Tag Archives: Low Budget

Movie Review- Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)

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Rating: C+/ The best thing you can say about Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is that it makes the best out of a relatively small budget and is not nearly as bad as it could have been. That might seem like faint praise indeed, but in the annals of low-budget zombie horror, it is easy to offer this movie more leeway than it deserves. Yes, the sets, the costumes, and the action sequences are not nearly as cringe-worthy as other films of it’s kind and it is actually an entertaining, if not indispensable, watch for the first forty-five minutes or so, before it gets increasingly silly and crashes and burns at it’s blood-splattered finale. Continue reading Movie Review- Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)

Movie Review: Flowers (2015)

Flowers Cover Art

     Rating: D-/ Flowers is a very strange film, and not in a good, Eraserhead way as much as a ‘why-the-fuck-am-I-watching-this’ way. Although it is almost entirely devoid of redeeming qualities, I enjoyed watching it, the reason being that I got three of my best friends over to watch it and we kept up a running commentary of it’s pointlessly self-indulgent ridiculousness. I’m thankful for my friends and their crazy senses of humor for making this even watchable. Continue reading Movie Review: Flowers (2015)

Movie Review: Cube (1997)

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Rating: B-/ As far as I’m concerned, Cube is an amazing premise somewhat undone by a few pretty bad actors. Aside from the weak links in the cast, Cube has creative minimalist sets built on a fairly low budget, intriguing characters each with something interesting to bring to the table, and fascinating shifting dynamics between the leads. There’s something missing, but what’s there makes a pretty good watch for the most part. The director gets points for originality, and making the most out of meager sets and props. With almost nothing, he creates a story that makes you want to keep watching. Too bad some of the actors (I’m looking at you, Maurice Dean Wint) can’t measure up to the film’s mostly high standards.  Continue reading Movie Review: Cube (1997)

The Death King (Der Todesking) (1990)

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There is a moment in Jorg Buttgereit’s shockfest anthology “The Death King” where a man arbitrarily blows his girlfriend’s head off when she comes back from shopping and scolds him for not attending a party. Like this scene, much of the film is random and lacks context, it is literally seventy minutes of people killing each other and themselves. It certainly commands your attention (for a while at least) by beating you over the head with a bit of the old ultra-violence, but for a movie primarily about suicide, it ultimately has as little to say about people who take their own lives as it does about human nature.

While avid fans of underground and ‘transgressive’ films will probably love this movie to bits, for me it seemed like a whole lot of nothing. The premise is absurdly simple- a death-themed short for each day of the week. The shorts range from surprisingly decent (the first one, with the goldfish-loving man poisoning himself in the bathtub) to the totally WTF (the retarded man in Captain America underwear literally beating himself senseless in a small, windowless room where he is presumably (?) held prisoner) and the acting is quite spotty. Many of the actors don’t seem to be acting at all as much as just looking vaguely at the camera while blandly delivering their exceedingly few lines.

So, this movie isn’t big on acting and dialogue, you say? What does it excel in? Well, The Death King does make use of a limited budget and includes some really creepy editing/sound effects. It’s not much, but it might be worth a view by people who are into weird for weird’s sake and low-budget experimental film making. I like weird movies, but I just couldn’t get into this bizarrofest; give me an compelling plot, a character I can care about, anything. Pure experiment can be intriguing, but Eraserhead this is not. It’s actually quite boring, despite all the sadistic violence and eerie sound effects and people offing themselves.

The director claimed in the intro on my DVD that The Death King is a film against suicide. “Of course,” he adds, almost as an afterthought. But how can a movie that offers it’s victims no development and no other alternatives be against suicide? The movie is less an attempt to bring light to a misunderstood act of desperation and more a eager attempt to shock the viewer into thinking it’s ‘deep.’ I can just picture Jorg getting all his friends together, and saying, “Hey guys, let’s make a movie of people waxing themselves. We’ll call it… The Death King.” And his friends, not being entirely sober themselves, let out a collective “Whoa… that’s rad.”

I’m not disturbed by this movie. It takes a lot more than an amateurish attempt at cringe cinema like this to shock me. But The Death King is roughly acted, written, and directed, like a film school project, and above all it gives you no reason to fucking care. I’m not asking for a sentimental and pedestrian motion picture on suicide where the kind, gallant hero goes all ‘Goodbye cruel world,’ leading to an epic confrontation with the film’s antagonist and a tearjerker ending. I like edgy. But if you’re going to make a movie, have something to say. If you’re a self-proclaimed fan of the dark and disturbing with a Salo; 120 Days of Sodom poster on the wall of your college dorm who attributes depth to the arbitrary and grotesque, this movie’s for you. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

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Halloween (1978)

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It may seem unconventional to review a slasher movie called Halloween in the midst of the Yuletide season, but I’ve never been much good at these things, so please, bear with me.

On Halloween night fifteen years ago, a six-year-old boy and very sick cookie named Michael Myers stabbed his older sister to death with a steak knife. Cut to present day, it’s Halloween once more, and Myers is on the prowl again, returning to his native town of Haddonfield, Illinois in search of new blood. The only thing that stands between brainy teen Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and unspeakable evil is the dedicated shrink Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence.) Loomis thinks Myers is sick, incurably sick and he’s determined to stop him from killing again if it’s the last thing he does.

Of course, a killer in a film has to have victims, and these are helpfully provided by Laurie’s ditzy, slutty friends (Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles,) who go down in a classic scream queen fashion- usually partially or entirely undressed. What Myers didn’t count on was Laurie being a startlingly formidable opponent and knitting needle-assassin, doing her best to keep herself and the kids she’s babysitting (Kyle Richards and Bryan Andrews) alive while Loomis rushes to get there in time.

  Halloween has an absurdly simple premise and it’s done on a modest budget, but it’s one of the most successful horror movies of all time. Why? Well, John Carpenter’s sleeper has a few killer tricks up it’s sleeve, including spooky cinematography, a chilling score, and an extraordinary final girl in Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. It lacks the graphic gore and  showy bodily dismemberment of it’s peers, doing well by keeping most of the carnage to your imagination.

Rather than being a fallible human  opponent or tragic victim of childhood mistreatment (as he is portrayed in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of the same name,) Michael Myers is a unstoppable force of nature- an entity of almost supernatural evil who is determined to kill… and kill again, no matter how many bullets and sharp implements pierce his malevolent hide.

Poor, long-suffering Loomis has his work cut out for him- and his toil continues for an extensive line of sequels. Myers’ unbeatable and ambiguous nature makes him both a fresh and terrifying villain and a bit of an annoying plot device; a villain who can’t be killed puts Loomis and Strode in a kind of a frustrating position, and the audience in a bit of a bind themselves- what the hell is he? That odd bit of uncanny might be invigorating for some horror fans, but for me it kind of boggled my mind in a bad way, and I tended to annoyance at his invincibility and often wanted to scream “Die, you fuck, Die!” at my big-screen TV.

However, Halloween is a shining reminder that you can make a superior movie with an inferior budget. The actors shine (with the frustrating exception of Nancy Kyes as the more aggravating of Laurie’s two friends, who’s mannered inflection and practiced flaky attitude in the stuff of nightmares.)

    Halloween has it’s truly creepy moments and the film managed to introduce three iconic characters- Myers, Strode, and Loomis, who is dedicated to cleaning up a shitstain of a situation- somebody has to- but is not without his moments of humor, like when he stands outside the Myers house and scares the crap out of some adolescent boys; just for funsies (!)

   Halloween isn’t the best or scariest horror movie of all time, but it’s a vital addition to a genre that doesn’t always contain the most high quality or intelligent movies. For all it’s slashings and demented antics from a masked, seemingly motiveless killer, it is a smart film; it knows what scares you, and incorporates those fears into an utterly ordinary suburban environment, where nice middle class citizens work and play.

The idea, of course, is that if it happened to them, it could happen to you; a chilling concept partially or totally absent from horror films with more fantastical elements. If you have a soft spot for horror but don’t like loads of blood and Hostel style torture over atmosphere and restrained terror, look no further than John Carpenter’s spooky classic, the sleeper that defined a genre. No horror fan’s collection is complete without the movie that started it all.

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Tangerine (2015)

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Trashy people doing trashy things, set to the score of an interminable Dubstep soundtrack. The most interesting thing about this movie (shot on a cheap cell phone camera) is how it got the critics jizzing their pants over it.

I won’t deny that Tangerine is probably a pretty accurate reflection of a certain way of life, but in the process of portraying a transgendered working girl’s gritty urban existence, the film makes commits two unpardonable filmmaking sins- it completely lacks a interesting narrative or characters worth investing your sympathy in. The actors possess a certain naturalism and finesse for a movie with a budget this low, but who gives a shit about this story? The non plot combined with an instantly unlikable protagonist make Tangerine tedious as just over eighty minutes long.

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)- seriously, that name- is a transsexual prostitute (and still the possessor of male sexual organs) who get out after a short stint of jail to find out from her bestie (Mya Taylor) that her man and pimp has been screwing around on her. The entire movie concerns Sin Dee traipsing around L.A. trying to find her guy (James Ransone) so she can raise some hell. An admittedly much more interesting subplot concerns an unhappily married Armenian cab driver (Karren Karagulian) with a preference for trans hookers that still have their cocks intact. Unsurprisingly, this causes some tension with his wife and mother-in-law.

However, this plotline is never resolved as the narrative focuses on the unbearably catty and self-absorbed Sin-Dee as she spends Christmas Eve in Los Angeles seeing her quest through. Sin-Dee talks, looks, and acts like a character in a reality television program and I can imagine most people would only play along with her bullshit for so long. You keep your hands off her man, you hear, or otherwise she might just have to bust you up! Some viewers might find her sympathetic, I didn’t. It’s not that people like her don’t exist, they emphatically do, but I was utterly disinclined to watch her throw a hissy fit for eighty minutes.

If there’s a discernible plot to this movie, I’d be enthralled to know what it is. There’s some sex, some drug abuse, a catfight between Sin-Dee and her boyfriend’s new lay (Mickey O’Hagen.) There’s a lot of Sin-Dee wandering around the ghetto spewing profanities and man-handling various people. It’s hard to care about a story that goes absolutely nowhere and harder still to care about a trashy queen with a flair for drama and seeing others anxious or upset. If you want to see a trans woman struggling with her gender identity in an inner city environment, watch Gun Hill Road. That was an amazing film that grabbed your heart and didn’t let go.

I’ll admit, Tangerine looks passable compared to other independent films shot on cell phones. it even has an element of realism, and I don’t fault the actors one bit for my utter disinterest in the film as a whole. They took what they had to work with and they ran with it. But Tangerine  is not funny and it is not dramatically satisfying. Being that Sin-Dee scarcely shows a sympathetic human side, instead choosing to bask in drama and the heartache of her friends and neighbors, it’s really hard to like or empathize with her. I admire the good ideas this film incorporates into it’s script, but it’s so hard to sit through as a whole. A film needs a plot to carry its characters to a chosen destination, and it is in that area that Tangerine seriously lacks.

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Scarfies (AKA Crime 101) (1999)

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Take this film for what it is (an uneven and extremely low budget thriller and morality play) and you may find yourself enjoying the effective acting displayed within and bruising social commentary concerning the self-absorption and sometimes outright shittiness of humankind. It’s Danny Boyle’s “Shallow Grave” meets “Lord of the Flies” meets early Quentin Tarantino with a distinct lack of the technical verve Tarantino showed even early on into his career.

That said, this is one of the more psychologically harrowing and disturbing ‘black comedies’ of recent times. Dark humor, or just plain dark? When the douchebag college kids glue their weed-peddling captive’s lips and hands together and force him to squat with his pants pulled halfway down and shit into a bucket, I was struck by the indignity of it all. “Scarfies” remains relatively compelling despite the almost nil production values and contemptuous cast of characters because it starts out with a somewhat sympathizable ‘what would you do?’ scenario until it takes a sudden plunge into the darkest of places, where sadistic mind games and senseless violence overtake rationality and basic human decency.

The film follows a group of college students who squat in an abandoned house that incongruously has electricity. Initially they are relatively carefree, partying and drinking like there’s no tomorrow, bonding and making love and getting high. Impulsive frat boy-type Alex (Taika Waititi) uses a monumentally awful pick-up line on the object of his affections, straight-laced Nicola (Ashleigh Seagar) and coaxes her into his bed, while Scott (Neill Rea) and Emma (Willa O’Neill) make moon eyes at each other but don’t act on their mutual attraction. Graham (Charlie Bleakley) has a crush on Nicola, but waffles around it and acts generally irritating.

It’s all fun and games until the five students open and jammed-up door in the basement of the squalid building and find a collection of pot plants, all primed and ready to smoke. After a fierce debate, they sell the lot and blow the entirety of their drug money on various electronics and personal vanities. So when the dealer (Jon Brazier) shows up volatile and royally pissed at the loss of his crop, they lock him in the basement. And that’s when the real fun begins.

Movies and literature continually show that kids are scary as hell. So why shouldn’t a group of well-groomed, outwardly innocuous college youngsters be any different? It is Alex (Waititi,) however, who makes me suspect that his brain is made of bits and bobs and cogs that render him not quite a person, at least not in the spiritual sense. Despite being good-looking, calm, seemingly ordinary, and well-liked, Alex possesses the heart of killer, a sense of apathy and sadistic glee at his misdoings, and the self-confidence to coerce his frightened roommates into obedience and stunned silence.

Graham, however, while initially appearing to be a ineffectual innocuous type (pining pitifully for Nicola and crying at the slightest provocation,) proves to be the kind of guy who held your hands behind your back as you got punched in the gut in high school. He enjoys the high-stakes excitement of having a prisoner to heckle and hurt, so he follows the smugly cruel Alex’s lead in what is essentially torture, culminating in a electronic device to control the prisoner’s behavior through electric shocks.

“Scarfies” is not really a comedy, except in the sense of ironic human indecency. However, it is an interesting study of human behavior and the innate sense of self-interest exhibited by people everywhere. “Better him than me.” How many times have we innately said that to ourselves, believing that it would be ultimately preferable that someone else take the fall for us? The acting and the story are better than you might expect, and there are a few laughs to be had among the dark sense of foreboding and transgression.

If nothing else, you’ll watch to the end hoping the ‘protagonists’ get what they deserve. Taika Waititi definitely shows early promise in a precursor to his work as a director. His not only smug and self-satisfied, but (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) downright sociopathic character’s face needed punching. Make no mistake, this movie is no masterwork of cinema, but if you like cynical social commentaries that pull no punches in regards to how they view people (superior to apes? I think not!) you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect a laugh riot or a glossy Hollywood film.

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