Film Review: Porno

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Porno is a promising feature debut from director Keola Racela and his college collaborators, writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli.

The story kicks off in July 1992, with a group of devout teenage employees closing up their small-town movie theater. But these God Warriors are all carrying Christian guilt. Todd (Larry Saperstein) and Abe (Evan Daves) are best friends with conspicuous voyeuristic tendencies. Chastity (Jillian Mueler) is dabbling in Gothdom but still loves the Lord. Ricky (Glenn Scott) just got back from a “transformative” camp run by the theater owner and spiritual mentor, Mr. Pike. Heavy Metal Jeff (Robbie Tann) doth protest his straight edge ways too much. While the Jesus crew debate which of the latest releases should close out their evening (it’s between Encino Man and A League of Their Own), an inebriated tramp crashes through the lobby and disappears through a previously concealed doorway. Their curiosity gets the better of them and they wander into a burned-out basement filled with remnants of a very different kind of movie theater. The sort of place that showed titles like “10 Foot Hole 10 Foot Pole” and “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em.”…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Podcast: Mandy

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The wonderful fellas behind Ex Rated Movies invited me back for a “Quick and Dirty” discussion of Panos Cosmatos’ revenge flick, Mandy (2018). It was great fun attempting to process this insane movie in real time with them. Listen here!

Hammer to Nail Review: Restoration

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Horror fans (myself included) know that it’s tough to keep the water in the well fresh. We tend to be very forgiving about this, however, because our love for the genre is pure. Zach Ward’s feature directing debut, Restoration, is built with a familiar framework. A young couple buys a house, which turns out to be haunted by the ghost of a little girl who perished under mysterious circumstances. But Ward is clearly studied. He understands, and utilizes, that winning formula. And then he makes it his own by adding a few twists and turns and spending some time on character development, so that you really feel for the protagonists by the time you reach the heart-pounding third act.

Becca (Emily O’Brien) and Todd (Adrian Gaeta) have just moved to town for Becca’s residency at the local hospital. Something our presidential candidates have failed to address during their campaigns is the fact that lower-income people are always stuck buying the haunted fixer-uppers. Fortunately, Todd is handy, so he takes it upon himself to make the place livable while Becca goes off to work the most stressful job in the universe, dealing with trauma patients. One day, Todd finds the world’s creepiest teddy bear hidden inside one of the walls, and hidden inside that is the 30-year-old diary once belonging to a little girl named Katie…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

FILM THREAT REVIEW: ANOTHER

2014 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
80 minutes

1/2 star

Thank god for official film synopses, otherwise I would have had no idea what writer/director Jason Bognacki was going for with his debut feature, “Another.” It’s described as a “phantasmagoric chiller” influenced by “Italian Giallo and Hammer horror.” And here I thought it was just some mom’s basement-dwelling misogynist’s way to get a pretty girl to show her boobs on film for free or cheap. (I sincerely hope Bognacki paid his actors because if there was any money in this film, it certainly didn’t show up on screen.) The film’s shortcomings begin as laughably entertaining, but degrade into maddeningly amateurish editing, paradoxical dialog and the most robotic performance from a lead actress (Paulie Rojas) this side of a porno.

The film opens on a Druidic ceremony involving a baby and then smash cuts to a birthday cake 18 years later baring the name Jordyn (with a Y!). Jordyn’s aunt Ruth delivers an ominous speech in honor of the birthday girl, reminding her niece, whom she raised, that her real mother died on HER 18th birthday. This is apparently something that Ruth reminds Jordyn of “every year.” While Jordyn, her roommate and her 38-year-old boyfriend enjoy their cake, Ruth’s little birthday tribute gets more and more creepy until she ultimately grabs the cake knife and plunges it into her stomach. Aunt Ruth sure is a drag at birthday parties.

But don’t worry, folks. Ruth is OK. That means Jordyn can still go to her night shift at the Pharmacy that starts after dark and ends when the place closes sometime before dawn. The plot points in this movie are positively maddening. Jordyn JUST turned 18 but she already has a full-time job and an apartment? It’s just Jordyn and old Janitor Joe at the pharmacy until a horrifyingly unhygienic lady in a hooded cloak comes in to cackle ominously and scratch Jordyn’s wrist with one of her filthy claws. Jordyn thinks this is a pretty weird encounter, but decides not to worry about it. She remains unconcerned even after she wakes up in a porn dungeon with the vague recollection of being raped and then finds Joe’s coveralls on the bed, revealing the culprit. She doesn’t seem too mad at him about it, and even shows great concern for him when she later discovers his mauled body at work. I find myself wondering what their budget was for stunt crows. But they must have saved some dough by not buying Jordyn any pants.

Bognacki desperately wants to be Dario Argento, but he is, at best, a poor man’s Rob Zombie (and by “poor man” I mean penniless vagrant). There are many quick cuts to black and white TVs with bad reception and Victrola music. There is a faux-retro vibe to the set design. The gratuitous use of slow motion (a transparent attempt to look “artsy”) grows tiresome.

Occasionally, there are some (certainly inadvertent) moments of levity from the performances and effects that are straight out of iMovie. But mostly, it is just so, so painful to watch. The dialog is the biggest source of laughs, but only because it usually doesn’t make any sense. Some sample lines:

“She will know things about you that YOU don’t even know.”

“My mother is dead, Ruth! I have the obituary!”

“You’re not my real mother.” “Now that’s no way to talk to your real mother.”

And my personal favorite: “Give yourself to yourself.”

As if all that weren’t bad enough, the film is rife with misogyny. Bognacki basically accuses women of being obsessed with “beauty and power” as if being young and beautiful is the only way that a woman CAN be powerful. I know he’s met women because he has them in his movie, but given the way he writes for them, it doesn’t seem like he’s ever had an actual conversation with one.

If you told me that “Another” was made as a film school final that received a C+, I would only be surprised that the teacher was such a lenient grader. It boggles my mind that “Another” made it into a film festival. I know SIFF has more films than any other festival in the world, but I have a hard time believing there wasn’t something better that could have filled their slot.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).