Hellbent on being the first to discover something big between 1000-feet, talented marine biologist and ecologist, Olive Crown, constructs a convincing case in a video hiring application to test a deep sea diving suit invented by Dr. Fletcher, but a harrowing encounter with monstrous creature at 2500 feet nearly claims Olive’s life. Blamed for a botch dive and unable to remember the incident, Olive has been fired from her dream position, but when she double checks the dive suit for evidence of what might have happened, she discovers an alien substance, an egg-like object, attached to the outer layer and smuggles it home. The egg hatches to birth a blood thirsty, Cthulhu being that has marked Olive as in a symbiotic relationship as protector and mother. Olive senses everything the creature does, even it’s hunger, and caves in to her discovery’s need to feed with those who antagonize Olive and her creature baby, but at an alarming rate, the life form grows into a mammoth creature and Olive might be losing the perspective of who is really in control.
“The Creature Below” puts a spin on a popularly wild H.P. Lovecraft tale and adds a notch into the belt of the Cthulhu mythos. From director Stewart Sparke in his first feature film comes one woman’s tragically macabre endowment that runs amok through the uninteresting confines of her own life and obliterate it from within. Co-written by Paul Butler, the British Cthulhu feature, “The Creature Below,” melds together a very grand unearthly story into the restrictive walls of an unwanted love triangle Olive’s involved in while dipping toes into also being a pre-Romero zombie film with the automata slave. Though very modest in story and budget, “The Creature Below” is an itsy-bitsy speck in a bigger mythological genre and that’s usually the case for indie Cthulhu flicks, as they should be, because giving a little mystery to Lovecraft’s myth tends to build worlds later, sparks the imagination aflame, and leaves a lasting impression long after the movie is over.
Anna Dawson stars as Olive Crown, creature’s foster parent, and Dawson’s first impression of Olive emits a fierce, go-getter ecologist, looking to make a name for herself in the deep dive exploration field. That egotistical drive tapers off a bit once she’s canned for botched dive, delivering a more humble and reserved Olive Crown, but Dawson puts on the sunken-eyed, icy-cold skin that’s clammy and deadlike in order to fulfill the infant Cthulhu’s bidding. Daniel Thrace embraces the lovably sweet boyfriend, Matthew, whose sensible, charming, and overall nice guy. The pair are complete oil and water, a welcoming dynamic, when Olive’s rationality goes off track. Olive and Matthew are really the only two developed characters as, disappointingly, three considerable major characters don’t build too much of a reputation to warrant their value, especially with Olive’s sister, Ellie, played by Michaela Longden. There’s something more between Ellie and Matthew that doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head and there’s also more to her staying with her sister, Olive, that the audience is not aware of and the scenes where Olive comments on her sister’s freeloading just loses all it’s credibility. The other two actors, roles awarded to Johnny Vivash and Zacharee Lee, are more involved in Olive’s deep sea dive and bring more of a well rounded antagonistic or betrayal personality to the table.
Sparke doesn’t linger too long on the creature, shielding it mostly behind a plastic tarp with a nude façade and that’s, perhaps, more in line with the micro budget constraints. In any case, Sparke focuses the story around Olive’s paranoia and obsession with the creature and with her boyfriend and the bitterness between him and her Sister, Ellie, seemingly toward Olive. Dave Walter has composed from start to finish a low and slow synth soundtrack, that’s familiar to a slowly anticipating heartbeat, and really heightens Olive’s spiraling paranoia similar to that of Ennio Morricone’s work on John Carpenter’s 1982 remake entitled “The Thing” where the eerily sounds of a personified isolation breaches every corner of your body, mind, and the dark room you’re in and all you can hear is that thump…thump…thump in a chest vibrating synchronicity of tones. While the soundtrack is riveting throughout, the story becomes a bit sluggish around the midsection in the sense that space and time don’t exists and Olive’s encounters with Dr. Fletcher, Dara, and various others, are halted to develop any kind of affluence amongst each other or with the audience. Even the ending, which I do adore on a certain level, bares the mark of being incomplete and devoid of substantiating that monolithic ending. There is some post-view satisfaction with the blend of practical and computer generated special effects and as I reflect on the film as a whole, to display a species from birth to adulthood, Sparke and his special effects team had amazing results that are fanned out well enough to leave a lasting impression of the unearthed creature’s visceral and intelligible girth.
Breaking Glass Pictures with Dark Rift Films in association with High Octane Pictures release “The Creature Below” onto DVD. The 16:9 widescreen presentation of this sci-fi horror thriller explores a sleek and clean, with a hint of being just a little hazy, picture that puts forth the appropriate dark grey and blue tone for an underwater or above water creature feature. The English Dolby 5.1 sound’s slightly muffled, but solid. Special features include a behind-the-scenes, deleted scenes, “Rats” a short film, and a Frightfest Q&A. Stewart Sparke’s “The Creature Below” is not perfect and does have appalling, laughable moments, but underneath the surface is a UK film that’s budget-busting bold and aims to be a goliath in an indie market.
A Church youth group voluntary attends a Saint Christopher’s Catholic Middle School weekend cleanup before the school’s much needed reconstruction and restoration. As soon as they start with the sweeping, dusting, and polishing, three demon nuns, let to suffer behind an enclosed brick wall by a child molesting priest, unleashes their vengeful wrath, a gift from their new lord and savior, the devil, to whom they’ve sold their soul. Quickly, one-by-one the volunteers fall to the flesh hungry demonic nuns, using their sins against them, and extracting their souls for hell bound eternity. The select few to survive the ordeal of nuns will come face-to-face with Satan himself where praying for mercy will get them nowhere and is the same as burning in hell.
Director Richard Griffin once again pushes down the throttle to wrap the shooting of an entire movie in a matter of days on another lightweight budget. “Flesh for the Inferno” had a 9 day shoot with, and no surprise here, Griffin hiring some of his entourage of talented actors and actresses. The stage actors employed are always remarkable to watch; the underrated Michael Thurber, even in a toned down performance, is such a joy to watch with his adaptable skill set to jump into the shoes of any role in any film. The same can be said about the co-leads, Jamie Default and Jamie Lyn Bagley, who easily adjust into various roles from one Griffin film to the next. However, to my surprise, Griffin’s works with new faces, such as Ryan Nunes, Andrew Morais, and Kevin Michael Strauss, whom fit into his homage work of European possession horror. Then, there’s the talented Aaron Andrade who puts any other actor’s portrayal of Devil to shame.
Griffin and long time collaborator and cinematographer Jill Poisson purposefully softens the lens to give the photography a dreamlike or surreal state to mimic the iconic European director styles such as from Mario Bava or more in tunely with Lucio Fulci and though this respectable style was succesffully achieved and did contribute to the Bava or Fulci level of cinematic and atmospheric charm, the haziness was a bit overbearing, almost closing in on the actors within a modified frame of dominating clouds. The effect mostly shadows from what I noticed, right off the bat, the recognizable set from a previous Griffin film, “Future Justice,” sporting a new coat of paint and constructed with new, or new-ish, set pieces to create the Catholic school locale.
Screenwriter Michael Varrati churns out a script in less than a week to give Griffin much time as possible on a location rented much longer than needed. Varrati has written remarkable natural banter between opposition, connected, and flirtatious characters and does well with the dynamics for a quickly progressing story where shit hits the fan, crossing over into act two, in a matter of minutes. Its the dialogue, however, that slightly over saturates “Flesh for the Inferno” and it’s demonic, habit-wearing nuns. Fully engaged conversations between the nuns and the unlucky survivors cross over into theological debates rather than leading into a sacrilegious and unholy curse. Though at times, scenes like the one with Michael Thurber chasing his own tail in a Groundhog Day movie-type scenario was well placed in the story and well shot, even if little-to-no dialogue was present.
“Flesh for the Inferno” was suppose to be Griffin and his crew’s all out gory effects movie the homage attuned director has ever filmed. Yet, I can’t help but feel as if the opportunity was bobbled to recreate a “Demonia’s” bloodshed. The John Dusek effects were simply effective though, catering to all the film’s intention and needs to pull off a nasty nunnery narrative. The Timothy Fife soundtrack isn’t necessarily Fulci inspired as well that perhaps resemble more of a Goblin and Ennio Morricone blend and that’s highly more notable.
Scorpio Film Releasing and MVDVisual distribution together created and distributed another fantastic film that’s graced with retro-sleek cover art, like always, and I’m always impressed by director Richard Griffin’s capability to turn low budget horror into a formidable admiration of the old days of all kind of horror. Griffin and his entourage are on a whole separate level than their counterpart in their Hollywood doppleganger Eli Roth. The MVDVisual DVD looks sleek with a 16:9 widescreen presentation for the 79 minute feature. Bonus material is limited, but informative, that includes a crew commentary, cast commentary, and the film’s trailer.
Brilliant programmer Brett Desmond has been hired at a tech start-up to quickly complete the groundbreaking coding of a previous programmer Foster Cotten who went on a murderous rampage at the start-up’s tenth floor office right before killing himself. Desmond, struggling with the federal government breathing down his and his family’s necks due in part of him leaking sensitive classified material, works night and day and around the clock to crack Cotten’s code for ROPER, a behavior recognition program. A small work group remains with Desmond during the day, but at night, Desmond sleeps at the office, working aggressively to make the deadline and get his life back in order. The further Desmond or anyone else becomes familiar with the code, the code starts to modify their behavior, twisting their thoughts, and succumbing them to it’s will of the dead programmer.
From time to time again, the film industry on the subject of pioneer technology relays information upon the fears and consequences of intertwining arrogant brilliancy and controversial technology. From the genres of cyber punk to Sci-Fi horror, decades old films such as the virtual reality plotted “The Lawnmower Man” and “Virtuosity” to the more recent “Transcendence,” transferring consciousness into the machine, have been outspoken against the use of behavior modification and recognition programs. The idea behind the notion can said that the person envisioning the possibilities of such software will become obsessed, power hungry, or vengeful if the creation is taken away from them to which all three can be attributed to director Mark Netter’s 2014 film “Nightmare Code.”
Shot entirely through a surveillance-like setup and notebook web cams, “Nightmare Code,” for most of the duration, is viewed through four screens as like security footage. Netter and cinematographer Robert Fernandez designed this structure not for the sole purpose of a novelty exhibition, but to also confine characters in a small box coded by technology, as explained in an DVD’s bonus featurette, and creating a sense of isolation and distant connections that make the life of a programmer very lonely and depressing which develops in the characters very thoroughly. The story is told through the virtual eyes of ROPER, using it’s self-awareness and advanced modules to voyeuristically watch the small group of programmers and manically motivate their actions by use of altered video projections. ROPER also accesses the past, filling in the gaps that only the infamous story of the genius Foster Cotton can fill, and by accessing the past, the dead programmer’s coding can be understood for it’s malevolent behavior modification.
“Nightmare Code” is complimented by an underrated cast whom work well together through the smaller ROPER displays in the small screen film industry. Andrew J. West, better known for his role as the Terminus cannibal Gareth on “The Walking Dead,” takes on the protagonist role of Brett Desmond who battles legal and family trouble and West epitomizes isolation by effectively taking a man with a moral conscious in leaking immoral government information and leading him down a path of legal morality, but at the same time, being unfaithful, deceitful, and prone to corruption. He becomes pitted against antagonist Foster Cotton, played by veteran actor and long time supporting actor Googy Gress, notably recognized as a NASA mission controller from Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13.” The two foes never have screen time together as their stories live separate lives, tangled by their connection to ROPER, and so without that nourishment from the other actor, West and Gress use their talents to virtually interact with one another, developing a realistic struggling relationship that isn’t really there. The characters that surround Desmond and Cotton are negatively affected by both main characters and Mei Melançon’s supporting character Nora Huntsman figures into that coded nightmare as she becomes affectionate with Desmond. Even though he’s married, Nora feels the urge to fulfill her needs after separating herself from addictions: gaming, abusive boyfriend, and drugs. Melançon, who had portrayed a minor role as a major character, Psylocke, in the mutant world of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” had another hugely important role as a side dish techie lover, but her role doesn’t seem very present and that might because of the editing technique to create the dooming cyber vision.
Netter’s resulting editing style inefficiently told the story, I thought. We’re well aware that ROPER can mislead the performance buggy human race, but ROPER, in my mind, wasn’t responsible for some of the delayed or fast forwarded actions of the characters seen through the security footage as it stylishly seemed unimportantly and pointless. Luckily, these particular editing moments are far and few in between and don’t exactly hinder the narrative. What does hinder the narrative are the quick, considerably choppy, edited scenes. Netter creates long, sometimes drawn out, scenes to convey the office solitude, but then transitions to the numerous and quickly implemented scenes that spawn a constant stop and go narrative that loses the ominous factor. The longer scenes tend to generate gloom, dread, and despair. Supporting characters become underdeveloped in the quickly edited in scenes, affecting not only life recovering Nora, but also the rest of Desmond’s team – Louis, Kevin, and Ray – who become the underdeveloped characters and they are worthless to the viewer, essentially. Still, check out the Tonya Kay scenes as you might care about hers.
The Indie Rights Inc. produced film and MVD distributed release has a clean and sleek 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Colors seem balanced and bright. There lies some minor noise, but that only adds to the security cam charm. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is clean and balanced in all channels and douses with Ari Balouzian’s synth soundtrack that embarks to terrorize. Balouzian’s score reminds me of Ennio Morricone’s “The Thing” theme, developing a soundtrack character that contributes to the intensity of “Nightmare Code.” Extras includes the film with commentary and a handful of featurettes explaining briefly the characters, the production, and the fear on the technology horizon. Mark Netter, along with the cast and crew, has good source material here and though this sort of tech horror isn’t exactly novel, “Nightmare Code” is fiercely entertaining and forebodingly frightening on a low-budget, startup scale.