Hell-Bent (2016): Writing Can be Hell (Review)

poster for Hell-Bent

Written by Lorenzo Cabello  and Shayne Kamat (who also edited the film) and directed by  first time helmsman Foster Vernon, “Hell-Bent”  is a 2016 short comedy about writing, Hell and the business of producing articles for a living. It is also about co-workers, a demon and  having faith in one’s own talents. 

MIchael (Justin Andrew Davis) is the quietest member of the writing staff at Brimstone Magazine. The publication  is run by Mr. Bowers (played by character actor Timothy J. Cox who delivers above and beyond, as usual) who wants to elevate the type of story the magazine normally runs. 

Bower’s starts a completion. Who ever writes the lead story will also get a promotion. The staff “bad girl” Beth (Ashley Kelley) immediately starts battering the competition (Michael) and later a chance meeting with receptionist Agatha (Leslie Lynn Meeker) changes things for Michael. 

He meets Agatha’s buddy Ricky (Steven Trolinger) who just happens to be a demon. The horned chap is irreverent, not overly pleasant and prone to practical jokes.  Ricky is also moved to help Michael in his quest by the very idea of a competition. It seems that Demons cannot resist a challenge of any type. 

This student film looks good. The framing is spot on and director Vernon is not afraid to keep the scoring minimal. In many of the dialogue heavy scenes there is a lack of music which allows the conversation to be the highlight. Where music is used to set the mood it is not intrusive.  Kamat does a fine job editing although there is a bit with the article in the car park that could have used a little something.

In the film’s story Michael has a total lack of confidence in his abilities and it is Abigail and her personal demon Ricky who help  him find his inner writer.

In terms of casting, Trolinger is funny as Ricky (who is a bit of a putz) and he manages to channel a more benevolent type of “Beetlejuice” character and makes his demon oddly likable.  Meeker is entertaining as the eccentric receptionist who goes to church while summoning demons and Kelly is infinitely unlikable as the competitive and manipulator who wants to succeed.

At just over 26 minutes, the film moves at a good pace and is full of humorous contradictory moments. Abigail coming out of the church and telling off Ricky who is waiting for her and having a “Last Supper” picture on her wall at home.  Other comedy moments are more straight forward. The blood “sacrifice” being an excellent example.

Ricky: “What the f**k is the matter with you??”

The message of “Hell-Bent” may just be that nice guys do not necessarily finish last; it all depends on who their friends are. It also points out that writing can be hell even if one has a demon to lend a helping hand.

The film is a 4 out of 5 star short film that should be lengthened and elaborated on. A great glimpse of an interesting comedic look at work and one’s colleagues. It also sheds light on a process that can be frustrating and not a little time consuming.

This student film is a cracking little project that may not make you laugh out loud, but it will make you chuckle. Catch it if you can.

Sleepy Hollow: Katrina Pregnant and Ichabod is Jealous

Sleepy Hollow: Katrina Pregnant and Ichabod is Jealous

For those viewers who have no real love of spiders, or worse a phobia, the scenes from last week’s epilogue and repeated in this week’s teaser will cause many to have nightmares, but Sleepy Hollow: Deliverance is not about creepy crawlies but Katrina turning up pregnant and Ichabod is, understandably, jealous and not a little upset. This season has had the underlying theme of there being a rift developing between Mr. and Mrs. Crane. One that first cropped up in the Sleepy Hollow episode of The Weeping Lady which revealed that Katrina was keeping secrets from her love about more than just having a son, aka Henry Parish.

Piñata: Survival Island (2002): Unintentionally Funny

“Many years ago, a small, isolated tribe were cursed by spirits for their sins. One of the tribesmen crafts a piñata, to which the tribe put their evil into and set afloat in the ocean. The curse was lifted from the tribe, however if the piñata was to be disturbed, an evil would be unleashed.” (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

To someone, Nicholas Brendon most likely as he produced the thing, this must have seemed like a good idea. On paper, it might have looked funny, pithy, clever and very tongue-in-cheek. On celluloid, however, it struggles to overcome mediocre and it is funny for all the wrong reasons.

Starring Nicholas Brendon (Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Jaime Pressley (Pricilla from Not Another Teen Movie), directed and written by the sibling team of Scott and David Hillenbrand, Demon Island (aka Piñata : Survival Island) is a really bad teen horror film.

A group of Fraternity and Sorority students all go to Demon Island to take part in the annual Cinco de Mayo treasure hunt. Each girl and boy is handcuffed together as a couple and must collect underwear that has been scattered about the island. At the end of the event which ever couple has the most underwear will win twenty thousand dollars.

*Warning: in terms of plot depth, this film hasn’t got any.*

While searching for the underwear one couple, Bob and Lisa find a clay piñata, thinking it will be full of booze they break it open. Unfortunately for them, this was the cursed piñata that had been set adrift by the local cursed tribe. It immediately gets bigger and beats Bob to death with a tree branch. Lisa flees for her life.

Meanwhile back at the beach (sorry) Lyle (Brendon) and Tina (Pressley) are arguing and not too happy about being cuffed to one another. It seems that the newly buff Xander, I mean Lyle, and Tina’s relationship had broken up prior to the Cinco de Mayo and they don’t want to be team members. But they decide to patch things up just long enough to enter the event and win. Wow, what a couple of great kids.

Jaime Pressley clearly overjoyed to be in this film.

Lisa is trying to warn everyone about the killer piñata and her information is met with disbelief and derision. One of the girls she tells scoffs and laughingly says, “A piñata? Are you kidding me?” Just moments before she is exterminated by said piñata. I felt bad for her because we felt the same way that she did but, fortunately for us, we were watching the film from the safety of our house. We could make fun of the film’s premise without fear of piñata punishment.

As bad as this film is (and trust me it is bad) it is still fun to watch. It falls into the category of favourite bad films. It is hard to imagine a film more badly edited or shot. The acting, even Mr Brendon’s and Ms Pressley’s, is a pretty poor affair. I was not surprised to see that, although he had produced it, Nicholas Brendon’s presence in the film is pretty minimal considering the prominence that his name took on the cast list.

According to Wikipedia, the film had no computer effects until the rubber monster made its appearance. It was then decided to enhance the monster to make it scarier. They really should have saved their money, at no time while watching this movie did I ever think the monster looked scary; neither did my daughter.

As this movie was made when the Buffy the Vampire Slayer show was making its exit from prime-time telly, Brendon obviously meant for this to be a “first step” into furthering his career. Presumably, I was not on my own in my feelings about this film and he moved sensibly back into television where he seems to be doing fine.

My daughter and I found this film in a local video rental shop quite a few years ago, it has since been on the Horror Channel and I don’t doubt that it will be on it again. It falls into the category of being so bad that it’s funny and if you like that sort of film, have fun.

Demon Island gets a real 4 out of 5 stars for inadvertent hilarity.

Did you floss those teeth buster?

Nightmare by Stephen Leather – A Nightingale Sings

I have to start by saying that I came late to this party. The book Nightmare is the third in what is apparently going to be a long and enjoyable series. Nightmare begins after book two Midnight has ended.

(God, I am so clever…not)

Nightmare opens with Jack Nightingale, ex-cop, private eye and inheritor of his biological satanic worshipping father’s house and it’s occult book collection being woken up and arrested at an obscenely early time in the morning. *How’s that for summing up the main character in a single sentence.*

Nightingale is accused of shooting a black gang member in the back of the head in Brixton. Their evidence is the clinically brain dead victim saying Nightingale’s name while he is in a coma. And so begins Jack Nightingale’s third adventure in a world inhabited by bad people, demons and ‘experts’ in the occult.

The beauty of this book was that I could pick it up and read it without having read the other two books in the series. The action moves quickly and snappily. I immediately got connected with all the main characters and found myself cheering Jack on.

Stephen Leather is one of those unique authors that has that all important ear for dialogue. I would go so far as to put him in the same category as Elmore Leonard, who is a master  at dialogue. Leather’s characters talk like real people. And more importantly, since most of them live and work in London, sound like they belong there.

English: Elmore Leonard, Miami Book Fair Inter...
English: Elmore Leonard, Miami Book Fair International, 1989 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He also has gotten the ‘gangster speak’ down pat. At one point in the book Jack has to deal with a drugs gang and the lingo is spot on.

The book is busy. Not only does Jack have the police trying to pin a murder on him he also has a drugs gang who want him dead. He has two demons who want his soul and want him to make him pay up for a deal made in book two Midnight.

I felt that Jack Nightingale could be a real as you or me. He drinks, he smokes and he loves Chinese food. He is also smart and resourceful. But above and beyond all that, he carries on with his life and job despite having more crap dumped on top of him than most people could endure.

Unfortunately the ending, which was nail biting up to a point, yanked me right out of the moment. It was a device I had seen used in the films Bedazzled and Constantine .  Okay, it worked for the story, but, if I’ve seen it before it takes a little bit out of the punch.

Still it was not enough to put me off the story, it just took a little out of the ending. It definitely did not put me off enough to not want to read the first two books in the series and want another new one to read. Preferably sooner rather than later.

So If I used a star system (I don’t), this book would have still gotten a good four and a half stars out of five. But since I don’t use a star system, I’ll just say it’s a flipping good read and one that I would recommend to anyone.

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