Short Film Review: $tack$ (dir by Gerald Webb)


Sometimes, you have to laugh.

That may seem like odd advice to give at this moment in history because, right now, there’s a lot of people who are convinced that we’ll never share a joke or a smile again.  They look at the news about the spread of COVID-19 and the empty grocery store shelves and everything else that’s going on and they say to themselves, “Laughter is dead.”  Of course, what they’re failing to understand is that often, it’s laughter and comedy that help people survive tough times.  It’s much easier to deal with a problem if you laugh at it first.  Sacrificing one’s sense of humor is the first step towards surrender and surrendering is not what we, as a people, are about.

The 7 and a half-minute short film, $tack$, opens with a familiar cinematic situation.  Two men are in an underground garage, standing next to their car and waiting for someone else to arrive.  They exchange a few words, the type of tough guy talk that we’ve heard in countless crime films.  Both of them are armed.  Both of them know that the situation is serious.  Both of them are ready for whatever happens.

Another vehicle pulls up and more people get out.  More guns are displayed.  A sell is being made.  The second group of people is assured that they’re getting the best, “pure white.”

As I said, it’s a situation that we’ve seen in countless crime films but this one has a humorous COVID-19 inspired twist, one that I will not spoil here.  It’s a clever little twist, though and it’s one to which everyone — and I do mean everyone — will be able to relate.  Making his directorial debut, Gerald Webb plays the action straight, even when $tack$‘s main joke is revealed.  The audience may laugh but, to the characters in the film, there’s nothing more important than the business transaction being conducted in that underground garage.  And really, who can blame them?

A rap and a music video play over the end credits, on that not only details the hardships of living in the COVID-19 era but which also pays tribute to all of the essential workers on the front lines, which is a nice touch.  If nothing else, it’ll make you feel better about the times that we’re living than watching a hundred “this is the new normal” brand name commercials will.

Be sure to track down $tack$.  It’ll make you laugh and that’s an important thing right now.

Spring Breakdown: Super Shark (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


So, here’s the thing: when I was making out my list of films to review for Spring Breakdown, I was under the impression that the 2011 film, Super Shark, was a Spring Break film.  I was convinced that it was a film about a giant shark that ate a bunch of people over the course of Spring Break.

Fortunately, right before posting this review, I decided to rewatch Super Shark.  Normally, I probably wouldn’t have because I’m currently on vacation but it’s also currently raining and it’s also about 7 degrees outside.  (That’s 7 degrees Celsius but it’s still pretty cold.)  It’s like God was reading through my drafts folder last night and said, “Uh-oh.  Lisa needs to rewatch the movie before she posts the review.”

Anyway, upon rewatching Super Shark, I discovered that 1) the film is still awesome as Hell and 2) it’s not actually a Spring Break film.  Instead, it’s a summer film.  There’s even a scene where two lifeguards talk about what a great time they’re going to have working on the beach during the summer.  So, technically, I probably shouldn’t be reviewing this film as part of a Spring Break series but …. well, I’m going to do it anyways.  I mean, it may be a summer film but it plays out like a Spring Break film.  Plus, it’s got a giant shark.

Not surprisingly, for a film called Super Shark, the giant shark is the main attraction.  The CGI’s a bit dodgy and the shark does look a bit cartoonish but that actually adds to the film’s charm.  Whereas Steven Spielberg dealt with the reality of a fake-looking shark by keeping the shark off-screen as much as possible, directed Fred Olen Ray takes the opposite approach and seriously, more power to him.  Ray puts the shark in as many scenes as possible, as if he’s saying, “Yes, this is a low-budget B-movie and why should we pretend that it’s anything other than that?”  There’s an honesty to this approach that’s impossible not to respect.

The shark is prehistoric in origin.  It was safely separated from society until the big bad oil company did some bad corporate stuff and, as a result, the shark is now free to ruin everyone’s summer.  You know that whole thing about how sharks have to stay in the water or they’ll die?  That’s not a problem for Super Shark.  Super Shark will jump on the beach and eat you, he doesn’t care.  In fact, Super Shark is such a rebel that he’ll even take on a tank and win!  WE LOVE YOU, SUPER SHARK!

As always, there’s a group of humans around who don’t love Super Shark as much as the viewers.  There’s the evil corporate guy played by John Schneider.  He’s into money and drilling.  And then there’s the scientist played by Sarah Lieving.  She hates corporations and she doesn’t like sharks.  There’s a DJ played by Jimmie “JJ” Walker.  And then there’s the lifeguards and the beachgoers and the people who just want to participate in a wholesome bikini contest.  Sorry, everyone, Super Shark has other plans.

Anyway, I have a weakness for films about giant sharks attacking oil wells and eating people on the beach.  It’s a silly film but it’s obviously been designed to be silly.  This isn’t Jaws nor is this a serious film about the issues surrounding underwater drilling.   This is a B-movie about a giant shark and if you can’t enjoy something like this, I worry about you.  This is a film that you watch with your friends and you have a lot of fun talking back to the screen.  Don’t take it seriously and just enjoy the giant shark action.  Who could ask for a better summer?  Or a better Spring Break for that matter?

 

Lifetime Film Review: Sleeping With My Student (dir by Tom Shell)


So, here you are.

You’re middle-aged.  You’ve just split up with your adulterous husband.  Your teenage daughter is upset because she’s about to start at a new school.  Even worse, you’ve just been hired to be the new principal at that school.  It’s the summer.  You’re at a conference.  This is your last chance to enjoy yourself before a new school year begins.

You’re at the hotel pool.  Suddenly, a handsome man who is quite a bit younger than you jumps into the pool and, after briefly fooling you into thinking that he’s drowned, he starts up a conversation with you.  He’s charming in a simple way.  He says that you were sexy when you were concerned that he might be dead.  He invites you back to his room and you know exactly why.

Do you go with him?

That’s the decision that Kathy (Gina Holden) is faced with at the start of the Lifetime film, Sleeping With My Student.  What does she do when she’s given the opportunity to have one night of passion with Ian (Mitchell Hoog)?  Well, your answer is right there in the first half of the film’s title.  And, as you can probably guess from the second half of title, Ian eventually turns up as a student at Kathy’s school!  Even worse, Ian has a reputation for being a bad boy and a trouble maker and soon, he’s dating Kathy’s daughter, Bree (Jessica Belkin)!

Of course, it all turns out to be about more than just one night stands and bad disciplinary histories.  It turns out that it wasn’t a coincidence that Ian showed up at the hotel and jumped into the pool at the same moment that Kathy just happened to be there.  It also wasn’t a coincidence that Ian just happened to end up getting transferred to Kathy’s new school.  It’s all a part of a massive scheme that Ian has cooked up in order to get vengeance for something that happened in the past.  I mean, seriously, no one should be surprised.  There are no coincidences when it comes to Lifetime.

Speaking as someone who has seen a few hundred Lifetime films over the past few years, I enjoyed Sleeping With My Student.  Gina Holde, Mitchell Hoog, and Jessica Belkin were all well-cast in their rules and the great Gerald Webb showed up as Officer Compton, the school security officer who first explains that Ian is bad news.  Yes, the plot was a bit predictable but that’s honestly a part of the film’s appeal.  You don’t necessarily watch a Lifetime film because you want to see something unexpected.  Instead, the appeal of these films is to be found in their very predictability.  There’s something comforting in knowing that, on Lifetime, no one night stand will turn out to be just a one night stand and that the film’s villain will always do something particularly evil at the halfway mark.  The best Lifetime films are cinematic comfort food.  They give you exactly what you want and they don’t demand much in return and we’re all the better for it!

A House Is Not A Home Has A Release Date!


A House Is Not A Home

Remember, back in 2014, when I reviewed a horror film called A House Is Not A Home?  Well, if you don’t, I’ll remind you what I thought about the film in a second.  But first, I wanted to let you know that A House Is Not A Home not only has a brand new and super intense poster (seen above) but it also has a release date!

Following a limited theatrical run, MVD Entertainment Group will be releasing A House Is Not A Home on DVD and digital platforms on September 27th!  Directed by Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray and starring  Bill Cobbs, Richard Grieco, Eddie Steeples, Aurora Perrineau, Diahnna Nicole Baxter, Gerald Webb, and Melvin Gregg, A House Is Not A Home premiered at the Burbank International Film Festival, where it picked up the award for Best Horror Feature!

You can order a copy of A House Is Not A Home from amazon or at the MVD Shop.

You can check out my review by clicking here.  If you don’t have time to check out my review, I’ll give you the short version: A House Is Not A Home is an atmospheric, well-acted, and entertaining horror film.  It’s an effectively creepy film and features a genuinely interesting exorcism scene.  As I said at the end of my review, the film’s dream-like and horrific atmosphere compares to the best of Lucio Fulci.

Finally, to quote directly from my review:

A House Is Not A Home is one of the few non-comedic films that I’ve seen recently that featured an almost entirely African-American cast.  That’s really saying something when you consider that I literally watch hundreds of films a year.  At a time when mainstream filmmaking (and the horror genre in particular) still seems to be struggling to break free from racial stereotyping, A House Is Not A Home is definitely a step in the right direction.”

I wrote that two years ago.  I’m glad to see that now everyone else will have a chance to discover A House Is Not A Home for themselves!

Here’s the film’s trailer:

 

What Lisa and the Snarkalecs Watched The Other Night #150: A Mother’s Revenge (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


On Saturday night, my friends the Snarkalecs and I turned over to the Lifetime Movie Network and we watched the premiere of the latest Fred Olen Ray thriller, A Mother’s Revenge!

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Why Were We Watching It?

Well, the obvious answer is that the film was on the Lifetime Movie Network and it was directed by Fred Olen Ray!  However, I have to admit that I nearly missed A Mother’s Revenge.  Because it was the night before Mother’s Day, Lifetime was planning on broadcasting a film about a basketball player and his mom.  I was definitely not looking forward to watching that but then my friend Trevor informed me that, on the Lifetime Movie Network, A Mother’s Revenge would be airing at the exact same time!  YAY!

I then went on twitter and I discovered that not only was A Mother’s Revenge the latest film from Fred Olen Ray but that it also involved Gerald Webb, the producer and star of A House Is Not A Home and the favorite actor of snarkalecs everywhere!  Once I discovered that all of my fellow snarkalecs would be taking part in the live tweet, there was no way that I wasn’t going to join them!

What Was It About?

It was about a mother and how she got revenge!

(That’s the one line version.)

More specifically, it’s the story of Jennifer (Jamie Luner), a pill-popping, recovering alcoholic who travels to Buffalo so that she can watch her daughter, Katey (Aubrey Whitby), graduate from college.  From the minute that Jennifer arrives, things refuse to work out the way that she wants.

First off, Katey wants to spend some time with her friends as opposed to hanging out with her mother.

Secondly, Jennifer’s ex-husband (Jason-Shane Scott) has also shown up for the graduation and tension, both sexual and otherwise, is everywhere.

Third, Jennifer accidentally grabbed the wrong bag at the airport.  Supercreepy Conner (Steven Brand) wants his bag back and he’s willing to both commit murder and kidnap Jennfer’s daughter to accomplish his goals.

And finally, Buffalo’s best detectives (played by Gerald Webb and Richard Lounello) suspect that Jennifer may be mentally unstable.  Once a dead body shows up, Jennifer automatically becomes their main suspect.

All in all, Jennifer has quite a bit to be upset about…

What Worked?

I liked A Mother’s Revenge.  Fred Olen Ray kept the action moving at a steady pace and I appreciated the way the film emphasized how one totally random mistake (like grabbing the wrong bag at the airport) can change someone’s life forever.  It nicely conformed into my own point-of-view, which is that the universe is basically as chaotic and unpredictable as a Werner Herzog documentary.

Jamie Luner appears in a lot of these movies and she knows how to balance melodrama and pathos.  She and Aubrey Whitby were totally believable as mother and daughter.  Also believable was Steven Brand, who was properly creepy as the sadistic Conner.

A Mother’s Revenge was shot on location in Buffalo and it must be said that the city looked really good.  The Mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown, made a cameo appearance and who can blame him?  A Mother’s Revenge made me want to visit his town.

Another great thing about A Mother’s Revenge is that a lot of the film’s crew and cast joined in with the live tweet and they were all very gracious, informative, and handled the occasional snarkiness with class and good humor.  What I especially enjoyed was seeing some of the tweets from the various citizens of Buffalo who had been involved with the production.  It was one of the most positive live tweets that I’ve ever taken part in and it generated the type of good vibes that you normally don’t associate with film twitter.

What Did Not Work?

It all worked!

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I’ve actually grabbed the worng bag before.  I did not get blackmailed as a result but maybe I was just lucky.  (However, I did get a week’s worth of new clothes, none of which really worked for me.  I was sad.  Hopefully, the Goodwill appreciated my donation.)

Lessons Learned

Be careful about grabbing the wrong bag.  And, if you do grab the one bag, don’t let anyone find out.

Let’s Talk About Sharknado 3!


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(This review contains spoilers because it’s impossible for me to imagine that you somehow have not already seen Sharknado 3.)

Last night, I watched and live tweeted Sharknado 3 and I’m still recovering.  After the first hundred, I lost track of how many tweets I devoted to Sharknado 3.  Of course, I wasn’t alone in that.  Last night, it seemed like the entire nation was tweeting about Sharknado 3 and it was a wonderful thing.  At its best, twitter can be the great equalizer, giving everyone an equal voice and last night was one of those moments.

In fact, I was tempted to just devote this review to posting the best Sharknado 3 tweets from last night.  However, if I did that, 90% of those tweets would be from me.  Out of the millions of Sharknado 3 related tweets last night, mine were definitely the best.

Over the past three years, the premiere of the latest Sharknado film has almost become an unofficial national holiday, a summer version of the Super Bowl.  On twitter, Sharknado 3 was trending for days before the film even premiered.  And, once Sharknado 3 did start, it seemed as if everyone in the country was watching and taking bets on which celebrity guest star would be the next to die.  (I’m very proud to say that I correctly predicted the bloody and prolonged death of Frankie Muniz.) Even the majority of the commercials were specifically meant to tie in with the Sharknado franchise.

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Fans of the first Sharknado will be happy to know that Nova returns!

But what’s amazing and admirable is that, even though the franchise has now become an international phenomena, Sharknado 3 stayed true to its SyFy roots.  Ignore all the hype and you’ll see that Sharknado 3 tells  a story that will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched any SyFy original movie.  The world is threatened by a flamboyant threat, in this case a bunch of tornadoes that happens to be full of sharks.  Only one man (Ian Ziering as Finn) can save the world but first, he has to deal with skeptical military jackasses.  As always seems to happen in these films, he’s separated from his wife (Tara Reid playing the role of April and sporting a truly badass robotic hand).  Meanwhile, their teenage daughter (Ryan Newman as Claudia) has gone off on her own and finds herself right in the center of the disaster.  It’s a plot that has been used in thousands of SyFy and Asylum films but director Anthony C. Ferrante directs with a lot of energy and writer Thunder Levin provides so many clever one liners that it doesn’t matter if the storyline is familiar.  Ignore all the hype and you’ll discover that Sharknado 3 is still a wonderfully fun film that features everything that we love about SyFy movies.

Of course, one thing that distinguishes Sharknado 3 from other Asylum film is that it is full of celebrity cameos.  Usually, I am weary of excessive celebrity cameos because they’re distracting and the celebs often turn out to be terrible actors.  But the celebs in Sharknado 3 all do a wonderful job.  (Add to that, the majority of them get eaten, as well.)  Then again, the same could be said for the entire cast.  Regardless of what they’re asked to do or say, Ian Ziering and Tara Reid both full commit to their performances.  Casting director Gerald Webb is indeed one of the unsung heroes of the entire Sharknado phenomena.

The film opens with a shark attack on Washington D.C. and it’s during this time that we meet President Mark Cuban and Vice President Ann Coulter.  And, oh my God, how certain heads on twitter exploded when Ann Coulter showed up.  But you know what?  After seeing Sharknado 3, I would totally vote for a Cuban/Coulter ticket.  I don’t care what their platform is, they know how to fight sharks and they seemed far more believable than anyone who is currently running for President.  At first, I assumed that Mark Cuban was supposed to be playing himself and I thought that Sharknado 3 had somehow managed to predict the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.  However, I then checked with the imdb and I discovered that Cuban was playing President Marcus Robbins.

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The same people on twitter who were bitching about Ann Coulter weren’t much happier when Michele Bachman showed up, playing herself.  (For a few minutes, I was hoping that the movie would be full of cameos from former Presidential candidates.)  However, the political cameos in Sharknado 3 are bipartisan.  When the action moves down to Orlando, noted Democrat Jerry Springer shows up as a tourist and promptly gets eaten.  And then Carlos Danger himself, Anthony Weiner, shows up as a heroic NASA guy.  Eventually, for those of us who lean towards the libertarian side of the political spectrum, Penn Jilette and Teller eventually show up.  Personally, I suspect that Teller knew how to stop the sharks but, of course, he wasn’t going to say anything.

As for the cameos from various media personalities, Sharknado 3 never manages to top the moment from Sharknado 2 where Kelly Ripa stomped a shark with her high heels.  But no matter — it’s still fun to watch Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda get drunk while sharks fall around them.  And then Matt Lauer gets eaten by a shark so yay for that!

(Incidentally, whether intentional or not, the film was full of former contestants from The Celebrity Apprentice, with Ian, Penn, and Lou Ferrigno all showing up.  Personally, I would have enjoyed seeing Piers Morgan get eaten by a shark.)

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However, of all the celebrity cameos in Sharknado 3, nobody could top the Hoff.  When David Hasselhoff first showed up as Finn’s father, it felt like a funny but obvious joke.  Of course, Finn’s father would be David Hasselhoff.  But you know what?  Give credit where credit is due.  The Hoff actually gave a pretty good performance and, during the film’s interstellar climax, he managed to do a pretty good impersonation of George Clooney as he looked out into space and said, “It’s a beautiful view.”

And yes, Sharknado 3 does go into space.  How could it not?  The film may have started out as an homage to the classic weather disaster films but, by the end of the movie, it turned into a delirious combination of JawsGravity and Interstellar.  By the time Finn was exploring the stomach of a shark while it floated through the starry sky, Sharknado 3 had achieved a definite state of grace.

Incidentally, the film ended with a cliffhanger and we were asked to vote whether or not April would live.  At first, I voted to kill April because, quite frankly, I thought it would be fun to see a vengeance-obsessed Finn.  But then Tara Reid tweeted the following and made me feel totally guilty:

So, I’m changing my vote!  APRIL LIVES!

Of course, all this means that there will be Sharknado 4 and I can hardly wait!

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Two Late Holiday Reviews: Santa Claws and Happy Christmas


So, Christmas is over and, at this point, you’re probably sick of hearing about Christmas movies.  However, before we say goodbye to 2014 and welcome the new year, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about two new holiday films that I saw this month.

Santa Claws

Directed by Glenn Miller and produced by the wonderful people at the Asylum, Santa Claws tells the story of what happens when Santa Claus comes into contact with three adorable kittens.  Unfortunately, it would appear that Santa is highly allergic to cats and he ends up sneezing so much that he falls off the roof of a house.  Of course, this means that it’s up to the three kittens to climb into Santa’s sleigh and deliver the rest of the gifts.  Fortunately, Santa’s sleigh is equipped with a GPS system and two talking reindeer.

Did I mention that the kittens can talk too?

Because they so totally can!

Okay, okay — this is the type of low-budget, straight-to-DVD family film that critics are always snarky about.  But you know what?  I’m a cat person and I think kittens are the cutest things in the world.  And when they’re capable of talking, it’s even better!  Whatever flaws the movie may have had (and it had more than a few), the kittens were cute and really, that’s all that matters.

Add to that, Santa Claws was full of Asylum in-jokes.  For instance, one creepy, Santa-obsessed character also happens to love (and own) Sharknado.  When the kittens pulls up the list of who has been naughty and who has been nice, one of the names at the top of list is that of frequent Asylum actor (and star of A House Is Not A Home) Gerald Webb.

Ultimately, Santa Claws is cute fun for cat lovers.  Watch it on a double bill with the Grumpy Cat Christmas movie.

Happy Christmas

And, after you watch Santa Claws, you can watch a film that basically takes place in an entirely different universe.  Happy Christmas was this year’s film from director Joe Swanberg.  Swanberg, of course, is one of the major figures in the mumblecore movement, making films that feature improvised dialogue and which treat the mundane realities of life with the same reverence that most mainstream films reserve for chase scenes and CGI explosions. Swanberg’s previous film, Drinking Buddies, was one of the best of 2013.

Happy Christmas never works as well as Drinking Buddies but fans of both Swanberg and the mumblecore movement will probably enjoy it.  Anna Kendrick plays Jenny, an irresponsible woman who might be an alcoholic.  When she breaks up with her boyfriend, Jenny ends up moving in with her older brother Jeff (played by Joe Swanberg, himself).  The rest of the film follows Jenny as she goes to parties with and embarrasses her friend Carson (Lena Dunham), dates an amiable pot dealer named Kevin (Mark Webber), and bonds with Jeff’s wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynesky).

Kelly is a novelist who has been suffering from writer’s block.  With the help of Jenny and Carson, she starts to work on what Jenny refers to as being a “trashy, sexy mom novel.”  Probably the best scene in the film features Jenny, Carson, and Kelly just sitting around and debating the best euphemisms to use while writing a sex scene.

(As well, I think that any writer can relate to Kelly’s situation here.  Who hasn’t been tempted to just sell out and just write something that’s totally commercial and goes against every idealistic dream you’ve ever had about being a serious writer?)

Many viewers will probably dismiss Happy Christmas as being a film where nothing really happens but I think they’re being shortsighted.  There’s a lot going on in Happy Christmas — you just have to be willing to look underneath the surface.  Though Happy Christmas rejects the melodramatic conventions that we’ve come to expect from most movies, that doesn’t mean that the film itself is plotless.  By the end of this rather short film, neither Kelly or Jenny is the same person that she was at the start of the film.  They’ve both changed for the better but — much as in real life — that change isn’t always obvious.  But the change is there, waiting to be discovered by those perceptive enough to notice.

Finally, it’s interesting to see both Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynesky playing against type here.  Kendrick especially seems to be having a lot of fun, finally getting to play a character who doesn’t always do the right thing.

And so, next Christmas, watch Happy Christmas when you want to think and watch Santa Claws when you need an excuse to go, “Awwwwww!”

 

Film Review: A House Is Not A Home (dir by Christopher Ray)


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I was recently lucky enough to get a chance to see a perfectly creepy haunted house movie called A House Is Not A Home.  A House Is Not A Home is one of those films that I have wanted to see ever since I first heard about it last year.  I have to admit that, usually, whenever I find myself looking forward to a movie, I sometimes dread actually watching it.  There’s nothing worse than being disappointed by a film that fails to live up to your initial expectations.  That’s why I’m happy to report that A House Is Not A Home not only lived up to those expectations but exceeded them.

A House Is Not A Home begins with a close-up of a bloodied hand.  An obviously unstable man (played, with a truly unsettling intensity, by Richard Greico) calls 911 and tells the operator that “they’re all dead” and it’s all his fault.  He then hangs up and, after shouting, “Take me!”, disappears into a bright white light.  It’s an effective scene, largely because it’s played totally straight.  You look at Greico and you have no doubt that something terrible truly has just happened and that not only was he responsible but he’s going to also be responsible for a lot more before the film reaches its conclusion.  It’s the perfect way to open up a haunted house scene, one that hints at the promise that the film itself will soon fulfill.

Sometime after the man had vanished, the house is up for sale.  Architect Ben (Gerald Webb) and his wife Linda (Diahnna Nicole Baker) are given a tour of the house by a real estate agent named Paul (Bill Cobbs).  When we first see Paul, he seems like a nice old man.  He’s friendly, he’s always smiling, and he comes across like he could probably sell snow in Canada.  But, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s something a little bit off about Paul.  By the time he finishes showing the house, you start to realize that his friendly smile seems to be more of a self-satisfied smirk.

Regardless, Ben and Linda buy the house and, along with their two teenagers, Ashley and Alex (Aurora Perrineau and Melvin Gregg), move in.  From the minute that they unpack, strange things start to happen.  Ashley is woken up in the middle of the night by mysterious laughter and, regardless of how many times she tries to move them, the same scary-looking dolls keep showing up on her dresser.  (Seriously, those dolls were creepy!)  Alex feels as if he’s being watched wherever he goes.  Linda, a recovering alcoholic, starts to drink again and her attempts to give piano lessons are made difficult by the fact that the piano occasionally attacks her students.  And Ben suddenly finds himself having nightmares and deliberately cutting himself so that the blood can hynotically drip down onto the kitchen table.

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Even more frightening?  The man from the first scene in the film keeps popping up, standing in the corner and watching.

Yes, obviously the house is haunted and eventually, even Ben is forced to admit it.  The family is forced to call in a voodoo priest, who attempts to exorcise the house.  (The priest is played by Eddie Steeples, who may be best known for playing the comedic Crabman on My Name Is Earl but  who actually gives a nicely intense and creepy performance here.  Just check out his eyes!)  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, then you’ve probably seen a lot of haunted house exorcisms but, even if it might seem like a familiar development, the exorcism scenes in A House Is Not A Home are really well-done.  If nothing else, they’re distinguished by the fact that the exorcist isn’t the typical quirky medium or self-doubting Catholic priest that most movies offer up.  For once, we’re given an exorcism that’s interesting to watch…

But does the exorcism work?  Well — does an exorcism ever work in a haunted house film?  You’ll have to watch to find out.

A House Is Not A Home is an effectively creepy movie, one that uses its low-budget to its advantage. Director Christopher Ray allows the camera to creep through the house, snaking its way through empty passages while the soundtrack is full of the sounds of restless spirits.  The end result is a film that, as opposed to relying on predictable CGI for its scares, instead creates a palpable sense of doom and dread.

The film is well-acted by the entire cast, with Bill Cobbs especially giving a wonderfully sinister performance.  (I wish I could tell you about his final appearance in the movie without it acting as a spoiler but seriously, it’s a wonderfully acted scene.)  In the role of Ben is Gerald Webb, who will be a familiar face to anyone who regularly watches the SyFy Channel.  Webb (who also earned a bit of pop cultural immortality by serving as casting director for both Sharknados) has appeared in several beloved Asylum films as characters who inevitably always seem to end up getting killed.  It was nice, in A House Is Not A Home, to get to see Webb play a leading role and prove that he’s capable of a lot more than just a good death scene.  He gives an effective, sympathetic performance here.  In fact, the entire family does.  One reason that the film works as well as it does is because you believe that these four characters actually are a family.  You care about what happens to them and, as a result, the horror is all the more effective.

Finally, two final notes about A House Is Not A Home.  At its best, the film — with its emphasis on atmosphere and its scenes of the characters discovering that the house exists on its own plane of surreal logic — can compared favorably to the works of Italian horror director Lucio Fulci.  I don’t know if that was intentional or not.  But it’s definitely a good thing!

Secondly, and perhaps a little sadly, A House Is Not A Home is one of the few “serious” films that I’ve seen recently that featured an almost entirely African-American cast.  That’s really saying something when you consider that I literally watch hundreds of films a year.  At a time when mainstream filmmaking (and the horror genre in particular) still seems to be struggling to break free from racial stereotyping, A House Is Not A Home is definitely a step in the right direction.

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Trailer: A House Is Not A Home (dir by Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray)


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A House Is Not A Home, a film directed by Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray and produced by and starring one of my favorite actors, the great Gerald Webb, is having its world premiere tonight at the Burbank International Film Festival!

Here’s the trailer:

Review: True Blood 6.4 “At Last”


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(BEWARE!  SPOILERS!)

I knew it!

Seriously, I suspected the truth from the minute that Ben (Ryan Kazinsky) conveniently first showed up.  And it was even more obvious when Niall (Rutger Hauer) just happened to find Ben hanging out in that field.

Even before I saw Ben open up his veins and allow his blood to drip into Jason’s open mouth at the beginning of tonight’s episode, I knew that Ben was Warlow.

Fortunately, for once, Sookie (Anna Paquin) figured things out ahead of time as well.  After inviting Ben to her house for dinner, Sookie ended up in her underwear, straddling Warlow on the couch, and holding a ball of deadly faerie light in her hand.

Of course, before all this happened, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) ended up drinking Warlow’s blood and then started having a dream where he helped Warlow shave. (Jason’s panicked reaction — and the way Kwanten played that panic — was a definite highlight of tonight’s episode.)

Niall (Rutger Hauer) also attempted to kill Warlow but, for all of his trouble, he ended up getting tossed into another dimension.  Hopefully, this won’t be the end of Niall because Rutger Hauer’s permanently disheveled appearance has been a highlight of the season so far.

As I said, I’m not surprised that Ben turned out to be Warlow.  His sudden appearance at Bon Temps was just too convenient.  I am, however, happy that Sookie figured everything out on her own for once.

While the revelation of Ben’s true identity was the main thing that happened last night, it was hardly the only thing.  It wouldn’t be True Blood if there weren’t a hundred little subplots running through every episode.

First off, in the storyline that I really don’t care about, Alcide and the werewolves continued to search for Emma while Sam and Nicole continued to bond.  I’m not a huge fan of Nicole’s self-righteous character, nor am I that happy about the idea of Sam getting a new love interest when it’s only been a few days since Luna died.  I also don’t care much for the one-dimensional way that Alcide’s been portrayed this season.

Far more interesting was what went on between Eric and Willa Burrell tonight.  Having escaped from the governor’s storm troopers, Willa asked Eric to turn her into a vampire.  Eric proceeded to do just that in a scene that proves — as if there was any doubt — that nobody makes blood sucking as sexy as Alexander Skarsgard.  If season 5 underused Eric, season 6 is definitely making up for it!

Once Willa was transformed into a vampire, Eric ordered her to go to her father and show him what she had become.  This angered the previously virginal Willa who, now that she had been transformed into a vampire, had discovered the joys of being decadent.  However, Eric pulled the “as your maker, I order you” card and Willa went to confront her father.

When Willa arrived at the governor’s mansion, she discovered Gov. Burrell (Arliss Howard) with his lover, Sarah Newlin (Anna Camp).  The governor was shocked by what had been done to his daughter and, for a few brief moments, it was obvious that the usually smooth Burrell had no idea what to do.  However, Sarah handled Burrell’s hesitation by grabbing a gun and shooting Willa with a silver bullet.

Meanwhile, Bill (Stephen Moyer) has kidnapped Dr. Takahashi, imprisoned him in a laboratory and ordered him to synthesize a new form of blood.  Bill sent Jessica (Deboran Ann Woll) to kidnap Andy’s (Chris Bauer) four faerie daughters.  Andy’s daughters, of course, are aging at the rate of several years a day and, by the time Jessica tracked them down, they had magically transformed from being a group of mildly bratty 12 year-old to a bunch of wild teenagers.

(While I’ve been critical of this storyline in the past, tonight’s episode made perfect use of the faerie girls, as both a plot device and as a symbol of the parental fear of waking up to discover that your children have become strangers.  Add to that, there are four wild faerie girls and there are four Bowman sisters.  A coincidence, you say?  Well … yeah, probably…)

However, after getting the faeries to the mansion, Jessica lost control and ended up attacking all four of them.  As tonight’s episode  came to an end, Jessica and Bill were in the mansion, surrounded by four apparently dead faeries.  Meanwhile, Andy — having figured out where his daughters were taken — was outside, holding a silver-loaded shotgun and demanding that Bill come outside.

And that’s how things ended tonight.  Between Eric being all sexy and dangerous, Sookie seducing Warlow, and Jason acting like Jason, it was a pretty good episode.

But, seriously, here’s hoping that Rutger Hauer isn’t gone for good…

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Scene Count: 52
  • For those keeping count, the latest two vampires to be captured and arrested for breaking curfew are Nora and Pam.
  • Gerald Webb, one of my favorite actors and a veteran of several Asylum and SyFy films, had a small role in tonight’s episode!
  • Rutger Hauer kicks so much ass.  He needs a show next fall where he solves crimes.
  • I loved how hyper Jason was after he first woke up.
  • I related to Andy’s faerie daughters tonight.  Waking up and discovering that you apparently developed big boobs overnight?  I know what that’s like.
  • Sam made a regal horse, didn’t he?
  • “We might be thirty by the time we wake up!”
  • “Is it going to hurt?”  “Not the way I do it.”
  • “What happens next?  Are we going to fuck!?”