Carnage Park (2016): Throwback Horror Treat (Review)

Ashley Bell in Carnage Park Still

Written and directed by Mickey Keating (His fifth feature length film.) and starring The Last Exorcism (1 & 2) actress Ashley Bell, Carnage Park feels like Rob Zombie, Quentin Tarantino and Wes Craven had an orgy and the result was this throwback horror treat.  This film feels like it clawed its way out of the 1970’s and staggered bloody and torn into 2016.

Pat Healy (A personal favorite.) channels his inner Michael Rooker. His troubled Vietnam vet kills strangers who have the bad luck to stumble across his domain.  (In fact this feels like the type of role that Rooker specialized in “back in the day.” Back in Michael’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer days.”)

Healy’s Wyatt Moss is armed with a sniper rifle and has booby traps set up all over his stretch of the desert. Alan Ruck plays Wyatt’s not so sharp brother who happens to be the sheriff of Macklin.  

Vivian (Bell) is a farmer’s daughter who is arguing with the local loan officer in Macklin Bank.  In mid insult,  Scorpion Joe and his partner decide to rob the place. They take a satchel full of money and Vivian.

Similar to Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn  the film changes pace after it starts out to be, apparently, a heist picture.  Although the film’s prologue shows Wyatt shooting an unfortunate man dead after pontificating like Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now.

The heist is shown back to front. Joe (played by James Landry Hébertand his wounded partner  are running from the sheriff of Macklin.  His partner, a very large man, dies and  Joe cannot dump the body by himself.

He 0pens the car’s trunk and forces Vivian to help him get the corpse out of the car.  Everything goes downhill rapidly from there as shortly after Wyatt runs into Joe and Vivian.

Carnage Park feels like a splendid mix of House of a 1000 Corpses, The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn. There is a trace of From Dusk Till Dawn in there as well as a good bit of Wolf Creek.  Although Wyatt Moss is not as complex or oddly entertaining  as any of the Firefly clan or Aussie madman Mick Taylor.

Ashley Bell is the Bruce Campbell (or Alison Lohman)  of this picture. Her character goes through seven shades of hell in this film. Mickey Keating obviously used Sam Raimi’s treatment of Campbell as a template and ran Bell through a gauntlet of ever increasing painful scenes.

Bell’s Vivian is a tough cookie though and she fights back every inch of the way. There is very little humor in the film, except for the meeting between Vivian and the loan officer. (Not the best scene in the film but it does offer a bit of amusement.)

The struggle of Vivian to escape the madman with the rifle is painful to watch. It is not difficult to imagine that many of the cuts and scratches on the heroine were real.

Carnage Park feels like a step back in time to horror films, think Wes Craven here, that were gritty and raw.  This is a real Drive-In movie theatre treat that relies heavily on the old “crazy people live in the desert” theme.

The film is not perfect. At one point a long portion of the film is set in a pitch black tunnel. Not scary so much as frustrating, this portion feels out of place.  Keating does not give his audience a night vision aspect so viewers have to rely on sound to guess what is transpiring.

(Another annoying bit has to do with Sheriff Moss (Alan Ruck) and that damned “dress up” cowboy hat. It looks like the sort of thing a kid would wear on Halloween.  The thing makes Ruck’s character look like the village idiot and not the town sheriff.)

Setting the picayune complaints aside, Carnage Park is a decent horror film.  On a scale of one to five, Keating’s film ranks a solid four.

It will keep the viewer entertained and in those too dark moments in the tunnel, fans of the genre can count up all the other horror films that influenced Keating’s project.

On a final note: Keep an eye out for Darby Stanchfield who has a “blink and you will miss it” cameo.

Rebirth (2016): Adrenaline 101 (Review)

Franz Kranz as Kyle in Rebirth

Written and directed by Karl Mueller (his second feature in the chair and fifth credit as writer) Rebirth stars Fran Kranz  (The Cabin in the Woods, Dollhouse, JourneyQuest) as the feckless “everyman” Kyle.  Kyle has a wife, a daughter and a bank job that he loathes.  He also has a boss who does not respect him and a life that is repetitive and boring.  Soon though,  Kyle will get a lesson in Adrenaline 101 that is going to change his life.

Out of the blue Kyle’s old college buddy Zack (Adam Goldberg) shows up with a proposition.  Take the weekend off and leave his wife and child at home.  He invites his old pal Kyle to a retreat that Zack promises will be fun and exciting.

The white collar desk jockey decides to take Zack up on his offer and after a mysterious and confusing start, his weekend goes straight downhill.  Trapped in a huge house with multiple doors, each leading to another surreal or dangerous scenario, Kyle soon wants nothing more than to go home.

Kranz is brilliant as the man so far out of his comfort zone that we panic for him.  His character goes from insecure mouse to outraged avenger through the course of his time at the “Rebirth” weekend retreat. A seminar that is meant to “wake you up.”

Mueller’s film is a real treat. Not only does it have an ironic twist at the end but it also confuses the viewer as  much as it does Kranz’ Kyle.  The cast includes the splendid Pat Healy  (Ghost WorldThe Innkeepers) and Harry Hamlin in cameo roles. It also has Neighbours  alumnus Nicky Whelan  as the enigmatic Naomi. 

The film follows Kyle’s frantic journey at the weekend seminar as it goes from bad to increasingly worse.  Mueller has managed to make the Rebirth program feel like a cross between a bible camp and those empowerment/self help conventions.

In many ways it feels as though Mueller is having a sly dig at Christianity and the church. The members of Rebirth all feel like kissing cousins to church members who “know” something you do not.   The somewhat patronizing and condescending attitude displayed toward “nonbelievers” is prevalent in all the members of Rebirth.

Although the ending, along with the “branding” for each successive “rebirth” feels almost like a “Mark of the Beast” scenario. (Especially when one takes into account the ending and its surprising twist.)

It is the increasing adrenaline rush that Kyle goes through that pushes the story forward however.  As the credo, or mission statement of Rebirth is that this is “real life” it makes sense that the members are hooked on the rush.  The seminar points out that what Kyle and the other new initiates live in outside is a zombie existence.

Rebirth is a film that starts as one thing and ends as another. It is  either an ironic look at self help seminars, or organized religion. It could even be presenting   Adam Goldberg’s character  as the Antichrist.

This is a  five star film that grabs your attention and holds it. Even the slow build at the beginning keeps us interested, although that may be more from the power of Kranz’ acting than the actual storyline.  The script and Kranz’ performance have us on Kyle’s side from moment one and that is what makes this film work so well.

Rebirth is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is well worth a look or two.

Ray Donovan: Poker – It is All in the Smile (Review)

RayDonovan_311_268.R-2Last week in Ray Donovan “Ray Ray” got Mickey out of a jam with both the police and the Armenian mafia and Ed Cochran found the poker. This week’s episode proves that in the case of the Hollywood fixer, it is all in the smile. Such as the small one glimpsed on Liev Schreiber’s face as his character turns away from Hank Azaria’s former FBI agent. The smile shows that regardless of just how much sh*t Donovan seems to be in, he is going to come out on top.

As Paige (Katie Holmes) says, Ray is addicted to the fight and this is why he is so good at it. On a sidenote, what sort of neighborhood must Cochran live in where a gun is fired, and the victim screams out in pain, and no one notices or calls the police. Poor Ed has definitely  fallen on hard times since his viral video and fall from FBI grace…

Bridget is still chasing after her teacher and Terry tries to help out.  Mick manages to talk his way out of doing the Reno relocation and Bunchy is back from his honeymoon. Terry and Abby share a kiss and Andrew Finney folded when Ed Cochran shows up with that poker. Although Finney does try, albeit not very hard, to not implicate Donovan, Ed insists. Later Andrew pressures Paige to back his lie that Ray murdered Varick and initially, she agrees.

Cochran has been a busy little beaver. Calling the police, planting evidence at Ray’s apartment and when Ray pays a visit to Ed’s place, the Dybek investigator proves he has not learned his lesson from dealing with Donovan before. Before the visit, Avi has to go out and dig up the late Strauss from his Santa Clarita grave.  The murder weapon that Ed got from Avi’s lock up must be retrieved.

Shot in the leg, tied up and threatened with a baseball bat, Ed finally caves in and tells Ray where the poker is. The rest of the episode deals with Bridget trying to make contact with her teacher, Terry and Abby getting ever closer to doing more than sharing a kiss and Paige shifter allegiances.

In the case of Paige, she may have made a tactical error in backing Donovan and tossing daddy to the police. As Andrew says he has a lot of favors owed to him. However, this is Hollywood; a town that will kick you when you’re down. Finney seems to have forgotten that.

Comedy moment of the evening award goes to Jon Voight as Mickey. His realization that the power of attorney (based upon Mick having Alzheimer’s) could become an asset with his other children was classic. Twisting things around and committing a lot, he convinces not only Bunchy, his new wife, and Daryll but he gets Conor on his side.

RayDonovan_311_2280.R
Mickey breaking the “terrible” news to the clan…

Later, he and Ray have a confrontation that ends with Mickey’s nose bleeding. He is victorious in his wounding, he has outsmarted Ray Ray but his son is not pleased.

Amazingly, Ed Cochran survives his encounter with Ray.  Avi and Lena put  Varick’s  body, along with that poker,  in a dumpster right next to the Finney property. Lina douses the whole mess with gasoline and sets  fire to the lot (so close that Andrew can look over the fence at the conflagration). Paige goes to the police, just as her father asks her to.

Ray catches Paige before she gives the statement corroborating her father’s version of events and talks her into telling the truth.

A brilliant episode that shows that Schreiber’s Donovan is at his best when running full pelt at a problem.  There are still issues with the whole Strauss scenario, regardless of who the police chose to believe. Avi’s face on the camera going into Mexico on Varick’s passport being the big one.

The other “comic” moment in the show was Michelle (Christy Williams) going out to get coffee and stealing all of Daryll’s money and Mickey’s car. The punch line? Daryll wakes and finds that she did indeed get the man a coffee. Leaving it outside the room with “sorry” written on the lid.  

This hooker may not have  a heart of gold, but Michelle  was not going to deprive Daryll of his morning caffeine fix. Just his transport and money…

It a great to see Pat Healy on the show and as usual, his delivery of character is just this side of excellent.  (Guest star moment award, the whole forcing at gunpoint routine was classic Healy.)

This penultimate episode of Ray Donovan is signposting a cliff hanger. Will Andrew Finney be carted off for murder? Will this whole ordeal kill the NFL deal, even though it’s already been approved? Will Ed Cochran rise again?  Some of this may be revealed next week on Showtime but until next Sunday, Poker leaves us with Ray and that baseball bat…and that little smile when Ed cracks…

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The Innkeepers (2011): New England Hotel Necromancy

Written, directed and edited by Ti West (Does this make anyone else think of Robert Rodriguez?) and starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy and Kelly McGillis, The Innkeepers is a brilliantly entertaining ghost film.

There were some complaints from a few critics when the film was released about the slow pace. To those nay-sayers, I say, “Sit down in the back and shut up! If you were really paying attention and watching the film instead of trying to show how clever you are, it would have made sense.”

The film is about the Yankee Pedlar Inn (a real establishment in Connecticut where the film was actually filmed) and it’s last ever weekend. The place is closing down and two ‘skeletal’ staff have been left to work in reception for the odd guest who just might show up.

This is where the beauty of this film first appears. West has taken a lot of time and effort to allow us, the audience, to bond with the two erstwhile and likeable staff members who are running this last shift.

Sara Paxton plays Claire, an arrested in development ‘super-geek’ who desperately wants to experience a paranormal event. Big points have to go to Paxton. She is probably the only actress that I can think of who will let herself appear practically make-up free and is not afraid of letting herself ‘look’ like a ten year old boy in the arena of mannerisms and attitude. She sold this film and it’s story by giving a more than 100% performance and making her character so damned likeable that you really cared about what happened to her.

Pat Healy plays Claire’s partner-in-crime Luke. Luke is that sort of chap we’ve all worked with. He’s probably a bit too smart and obviously over qualified for his job. But his disinterest in finding any higher means of employment speaks volumes about his overall get up and go factor. Luke is another immensely likeable character.

Luke and Claire, minimum wage ghost hunters.

By the time the film gets seriously into the ghostly happenings at the hotel, we have bonded with both Luke and Claire and we like them both. Both actors gave a real sense of partner-ship with their characters. You could tell that the two characters had worked together before and often and that they both liked each other’s company.

At the beginning of the film the only guest is a woman who has left her husband and has checked into the hotel with their son. Ex-actress Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) soon checks in and Claire is more than a little star-struck by the presence of her childhood hero being in the hotel.

Along the way, they lose the woman and her son (not through any sort of ghostly foul play, but mainly because of Claire’s ghost hunting techniques) and an old man checks in. The old man (George Riddle) is sad, full of melancholy and creepy as hell. He wants to stay on the third floor which has been stripped of its furnishings and only a few beds remain. Claire takes pity on the old boy and gets him some sheets so he can stay in the honeymoon suite that holds so many memories for him.

To say that I loved this film would be the understatement of the century. The characters, the plot, the hotel and the underlying comedic edge to the film elevated this to an ‘I must own this film’ category. I was already a fan of Paxton’s after seeing her in The Last House on the Left remake. Now I’m a lifetime fan-boy. She is an amazing actress and it will be fun to see just how far her star rises.

I enjoyed Pat Healy in 2001’s Ghost World, but I loved his performance in this film. He is another actor who has just shot to the forefront of my list of favourite actors.

Directer Ti West has shown that his vastly entertaining The House of the Devil was no fluke. He is another of those Hollywood protégées who will become the next Spielberg or even Rodriguez in the very near future.

Run, do not walk, to your closest film rental outlet and watch this film. It was so good that it defies the usual bag of popcorn rating system.

If you can only watch one ghost film in 2012, make it this one.

I thought she said don’t go into the basement…