A Birthday Bash Festers with an Evil Infestation! “What’s Eating Todd?” reviewed!


Todd’s birthday starts out fun with a birthday cookout that includes family, friends, and his girlfriend Valerie. Afterwards, his easy going uncle Carl drives Todd, his friends, and cases of beer to an abandoned factory in the woods where Todd has planned a one-night, underaged boozing, camping trip. The infamous factory has a manifold of ghost stories that circle around a single common piece – a cannibalistic maniac. When night falls, Todd suddenly disappears and his friends, including Valerie, believe Todd and his uncle Carl are revving up a good scare after Carl’s creepy campfire story earlier in the day, but when a dead, mutilated body is discovered, something sinister is hunting them and those stories about a cannibal killer no longer seem farfetched in an all-nighter fight for survival.

“What’s Eating Todd?” is a Here and Now production from a duo of women filmmakers with director Renata Green-Gabor making her directorial feature film debut from a story penned by first time screenwriter Brandi Centeno. The 2016 horror-thriller is a spun take on the weary zombie genre without necessarily going the full-fledged slow shuffle and moan zombie route from a story involving an antagonistic infected metamorphosing from an infestation strain of flies. The parasitoid concept is a closely related to a sensationalized man versus nature horror tale seen with a fair amount of anonymity attached and, the film, perhaps, could be an indie homage version of the George Langelaan’s short story, “The Fly.” Almost for certain that Green-Gabor received some sort of influence for “What’s Eating Todd?,” which she shot through the summer of 2013, from her thespian mentor Jeff Goldblum, the face of David Cronenberg’s remake of “The Fly” released 1986, and thus answered the call to chance her first steps into feature films that had this connect to her mentor while providing and retaining her own originality into incubational horror or even a small minute into body horror, releasing the film three years later.

The marketing and selling points for “What’s Eating Todd?” is not the humble acting talent. It’s not a criticism. It’s the truth, as the cast is constructed of unknown names and unrecognizable faces. However, what is also true for a film written by female writer and quarterbacked by a female director is a leading role arising for an aspiring or established female actress. In this case, the role of Valerie goes to a modestly versed Madison Lawlor (“The Axe Murders of Villisca”) who not only becomes the strong and adaptive survivalist protagonist painted against a backdrop of coarse and flawed men who are either exposed of their short comings, involved in illegalities, or anguished to reveal their true nature. Lawlor maintains Valerie’s unwavering love and faithfulness to Todd, being the voice of reason amongst a naïve and obnoxious crowd that are mostly consisted of her cousin Alex (“Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark’s Phil Biedron) and his friend Duane (“The Zombinator’s” Scott Alin). Alex and Duane are a couple of super frivolous “bros” primarily integrated into the story to raise the body count. Cousins Valerie and Alex do attempt some kind of meaningful connection regarding identity and status in the hierarchy of high school, but was meagerly written and comes to be more a bickering battle of perspectives. Biedron and Alin sufficiently exact the right amount of goofball, oversexed, and dumb-wit to pull off a surface level duo. Todd (“The Z’s” Adam Michael Gold) is certainly the biggest failure out of the group of friends. The birthday boy’s upheaval from being the luckiest guy in the world to the world’s biggest problem goes into squandered territory that floods more questions than answers into Todd’s from baseline growth relationship with Valerie to his revamped mentality and accomplishments from ambiguous, circumstantial backstory of flesh eating and conspiracies. The weight of Todd and Valerie’s connection is only expositional rather than shown and the groundless Todd absorbs the downfall during an anti-climactic finale of internal struggle with Valerie as the source material. The film rounds out with Danny Rio and Carlos Antonio.

Though the cast won’t draw in an audience, the snappy “What’s Eating Todd?” title might turn some heads in it’s direction. However, “What’s Eating Todd?” inherently sounds like a farce and if you’re expecting humor, disappointment will rear its ugly, funny-less head as Green-Gabor had no intentions for a comedy element. Another misleading of marketing is the Indican Pictures’ DVD cover, which I’m assuming is also the film’s actual poster, of a woman in a cutoff sleeve jersey t-shirt with “Zombie Killer” in the name field and holding a sword (katana, maybe?) while blurry silhouettes of lumbering undead move at an unknown pace toward her in the background. Let’s analyze the comparison between cover art and actuality. As mentioned, the story’s female heroine is appropriate to the cover, but isn’t contextually accurate to the film. Valerie, the supposed character on the cover, isn’t holding a sword nor is she dressed in a “Zombie Killer” jersey t-shirt. As for the zombies, the term zombie is only made in jest by one of the bros and there is some undead moments of gore including gnawing and ripping out the jugular, but no tearing out of intestines, no munching on fingers, nor are there any instances where eating people like finger-licking fried chicken is happening here. Plus, there is only one adversarial fiend and not more as the cover suggests.

Indican Pictures distributes a Here and Now Production of “What’s Eating Todd?” onto a not rated DVD home video. The region 1 release has a runtime of 89 minutes and is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, 1.85:1 flat aspect ratio, on a 35mm, hand held camera. The digitally shot image renders brightly and clean with hardly any flaws worth disclosing. The night scenes are slightly tinted blue with a higher contrast to lighten up the image without being overly dark in the middle of the woods without much natural lighting and the digital noise has little intrusiveness despite the budget constraints of an indie production. The English language Dolby Digital surround sound has adequate range and depth and, for the most part, a dominating dialogue presence. Brief moments of Revenge of the Bimbot Zombie Killers’ Andy George’s original score would drown out dialogue during imperative, but happened too far and few in between. Other than a typical static menu and preview trailers from Indican Pictures, no other bonus materials reside on the release. “What’s Eating Todd?” is not a zombie movie despite the hoodwinking cover. What Renata Green-Gabor did direct can be categorized as a branch of the undead, an infestation altering DNA that mounts to destruction on and around of the affected that, technically, no longer makes them a part of the living human race. In short, expect a sheep in wolf’s clothing in this roughly run-of-the-mill horror that aims high, but misses low by offering too little to sanction a good story.

Rent. Own. What’s Eating Todd? Do you know?

No Aloe Cream Can Soothe This Evil! “Bite” review!

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Costa Rica’s beauty attracts tourists with it’s crystal clear ocean beaches, idyllic and serene island surroundings, and being a luxurious phenomenal getaway for last hurrah bachelor or bachelorette parties. Costa Rica also conceals Casey’s, the bride-to-be, dark and drunken affair and a deadly murky water dwelling insect inhabiting the depths of a secret sublime pool far off the beaten tourist path. When Casey sustains a bite from the unseen bug, she brushes off the injury as nothing more than a little bug bite, but as Casey recovers from her alcohol-fueled trip back home in the States, she notices strange open sores along her skin, she can’t hold down any food, and her hearing enhances by tenfold. Scared beyond all else, Casey alienates herself from her friends and fiancé as she slowly mutates into a nightmare creature, spawning eggs from her mouth throughout her small apartment and supplying fresh bodies for her millions of offspring as soon as they walk through her door.
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Body horror is alive and well and in your face as Chad Archibald’s 2015 film “Bite” is living proof that the human form is completely, and biologically, mutable. Elma Begovic stars as Casey, recently engaged to a financial investor named Jared living in the same building that’s owned by her soon-to-be mother-in-law, and as her personal troubles mount after a night of alcohol induced memory loss in Costa Rica, Casey’s outlook on her future with Jared diminishes as she second guesses long term commitment and the situation doesn’t help itself when you’re biology transform into an acid bile spewing fiend. The film also stars Jordan Gray as Jared, Annette Wozniak and Denise Yuen as Casey’s bachelorette party friends Jill and Kirsten, and Lawrene Denkers as Jared’s overprotective mother whose a real nasty crone and is written by Jayme Laforest.
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Secreted with an absolute nod of respect by attributing a creature that’s familiar to David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” remake, “Bite” also has an individual personality about it with an extreme Jekyll and Hyde complex containing stark contrasts of smooth, clean structures, such as the apartment building Casey and Jared reside, and with conventional presence in the characters themselves. Reality is then turned on it’s head with visually foul and putrid mucus and a slew of glistening caviar covering the walls and the floor, transforming Casey’s apartment into an eerie swamp of terror and vomit green. A metamorphosed Casey, who resembles a blend of creatures from “Species” and “Splice,” is now the proud owner of a home of horror where every room reeks of death and slick with organic discharge.
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Archibald visually and audibly charges “Bite,” getting up close and personal with Casey’s rancid, boil-infested bite and we’re also subjected to external factors such as extreme outside light, in-and-out screeches, and a clear and positive sensitivity to water to help the audience transition better along with Casey and to not be too much in show when the final result comes to fruition. Elma Begovic’s human Casey constantly feels uncertain. From the first moments of the handheld cam during the bachelorette party, Casey wavers about her relationship with Jared. Back home, she continues to float through the situation and through life. We’re continuously exposed to Casey’s extreme discomfort with marriage, with no having kids, with her displeasure with Jared’s mother, and she also doesn’t even seem to have a job except for walking a neighbor’s dog everyday, which looking back on those scenes seem fairly irrelevant to the story. Only when Casey’s fully transitioned does she firm up her place in life, oozing with confidence and animal instinct, and cozy’s up in a lime green, soft yellow glow comfortable habitat for her new, arguably improved, surroundings. Elma’s glowing bug-eyes are a bit campy, but add to the transforming effect.
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Her apparent plight is a synonymous exaggeration of her tremendous guilt and shame for not being truly committed to Jared and for her blackout one night stand in Costa Rica. Her body horror represents sustaining the physical manifestation of a sexually transmitted disease while, at the same time, discovering she’s pregnant. There’s is so much shame in Casey that even when she can’t confront the problem to her fiance, she can’t even go see a doctor face-to-face and reduces her interactions with a physician by using an ineffective tele-doc instead. Stir her shame and guilt with an abrasive landlord/future mother-in-law and it’s not wonder Casey seeks escape from a hell that dominates her normal life.
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Sometimes the success of a movie is in the details and while “Bite” has great horror house detail, a few aspects bother me and are more about the consistencies than the facts or production goofs. For instance, the bug bite Casey endures in the Costa Rican pool has a much higher location, just above the line of her bikini bottoms, but changes to just under the bikini bottoms, a shade above the middle of the side of her thigh. A stronger case lies with Characters’, other than Casey, perception of the transform apartment. Neither Jared, Kirsten, and Jill react to the extreme odor emitting from Casey’s apartment that was so clear to the landlord who came knocking to confront with former neighbor complaints about the strong odor and neither of the above characters truly reacted with sheer trepidation upon entering a dilapidated apartment owned by this person they know. The indifference the characters displayed didn’t invoke fear, hindering audiences fear to fully enjoy the film.

While the unfortunate details nag at the back of my brain, “Bite” is undoubtedly icky-sticky effective body and creature feature from “The Drownsman” director. UK distributor Second Sight releases the Black Fawn Films and Breakthrough Production film “Bite” onto DVD this October! If you’re a fan of Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” “Bite” is a simpler, thinner modern version sans teleportation machines and Jeff Goldbum. The DVD specs include a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen of the 85 runtime feature with two audio options including Dolby Digital Stereo and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. I was provided a DVD-R screener disc with no bonus material except a static menu with scene selection and can’t critique the audio or video quality, but the film dotes solid SFX and moderately palatable acting in this gunky-gross story stemmed from one little single bite.

Evil Is Only Skin Deep! “Skinless” review!

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I’ve been following Dustin Mills and his films for quite some time now. From the ambitious, multi-role Zombie A-Hole to the from actual news to your for your home entertainment Bath Salt Zombies, producer, writer, and director Dustin Mills has all the makings of a great independent director. The latest indie feat for the ambitious director is “Skinless,” a fierce and grotesque body horror film that sparks a familiar resemblance to a certain David Cronenberg film but with more ooze and goo that will leave a sticky, slimy aftertaste sensation that makes the film difficult to look away from yet still hard to wash off once the credits roll.
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“Skinless” revolves around brilliant scientist Dr. Peter Peele who suffers from a terminal condition of the cancerous melanoma. His only hope is a flesh-eating enzyme from an exotic worm. Peter’s research partner, Dr. Alice Cross, genetically modify’s the enzyme to attack only cancer cells. When Peter and Alice are refused backing funds for the project, Peter turns to a more radical approach to use his own body as a test subject even at Alice’s stern disapproval. The enzyme worked as the cancer cells were stricken from Peter’s body, but at the cost of losing all of his flesh and going through a metamorphose that drives Peter into a murderous monster.
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It’s icky. It’s sticky. It’ll have your skin crawling literally of your muscle tissue. Dustin Mills and his body horror entry proves that heart still exists in independent films today. Brandon Salkil and Erin R. Ryan, a regular cast of actors used by Dustin Mills, star as Dr. Peter Peele and Dr. Alice Cross. These two have chemistry on screen making chemistry. Salkil co-wrote the script with Mills making his character, pre- and post- metamorphose, into completely separate entities. There is a serious tone change in Dr. Peele that results in Dr. Cross to change with him in the second act of this two act film. What I like about Salkil is his style of acting, much like his other roles in previous Mills’ work, resembles a “Dumb and Dumber” Lloyd Christmas from an alternative universe – fairly silly with a realistic handle and grip of tension and hostility.
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Once you view “Skinless”, you might feel like you’ve had a dose of deja vu. I know I did. I started to compare “Skinless” to David Cronenberg’s remake of “The Fly” in which Jeff Goldblum plays an inventory who develops a transporter, uses himself as the first test subject, and has his DNA infused with a fly’s DNA. Much of the same qualities from “The Fly” are transposed to “Skinless” from the projectile digestive acids to the transforming fly-like-ticks each character develops through the metabolical change. Was “The Fly” a big inspiration for “Skinless?” I would like to think so since the evidence is hard to ignore, but is this an intentional homage or a re-write flying below the bar?
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Any way you dissect it, one can’t deny the special effects from the crew with one name to mention in Brandon’s Salkil’s wife – Sherriah. There’s something to be said for creativity and invention in body horror films because without the transformation of Dr. Peele to this skinless, fleshing eating thing, you would literally have no movie. Some of the puppetry might some dated and cheesy, but campy and still can put a ripple up your spine to think and feel like you’re going through the flesh-deducing change yourself.
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Whacked Movies and MVD bring you the latest and greatest of Dustin Mills Productions with “Skinless.” Check it out on DVD on November 18 and watch this sleazy take on a gory-glorified body horror film.