Film Review: Spirits In The Dark (dir by Jozsef Gallai)

An abandoned building is just inherently creepy.

I mean, think about it.  Unlike a forest or a mountain or a canyon, a building is not something that forms naturally.  People actually have to build buildings.  Plans have to be drawn up.  Materials have to purchased.  Hours of backbreaking labor are required.  Creating a building requires work, resources, and time.  It’s not something that you do on a whim.  It’s something that’s done as a part of a larger plan.  With all of the effort that goes into creating the building, it’s always strange to come across one that has subsequently been abandoned.  You find yourself wondering what could have happened that made the inhabitants or the owners say, “We’d rather have all that hard work be for nothing than remain in this location?”

Walking through an abandoned building, it’s difficult not to think about the fact that, once upon a time, strangers that you’ll probably never meet moved through these now deserted hallways.  People worked in those empty rooms.  For a period of time, the building was probably the center of someone’s life.  Where are those people now?  Do they ever think about the past?  Do they still have memories of things that were said or thought while walking through those now-empty hallways?

Finally, there’s the constant reminders that even an abandoned building isn’t never truly abandoned.  There’s the animals that move in after the people leave.  There’s the plants the continue to grow around and, in some cases, consume the empty structure.  And, of course, there’s the reminders that you might not be the first person to have explored this empty building.  There’s the broken windows or the empty bottles or the crumpled cigarette pack, all of which remind you that others may even consider this building to be their home.  And, of course, there’s the graffiti.  Graffiti and abandoned buildings tend to go hand-in-hand.  For whatever reason, it’s often the graffiti that makes an abandoned building feel especially ominous.  Are those words on the wall a sign of ownership, an act of rebellion, or a warning?

Of course, the only thing more creepy than one abandoned building is when you come across an entire town of abandoned buildings….

And yet, as creepy as an empty building can be, it’s also hard not to be fascinated by them.  You look at them and you wonder why?  Why did everyone leave and how long will the building stand there deserted before it’s either torn down or destroyed by nature?  That’s one reason why ghost towns remains such a popular tourist destination.  They’re a reminder of just how short and fragile life can be.  You can build a home or an office but, once your time is up, it’s just going to be another abandoned building.

That’s something that Gil Spencer, the protagonist of Spirits in the Dark, understands.  Gil (played by the film’s director, Jozsef Gallai) used to love exploring abandoned buildings with his wife.  Ever since his wife’s death, Gil has struggled with being lonely and depressed.  But then, one day, something mysteriously appears on his laptop.  It appears to be a video shot by someone exploring an abandoned military complex.  The person shooting the video comes across a white pendant, one that looks exactly like the one that Gil’s wife used to wear.  While the person holds the pendant, we catch a glimpse of a ghostly figure standing a few feet away, watching.

Intrigued, Gil searches for and manages to track down the deserted complex.  As creepy as the abandoned and graffiti-covered buildings may be, Gil — who films his exploration — informs us that it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before.  Even when he spots blood on the wall, he figures that it was probably just someone shooting “an indie horror film.”  But then, he comes across a mask hanging in a corner.  And then his car’s horn starts honking for no reason.  And then, things start to get really creepy!

Spirits in the Dark is a haunting and moody exercise in atmosphere and genuine creepiness.  Wisely, instead of going for easy jump scares, the film takes its time to set up both the location and the situation.  We get to know Gil and, as he makes his way through them, we also get to know the abandoned building and the surrounding wilderness.  Like Gil, we find ourselves looking at every shadow, searching for some sort of explanation.  Just like Gil, we can feel the menacing atmosphere closing in on us and we become aware of every strange noise and every possible movement in the darkness.  When the scares do come, they’re all the more effective because the film has earned the right to frighten us.  It’s a wonderfully effective and creepy movie, one that has an intriguing plot and which is distinguished by the moody cinematography and the ominous score, both of which are credited to Gergo Elekes.

Wild Eye Releasing is going to be releasing Spirits in the Dark via DVD and VOD early in 2020 so keep an eye out for it!

Eurocomics Spotlight : “The Structure Is Rotten, Comrade”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Don’t let the sheer physical size of writer Viken Berberian and artist Yann Kebbi’s The Structure Is Rotten, Comrade intimidate you — much. Yeah, it’s a hefty hardcover tome that Fantagraphics has published here, clocking in at 320 pages (I assume its original French-language edition is roughly the same, give or take a title page or two), but it reads reasonably quickly. Much of the real wok comes later, when one mentally “unpacks” everything that’s been absorbed at breakneck speed.

That’s because this is a conceptually dense book in the extreme — and yes, I most assuredly do mean that as a compliment. But perhaps I’m pre-disposed toward appreciating it given what’s been happening not in the Armenian capital city of Yerevan, where this story takes place, but in my own hometown of Minneapolis.

Like too many municipalities to mention — maybe even yours — we’ve been inundated here in…

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Eurocomics Spotlight : “Red Ultramarine”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

On the surface, Italian cartoonist Manuele Fior’s early-2000s graphic novel Red Ultramarine — just, and finally, released in a handsome, hardbound English translation by Fantagraphics — is a deceptively simple rumination on the dangers of ambition and obsession, creatively expressed by means of a dual-track narrative that juxtaposes a modern (I think, at any rate) Faust-derived cautionary tale revolving around a woman trying to save her architect love interest from his own OCD excess with a rather novel mash-up of the Greek myths of Daedalus/Icarus and Theseus/The Minotaur. Both stories are written in brisk and concise fashion, hitting just the right “beats” at just the right points to make the parallels between them obvious without belaboring matters, but Fior’s never been about “surface level” readings — and this is not only no exception, it’s the work that well and truly got the whole ball rolling in that regard.


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Film Review: The Top Rope (dir by Cody Broadway)

About halfway through the 20 minute documentary, The Top Rope, a soft-spoken, bearded man named Billy Gray says, “It’s how I’m wired.”

Billy is explaining why he spends most of his time playing a character named Hunter Grey, a viking who is, at one point, seen carrying a big axe.  (By being a viking, he explains, he can make people laugh while still being believably intimidating.)  Billy, who was a championship wrestler in high school and who comes from a long line of wrestlers, now makes his living traveling the pro wrestling circuit in Colorado.  It’s hardly glamorous.  Billy tells us stories about having to change in parking lots and says that if you have a locker room, you should consider yourself to be lucky.  He also tells us about how his family was initially dismissive of his career and how it took a while before they actually started coming to his matches.  But, whenever we actually see Billy performing and in the ring, we understand why he does it.  The crowds love watching him.  When Billy Gray’s in that ring, he’s a star.

Billy is one of several wrestlers to be interviewed in The Top Rope.  Considering that one of the main appeals of pro-wrestling is the flamboyance of the people involved, it’s tempting to be surprised to discover that, outside the ring, the majority of the participants come across as being rather soft-spoken.  Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all.  One of the joys of performing, after all, is assuming a new and different persona.

For instance, a wrestler named Zach Anaya is obviously somewhat bemused with his villain status but, when we see him in the ring, we see someone who is truly enjoying playing his role.  A scene in which he jumped off a ledge and landed on top of two wrestlers below left me cringing because you could tell that, for all the talk about how pro-wrestling matches are essentially a type of performance art, the participants can still get seriously injured.  Scripted or not scripted, you have to be willing to push yourself to extremes in order to pursue it.

Also interviewed is Curtis Cole, a wrestler who rather touchingly talks about how he used to watch wrestling with his mother.  You get the feeling that, to a certain extent, he’s wrestling in her memory.  Cole also discusses the importance of having a storyline in the ring.  Without a storyline, it’s just two guys jumping on each other.  With a storyline, it becomes an epic battle of good and evil.  Cole tears up while discussing once past storyline and I have to admit that he got so emotional that even I, who has never even watched a wrestling match, started to get emotional too.  In a film full of great storytellers, Curtis Cole might be the best.

This documentary was directed by Cody Broadway, who previously directed 4 Quarters of Silence, a film about the Texas School for The Deaf’s football team.  He brings the same empathetic touch to this film.  Though the film did not make me a pro wrestling fan (to misquote Billy Gray, it’s just not how I’m wired), it did make me a fan of the men who were interviewed and it made me happy that they have this in their lives.  We’re all wired differently but, as this film demonstrates, there’s a place for all of us if we’re willing to look for it.

Short Film Review: Fried Barry (dir by Ryan Kruger)

I just watched a three-minute short film called Fried Barry.  Now, you may ask: “How much of a story can you tell in three minutes?”  Well, the answer is that you can tell a lot more than you might think.  For instance, Fried Barry might only last 180 seconds but it tells the story of a lifetime.

Fried Barry tells the story of Barry (Gary Green), a man who has obviously fallen on hard times.  When we first see him, he’s dirty, he’s scruffy, he’s twitching, and he’s wandering around in what appears to be a deserted warehouse.  His eyes appear to be full of madness as they dart from one side of the warehouse to the other.  A series of quick cuts, taking us from extreme close-ups of Barry to medium shots back into Barry’s face (and potentially his mind), keep us just as disorientated as he is.  The soundtrack is full of the sounds of the chaos that is erupting in Barry’s mind and we wonder if Barry is insane or maybe if we’ve just entered someone else’s dream.  It’s when we see the spoon and the hypodermic needle that we come to understand that Barry is a heroin addict.

When he shoots up, the short film just gets more chaotic.  Shots of Barry looking somewhat blissful are followed by shots of Barry looking even more pissed off.  Occasionally, a peaceful image appears but the sounds of chaos continue to erupt in the background.  By the time Barry is using his tongue to catch flies like a frog, we find ourselves wondering once again if we’re watching Barry from the outside or if we’ve entered his head.

Looking over the notes that I jotted down while watching Fried Barry, I see that I originally wrote that Barry was “a crazy dude in a warehouse.”  That’s probably not entirely fair to Barry.  When you see someone at a certain point in their life, you never fully understand how they reached that point.  That’s true of the desperate people that we see everyday and certainly, that’s true of someone like Barry.  Who knows who Barry was before he became “a crazy dude in a warehouse.”  The film is full of hints but it’s up to us, as the viewer, to put them together.

David Lynch once describes Eraserhead as being “a dream of dark and disturbing things,” and I think the same description applies to this 3-minute film.  It’s a film that will definitely stick with you.  iHorror released it this week so check it out.

The short film Fried Barry has been adapted into a feature film, which has just completed post-production and should be coming out at the end of 2019.

Music Video of the Day: Sharp Dressed Man by ZZ Top (1983, directed by Tim Newman)

“Sharp-dressed depends on who you are. If you’re on a motorcycle, really sharp leather is great. If you’re a punk rocker, you can get sharp that way. You can be sharp or not sharp in any mode. It’s all in your head. If you feel sharp, you be sharp.”

— Dusty Hill, bassist, ZZ Top

The video for Sharp Dressed Man picks where the video for Gimme All Your Lovin’ left off.  The three girls are still driving the Eliminator, the ghosts of ZZ Top are still giving away the keys to the car, and Peter Tramm is still stuck in a job where he gets no respect.  In Gimme All Your Lovin’, Tramm was a gas station attendant.  In this video, he’s working as a valet at an exclusive club and not even Truman Capote is willing to give him any respect.  Luckily, the ghosts of ZZ Top have not forgotten about Tramm and, after one ride in the Eliminator, Tramm is ready to hit the dance floor and win the love of the young woman (played by Galyn Gorg) who earlier looked back at him while being dragged into the club by her boorish boyfriend.  By the end of the video, even Truman Capote is getting down!

Sharp Dressed Man remains one of ZZ Top’s signature songs and this video is still among their best-remembered.  It’s not surprising that the video was an MTV hit because, for many members of the then-young network’s audience, it was the ultimate in wish-fulfillment.  No matter who you were or who was treating you with disrespect, there was always a chance that ZZ Top might appear and toss you the keys to Billy Gibbons’s car.

Like Gimme All Your Lovin’, this video was directed by Randy Newman’s brother, Tim.  Tim Newman would return to direct the next installment in the adventures of the Eliminator and the ZZ Top Girls, Legs.  Anyone want to guess what tomorrow’s music video of the day is going to be?