Be Creative, Be EVIL! “Scare Me” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)

The down on luck Fred and a celebrated Fanny are both horror writers. Well, sort of. You see, Fred is an aspiring horror writer with unpretentious stories acted out by his creativity whereas Fanny is the hot, popular artist who just came out with an acclaimed novel everybody is talking about, even Fred. When their paths cross on a remote, snowy getaway during power outage, they consolidate to one cabin to stave off boredom by telling each other off the cuff scary stories, acting out every minor detail to flesh out the macabre tidbits in order for a good scare. As the night carries on and the stories become more involved, Fred’s night has been a rare highlight in recent days and now that day is on the brink of breaking, Fred has one more emotionally-driven scary story to tell the weary Fanny.

You wanna see something really scary? No, not the line from that wraparound story with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks driving late a night in “The Twilight Zone: The Movie,” but rather really see a scary story come to life before your eyes with enthusiastic performances between two horror writers? Josh Ruben’s “Scare Me” does just that with the filmmakers’ 2020 horror-comedy hit. Ruben, whose latest comedy genre film, “Werewolves Within,” has been a critic success, writes and directs a petite cast packing a powerful punch pitched perfectly more so than this mouthful attempt at an awfully awkward alliteration. “Scare Me” is also produced by Ruben along with Alex Bach and Daniel Powell under a conglomerate of productions companies including Artists First (“Hell Baby”), Last Rodeo Studios (“Save Yourselves!), and Bach and Powell’s Irony Point with Shudder distributing.

Ruben not only writes, directs, and produces his film, he also co-stars as Fred. With this Andy Serkis like looks, motions, and vocal talents, Ruben is a master at amplifying impressions and slapstick from the beginning as Fred using his unrestraint, and probably unstable, imagination to try and write a bestselling horror novel to help him get out of a life funk. Then, their is Aya Cash, who I have personally adored since her villainous role on Prime Video’s “The Boys.” Much like that role’s personality of the super-sadist Storm Front, Cash just dons snarky assertive woman to perfection as she continues the trend by embodying bestselling new age novelist Fanny with such. Fanny downright emancipates…I mean, emasculates…Fred at every chance and at every step along the way despite her warming up to Fred’s kooky lackadaisical first impressions with a side dish of caution for those who yearn for story ideas. Ruben and Cash bounce incredibly well off each other to the point of credibility between the dynamic and the dynamic is far from being a romantic love interest but more so an unlikely best friend; a best friend who constantly proclaims white male privilege whenever the opportunity presents itself. The funnies also keep on coming, especially mixed into the dialogue details, that are sharpened by Ruben and Cash’s timing and delivery telling their individual stories and the reactions each have during them, but then blend into that batter of bust-a-gut with comedian and “Vampires vs. the Bronx” actor Chris Redd, consider your every funny bone in your body rigged for explosion with the trio’s insanely charismatic skits and a musical number about a Devil possessed pop star to die for. Bringing up the rear of the comedic cast is “Key and Peele” writer Rebecca Drysdale.

If you had told me that “Scare Me’s” premise was two writers telling each other scary stories during a power outage, the film would have been near the forgotten bottom of my must-watch list with the inane dancing of “Orgy of the Dead” and the prosaic “Paranormal Activity 4.” After watching the film, all I have to say is this, Mr. Ruben, please accept my heartfelt apology for manifesting one single brain cell of doubt as “Scare Me” is the five-star movie everybody needs to see. I am not worthy. The idea behind the movie is simple, yet novel, that never ceases to peak as Ruben’s film perpetuates a steady incline of sharp-witty dialogue, an involved and spot-on sound design to create the stories’ allusions, and a trope-less ending that fits “Scare Me’s” unique, unbridles nature without being a grandiose end-all finale. Without the punctuating special effects, Ruben definitely curved a workaround with smart dialogue, entertaining writing, and with a cast who couldn’t sell the idea any better. The work lies severely on the shoulders of Cash, Redd, and Ruben and without them, “Scare Me” would probably been acerbically be retitled as “Bore Me” under the breath of many frustrated genre fans. Also, just because there isn’t knock-your-socks-off special effects, that doesn’t mean there was zilch as Fred, Fanny, and Carol (Redd) enact each stories, a slither of their dread-addicted imaginations comes to fruition like window glimpses into their minds and, damn, they can really sell their fear-stroking dark fantasies by telling classic tale spinoffs that could parallel cult favorites, many that were namedropped throughout the 104 minute runtime. “Scare Me” is without a doubt pure love of the genre and a tinseling homage to the macabre.

Better late than never, they say, in viewing Josh Ruben’s bewitching “Scare Me” on UK Blu-ray distributed by Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded BD25 presents the film in 1080p on a streaming platform dictated 2:1 aspect ratio. Aside from the bookend snowy landscapes and exteriors, much of the setting is located inside the compact two story cabin in the woods in which cinematographer Brandon H. Banks breaks into his debut feature with getting the precise angles to reassure and reaffirm Fred and Fanny’s telling of scary stories. As far as visuals go, the digital recording compression seems to hold up on the BD25 while still flaunting a good amount of bonus material and an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. No issues here with the audio with phenomenally clarity in the diversity of sound bites and in dialogue even with Ruben and Cash’s modifying their voices for story characters. There isn’t a lot of actions to hone on and rein in the depth, but with this type of story inside, as aforementioned, a compact cabin, depth won’t make or break the audio report card. Special features include a director and cinematographer commentary, short interviews with the Ruben and Cash that run through their favorites things inside the horror genre, a behind the scenes photo gallery, a Make Cool Shit Podcast, outtakes, and “Feel the Music, Feel the Light” music video. I’m always up for a good tale of Fright and “Scare Me” slashes all the boxes with a traditional layout themed by envy and has a cast that illuminates each and every scene with funnies and fear.

EVIL Will Have You Die Laughing! “Too Late” reviewed (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Non-stop and around the clock, Violet is the worked obsessed assistant to legendary showman and standup comic Bob Devore at the Too Late comedy club.  Violet books new talent and schedules the lineup day in, day out, but that isn’t all she does for her overly demanding boss.  Bob Devore has been around for a long time and during a very specific moon cycle, Bob needs to eat and we’re not talking pizza or Subway sandwiches.   Bob is a literal monster who feeds on devouring entire people, especially no comedy talent hacks provided by his assistant, Violet.  The longevity of Bob’s Life spans decades, if not centuries, as he sees people come and go right off existence.  When Violet meets a nice guy comic who Bob takes a shining to, the long time lonely assistant decides enough is enough and the time to stand up to the eternal stand up comedian and monster boss is now before what little she has is taken from her. 

I hear the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene is tough.  Sometimes, even cutthroat.  In D.W. Thomas’ comedy-horror “Too Late,” a blend of mic night funnies with a hunger for full body snacks, dying on stage turns into a whole new meaning!  Thomas’ debut feature film kills it as a low-budget horror that incorporates figurative levels of monstrosities behind the curtain of a stand-up’s spotlight.  The 2021 film is the first screenplay credit for Tom Becker that tackles underappreciated long hours and work ethic of female workers in a typical male dominated profession., touching upon the toxicity of the business.  “Too Late’s” underground comedy-horror sees the light of day under the indie production studio, Firemark Media, and is produced by Thomas and Becker as well as executive producer and long time industry vet, Lonnie Ramati, a production business affairs manager dabbling in producer with the selected credits including “The Expendable” sequels, “Leatherface,” and 2019’s “Hellboy” under his belt. 

“Too Late” marquees mostly tongue-and-cheek talent in a cast list chocked full of comedians, starting with actress, writer, and jack of all trades stand-up comedian Alyssa Limperis in the headline role of Violet.  What’s ironic with Limperis’s “Too Late” role is that Violet is perhaps by design the least funniest amongst the characters as a lonely, borderline depressed, and overworked slave of an assistant to Bob Devore, a renowned variety show presenter and entertainer played by one of my favorite spoof performances by Ron Lynch from last year in Travis Irvine’s “Killer Raccoons! 2! Dark Christmas in the Dark!” as General Negligence.  As Violet begins to blossom after meeting humble comic, Jimmy Rhodes (Will Weldon), after bumping into him renting out one of her friend’s closet since, you know, L.A. is a tough, expensive town, this give Limperis ammunition to turn Violet sour on her abrasive, glass ceiling mentor.  Limpers excellently conceals intentions in each relationship step taken with her new unassuming and amiable beau and this really brings out Devore’ darkness crafted so well by the New York born actor and comedian with a gloomier roaring-twenties vaudeville vibe.  One thing I will say about the chemistry between Limperis and Weldon is I didn’t think there was much spark as their flirting banter catered to good friendzone material.  Perhaps used for their more syndicated appeal, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Fred Armisen add very little to the mix.  “24’s” Rajskub is a no-nonsense hotshot comic who has Devore wrapped around her finger whereas Armisen plays a nearly simpleminded stage hand who adds a bit of levity to the darker tone with his pudding cups and indecisiveness on blue filter gels for the spotlight.  The rest of cast pans out with Jack De Sena (“The Veil), Brooks Wheelan, Jenny Zigrino, Billy Breed, and Paul Danke. 

“Too Late’s” opening drive buildups a focuses around Violet’s passively aggressive position in being an undervalued assistant to her bark-and-you-jump Boss.  Constantly scribble but unenabled to perform her own material be her own self-starting, stand-up comedian, Violent falls into a lonely state that she is unaware of and it takes her best friend/roommate’s lighthearted berating to get Violent to come to a Jesus moment with her total profession and lack of relationship unhappiness. What’s not in the prevalent in the first act is Bob Devore’s permanence, his beastly transmogrification, and his appetite for anthropoids. If you didn’t read the synopsis beforehand, the acute dark turn “Too Late” takes comes at a shock because of how little-to-no prep there is setting up the true Bob Devore. A backfill of creeps a long, like opening the little chocolate stuffed doors on an advent calendar, in a wait and you’ll get more character treats up to a grand finale. About two-thirds of the way through, “Too Late” starts to flounder with what to do about Devore as a character, never expressing a full delineation of character to how Devore ended up at a nightclub, or who, or actually what, the actual hell is he and how Violet, who isn’t as innocent as one might believe, became so fatefully involved. The underlining theme here, noted explicitly in the title, is don’t hold yourself back no matter the circumstances, whether be an actual monster or a monstrous personality, because life is short, time is of the essence, and carpe diem! Violet, a hard working female in a male dominated industry and is undercut by not only her dominating boss but also her advantage taking male peers, need a monkey wrench in the gears of a monotonous, browbeaten life and that happened to be Jimmy Rhodes, a nice, non-threatening, and unimposing comedian who seemed to be just be handed the keys to Violet’s rightful castle just because he’s a man, and though she falls for Jimmy, that’s the career careening straw that breaks Violet’s abuse absorbing spirit.

With a dry wit, “Too Late” black humor is more figurative than funny but first time director D.W. Thomas makes good on her debut horror-comedy that has released this month in select theaters and on digital platforms, such as iTunes, Google Play, Fandango Now and all major cable/satellite platforms from Gravitas Ventures. A digital screener doesn’t allow me to fully dive into the A/V quality but the Scott Toler Collins cinematography grasps the underground comedy scene experience, selling the location of an boutique variety show club, hard mood lit in various colored staged lighting with a smoky irradiance, of tight medium and closeup shots that kind of hover amongst the characters. “Too Late” is not effects heavy though maybe should have been to make Bob Devore a real menacing presence as much of his late night snacking is done off screen, through shadows, or blurred during a shallow focus. We always get the aftermath Bob Devore, bloated and bulging at the seams from a big meal, like a secondhand Eddie Murphy fat suit from “The Nutty Professor.” Still, kudos to Mo Meinhart (“The Walking Dead”) in making Ron Lynch appear farcically 40lbs heavier in what you might typically seen in a Looney Toons episode. Bucking the more modern trend, this indie picture has no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The in-film stand-up is spotty at best but “Too Late” has a lot else to focus on with a deeply disturbing look at machismo arrogance and sexism inequality that are the relevant horrors of today.

“Too Late” on Amazon Prime!

This Dinner Party Dishes the EVIL! “Happy Times” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Digital Screener)

A small, but affluent, Los Angeles Jewish community dine together at a Hollywood mansion in celebration of the Shabbat.  Mixed feelings about each other compounded with mixed drinks stir the emotions of heated topics, including business ventures, religious attitudes, social statuses, marital qualms, and hidden desires.  Lines are being drawn and sides are being taken when one thing leads to another and undisclosed secrets become evident in a clash of suburban violence that pits friend versus friend, colleague versus colleague, and husband versus wife to the death. 

Director Michael Mayer reminds us that you should never mix business with pleasure with a keep your friends close, but your enemies closer black comedy entitled “Happy Times.”  The brawl of survival centered around Israel immigrants living in the U.S. is the second written and directed film from Mayer, following polar oppositely against another Israel themed, 2012 picture, “Out in the Dark,” a gay drama in the backdrop of the two rival and patriarchal sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The only conflict in this 2019 thriller-com is of the gravely plentiful and concentrated kind inside a L.A. mansion turned battle arena that sees about as much confrontation as the war-torn Gaza strip.  Co-written with Guy Ayal, “Happy Times” is a collaboration produced by Erri De Luca and Paola Porrini Bisson of OH!PEN and, the Israeli born, Gabrielle and Tomer Almagor’s Urban Tales Productions in association with Michael Mayer’s own company, M7200 Productions.

The Israel-nationality cast can be an immersive experience and a sign of good faith casting from the filmmakers as well as a show of open diversity from the production studios that casting Hebrew speaking, Israel background actors implies a serious interest and respect embroidered into the project. Mayer, born in Haifa, Israel himself, is a breath of a fresh air of non-appropriation in a time where whitewashing can still be prevalent in the movie industry. Israel born actresses Shani Atias, Liraz Chamami, and Iris Bahr command the screen not only as Israeli women in lead roles, but as different personas that interact and keep lively the one night, single dinner party narrative. Chamani especially dazzles in the details as the dinner hosting socialite wife and mother, Sigal, who exacts an assertive Jewish woman with a cooped up attitude and a knack for handling her own while also worried about her social status, an extravagant exhibition of a screen trope that you might experience on shows like “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” or movies like “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” enacted on point when she’s handing a frightened dinner guest, outside their Jewish circle and fleeing from the scene, tin foil wrapped leftovers with a wide menacingly unsure smile, while holding a medieval crossbow to go frag another party guest, in the plain view driveway. The wives’ counterparts are equally as Jewish and equally as prominent in the fold of the affair with Ido Mor as a unscrupulous businessman co-hosting the dinner, Guy Adler as a construction manager with money problems, and Alon Pdut as an unhappily married Ph.D engineer bothered by his fellow dinner guests’ lack of education and tact. In all, most of the characters are undilutedly snobbish with the exception of Sigal’s struggling actor cousin, Michael, played by Michael Aloni, whose magnified Hollywood liberalism deconstructs the Hebrew bible as racist and inaccurate among other colorful adjectives and becomes the catalyst that begins all hell breaking loose. Stéfi Celma, Mike Burstyn, Daniel Lavid, and Sophie Santi become the filament around the principle leads that strengthen the kill or be killed melee in “Happy Times.”

As if dinner parties weren’t already stressful enough, having to make trivial small talk, possibly acquaint or re-acquaint with unaccustomed faces, or pretend to enjoy the slop being served as food, “Happy Times” turns the internally exasperating dinner party debacle on its head with guests and hosts who are just too terribly comfortable with each other as volatile personalities explode like little active volcanos plumed to reach every corner of the house in a deadly playground for unstable, on-edge adults spewing their strident emotions and Mayer is able to maintain a layered pace with a narrative that’s snowballing quickly.  Where “Happy Times” struggles is the redline occurrences that trigger things to go very badly.  Though hardly trivial episodes between the guests, involving innocent infidelity affections or a slight practical joke stretched beyond devastating consequences, the harried moments afterwards diverge into a blown out result while more nefarious consequential revelations are held back, in after the fact chaos, and these differently graded spurs seem unbalanced, if not flip-flopped, in the story.  The characters themselves adequately course into being delightfully insane and as about as relatable as the internal frustration against our friendly-façade enemies, but there’s a part of me that personally wanted more development.  Military vet Avner, for example, exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the horror sounds of war play in his head when under stress.  As he stares into oblivion when the rage fills into his face, especially by a nagging, browbeating wife who doesn’t seem to be aware of his condition, the subconscious killing-machine overcomes the mild-manner tech engineer.  There’s also Yossi’s opaque tax evasion scheme, Michael’s thespian struggles, and Mati, the late arriving Rabbi, who pockets money on the side from Yossi and Sigal that factor into an erratic equation that’s a mind field surprise every step of the way.

“Happy Times” relishes in unpredictable violence as a round table of feast or famine hatred in this dog-eat-dog thriller coming to you from the Philadelphia based distributor, Artsploitation Films. Slated for a February 9th, 2021 release, the unrated film will be presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, in a gorgeously rich color of a modest, natural color scheme. Kazakhstani cinematographer, Ziv Berkovich, distills a solid, yet uninspiring, photography of mostly still cam mixed with subtle steady cam, rooting firmly to particular rooms without capturing the flow of a big mansion, reducing much of the in clover luxuries of the hosts. The Hebrew, English and some Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mix offers well balanced layers of audio tracks with dialogue clarity and establishing good range with depth not really set up because of the close up or medium shot frames. Guy Aya;’s score offers a good blend of a violin-screeching from a murder mystery dinner theater with the inklings of traditional Israel folk sprinkled in to create an anxiety riddled brew of trouble. There were no bonus material included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The best of times and the worst of times doesn’t compare to the bloodletting of “Happy Times” in a wildly amusing dark comedy with every impulsive-driven and tension-wrought scene chockfull with bated breath.

Pre-order “Happy Times” on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazom.com (Click the poster)