Film Review: My Little Sister (dir by Roberto and Maurizio del Piccolo)

If there’s anything that I’ve learned, from my long history of watching horror films, it’s that only fools go camping.  Seriously, nothing good ever comes from wandering around in the woods or sleeping in a tent.  Inevitably, you’re either going to attacked by a zombie while you’re skinny dipping in the nearby pond or a man with a machete is going to show up while everyone’s busy having sex in a tent.  In short, nudity and the great outdoors equals death.

And really, it makes sense.  When you’re camping, you’re in an isolated place and you are totally at the mercy of the elements, the killers, and occasionally the zombies.  There’s a reason why so many horror films center around unlucky campers.  Because, seriously, camping is terrifying!

Just check out My Little Sister, for instance.

My Little Sister is the latest film from directors Roberto and Maurizio del Piccolo.  It opens in the wilderness, with shots of an old woman wandering through the woods.  The old woman looks happy but it’s a disturbing sort of happiness.  First off, she’s wearing a nightgown, which isn’t exactly the most practical wandering around in the woods outfit.  Secondly, her wrists are heavily bandaged.  And finally, she doesn’t really seem to have an easily identifiable reason for being out there in the woods.  She spends a while picking up leaves and smiling at them.  Occasionally, she crawls around in the dirty.  As we watch her, we occasionally cut to black-and-white photographs of an unhappy looking family and headlines about missing tourists.

While the old woman plays with leaves, something far more disturbing is happening in a nearby house.  In one room, a bound and terrified woman (Sofia Pauly) watches as her boyfriend is murdered and another woman is killed with a weed whacker.  Doing the killing is a hunched over, grunting man (Saverio Percudani) who appears to be horribly disfigured…

In another room of the house, an unmoving figure sits in front of a TV and watches grainy footage of a young girl holding an older man a bottle of what appears to be water.  The man pours the liquid on his face and suddenly starts to scream.  Hmmm…apparently, it wasn’t water…

Meanwhile, in the woods, campers Sheila (Holli Dillon) and Tom (Mattia Rossellini) watch as the old woman plays with the leaves and they laugh at her, which may seem mean but I think most of us would probably do the same thing.  Sheila and Tom are supposed to meet up with their friends but their friends are nowhere to be seen.  Instead, there’s just an empty campsite and an eccentric woodsman (David White) warning them to beware of someone that he calls the little sister…

Of course, all of these storylines converge but I’m not going to tell you how.  You may think that you’ve figured out some of it just by reading the review up to this point but My Little Sister has a few surprises up its sleeve.  There’s a little twist at the end that my horror-loving soul absolutely loved.  Let’s just say that, in this film, no one is every truly safe.

My Little Sister plays out like a mix of Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and — believe it or not — Sinister.  At its best, My Little Sister achieves a dreamlike intensity.  The wilderness is filmed to look both beautiful and threatening at the same time and the scenes in the house, in particular, are pure nightmare fuel.  When it comes to a film like this, the effectiveness depends on how much you care about the potential victims and fortunately, both Holli Dillon and Sofia Pauly give totally believable, sympathetic, and relatable performances.  As I watched them try to survive, I kept wondering what I would do if I found myself in the same situation.  I doubt it would end well.

Finally, there’s no way I can finish this review without making a special mention of Lucia Castellano, who gives a really good and genuinely surprising performance as the crazy old woman in the wilderness.  She is both frightening and sympathetic at the same time.

My Little Sister is a brutally effective and entertaining horror film.  Keep an eye out for it!

Worst of the Worst: Mad Dog Time (1996, directed by Larry Bishop)

Mad_dog_time_4841Remember how, in the 1990s, every aspiring indie director tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino by making a gangster film that mixed graphic violence with quirky dialogue, dark comedy, and obscure pop cultural references?  That led to a lot of terrible movies but not a single one (not even Amongst Friends) was as terrible as Mad Dog Time.

That Mad Dog Time was terrible should come as no surprise.  Most directorial debuts are.  What made Mad Dog Time unique was the sheer amount of talent that was assembled and wasted in the effort to bring this sorry movie to life.  As the son of Joey Bishop, director Larry Bishop was Hollywood royalty and was able to convince several ridiculously overqualified actors to play the thinly drawn gangsters and rouges who populated Mad Dog Time.  Much like the Rat Pack movies that his father once starred in, Larry Bishop’s debut film was full of familiar faces.  Some of them only appeared for a few seconds while others had larger roles but they were all wasted in the end.  Hopefully, everyone was served a good lunch in between filming their scenes because it is hard to see what else anyone could have gotten out of appearing in Mad Dog Time.

Mob boss Vic (Richard Dreyfuss) has just been released from a mental hospital.  With the help of his main enforcer, Mick (Jeff Goldblum), and a legendary hitman named Nick (Larry Bishop, giving not only the worst performance in the film but also the worst performance of the 1990s), Vic is going to reassert his control over the rackets.  Vic also wants to find his former mistress, Grace Everly (Diane Lane) but he doesn’t know that Grace is now with Mick and that Mick is also having an affair with Grace’s sister, Rita (Ellen Barkin).

(Grace and Rita are the Everly Sisters!  Ha ha, between that and all the rhyming names, are you laughing yet?)

Anka and Byrne

Ben London (Gabriel Byrne) has taken over Vic’s nightclub and, while singing My Way with Paul Anka, tells Vic that he should take an early retirement because he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.  Before he can deal with Ben, Vic has to kill all of his other rivals, all of whom are played by actors like Michael J. Pollard, Billy Idol, Kyle MacLachlan, Gregory Hines, and Burt Reynolds.  The bodies start to pile up but Jimmy the Undertaker (Richard Pryor, looking extremely frail in one of his final roles) is always around to make sure that everyone gets a proper burial.

And there are other cameos as well.  Joey Bishop is the owner of a mortuary.  Henry Silva is wasted as one the few gangsters to stay loyal to Vic.  Christopher Jones, who previously co-starred with Larry Bishop and Richard Pryor in Wild In The Streets before dropping out of a society, plays a hitman who pretends to be Nick Falco.  Even Rob Reiner shows up a limo driver who talks too much.

Almost every poorly paced scene in Mad Dog Time plays out the same way.  Three or more men confront each other in a room.  Hard-boiled dialogue is exchanged for an interminable length of time until someone finally gets shot.  You would think, at the very least, it would be watchable because of all the different people in the cast but none of the actors really seem to be into it.  Richard Dreyfuss and Jeff Goldblum resort to smirking through their scenes while Gabriel Byrne often appears to be drunk.  Whenever he’s in a scene, Burt Reynolds seems to be trying to hide his face and it is hard to blame him.  There were many terrible movies released in the 90s but none were as bad as Mad Dog Time.