THE SERMON (2018) BY DEAN PUCKETT

Reviews

Director: Dean Puckett
Writer: Dean Puckett
Year: 2018
Starring: Molly Casey, Emilia Copeland, Grant Gillespie, Oliver Monaghan, Denise Stephenson

Synopsis:
In an isolated church community in the English countryside, a powerful hate preacher prepares to deliver a sermon to his flock, but his daughter has a secret that could destroy them all.

Review:
A melancholic tone pervades through the opening establishing shots of a craggy, desolate landscape before THE SERMON begins in quite a literal sense with a preacher (Oliver Monaghan) delivering a damning tale to his isolated community.

We hear an attack on immorality and on homosexuality as the preacher goes on with his damning stereotypical rhetoric before we bear witness to hypocritical and brutal judgement on those deemed abominations, courtesy of God’s children.

Powerful and intelligently composed, within the opening five minutes writer/director Dean Puckett has presented to us a tale about ignorance, hatred and perhaps equally as damaging, about conformity and the betrayal of ones own feelings and ideas. Or so it would seem but there is something darker lurking underneath.

If the script is to be commended, then so too is the cinematography, courtesy of Ian Forbes. THE SERMON through the utilisation of 35mm film manages to succeed in its aim of being reminiscent of seventies folklore horror, meanwhile the muted almost drab colour palette especially when combined with the bleakness of the surrounding countryside is a perfect representation of the limited and dare we say empty mindset of those living in the small rural town,

Although the resolution will not come as a surprise to many, at only eleven minutes long THE SERMON certainly does not overstay its welcome but rather serves as a highly entertaining and polished piece of work, the likes of which are a rarity these days [no Stewart Lee references please].

Tackling intolerance, ignorance and dare I say love in a small isolated religious community, THE SERMON is more than worth your time.

There are a few other elements that I have not touched upon in this review (the terrific music courtesy of Bizarre Rituals being one) which I will leave it for you to discover, to make your own interpretation and to draw your own conclusion.

This film was a collaboration between Grasp The Nettle Films and the Creative England/BFI Network and on the evidence of THE SERMON and Dean Puckett’s previous short of the same year (SATAN’S BITE: OR THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE WITCHFINDER THOMAS EASTCHURCH) this is a director with a very promising future.

If you wish to see THE SERMON for yourself, and I suggest that you do, then you can view it for free on Vimeo.

MV5BMDY0YjJkOTItYzQ1Ny00NmQ1LWI1NjItN2EwYjM4MTFmODFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTk5NjI4MjY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,843,1000_AL_

 

 

 

JUSTICIA JUSTICIERA III (2016) BY RAFA DENGRA

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Justicia Justiciera III Kungfu Karate Annihilator
Director: Rafa Dengrá aka Alexander Dreissel
Writer: Rafa Dengrá aka Alexander Dreissel
Year: 2016
Starring: Raúl DelaCruz, Rafa Dengrá, Óscar SanJuan, Carlos Prieto, Andrés Rebollo, Renko, Antonio Muñoz, Sarita, Mayka Dengrá.

Synopsis:
Chuck Lee Bronson is accidentally sent into the future instead of the past in order to solve the criminal punk gang problem that has taken over the world. 

Review:
Let’s be clear from the start, this is not a sequel to anything but rather both a ridiculous take on sequels and a reference to the fact that in the story there were two failed attempts to solve the growing criminal gang problem born from angry dressed punk bands which look a more extreme variant of those gangs from the classic 70’s film THE WARRIORS.

Thankfully they, whoever they are, got it right when they sent Chuck Lee Bronson, via a time travelling Rubik’s cube, to restore order in a parallel universe version of 1988. 

Now this short film is pure hilarious 1980’s grindhouse action where both the sheer absurdity of the violence and the un-PC humour combine to make something so entertainingly out there it has to be seen. That said however the use of blackface for comedic effect does leave me somewhat conflicted. I appreciate that mainland Europe possesses a slightly different sensibility around the issue of race and that this short film is also a ridiculous send up of all things but I still struggle to believe that this was the right choice despite it fitting the overall tone.

Anyway that criticism over, and it is my only criticism of this short film it is time to look at the positives and that quite frankly includes everything else. Delacruz and Dengra do a fantastic job on the Fx perfectly nailing that combination of low-fi physical and the digital while understanding both their budgetary limitations and the requirements of the film while the music sets that post-apocalyptic punk tone perfectly – the audio equivalent of the main gang from MAD MAX 2 and special mention goes to Raul Delacruz for his portrayal as the rampant Chuck Lee Bronson. With this type of film it is easy to focus on the humour and use editing to shy away from the martial arts limitations of the lead actor but thankfully for Dengra, it appears that Delacruz does not have these limitations and is able to pull off the moves as and when required switching from roundhouses to hammed facial expressions in a blink of the eye.

The final reason JUSTICIA JUSTICIERA III works is thanks to its breakneck pace. With the  main story delivered through exposition in the first couple of minutes (minus the fun love story arc which adds that personal element) the film is free to just jump from action set piece to set piece keeping things simple and the entertainment high throughout the entire sixteen minutes run time.

With this non-stop action and a hero who isn’t afraid to go above and beyond the call of duty, foetal nunchucks for example, it is easy to overlook that this is actually a well developed and thought out production with nothing left to chance, be it on the screen or on the script. 

If you liked the insanity of the 2015 Swedish action short KUNG FURY then you will absolutely love JUSTICIA JUSTICIERA III which strips away the story element and focuses more on non-stop insane action.

Quite frankly thanks to great editing, strong direction and insane action for fans of insane movies the only thing better than the first twelve minutes are the last five!

DOLCEZZA EXTREMA (2015) BY ALBERTO GENOVESE

Reviews

AKA: Sick Sock Monsters from Outer Space
Director: Alberto Genovese
Writer: Massimo Vavassori
Starring: Alessandro Bianchi, Giovanni De Giorgi, Marco Antonio Andolfi, Paola Masciadri, Massimo Muntoni, Alberto Pagnotta

Synopsis:
In an unspecified year in the future, the Captain Pixws and his space pirate crew are forced to deliver tanning showers to every corner of the universe. Dolcezza Extrema starship will live an extraordinary adventure.

Review:
I feel that this review is almost pointless as after reading that synopsis the majority of film fans will have already decided if this film is for them or not. Clearly this film is absolutely bonkers, as a former drug taking hard rocker Captain Pixws (Giovanni De Giorgi) hurtles through space to sort out these bloody tanning showers and his crew of a plankton-loving (sock) fish, a desperate doctor who needs crew members to get ill in order to remain in a job and also nymphomaniac puppet who just wants satisfaction.

This plot is intentionally bizarre and the film revels in its own insanity proving at times hilarious while potentially borderline satirical of today’s body worship culture. Oh did I not mention that as well as tanning showers the beings in this film have to work out and achieve good bodies in order to stay warm enough to live. Yep, you read that right. So is this a take on today’s body worship culture or just a tale of ridiculous absurdity?

Away from the unique plot the fact that the film is filled with relatively cheap yet effective CGI (it was shot in front of a green screen) and some pretty nifty sock puppets, of which credit has to be given to the crew for the majority for, which rather than being just a quirky gimmick actually turn out to be a rather inventive bit of fun.

Additionally the music, courtesy of Antony Coia deserves special mention which on the whole was nicely done, varied and slightly bonkers; perfectly suiting the tone of the movie. One downside however is that even at just 80 minutes DOLCEZZA EXTREMA does unfortunately lag in some places and disappears into its own vortex of absurdity at others and so could benefit from a little bit more editing to tighten it up and add to the punchiness as witnessed in the trailer. Talking of punchiness the humour was a little hit and miss for me and I believe it will be for a number of viewers also but thankfully it is not jarring or too far off in terms of intention and so does not negate the overall experience of watching the film.

Born outoof a love for film and creativity this is a film which can be best described as a charming oddity, one that unsurprisingly had been picked up by Troma and distributed under the title SICK SOCK MONSTERS FROM OUTER SPACE, and it is either a piece of satirical genius or simply the writer Massimo Vavassori and director Alberto Genovese having fun and letting us join in with the laughs…I would recommend you have a drink beforehand and just go with the flow.

So if you are looking for a sexualised, surreal sci-fi film with puppets then DOLCEZZA EXTREMA is the film for you. If not, well I doubt you even made it this far in the review.

As well as Troma the film is distributed in Italy (and so should be reasonably accessible for all Europeans) on DVD and Blu-ray and if you are lucky you will be able to pick up a copy with a sock puppet! Makes sense and is certainly better than just a cardboard slip (which you may also get with certain editions).

AFTER MIDNIGHT (2018) BY VARIOUS DIRECTORS

Reviews

Directors: Various
Writers: Various
Year: 2018 [Various]
Starring: Various

Synopsis:
A collection of eight Italian short horror/sci-fi films.

Review:
Coming from Italian production houses ‘Demented Gore Production’ and ‘Moonlight Legacy Production’ is AFTER MIDNIGHT, a collection of eight short films bundled together.

As a result of this there is little thematic or production conformity between the stories, and as expected the quality does vary particularly as a lot of the short films used in this release were recorded for separate purposes.

On to the films and experienced director Daniele Misischia steps up first to the plate with ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ (The last video of Sara) which thematically raises questions about not only our online desire for validation but also the attitude and acts in which online behaviour can elicit.

We watch as vlogger Sara tackles the issue of her own online trolls which has caused her to have to ban or ‘censor’ people on her channel. An act that some seemingly obsessive people did not like and have let her know. However as the vlog continues we begin to realise that she is not alone in her house.

On a superficial level this short film reminded me somewhat of the 2015 American horror film Ratter although arguably with a little more to say while the insertion of subliminal cuts offered a smart piece of variety to the single frame shot utilised throughout the rest of the short running time.

In my opinion ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ is a solid effort but would work best as a web clip as opposed to being on a home entertainment release. Featuring reasonable Fx, a few nice ideas and a reasonable concept this story is a nice start to the collection but I would not have expected any less from this director.

We follow this with ‘The Taste of Survival’ from director Davide Pesca who has recently contributed to the anthologies A TASTE OF PHOBIA and DEEP WEB XXX (as well as previously contributing to the compilation 17 A MEZZANOTTE) and so he too should know a thing or two about making a short story work.

Set 27 years after an almost apocalyptic event, ‘The Taste of Flesh’ plays somewhat with traditional convention (good) but without committing enough to the required grindhouse style (bad – although the music was spot on) and coming across quite frankly as just a bit too modern and digital.

When one of the highlights is that one of the bad guys is wearing a Wacken festival t-shirt then you know that this segment is not living up to its potential and that is a shame as the concept works a little more than the execution.

Third up is ‘Nyctophobia’ from Francesco Longo. This is a short film that I have reviewed in detail previously on this very blog and so I won’t repeat myself and go into detail here. However it forms one of the strongest stories across the board (direction, acting, story) in this release and provides an entertaining, thoughtful and at times tense watch.

A tough act to follow but Davide Cancila is commendable in his effort which centres around an almost catatonic woman and her seemingly guilt-ridden yet caring brother. 

In its short time ‘Nel buio’ manages to smartly tell the past and show the present with a few twists thrown in along the way. Overall the supernatural horror is about guilt, revenge and penance and is worth a watch.

‘Io non le credo’ from Luca Bertossi is next up and sadly compared to the previous two stories feels a little incomplete. The majority of the short follows the dialogue between a man, afflicted by a demonic nun, and an unconvinced priest to whom he is begging for help.

Possessing all of the right pieces ‘Io non le credo’ just fails to pull it off in part due to some weak performances but perhaps mostly due to lacking any real set up or emotional involvement. That having been said it potentially could be seen as a nice critique on the cowardice and ineffective nature of the church. Either that or it was simply made because evil nuns are relatively popular now.

If ‘Io non le credo’ was attempting to capture what is popular now then ‘Escape from Madness’ from Nicola Pegg is trying capture the essence of a classic.

As a woman is walking through an empty park at night she soon realises that perhaps she is not alone as first thought. From here the viewer might be expecting this short to go one way but what classic influence could I have been previously referred to?

Well this influence bizarrely comes from Tobe Hooper and the seminal THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Now to say this is a rip-off would certainly be a bit harsh but ultimately the story descends into a fanboys dream to make.

Although competently made it would have certainly been improved with better SFX but with a brief ten minute run time ‘Escape from Madness’ does not overrun its welcome and will hit the mark. Not quite prime meat but enjoyable to digest nonetheless.

Now the penultimate story ‘Che serata di merda!’ (I translate as ‘That evening of shit’) from Roberto Albanesi is perhaps the lightest of all the shorts featured in the collection and the only one that is inherently tied to the release due to it’s self-and release-referential nature.

Considering he was behind NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME and the sequel, as well as being involved in the wraparound of CATACOMBA I had high hopes for ‘Che sedate di merda’ and the short certainly grew on me as it played.

In the short film a missing farmer re-appears blood covered and staggering through the small town while a couple share a glass of wine and a film at home….the NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME references are plentiful, I hope the director paid himself royalties!

In a true case of ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER’ revenge it is unsurprising to see that these characters have some sort of prior business but here the narrative is not so straight forward as first the director himself turns up at the house (playing himself) and then through a dialogue with the farmer in which they discuss being the fictional construction of the real Roberto Albanesi.

It is in using this device that the film excels but the final takeaway message of “Let’s drink up” perhaps resonates the most.

We end with perhaps the most ambitious of all of the stories, ‘Haselwurm’, from director Eugenio Villani, which dates back to 2011 making it a strange choice to feature in terms of contemporary work (although thankfully the quality more than makes up for this).

‘Haselwurm’ initially plays as a sci-fi survival adventure as two explorers manage to capture a mythical haselwurm but during their struggle one of the duo was seemingly scratched by the creature with effects of an almost Lovecraftian or Ridley Scott nature.

Not only is the story interesting, and in my opinion should be developed into a feature-length, but along with ‘Nyctophobic’ it is one of the strongest entries in the collection thanks to a strong story, cinematography, Fx and editing. It is a shame that it is the last story but if you get the opportunity to watch this short – do so.

Overall AFTER MIDNIGHT is, as most collections often are, a mixed bag but unfortunately one where the weaker entries outnumber the strong (‘Nyctophobic’,’Nel buio’,’Haselwurm’). That being said these stronger entries are worth checking out but as someone who advocates the (slow) return of the contemporary Italian horror scene, AFTER MIDNIGHT as a holistic collection is perhaps not the best example to put forwards.

You can find out more about the film on the official Facebook page.

VAMP STALKER (2017) BY EROS BOSI

Reviews

Director: Erosi Bosi
Writer: Eros Bosi
Year: 2017
Starring: Eros Bosi, Serena Meloni, Giovanni Tasca, Maurizio Bolli

VAMP STALKER is the latest short film from upcoming Italian writer-director Eros Bosi and continues in the same vein as his previous horror-comedy EVIL SELFIE.

Opening with a young woman, Serena Meloni, going to watch a horror film at a local cinema, it doesn’t take long after sitting down for her to notice a pale-faced guy, played by writer/director Eros Bosi, beginning to watch her rather than the film. Turning to face her admirer she notices not his looks but his sharp fangs and that is enough to cause her to quickly leave.

Panicked she soon realises that she did not leave alone as our young Dracula gives chase but every time it looks as if he is about to catch his prey she manages to avoid his grasp, building the tension until a delightful twist turns what could have been a linear two-dimensional horror into a comedy in the same vein as the the terrific WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS.

This tonal shift and payoff works well thanks to the build-up being played straight, and in doing so allowing the resulting vampiric love triangle to act as a catalyst for the remaining hilarious action. On the subject of comedy this is a genre that often struggles to cross cultural borders but here the comedic dialogue comes across as intentioned thanks to being based in horror lore as opposed to some geographical understanding.

Furthermore this short film also utilises much physical comedy which is borderline splatterstick thanks to action such as an offending finger getting bitten off, an eye getting gouged out and, well, I don’t want to say what is done with a snooker ball. Although where VAMP STALKER does fall down is in regards to the brief physical confrontations which come across as too restrained and fake with the ultimate result being that it takes the viewer out of the whole experience. The humorous violence being unrealistic is one thing, that is all part of the low budget package that we know and love but sadly that does not extend to hand-to-hand combat.

This however is only a minor and brief issue and all is quickly forgotten thanks to the films charm, which is no doubt enhanced thanks to the love of the genre from Eros Bosi, who goes as far as to reference contemporary Italian horrors E.N.D by Domiziano Cristopharo (via a poster) and NON NUOTATE IN QUEL FIUME by Roberto Albanesi (playing in the cinema) within the brief ten minute run time.

Employing a nice level of genre self-awareness and plenty of humour, for what VAMP STALKER lacks in budget it more than makes up for in fun, similar to those VHS amateur pioneers back in the early eighties. The horror-comedy genre is a notoriously hard one to get right and it would be interesting to see if the young writer/director can make that step up when the time comes to make his first feature film as he manages to get the balance spot on here.

Version reviewed:
I watched an Italian language online screener of the film.

MORGUE STREET (2012) BY ALBERTO VIAVATTENE

Reviews

Director: Alberto Viavattene
Writers: Emiliano Ranzani, Alberto Viavattene
Year: 2012
Starring: Mario Cellini, Dèsirè Giorgetti, Roberto Nali

Synopsis:
Two prostitutes, mother and daughter, struggle against a mysterious creature who breaks into their house after their john has left.

Review:
After that brief synopsis there really is very little one can add in regards to the story or narrative without giving anything away about this eleven minute film.  Although the film poster and inspiration might hint at it.

Director Alberto Viavattene reinterprets the general theme of the famous story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’  by Edgar Allan Poe but does so with not only a contemporary kick but also added malice and artistic licence.

No doubt with his hand forced by the short running time Viavattene wastes no time in showing the degenerate filth of modern society and the cinematography perfectly captures this mood with its dark shades and grimy tones bathed in neon red light. However this haste to get to the point may also be a hindrance for many viewers as the brutal events that unfold do so almost without any recognisable context meaning that there is a high probability that MORGUE STREET will be taken at face value as a superficial rape horror, one that will be judged on one base sequence that comes to not only dominate but perhaps define it.

This is a shame because on subsequent watches and analysis MORGUE STREET is much more than this and is in fact a competent (technical) piece of work, particularly its opening act. Sure it completely eschews the traditional mystery element (something that is extremely tricky to replicate in a short film format) and perhaps rather than being seen as an adaption of Poe’s classic it should be taken as a harsh look at the reality of our animal instinct as well as addiction. One in which there very often is no redemption for those who are it’s victims.

Viavattene clearly has talent (which is unsurprising considering he has worked with Paolo Sorrentino and Dario Argento) and is certainly a director to look out for should he ever get his  big break into feature films and although MORGUE STREET no doubt made a good calling card for him it is perhaps the most unconventional, anti-commercial show reel for the cast – all of which put in strong performances, English speaking aside.

Undoubtedly this is a short film that will divide, even for myself on the initial watch I was impressed with the technical abilities but left wondering if certain scenes had to be shown the way they were. However the film stayed with me, there is more going on underneath the surface and one has to give the director the benefit of the doubt.

A grim and stark take on an aspect of modern humanity framed around a brutal and bizarre adaption of a Poe penned story. You can make up your own mind and watch the film here.

Version Reviewed:
I watched a free to watch version hosted by the director on Vimeo. This short film is also accessible via the FilmDoo streaming platform and rather surprisingly it looks fantastic not just for a short film but one that is streamed online. It has English audio.

The Devil of Kreuzberg (2015) BY Alexander Bakshaev

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Ein Schoener Film
Director: Alexander Bakshaev
Writer: Pippo Schund
Year: 2015
Starring: Sandra Bourdonnec, Suleyman Yuceer, Sofia Velasquez, Naiden Angelov.

Synopsis:
Linda and Jakob are happily in love until one night Jakob begins to have horrific nightmares in which Linda appears as a darkly seductive creature. Tormented by these visions, Jakob asks his best friend Kurt to murder Linda for him, thus beginning a slow descent into madness. Unbeknownst to the two men, Linda is acting under the control of an ancient family curse. Will her love for Jakob overcome the powers of death? Will Kurt give in to his violent urges and kill to protect his friendship? Is there a way to escape the Devil of Kreuzberg?

Review:
Upon first impression THE DEVIL OF KREUZBERG can be perceived as discordant and perhaps even unsure of what it wants to be but after repeated viewings the power of the film begins to shine through providing a very rewarding experience for those who are patient while helping to ensure that the film stands the test of time.

This is because the film works on multiple levels – from the subtle and sensory to the direct and grindhouse-esque. While a special mention also has to go to the varied and tremendous soundtrack which changes between the jazz of the 70s gialli and a more electronic score reminiscent at times of Angelo Badalamenti mixed with Goblin.  While in regards to the acting, as you would expect from a low budget indie film it does vary although overall the vast majority of the cast put in promising performances with Suleyman Yuceer as the worlds most depressed hitman Kurt putting in a particularly noteworthy performance.

And despite the dialogue itself being merely functional and at times quite forced this does not prove to be an issue thanks to a story that is both intriguing and strong enough to carry the film, which at its heart is about need. Here the screenwriter does excel as they juxtapose the need of Jakob with that of his on-off girlfriend Linda, who herself  is battling an inner conflict as she tries to repress who she is and what she must do and this sets up a very interesting story dynamic making the viewer question the very concept of love and its actions.

In order to do this director Bakshaev leans on the neo-giallo approach of Cattet and Forzani (AMER, THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS) as well as even David Lynch (TWIN PEAKS, BLUE VELVET) and presents the narrative through a combination of sleazy realism and more tonal surrealism and it is to his great credit (and that of the cinematographer) the beauty of some of the shots achieved on this budget.

Dancing scenes aside THE DEVIL OF KREUZBERG is discordant, surreal and gritty but with that it is also rewarding as it manages to take it’s influences (including the Hammer horror films) and mould them into something original with the ambiguity between the psychological and supernatural used with great effect. 

Apparently costing only £3,000 the film deserves praise for trying something new, thinking out of the box and on the whole delivering, all while marking out director Alexander Bakshaev one to look out for, especially if he gets to operate with a bigger budget.

Version Reviewed:
We reviewed an online screener version of the film. However a limited edition DVD-R of the film can be purchased from Carnie Films.

Please note that although the IMDB lists the runtime as 65m we watched and reviewed a shorter version with a running time of 48m 34seconds. It is unknown what version of film exists in this longer cut.