Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Wild Eye Releasing Label Spotlight

As you may have noticed on the blog, my coverage of contemporary independent cinema is virtually non-existent. That of course, is an unfortunate oversight on my part. Ladies and gentlemen, today I hope to rectify that by doing something that I also rarely do; having a super-duper bumper spotlight on a label that I'm sure you will be very familiar with. That label (As if you hadn't guessed by now!) is of course the US-based Wild Eye Releasing! Because I'm cheap and unimaginative, I will let the label introduce themselves!
  Wild Eye Releasing, a growing leader in independent cinema since 2008, represents horror, exploitation, dark arthouse, cult and documentary films from around the world. It is our mission to bring new and talented filmmakers and their work to as large an audience as possible, creating both traditional and digital opportunities for lower budgeted films made outside the studio system.”

I recently got in touch with Rob over at
Wild Eye to see if I could get my hands on a few of their films and boy did I get quite a selection! Nine titles! I'm thankful to receive a Check-Disc, but to receive a bundle of releases is really overwhelming! Anyway, I sound like an arse kisser (which I am!) so let's get on with the show!

(2011, dir: Richard Griffin)
“What is their secret?”
“A warped and mysterious family are unable to leave the house they reside in for unknown reasons. When this strange brood decide to turn their captivity into a sick and violent game, it challenges their very reality and puts all of their lives in great jeopardy. ”
We're (the Royal We...) kicking off this mega-post with the oldest film of the bunch (all titles ordered according to IMDb release dates.); Exhumed. I have to say that this was an unusual film indeed and actually quite unique. The story follows a group of people (referring to themselves as a family even though only a few are actually related) who live together in isolation in a boarding with very little contact with the outside world. At the head of the “family” we have the Governess (Debbie Rochon, Tromeo and Juliet), an off-kilter woman who rules with an iron fist. Her second in command is the Butler (Michael Thurber, Killer Rack), a man who is just as strange, but slightly more reasonable... slightly. Under their care are the seductive Rocki (Evalena Marie, Remains) and the childlike Laura (Sarah Nicklin, Nun of That). They all live a dysfunctional, but somewhat comfortable life. That is until high school student Chris (Michael Reed, Normal) rents one of the spare rooms and falls for Laura. Unimpressed with pesky teenage shenanigans that follow, the Governess becomes even more unhinged and things escalate very quickly indeed.
 
  The first thing I can say about Exhumed is that it is shot really nicely in black and white by Ken Willinger (A Life Among Whales). The mood for the film is instantly set by the often static and brooding shots throughout. In terms of story, like I said is somewhat unique and plays out well with aspects that aren't completely clear on the first viewing. I genuinely appreciate writers and directors who either leave some questions unanswered or leave subtle hints throughout. If you have the patience for a slow-burning story, then this could be a film for you. That being said, Guy Benoit's (The Last Halloween) script does have the tendency to drag in places and there are moments that do seem a little pointless. Another aspect that did tend to grate was some of the dialogue and interactions between certain characters. Speaking of which, performances are solid for the most part, but I did find Rochon's portrayal as the Governess a bit too campy, almost in the same vein as the worst of the Nazisploitation films of yesteryear. Nicklin's performance does tend to grate too. All in all, this is a quirky little number with its merits. Sold as a film in the tradition of Hammer, I found this more to have a noir feel to it, albeit with some horror elements.

Extras come in the form of two commentary tracks, a behind the scenes featurette and a selection of trailers. It's clear from the additional material that everyone had a fun time filming and that's what it's all about right? You can't choose your family right? Should I move on to the next film now?
  (2012, dir: Richard Griffin)
“Your education will cost an arm and a leg.”

“A small New England college is plagued by a series of brutal, cult-like murders that share a similar pattern of killings some twenty years earlier. The lone survivor of a recent attack must team up with a veteran police detective and his daughter in order to uncover the secret behind the killings, revealing a legacy of murder and the occult that has been kept buried for decades on campus.”
For the second film on this label spotlight Griffin takes on what is for me a genre I have been burnt on way too many times in the past; the slasher film. I won't lie, I used stay away from slasher films as much as I could. That being said, I have found recent appreciation for classics like SOME of the entries in the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises as well as films like Madman and Christmas Evil thanks in part to documentaries such as Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film and the slasher output from Vinegar Syndrome. From looking at Wild Eye's back catalog, low-budget slashers are available by the bucketload. As you can tell by the synopsis for this one, it's a fairly straightforward story with a somewhat Satanic twist. There are a few clich├ęs here and there, but being a fan of all things cult, I really enjoyed the occult aspects of this on. Yeah OK, we don't get girls being sacrificed in flimsy white gowns, but there is plenty of boobs and blood throughout!
  What let this film down for me for was the story and the attempts at humour. That being said, I did appreciate Michael Thurber's performance as the somewhat jaded cop. He's down and out cop with his past connected to the current events and his dry and dark humour is enjoyable. That being said, there are events that happen later on in the film in which he reacts in such an unnatural way. Our protagonist Josh (Jamie Dufault, Accidental Incest) is likeable and all, but can be a tad annoying at times. Don't get me wrong, Lenny Schwartz's (Scary Little Fuckers) script isn't horrific, but I was just not engaged in the characters or story. There is however, a nice twist towards the end of the film that works quite well. If like me you are tired of low-budget slasher flicks, you may want to give this a miss for now, but it's still definitely worth a watch. For the more sympathetic slasher fan however, there is a lot there. Just like Exhumed, this is a very credible low-budget film, but there are some moments and aspects that do work against it. Oh well, like I said, there's some really nice gore and boobage throughout so it's not all doom and gloom!

In terms of extras there are a couple of commentary tracks, a deleted scene and a trailer so it's definitely a worthy release for a film that cost around $6000!

(2013, dir: Benjamin Roberts & Jordan Reyes)
“A surreal take on the zombie genre.”

“In the near future, zombies have become a protected, endangered species, held in captivity and legally wandering the streets free from harm by the living. But for the loved ones of those who die, sometimes coping is just too much to handle, especially when not everyone feels the dead have a right to exist, and are willing to break the law to rid the world of this new population of the dead.”

Who does't love zombie films? Classics like
Dawn of the Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters and Shawn of the Dead appear on many lists and mean a lot to many horror fans. No matter what you think of our flesh craving buddies who may or may not run, the genre is here to stay. In fact, zombie culture is pretty mainstream with help from the rising popularity of the television adaptation of The Walking Dead and it's highly inferior spin-off; Fear the Walking Dead. You can go to your nearest supermarket and even pick yourself up a zombie themed t-shirt. Naturally, it's a great thing to see culture like this being exposed and gobbled up by the masses, but even within the much more independent and underground filmmaking circles, the genre itself has become horribly oversaturated. Most films have the same traits and follow the same formulas, but every now and then, a film will come along that promises to turn the genre on its caved in head and offer us a unique experience. A Plague So Pleasant, the micro-budget debut from Benjamin Roberts and Jordan Reyes promises to do just that. Can these budding amateur filmmakers pull it off?
  Yes and no. The whole concept of zombies being accepted and protected by society is novel indeed, but it's not really explained brilliantly. It's believable, but when you take in to account zombie logic (Am I really using this as an argument!?), it kinda falls flat. In terms of tone, the film is somewhat humorous, but often falls in to the conventions we are so already used to. I think the whole unique take on the zombie film angle is somewhat overselling this one. I will give credit however to the style. There's some really nice black & white photography that does add some sense of atmosphere whilst being aesthetically pleasing at the same time. There are however, scenes that are shot in colour and I really enjoy how these scenes are utilised. For such a low-budget film, there's some genuine style. Even most of the zombie effects are pulled off really nicely. Unfortunately, I just did not care at all for characters and the story in general. I personally found this a tough watch in that regard. Is it a terrible film? No way. There have been much bigger-budgeted zombie films over the past few years that could not hold a candle to this one. It's clear there is talent behind the camera, but if a little more time and thought had been invested in character development and plot, this could have been a much more rewarding experience. Overall, the film has its moments, but is a bit too all over the place for my pretentious tastes!

Just like the film, the extras are a bit flat too with only a couple of teaser clips and trailers. That being said, if you're bored of the usual zombie garbage, this modestly budget amateur effort is worth sinking your teeth in to!
  (2013, Manny Serrano)
“He's taking what he wants, Limb, By Limb!”

“Ten years ago, the sleepy suburb of Havenwood was plagued by a string of unsolved murders, by a masked maniac remembered only as The Ripper. Now a new series of killings has begun, and teenagers are turning up dead everywhere. But can The Ripper be stopped this time around?”
They say you can't judge a book by its cover. In this case, that is unfortunately true. Once again, the uninspired slasher genre rears its ugly head. I can say however, that this film wins the award for best artwork! Yep, I was suckered in straight away. Maybe the fact that the film also has a runtime of over 2 hours could have warned me beforehand. This is another classic example of something we have seen countless times before blandly retold and amateurishly shot. I know! I know! How dare I have anything negative to say about a low-budget film that is also a feature length debut for its director; Manny Serano (Zombie Hunters: City of the Dead). I'm not one of these keyboard critics who likes to bash on directors because of the quality of their films (except Marian Dora because fuck Marian Dora!), but there was really nothing too appealing or engaging about this one and the runtime felt a lot more than it actually was.
  First of all, the story is quite convoluted and uninspired. A brute of a killer donned in a clown mask by the name of The Ripper is back after a 10 year hiatus and local police officers Fincher (Matt W. Cody, Life Passion Death) and Cobb (Byron M. Howard in his only role thus far.) are on the case. Guess what? Fincher is an alcoholic who is separated from his wife and child. You guessed it right folks, because of his history and antics, he gets thrown off the force, but that just eggs him on that much more. There's really not too much to tell without giving away the story because hey, I hate ruining the surprise and overall experience for people yet to watch the film. There are moments that drag on too long and moments that seem quite pointless. As is the case, the film is a “throwback” to the eighties and in all honesty, I think that works against the film. No, it's not just because I hate throwback films! There are also some sequences that look like there may have been problems with footage or problems in the editing suite. Plus points however are a cool looking and foreboding killer, some nice gore throughout and forgive me for going all Mr. Skin here but, everyone's favourite thing; pretty girls getting naked and brutalised (sometimes at the same time!). All in all, this was just not for me. Unfortunately, it seemed to combine a lot of aspects of what puts me off low-budget slasher movies, but there are elements that will appeal to a lot of slasher fans.

On the bright side, there is a commentary track, deleted & extended scenes, a featurrete, music video, trailers and a faux TV commercial. It's bitter sweet to see a film like this have so much effort invested in to the packaging and release, but for the right audience, this is a bargain!
  (2014, dir: Jeremy Garner)
“Get the girl... Save the day.”

“A story of love, leather ... and brutal violence! When the Satan's Sinners, a vicious biker gang, attack a bride and groom on their wedding day, they get a fight they never imagined. Now, armed with some divine intervention and firepower, the murdered groom is out to save his wife any way he can before she is sacrificed to Satan... even if it means dying over and over again until the job is done.”
You know I said I hate throwback films? Well, this is one of those films. Instead of a slasher or zombie flick however, we have a good old fashioned piece of bikersploitation. Thanks to the likes of James Bickert (Dear God No!), the biker film from yesteryear has received a new audience. Does Jeremy Garner's (Melvin) effort rank up there? I have to say. That's such a shame because the concept is really quite original. Nick (Nick Forrest, Lucky's Treasure) and Bobby Sue (Sarah Kobel Marquette, Crowbar) are newly weds who fall foul to the infamous Satan's Sinners lead by the sadistic Sundown (The Kill Hole) and consisting of such wonderful chaps like Pedophile Pete (Tommy Hestmark, Proposition) and Knucklehead (Big Dave Levick in his only credited role). Leaving Nick for dead and abducting Bobby Sue to perform a ritual, a mysterious cowboy claiming to be God (Joseph Sullivan, The Children of Terra Firma) revives Nick and makes him immortal, kinda. With the help of a sleazy, big-tittied housewife loving priest (Leif Fuller, The Darkest Corner of Paradise), the pair set out to put an end to the madness and save Bobby Sue.
  Like I said, it's a cool concept with some pretty damn cool characters. Unfortunately, aside from some sleaze and well executed gore, I really struggled to enjoy this one. This is one of those exploitation throwbacks that is clearly contemporary, but has film grading and damage added in postproduction. If they hadn't have gone for the throwback angle, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. The jokes also ruined the experience for me. There were some genuinely funny crude moments, but the rest of the humour didn't really work. Being a film that cost around $20,000 to produce, there are clear technical faults and some of the acting is pretty cheesy. If you're a complete apologist, you could say that it all adds to “that Grindhosue feel, yo!”. I tip my cowboy hat to those involved because it does have the feel of a bigger budgeted affair and it is cinematic and doesn't look like a student film. Another aspect I liked was the music utilising some down and dirty rock tracks as well as a great synth score from the very talented Chan Walrus (Hi-8: Horror Independent 8). Overall, a film that had style over substance and could have been something much more entertaining. If it helps, Ehren McGhehey (Jackass) also makes an appearance!

Included on the disc are a director's commentary, deleted scenes and a selection of trailers.
  (2014, dir: Anthony M. Winson)
“Fear the Unknown.”

“Kate Beckley was once a best selling crime author, but it's been years since her last novel following the disappearance of her daughter, Julia. While attempting to write again in a new home, Kate finds herself haunted by strange visions and paranormal occurrences – which become worse each night. Has Julia returned, or is something more sinister preying on this grieving mother.”
Now it's time for some good old fashioned tea and crumpets horror from the UK with Anthony M. Winson's (The Witching Hour) House of Afflictions. It's the simple tale of Kate (Michelle Darkin Price, Crossing Paths), a well-known crime author who hasn't written a book since the disappearance of her young daughter. With her marriage on shaky ground and the need to occupy her time, she decides that she wants to write again and rents the house of Dorothy (Penelope Butler in her only credited role), an elderly woman looking to make a bit of spare change whilst she's visiting family. It turns out that Dorothy's daughter also went missing when she was the same age as well as suffering the loss of her son. With strange coincidences aside, Kate continues to rent the house against the better judgement of her husband John (Stefan Boehm, Being Human). As the nights pass, Kate falls victim to what she feels as paranormal activity. The longer she stays, the worse the situation gets. Is it all in her mind? Her grief manifesting itself? Maybe there is something much more sinister a foot? No matter what, the book better be bloody worth it!
  As I said, the film is a simple tale and reminds me of something you would see as part of the classic Tales of the Unexpected, Ghost Stories for Christmas or something similar from yesteryear (Why has there been no revival of television plays like that!?). You will have seen this story before, but it's done very well. Most big budget Hollywood films like this (I'm looking at you Insidious and The Conjuring!) would solely depend on loud and obnoxious jump scares and cheesy effects. Don't get me wrong, there are those moments like that here, but thankfully, there is actual tension, a real sense of foreboding and claustrophobia. There are some genuinely creepy moments and you do sympathise with Kate, her situation and mental state. What really works is the pacing of the film. This is a slow-burn for sure. Maybe one or two moments drag on a little bit, but it never takes away too much. The film is shot adequately with maybe one or two clumsy shots, but one aspect that did take me a little out of the film at points was the sound. There were some sequences that had too much background noise and throughout the film, sound levels drop and rise. The film felt at points like a really polished student film and the acting cements that feeling. That being said, this is a film that had clear budgetary constraints (a whopping £500 budget according to IMDb!) and what Winson and his crew have created is amazing. It's safe to say that with the right amount of resources available to him, Anthony M. Winson could have a very promising career indeed. Highly recommended!

Unfortunately, extras are pretty slim with an alternate ending (Thank god they made the decision to use the ending in the final cut!), deleted scenes and a selection of trailers. That being said, still worthy of having in your collection!
  (2015, dir: Cary Hill)
“Death is the new attraction.”

“The Fright Land amusement park is on the verge of closing its doors forever. But the park's owner, Hyde, has one last plan to sell more tickets... murder. Hiring two backwoods maniacs to break into the park and hack and slash all his employees, Hyde thinks these killings will create a media sensation, but he has just unleashed a horror that no one can survive.”
It's time for another slasher! SPOILER ALERT! This one sucks too. In fact, this could be the worst film of the bunch. I'd go more in to the story, but the Wild Eye Releasing synopsis pretty much explains it all! What we have here is a group of teenagers trapped in the soon to be closed down theme park. I say theme park, it's more like a glorified swap meet. I say glorified swap meet, that's being really too generous. Anyway, they are being stalked and butchered one by one by a couple of brutish hillbillies and blah blah blah... Basically, the staff like to party and get down.

Boring doesn't come close to what I would describe this film as. Not even Doug Bradley (Hellraiser) when he was clearly re-dubbing his part looked interested or could at least save this shoddy slasher. The closest thing to a positive is that this film (cue the Mr. Skin angle again!) is jam packed with eye candy. Notable examples are Nicole Beattie (Colony 52), Wendy Wygant (Everyone Must Die!), but my personal favourite is the gorgeous and the curvy Kailey Marie Harris (in her only role unfortunately.). In terms of gratuitous and pointless nudity, she got this covered. She also looked pretty damn fine in her costume! Yep, I really have stooped to this level haven't I? Listen, the film promises to be a great homage to 80's slasher films. Don't waste your time with this one of that's what you're looking for. It's safe to say that I'm not really looking forward to the sequel next year...

On the disc, you get a commentary, trailers and bloopers.

  (2015, dir: Brett Piper)
“She has awakened... and she's hungry!”
“A meteor crashes into a quiet lake in the remote countryside and awakens a centuries-old beast, who tears through a nearby town and its inhabitants, who must fight for their lives and stop this Queen Crab before she can hatch an army of babies.”
When it comes to creature features, you either love them or flat out hate them. It seems that every month we are getting low-budget, z-grade and often self-referential offerings from production houses like The Asylum. Yes indeed, the label notorious for ripping (or riffing, depending how much of a sympathetic cinephile you are.) off whatever is popular at the time. Of course, in recent years, they have become infamous for their highly entertaining Sharknado series. I for one, really enjoy the films even though I have to say I am becoming increasingly bored with that whole “Oh my god! Let's make a film that is sooo bad it's good!” trend in filmmaking. One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharknado films (and pretty much 90% of the nature run amuck giant creature feature offerings) is the use of terrible CGI. I'm not going to get in to the whole debate. I think it's often necessary depending on the context. I can be very forgiving when CGI is used for an aspect that can't be pulled off with the budget or manpower at hand, but I seriously can't forgive CGI gore affects or worst of all; CGI blood! Anyway, Queen Crab is a completely different kettle of fish (does that count as a pun?) because first of all, this film didn't have anywhere near a budget as big as something from The Asylum (insert another bigger studio name here.) and instead of uninspired CGI, we have stop-motion and puppetry.

The crab and how it was pulled off is the star of the show with Queen Crab. Not only is it refreshing to see old-school affects in action, but it's actually executed rather well. Naturally, it's a bit cheesy here and there, but it works. Unfortunately, everything else about this film kinda falls flat. The story isn't anything special or unique, but it's a giant crab movie for crying out loud, so that can be easily forgiven. If you look at the filmography of Brett Piper, it's clear this is a man who knows how to pen and direct a profitable exploitation feature. The cast is made up of newcomers and some familiar faces to those familiar with Piper's work. Unfortunately, the acting isn't anything special even by b-movie standards and some of the dialogue just doesn't work and sometimes drags the film even more than it does already. That being said, it's nothing horrendous and I have tolerated worse. It's good to see a director like Piper giving work to newcomers and old friends a like. My biggest gripe with the film has to be the sound design. There are times where the sound levels drop and become muffled and there are scenes where too much diagetic sound can be heard as well the odd sequence with some audio fuzz. Thankfully, it's not all bad in the sound department as there is an effective original score from Jon Greathouse (Deadly Species) that does add to both tension and action. Overall, there is much worse out there and for the budget (around $75,000 according to IMDb.), I think they pulled off something that not only rivals some of the bigger studio offerings, but also shows you how effective practical effects can be for films of this nature. With some tweaks, this could have been a much more entertaining experience.

In terms of extra features, Wild Eye have done a good job and there's a lot to digest. When you watch the interviews, you can definitely tell it was a fun experience for all involved, which can't be too bad right? Definitely give this a try if you want something a little refreshing from the genre.

  (2015, dir: Brian Dorton, Joseph Graham, Manuel Marin, Lee Matthews, Douglas Conner & Ignacio Martin Lerma)
“Side Effects May Include: Screaming, Fear and Death!”

“Serial killers, ghostly phone calls, inner demons, otherworld monsters and creepy stalkers collide in this frightening anthology.”
From a refreshing take on a stale genre to one of my favourite horror genres; the anthology film. The thing I love about anthology films is the variety you get. Sure, there are classics like George Romero's Creepshow and Brian Peck's (friends with Victor Salva perhaps?) The Willies that are comprised of shorts directed by the same director, but concepts like V/H/S and The ABC's of Death series really allow a wide range of different directors to come together and showcase their work. Sure, the first ABC's was a scam with already notable directors getting the spotlight over fresh talent, but it was still an intriguing concept. Naturally, The Horror Network is scaled down significantly with only 5 shorts. I'm not going to go in to each short because I have taken up enough of your time already, but what I will say is that it is hands down the best film on the list and one of the better anthology films I have been lucky to watch in recent years. What I love about it is just how diverse the films are in terms of plot and style. From the simple opening short 3:00am to the wonderfully bizarre and disturbing Spanish language Merry Little Christmas and ending with the sleazy and blasphemous The Deviant One, there is not a dull moment. There are films that are more psychological and there are films that are much more in your face.
My favourite of the bunch is Merry Little Christmas. The film stands out not only because of the story and themes, but because of the style and imagery. To keep the spoilers to a minimum, what I will say is that the wonderfully grotesque image you see on the DVD cover comes from this short. It's also refreshing to see British talent being put in the spotlight with two separate films. I was genuinely surprised by this one. I was sort of expecting a low quality selection of crude or throwback shorts, but there's some really thought-provoking and intelligent concepts throughout. What more can I really say? This is a wonderful film that has plenty of memorable moments. It's a film you can return to time and time again and it's also a film that has me interested in checking out other films from all involved. I am definitely keeping an eye out for volume 2. What a fantastic end to what was an interesting selection of releases indeed.

Unfortunately, extras are pretty light with this one. All we have is extended footage and a selection of trailers. I would have loved to have heard a commentary track. Oh well, still worthy of being added to your collection!

Overall, I have to seriously applaud
Wild Eye Releasing. Sure, a lot of the films may not have been anything too special, but considering the vastness of their back catalog, it's clear that there are some diamonds in the rough. I think the most important thing people should take in to account is the fact that a label like this is a great platform and potential career starter for new and undiscovered talent. What struck me most about the selection I received was the fact that directors outside of the US now have a platform that (from what I have researched so far!) they don't have back at home. It's great to see British talent being showcased to an international market when their work isn't being released back in the UK. I didn't know what to expect and again, I enjoyed only a few of the films sent to me, but damn, Wild Eye are doing a fantastic job and I can see why my peers at Weng's Chop and the various festivals love the label. So next time you are complaining about the shit that Hollywood churns out and the next time you whine about your favourite horror films being remade and there's no originality or talent anymore, have a look round what's going on with labels like Wild Eye. I used to a dick when it came to indie horror, but I am ever so slowly having my faith restored in the indie and underground scenes.

All films are available on DVD and VOD directly through Wild Eye Releasing as well as online retailers.

PDx

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