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.

Furbish the Four Walls EVIL Lives Inside of Your Brain with “The Yellow Wallpaper!” (Hysteria Pictures / Digital Screener)

A prominent physician escorts his wife, Jane, and newborn child to a secluded countryside home after a severe episode of hysteria rattles Jane’s mental state.  For three months in the Summer, Jane is confined to the house grounds with strict instructions to do nothing to exert herself other than to partake in a little gardening.  Even writing, which was profusely Jane’s pursuit, is harshly forbidden.  The bedroom she shares with her husband is nearly unadorned with only their bed in the middle of the room and yellow wallpaper ornamenting all four walls.  As the weeks pass in isolation, Jane can’t escape the feeling the yellow wallpaper is creeping into her mind, imprisoning her, and driving her mad, lending her relaxing retreat from societal nervousness be laid to waste in solitude. 

Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” has seen a fair share of filmic adaptations in over a span of a century since being published back in 1892, but all of those variated works have been grounded in the last four decades .  Amongst the numerous shorts and a handful of features, the most notable version of “The Yellow Wallpaper” would be Logan Thomas’ 2012 interpretation, starring Juliet Landau, daughter of the late Martin Landau.  That’s the funny thing about public domain property is it opens up a plethora of pathways to spin and redefine creativity to rework Gillman’s feminist tale from the artists’ voices speaking of the times when women’s mental health, and mental health in general, was perceived naively as anxiety.  Kevin Pontuti steps up to the plate to take a crack at the spiraling to madness story as the filmmaker’s inaugural feature directorial of the American and Ireland co-produced celluloid from an adapted screenplay written by the director and co-written with the story lead actress and producer, Alexandra Loreth.  Under the duo’s entertainment banner, Hysteria Pictures in association with Ireland’s Emerald Giant Productions, the crowdfunded “The Yellow Wallpaper” project receives the latest contemporary treatment that brings Gillman’s words back to the screen.

Co-writer and producer, Alexandra Loreth, takes the lead as Jane coming down off the ledge of a nervous breakdown but still ballooning with instability that’s stretching her fashioned societal-front seams. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is also the California based filmmaker’s first feature film alongside Pontuti, basically penning Jane’s entire mindset of combating the time’s unfamiliar sexisms and mental health. Loreth crawls on her hands and knees, feign glossy, far away eyes, and be cold and distant to be in tune to a woman disassociating with herself and reality and, truth be told, portrays a convincible case that shows feature debut courage with on screen nudity and a stamina for being the focus for the entire 99 minute runtime; however these acts remain stuck in a excessive loop that roots Loreth’s character decline to one a taciturn setting, lacking range and depth to carry Jane into full metal straightjacket crazy. Opposite Loreth is Irish actor Joe Mullins as John, the physician, the only character mentioned in Gillman’s short story. Mullins impels like an automaton through the role with not a lick of zestful misogyny to contrast against. Loreth completely dominates the screen as you barely notice Mullins whisk in and out of scenes to medicate Jane or comfort her with little white lies. John’s dismissive attributes were more dispassionate with Mullins behind the wheel that leaves only half the work’s presence omitted and it’s sorely felt. In the role of Jane’s domicile caregiver, Jeanne O’Connor paves a road of sturdy era authenticity that also is fleeting from “The Yellow Wallpaper” and with her 19th century genteel aesthetics, we’re sucked into the period to keep us grounded in time. Performances round out with Clara Harte as the abstruse infant caregiver and Mark P. O’Connor briefly standing in as Jane’s doctor brother.

Pontuti and Loreth’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” targets the very essence of Gillman’s journal narrated themes of the downplayed and untapped mental health and the secondary expectations of women in 19th century society.  The differences between the 1800’s paper and 2021’s movie narratives are ever so slightly tweaked into the contemporary medium with Loreth narrating right from Gillman’s pages word-for-word in between the auxiliary scripted dialogue and the finale concluding toward a more grim avenue that will surely satisfy the more macabre of hearts.  Yet, not enough material could be extracted from the short story to entice as entertainment as the adaptation lingers in monotone fashion. Jane carries on about the woman trapped behind the yellow wallpaper and is shown going in circles of staring at the wallpaper, crawling on her hands and knees on the estate grounds (as describe in the short story), and just being listless throughout the entirety with her mental issues linked to post-partum and drowning in passive despair.  Perhaps better suited for a short film, as many have been completed already, audiences will become tiresomely and frustratedly lost in all of Jane’s 99-minutes of tedium as there just isn’t enough to sate a feature length film unless you add embellishing bells and whistles in the realm of supernatural or the puppeteering of an unseen force symbolizing Jane’s fractured mindset. Don’t expect “The Yellow Wallpaper” to paint a gripping tale of feministic horror as the story peels off in a superannuated ream of soapbox issues.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” made its world premier this past March at Cinequest in San Jose, California. The film is shot in a modernly unconventional 4:3 pillarbox aspect ratio aka the black bars on each side of the near square image presentation. The intention by cinematographer Sonja Tsypin (“Scare Package”) was to meet the age of Gillman’s original. Yes, I know in 1892, video wasn’t exactly a thing, let alone pillarboxed formats, but aspect ratio does point the a modern adaptation into the right blast from the past direction. What is also curious about Tsypin’s photography, and I’m not positive if this is in fact intentional or not, is the lesser frame rate that induces jumps in the picture in an almost lag effect that doesn’t add much but of annoyance to the viewing pleasure. I was slightly more impressed with Robert J. Coburns score fathomed the depth of disturbance going through Jane’s head and lured out the creepy that played like a broken-melody music box. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Even with a well established and powerful ending shot, a preserving memento of the patriarchy’s ill-conceived mansplaining of a woman’s mind and body, and an intrepid performance by Alexandra Loreth, “The Yellow Wallpaper” stagnates in faithfulness to Gillman’s short and doesn’t offer new and improved ideas of century old, feminist gothic literature.

Evil Wants To Profit From Your Death! “Red Room” review!


When Kyra awakes inside an unadorned room of the second floor of an isolated farm house, the woman, who last remembers herself walking to her car from an afterhours night club, finds her wrists and ankles bound together alongside two other women. The women, Lilly and Allison, have been locked inside the room for days, kidnapped the same way, and treated with an inhumane care that more-or-less maintains their physical beauty. Uncertainty questions their fates, but one thing is for sure, when their captors come to remove you from the others, like selected head amongst the cattle, and relocate you to the red room, that’s when the screaming starts and you’re never heard from again. Between the three captives, anger and fear struggle for common ground on a plan of desperate escape and with the iron grip of their abductors honed into their every move, Kyra’s determination to escape breeds sturdier when the possibility of death is more than likely imminent, but before their inevitable snuff, the red room holds sickening world-wide pleasures that anticipates their particular company.

Poised to be callously unsettling and keen to rip apart compassionate souls, “Red Room” hails from Ireland as a ghastly and shocking exploitation thriller from writer-director Stephen Gaffney. A production of Gaffney’s Deep Web Films and co-written with Erica Keegan, “Red Room” slides ever so covertly into the internet’s interlining of unspoken grisliness that exploits people for the darker desires of other people and Gaffney runs through the typical rational of the irrational abductions, such as sex trafficking, and though that’s certainly taboo enough to quench viewers with a powerful story in itself, the director taps a sex and death geyser a few filmmakers have reaped, perhaps more so retrospectively, the machiavellian benefits in finding a home in a rather thin genre with films that are akin to the plot, including works of malevolent personal satisfaction as such as in Dusty Nelson’s “Effects” or the investigated side that encompasses the snuff world in Joel Schumacher’s “8mm” starring Nicholas Cage.

The 2017 film thrills to inflict tortuous anticipation for what lies ahead of the tethered three women. Amy Kelly’s Kyra is the only colleen to be shown physically abducted and while Kelly maintains a fine performance as the strong female protagonist with no-choice-but-to-escape attitude, Kyra’s character arc has a confounding impact where Gaffney involves non-linear scenes into the story, providing the events leading up to her abduction and also other more linear scenes with her mother on the phone with the police irate with her disappearance, but none of those scenes had significant impact to Kyra’s predicament or motivation and felt out of place. Kyra doesn’t necessarily talk about her child much either, which is always a powerful motivator for anyone with a need to live. Instead of carrying on with Kyra’s needless background, Richard, played by John D’Alessandro, could have benefited from the excess framework capacity of how he became groomed by his stern father, a role fit for a cruel king by “Game of Thrones'” Brian Fortune, and how his calm, sensible, and business casual character admixed himself with various complex villainy, roles donned by JP Albuquerque and Rodrigo Ternevoy, and how they became a triad of high end brunette liquidators of sorts. The other two women with Kyra, Alison (Saoirse Doyle) and Lilly (Sohaila Lindheim) spread the reactionary affects in a petrified Alison and a realist in Lilly when contrasted to Kyra’s defiance, but Alison carries the crux of the story, the reason why there is a story, that falls right smack dab in the red room and, frankly, she becomes the star of the gritty show. “Red Room’s” tops out the cast with another “Game of Thrones'” star Eddie Jackson and Fiona Twamley Hewitt.

“Red Room” has been compared to “Hostel” with a plot that does walk a familiar path of a pay-to-die morbidity and that comparison is a fair assessment with the ancillary connotation that “Red Room” could be seen as an extension or a byproduct of Eli Roth’s sadist of a film. However, a microscopic obstacle provides just enough to dispute that claim, to whither back a formidable opponent in the game of who has the most visceral body of work, and that evidence lies in Gaffney’s creative style. The filmmaker, for lack of a better term, pulls punches, not delivering the full on aggression required to provoke and stimulate the masses. The scenes of gore are ghastly to a point and that’s not necessarily the issue that’s more so with the unravelling of their inhuman nature that doesn’t genuinely denote a persuasive emanation of their victims damnation. We see a little of spark with JP Alburquerque’s Andras who is clearly insane with an limitless immoral conscious whereas the others teeter about more of the business margins or struggle with a tough guy image.

From Stephan Gaffney’s Deep Wed Films in association with Sicario Pictures enters “Red Room” onto DVD home video from Breaking Glass Pictures. Presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, on a one-sided, doubled layered DVD9, the Canon C300 Mark II digitally shot feature cleanly and sharply provides quality throughout that falters occasionally with some choppy video speed controlling in the more extreme scenes. Color palette isn’t lush with brilliant hues, but with the darker tone of the film, the expectation of vividness lies more so with graphic content and adds to the value. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is meaty and balanced, strong enough to even tune uneducated ears to the Irish accents. The dialogue is rightfully upfront with fine range and depth with no issues on mic placements. Bonus features include a short and sweet radio interview with director Stephen Gaffney, cast interviews, test screen reaction with the finale climax, a director’s audio commentary, a single deleted scene, and a concept promo. Ireland makes a play for extreme horror with Stephen Gaffney’s “Red Room,” a twisted and a humanly fathomable thriller with a cold-hearted gape at the worst of human nature that lingers into the vast virtual and essential disconnect amongst online gawkers that will never face the exploitive repercussions of what wets their appetites as they sit behind computer screens.

“Red Room” DVD available at Amazon!

Evil Can’t Be Contained. “Captive” review!

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Twelve strangers awake confused and scared in a desolated and impenetrable shed. Suspicion surrounds their bafflement as they attempt to determine the reason for their captivity and who is behind it. Suddenly, a phone rings and the testing begins. The voice on the other end of the line wants something and if the twelve captives don’t comply or fail to deliver, the secretly injected virus previously pumped into them during their unconscious state will transform them into blood thirsty, demon-like creatures and fatally strike them down within 24 hours. If they attempt to escape, they will be shot down. In addition to the already extreme situation, relentless ambient gunfire and explosions rock the world outside the shed walls. The only way out, to survive the whole ideal, is to abide by their captors rules and be the last one left alive.
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The notion of the inability to escape is an anxiety-filled fear all can relate toward; in fact, many may have had the suffocating buried 6-feet under in a pine wooden box nightmare that induces shortness of breath and sweat on the brow – I know I have. Writer-director Stephen Patrick Kenny’s film “Captive” attempts to relay that fear on a grander scale with the twelve strangers trapped inside a shed at an unknown location – the equivalent to that “pine wooden box.” The scenario puts the audience in the shoes of the characters, who are also asking themselves numerous questions that race through their minds. Why am I here? Who did this to me? What’s going on? With each turn of a minute, the questions are slowly answered, whether the characters would favor the answer or not. However, the audience is acute to a little bit more information then the twelve unlucky souls. Information, such as the two men in hazard suits placing their limp bodies into the shed and from the black title cards used to formally announce the death of each character, that a type of brutish test is being conducted and that takes the audience out from the unknown and into a solely voyeuristic perspective.
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Being voyeuristic should entitle all to witness the end result of the twelve players involved, but, unfortunately, we become just as clueless and lost toward the characters’ fate and the situation around them. This hybrid role of the audience, whether we’re a part of the situation or an outside party, aches and pains the logical and rational portions of the mind. In Kenny’s sophomore film, characters come and go, Houdini-like, in and out of the story without much explanation and the same can be said about their deaths. In a tail end scene, a character is alive and in the next scene, the character’s sprawled out on the floor…dead. The kill shot, the smoking gun, are omitted. A limited budget, poor editing techniques, and use of stock sound effects result in this crude determination of characters’ final destination and leave gaping holes that sour the story’s appeal.
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The director’s style is visually comparable to the outer stories of a modern day video game plot without the enjoyable interactive game play. Stocked with a heavily hazy blue tint that sears into your vision, paper mache like special effects and graphics, and black title cards that act as chapters to each character’s demise path, “Captive” is more similar to a video game than a film. What’s also concerning is the lack of character development of any kind note worthy of virtue or quality. The Kenny script focuses more on the title cards rather than structuring a coherent story on the basis of solid characters and, sadly, each character is hindered from any sympathy or concern.; in fact, numerous characters quickly become dispatched within a smidgen of their awakening and if you blink, you’ll even miss their scenes. The actors, majority a cast that has had a working relationship with Kenny, don’t quite sell film as the performances are rigid and forced upon deliveries and reactions toward their hand dealt goes unnaturally and uncouth.
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Even though many flaws plague Kenny’s film, I’m glad to see horror out of Ireland has not completely been forgotten. However, I’m just not seeing much heart or creativity behind “Captive” and the hopes were high going into the film after watching a vigorous trailer that displayed promising non-stop “demon” horror, suspense, and ultra-violence. None of those attributes made the final cut, I suppose, marking Stephen Patrick Kenny’s and Hoodup Film’s Sci-Fi horror-thriller “Captive” not superbly captivating.

Holy Evil Cow! Dead Meat review!

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An Ireland countryside becomes the victim of a mutated strain of Mad Cow disease that is infectious and sends the victims into a blood thirsty, violence fit of rage. A small band of survivors race across the land looking for a safe haven, but with nearly everyone infected, a safe place is hard to find.
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You just don’t see too many Irish horror movies and you probably will see not another one ever again. Dead Meat has to be the worst and the best Irish zombie film of the last three decades, but I’m not totally knocking Dead Meat because there are positives about the Conor McMahon written and directed film that can’t go ignored. First, practical effects, like the ones used in Peter Jackson Dead Alive, are always the best way to go because a shovel through someone’s chest or a vacuum sucking out an eye ball just doesn’t seem that convincing to me. If I want to want animated television, I’ll watch cartoons on Saturday morning. Real effects stem from the talents of the special effects crew consisting of Roy Gleasure, Brendan Fahy, and Jonathan Graham. Graham has had his hands in other major, more recent films such as Pacific Rim, Resident Evil: Retribution, and the remake of RoboCop as a mold maker.

The Fangoria Gorezone, one of the very few ever endorsed by Fangoria back in the day, film however doesn’t have a great story in which the survivors just wonder through the countryside looking for a supposedly safe castle to take shelter. The group whittles down through each passing “zombie” horde and bash and thrash through the madness. Dead Meat might not have suffered too much if one could comprehend thick Irish accents. The accents were so thick I couldn’t make out sentences. This should serious flaw the film for other viewers, but following the story was a challenge and very taxing on the ears and mind.
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In all, there lies good and there lies mediocracy with Dead Meat. The obvious stand out points of the film are that the film is an Irish horror film and uses practical and great effects. The downside is the lack of story and a good solid core to give our characters, even our hero and heroine, some depth. Frankly, the characters could have all bit the dust without a tear shed on my part. Dead Meat is not a new film and has been out for over a decade, but certainly worth a gander and wouldn’t hurt to be Irish to get some kind of understanding out of it all.