Review: Headless (2015, Forbidden Films)

“WITHOUT FACES WE ARE FREE.”

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Category: Retro, Slasher, Splatter/Gore
Directed by:
Arthur Cullipher

Written by: Nathan Erdel

Starring: Shane Beasley, Kelsey Carlisle, Ellie Church

Music: Mike Anderson, Arthur Cullipher, James Nash
Cinematography: Leya Taylor

The 2012 horror film Found was a big hit in the indie horror community, and the lost 70’s film within the film that one of the characters was obsessed with became a focus of interest amongst fans. Everyone was eager to see Headless as a feature length film, so when the special effects supervisor Arthur Cullipher of Found started a kickstarter campaign for the cause it was a huge success. I wasn’t a fan of Found nor was I very curious about the snippets of this film within it, but I caught a screening of it at the Slaughter in Syracuse Underground Film Festival and was pleasantly surprised and entertained by the finished product.

This obscure slasher from 1978 follows a serial killer (Beasley) who targets women and murders and rapes them, well parts of them, in that order. He then sets his sights on innocent roller rink waitress Jess Hardy, killing anyone that gets in his way. Throughout the film, we also get an insight into his abusive childhood via flashbacks.

Cullipher & Co. do an incredible job of retaining that vintage late 70’s feel; that grainy 35mm look, dirt lines on the film, a few erratic cuts here and there, even the copyright says 78′. I especially loved the faux trailer in the beginning. Retro style horror films have been very popular lately, most of which go the way of grindhouse/exploitation type features and generic slashers. Headless goes a bit more outside the box, striving to be one of those oddball video nasties that got buried under the sea of VHS tapes once the home video boom took off in the early 80’s. Those films directed by someone who used the slasher genre as a starting point to film something gruesome and shocking that could avoid the censorship associated with theatrical releases. One of those gems that would be released decades later by a company like Vinegar Syndrome or Synapse. Well I’d say that they succeeded.

The film feels a bit divisive, the story arc focusing on our unnamed killer and the flashbacks of his youth are gritty, bleak and strange. The acting on Beasley’s part, while mostly mute, is quite good. His mother, sister and his younger selfs feature some decent acting as well, at least in the context of this film. Also worth noting is the embodiment of The Killer’s self-conscious; a young boy in a skull mask. While not doing much other than silently influencing him, it’s effective and creepy. Then you have Jess’ storyline that takes the more cheesy route. Plenty of archetypes fill up the roller rink group’s character roster: the sweet and innocent final girl, her deadbeat boyfriend, her sleazy boss Slick Vic, the slutty coworker that sleeps with him. The dialogue is purposely awful and the acting is pretty bad. I’d say one the highlights of the film is the excessive amounts of authentic, handmade gore. Decapitations, post-mortem skull fuckings, pre-mortem knife fuckings, cannibalism, severed limbs, all sorty of bloody fun. The special effects team did an excellent job at creating some awesome splatter scenes. Also the design on the mannequin woman in the trippy, dreamlike sequences is pretty eerie.

Other than the tonal conflict, my main gripe with the film is that it gets a bit repetitive at times and also drags here and there. Even with a runtime under the standard 90 minutes, this film would benefit greatly from some tighter editing. After awhile, this flick feels like a joke that’s run it’s course. A lot of scenes feel like they run a little too long, and the head fucking scenes get to feel overdone after a while. The Killer goes into a strange hallucinatory state when he copulates with heads of his victims, and although this is used as a way to segue into the flashbacks into his childhood the scenes shouldn’t have to play out so long. Once the finale came I thought the film was going to end at probably five different points but it just kept going on. The thing with retro horror films is that any criticism can be defended by the fact that anything poorly done can, for the most part, be attributed to it being an intentional attempt at making the film seem authentic. A lot of those weird gory 70’s underground movies were made my amateur filmmakers who didn’t have a good sense of timing, or edited their own films out of necessity which left the viewer with scenes that awkwardly lingered for too long. So if everything I just complained about was done intentionally, then the crew behind this really does have a good eye for detail.

I found Headless to be an entertaining authentic throwback film, much more convincingly done than most others of its ilk. While a totally different feature, I believe it far surpassed the movie it spawned from. I still think some trimming here and there would do it some good though, but not too much as a short film version of this certainly wouldn’t be satisfying enough. I highly recommend this to those avid horror film collectors searching for the most fucked up, gruesome gems out there.

7/10

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Review: We Are Still Here (2015, Dark Sky Films)

“THIS HOUSE NEEDS A FAMILY.”

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Category: Paranormal/Supernatural
Directed by:
Ted Geoghegan

Written by: Ted Geoghegan
Starring: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Maria, Monte Markham
Music: Wojciech Golczewski
Cinematography: Karim Hussain

Set in 1979, Anne (Crampton, Re-Animator) is recovering from the recent death of her son Bobby. She and her husband Paul (Sensenig, Upstream Color) move from the city into a house in New England hoping for a fresh start. After witnessing some strange phenomena, Anne feels that Bobby’s spirit is with them and her self-proclaimed psychic friends join to attempt to contact him. As things get stranger, they begin to unravel the dark history of their new home and town.

I’m a big fan of ghost stories and haunted house tales; they’re really the only sub-genres that I find actually creepy anymore, although only a select few are done right. We Are Still Here started out very promising, emphasizing atmosphere and slowly built up tension. There were some genuinely eerie moments early on; brief glimpses of movement, sounds of footsteps, those shots of characters being totally unaware of the silhouette in the background while they perform something menial. Those types of horror tropes always unnerved me. I thought I was in store for a 70’s style ghost movie, unfortunately the story quickly changed pace.

What started out as a simple haunted house film soon begins to become convoluted by a poorly handled expansion of the plot. I’m all for ambiguity, I find the unknown far more terrifying, but there’s a difference between a story being mysterious and having a slew of plot holes. <>A bit of a spoiler here, but there’s another entity in the house. It’s relationship with the ghosts and town’s people doesn’t really make sense, and neither do the actions of either of them. I feel the like filmmakers couldn’t really think of a logical way to give purpose to all of the violence that ensues, so they just don’t bother explaining anything<>.

As the spirits get more screen time and blood gets shed, the film abandons all the creepiness and atmosphere it built in the beginning and sacrifices subtly for guts and gore. In regards to acting, it seemed a bit stiff at times, especially Sensenig, and some of the characters slipped into stock status. Karim Hussain (Hobo With a Shotgun, Antiviral)’s cinematography is as usual gorgeous. Even with the film becoming more fast paced at end he’s still a master at setting tone. I really loved the extended still shots of the house and exteriors, they totally capture the New England rural character. Regardless of the fact that I felt this movie would’ve worked better with a more minimalistic approach, the gore was spectacular. Loads of ultra-bloody practical effects.

If only the film continued with the tone it set at the beginning and didn’t try to complicate things or slaughter people in a gruesome manner. While I must say it is entertaining and beautifully shot, it wasn’t at all frightening after the twenty minutes mark. And once you start to put together the mythos behind the house and the town, you realize that none of it really makes sense.

6/10

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Review: Honeymoon (2014, Magnet Releasing)

“AFTER THE CEREMONY COMES THE RITUAL.”

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Category: Sci-Fi, Viral
Directed by:
Leigh Janiak

Written by: Leigh Janiak, Phil Graziadei
Starring: Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway
Music: Heather McIntosh
Cinematography: Kyle Klutz

Newlyweds Paul (Treadaway) and Bea (Leslie) head to her family’s cabin for their honeymoon. Other than a strange encounter with Bea’s childhood friend, all is well until Paul finds his wife in the middle of the woods, naked and confused, after apparently sleepwalking. Bea’s behavior becomes increasingly strange as Paul struggles to wrap his head around what is happening.

Janiak’s movie takes a slow burning, intimate approach; a majority of the focus is on the two leads, they’re relationship and the tension that builds between them as the film progresses. They start out as a repulsively loving couple, and then Bea begins slowly withdrawing from Paul after her sleepwalking bout. I almost prefer the latter, they are too corny for me. Despite this, and Treadaway’s less-than-convincing American accent, they’re chemistry seems fluid and Janiak does a great job of slowly building up suspense and confusion. The film moves in a listless manner throughout, never quite picking up pace, even in the end; relying more on atmosphere than anything else. Honeymoon could be lumped in the venereal horror sub-genre that seems to be popping up as of late, with films like Thanatamorphose, Contracted, and Starry Eyes, although this feature is less of an allegory for STIs than dealing with a certain area of the body. The special effects are used conservatively and effectively. While not a gore-fest, the bloody scenes will surely make some cringe, especially the female demographic.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. It was somewhat ambiguous, but what I did gather from it wasn’t what I was expecting and I felt went against the subtly of the rest of the film. While not a bad movie, nothing about it stands above the rest of the numerous features in the indie film industry. It’s certainly an interesting watch for fans of slow brooding, subdued horror.

6/10

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