the darkness of the audience.

Directed by Martyn Pick and written by Airell Anthony Hayles (who wrote and directed They’re Outside), the film shows Johnson’s Halloween party evening as he’s haunted by the heckler with a flashback to just how horrible of a human being Ray Kelly was. Guttenberg is really great in this, just filled with venom and menace.

I would have loved to have seen more of how Kelly’s character and how his darkness both shaped and inspired Johnson and less of the slasher scenes, which feel kind of grafted on. It’s more of a gamble to make that type of dark film instead of a slice and dice which is easy to sell, one imagines.

At 81 minutes, for once I wish this movie was longer and had more room to breathe. Or maybe better structure and editing. It’s frustrating because there’s a great out of character performance by Guttenberg and a really good idea for a film buried under so much dross.

Heckle is now available from Uncork’d Entertainment.

Blues On Beale (2020)

Featuring Grammy award winner Bobby Rush, Grammy nominee Shemekia Copeland, award-winner Castro Coleman and plenty more acclaimed musicians, this movie was filmed entirely in the blues clubs of Memphis’ Beale Street during the 36th International Blues Challenge.

232 winners of local contests came to this competition to compete for medals, recognition and perhaps even record contracts by performing in the clubs along Beale Street, the most celebrated blues location in the world.

Director Larry Lancit produced and directed Reading Rainbow in past, but he and Cecily Lancit, who wrote and executive produced this film, have turned out a movie that feels very much of today. I loved seeing the different bands from all over the world bring their love of the blues to one of the bastions of the genre and get to play their hearts and souls out on what could be the biggest stage of their careers.

You can watch Blues On Beale on Tubi. You can learn more on the official site.