When EVIL Runs The Show, That’s When the Reality Sets In. “Funhouse” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Eight C-grade social media celebrities sign a contract for a new reality show, Furcas’s House of Fun.  The reality show streams worldwide on all electronic devices in an exhibition of different and standoffish personalities locked together in apartment-size living quarters.  Contestants will have to face challenges and weekly viewer voting to be the last one standing for a chance to win a 5 million dollars cash prize  Instead of sexy making out sessions, drunken brawls, and contestant melodrama to boost viewer ratings, Furcas’s House of Fun is in actuality a syndicated snuff reality show where a contestant is voted out is a contestant receiving a brutal death in front of the entire world.  Survivors watch behind paned glass as one-by-one their castmates are dispatched in the most gruesome way possible, directed by a screen animated panda bear helmed by a sadist eager for the show to go on.

Ready to have a little fun?  The “Funhouse” is open for what is a variety show of horrors in this 2019 shot, 2021 released reality show of encroaching aggravation and gore from writer-director Jason William Lee.  “The Evil In Us” filmmaker plays his hand at personifying internalized resentful rage for hack, do-nothing, inconsequential to society celebrities by feeding them gladly and enthusiastically to the bloodthirsty wolves.  “Funhouse” isn’t your typical social media or tech horror film as Lee dishes out a thought-provoking disgust covered in a powdery sugar and popcorn veneer that’s surely to please the broad range of horror fans.  The co-ventured Canadian-Swedish story of shallow fame nihilism is shot in the Providence of British Columbia and in Stockholm, home base of Ti Bonny Productions under executive producer Henrik Santesson, in collaboration with Lee and producer Michael Gyorl’s Sandcastle Pictures.

With the surname Skarsgård, acting is in certainly in the blood.  Valter Skarsgård, the youngest son of “Nymphomaniac” and “Deep Blue Sea’s” Stellan Skarsgård’s first marriage and the brother of terrifyingly frighteningly Pennywise actor, Bill Skarsgård (“It”), branches out following his ancestral destiny by headlining as the lovable and misjudged Swede, Kasper Nordin, who leeched fame by being the ex-husband to a renowned singer.  Nearly the spittin’ image of his older brother Bill, Valter brings his name and family looks to the table while showcasing his own talent amongst a motley crew of nationalities.  That’s one of “Funhouse’s” main messages about social media stardom as a plague that has spread to every corner of the world symbolically infecting each contestant from a different country:  Dayleigh Nelson (“Island of the Dolls”) of Britain, Khamisa Wilsher of America, Gigi Saul Guerrero (“Puppet Killer”) of Mexico, Amanda Howells of the Philippines, Mathias Retamal (“The Source of Shadows”) of Chile/Canada,  Karolina Benefield of Poland, and Christopher Gerard of Ireland.  The roles of wannabe celebrities is an ostentatious representation of click bait influencers who will sell essentially their soul and show their skin to be noticed and this turns the clear antagonist villain, a merciless gamester and contract abider with business dealings more vile than from the Devil himself, to be a subtle antihero of sorts as the cast rounds out with Jerome Velinsky’s wickedly sophisticated performance as Nero Alexander that is urbane nihilism at its best. 

Outrageous, fun, and gory – “Funhouse” has all the hallmarks of a 90’s horror on cruise control.  With a bedazzling rudimentary shell of a panda bear avatar animation and blend of practical and digital blood over the simplicity of a small location and indie production, Lee is able to fly through the narrative at whiplash speed and still drop animosity-awarding and empathetic traits to believe in the cast of characters.  In the middle of the chaos of axe splitting heads and being dunked into a barrel of highly corrosive acid, a topical theme of the detrimental social media and influencer stardom to society really positions “Funhouse” on the frontline for inflammatory and anti-social media messages, harping on the noncontributing and unbeneficial role of these money-generating, like-focusing, click baiters in culture and society other than selling to their audiences sex, gossip, and violence.  Speaking of violence, I was pleasantly surprised by the right amount of gore that didn’t shoot for extravagant levels despite some smoothing around the digitally added sinew and guts, keeping a modest amount of realism to the dystopian gameshow construct.  Initially, there are dubious first act moments that quickly shuttle hapless soon-to-be-casualties into the same location, much like in “Saw II” when characters all wake up in the room together and we have no idea who they are, where they come from, and what their backstory is, but as the film progresses we learn more about them and the roles they play in the maniacal puppeteer’s design.  The twist, almost meta-like, ending leaves “Funhouse” on a low note that doesn’t fulfill any void for its existence, but a good chunk of the story is really meaty with a revolving door of plights and a small, yet efficient, compassion outpouring spicket.

Not your traditional participatory surprise-laden and mirror maze attraction, “Funhouse” will still bring old-style thrills with some new blood spills in it’s grand opening release in theaters and on demand on May 28th courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Shawn Seifert (“Dead of Night”) lays out a smorgasbord of cinematography techniques that includes rich, un-matted color filters, isolating characters in darker, dim rooms in making them seem centerstage for their own grand demise, and cultivates stationary, handheld, tracking, and some drone shots for an extremely vibrant and glossy approach and feel for reality television version 2.0. Lee edits the digital reel himself and, honestly, the pacing wanders quickly to the overly rushed section like a quick-spit-it-out story wanting to be finished before it even begins and is compounded with another intrusive quality in the hyperactive back-and-forth of shots that aims to resemble the irksome flight in and out of reality shows that speed up and slow down like a nervous teenager behind the wheel of their parents and continuously presses down on the brake pedal. Stay tuned after credits for a gag bit scene that ties into the main story but promises nothing more. No more being voted off the island or nixed by expert judges, “Funhouse” cleans house with deadly eliminations and a message of the unyielding power granted to many so easily through a rapidly reshaping medium that has become too influential on a braindead scale.

Political Extremist Molds An Evil Spawn! “Trauma” review!


In 1978 Chile, a powerful political extremist exploits the Chilean army to conduct and carrier out the physical and sexual abuse against the people of Chile, including forcing his own son, Juan, to have sex with his tortured mother and executing her right in front of him while in the fornicating act. Juan’s father continues to further the abuse with fear, terror, and misogynistic berates until he’s finally fatally coup. Fast forward to 2011, Juan’s an unstoppable madman as he terrorizes the locals over the years without authoritative regulation and also four female outsiders on holiday for a girls’ weekend. Juan and his son force their way into their residence, tyrannizing, raping, and even killing one of them before leaving his cruel mark in his wake, but with the help of a local officer, the remaining three survivors seeks to make sure Juan, and his equally screwed up family, never harm anyone again. However, Juan is prepared, held up inside a compound subterfuge, well-armed and well-unhinged.

Perhaps based loosely off the atrocities of of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet in the 1970’s, Artsploitation Films’ distributed “Trauma” goes to the unapologetic extreme, building upon an already unsavory narrative into the bred morbid disposition of the human psyche. Written and directed by “Zombie Dawn’s” Lucio A. Rojas, “Trauma” is a cold, blunt object with a razor sharp bite and has a penchant for the twisted. The Chilean director’s film isn’t the only game in the market of extreme movies, but does manage to create a motive of separation between most with the offending character experiencing traumatic corruption by someone close; in this case, Juan’s father 40-years earlier by oppressing the boy through physical pain and scrambling his son’s mental state by removing any humility, compassion, and reasoning that manufactures the perfect ruthless butcher. Pinochet used his military power to be a lethal strong hand when desired; Rojas spices it up by adding forced incest, rape-after-rape, and implementing a subconscious malevolency.

“Trauma” stars “To Kill A Man’s” Daniel Antivilo as the despicable Juan. Antivilo is patient and soft in his approach to a deranged character that doesn’t display that wild abandonment in psychotics. Juan goes on to slowly terrorize four lovely outsiders from the city in Andrea (Catalina Martin), Camila (Macarena Carrere), Julia (Ximena del Solar of “Perfidy,” another Rojas film), and Magdalena (Dominga Bofill). The four actresses offer up different character perspectives and personality that should divide the dynamic or, at least, complicate it; there’s a strong sense of lesbianism between them, even exhibiting traits in those who don’t identify as such. Antivilo macho savagery pitted against the four stunning, but strong women does create a black and white, stark-producing character placement. Outside that dynamic, one character has no dialogue and, yet, manages to high level physical role that’s barbaric, humiliating, and spacey and that role is inside of Juan’s schizoid son, Mario, is donned by Felipe Rios who has the strung out appearance of a long, drawn out face and muscularly thin. Eduardo Paxeco, Claudio Riveros, and Florencia Heredia round out the cast.

Rojas does a beautiful job in the juxtaposition department, paralleling the bleak, grimy, and yet agreeable life of Juan and his equally as certifiable family next to the full of life and vigor in the unsuspecting women that Rojas’ introduces off with Camila and Julia engaging in a steamy girl-on-girl love making scene that doesn’t leave much to the imagination and, then, slides into their instant road trip the day after. Rojas had built up Juan’s pain and suffering toward being molded into a monster whereas the women fly by the seat of their pants, churning out memorable moments in a flash whereas Juan’s unfortunate course was a slow burn throughout his long, hard life. The parallelism flips from Juan to the women up until the moment their lives intertwine and this is where things get messy with Roja’s script. Between Julia, Camila, Magda, and Andre, three of whom are related, tension builds as Julia plays the flirtatious and brazen field between hooking up with the cousins as stroppy Andrea steams in a passive stew on the sideline. This subplot never goes explored, going uncooked right in the middle of a hot flame where passions and couples’ plights evolve the story. The abrupt presence of Juan puts a cease and desist on any other subplot that ultimate funnels “Trauma” to be a rape-revenge flick with a graphic content.

Artsploitation Films continues to distribute internationally provocative films that always delight as well as disgust (in a good way). With Lucio A. Roja’s 2017 film, “Trauma”, casualties pile high and damage control is non-existent, fitting the Philadelphian-based company’s axiom that presents the film onto a high-definition Blu-ray. With a widescreen, aspect ratio 2.35:1, the image quality is quite good. Details are very promising here and really need to be with the gore. The face explosion and the jaw unhinging deaths are certainly not stodgy as the scene on these moments linger more than most would, soaking up the full effect of the viscous covered chunks out from the face crater by a high caliber handgun is a thing of beauty. The Spanish 5.1 surround sound syncs up well in all aspects from dialogue to ambiance. English subtitles are available and line up well enough though speedy at times. Dialogue is clear and present, Ignacio Redard score is heard, and no signs of any kind of distortions or other issues. Bonus features are limited to just the theatrical trailer. “Trauma” might have vastly skewed the actual events the film is based off of to pen a story, but what a gorgeously gory-filled and exploitively-charged narrative that can be a tell all for the cause and effect of political extremism at it’s worse. Director Lucio A. Rojas puts Chile on the controversial and extreme horror map.