Not content to let the Horrorfest and Ghosthouse Underground people have all the fun (and make all the money...) by releasing horror movies that couldn't get distribution, Fangoria and Lightning Media have now joined the fray. The two companies have joined forces to bring horror-hounds an all new line-up of under-the-rader horror flicks under their brand new Fangoria Frightfest banner. The initial batch of releases includes eight new horror films that you've never seen prior to now.
First up on the docket is Steven Hentges' film Hunger. A selection at the Austin and Hollywood Film Festivals, this psychological horror flick evokes memories of Wan and Whannel's original Saw. Five strangers, including Lori Heuring and Linden Ashby, wake up to find themselves trapped inside a subterranean chamber with no idea who's put them there or why. As time passes, they come to realize that they're part of an "experiment" being run by their unseen assailant – one that involves seeing how long they can hold on to their humanity in the face of potential starvation. Will the five people work together to escape the diabolical trap or will hunger drive each one to fend for themselves while breaking one of mankind's most deeply entrenched taboos?
Jump past the break for the rest of What We're Watching.
As an exercise in psychological horror, Hunger does just enough to keep the audience interested but never manages to take that all-important next step – the one that separates the serviceable films from the truly great. The script was a Slamdance winner, but I can't shake the feeling that it's a big part of the film's problem as a whole. The idea of running an experiment on humans to push them beyond the brink of starvation is a potentially interesting conceit. The issue I have with Hunger is that it never does anything with it beyond what immediately pops into our head once hearing what the film is about. If I can imagine all the things that are going to happen just from reading a blurb or a plot synopsis, then your screenplay needs more work. There's nothing inherently wrong with familiarity – so long as you don't mind making a movie that aspires to being average at best. Unfortunately, that's a phrase that describes Hunger all too well.
Road Kill directed by Dean Francis, 2010
Road Kill aka Road Train is the second film in the series that I've watched. I thought Hunger was flawed but passable, but I had genuinely high hopes for Dean Francis' Aussie chiller. Unfortunately, those hopes were not met.
Road Kill starts out in the most predictable fashion imaginable. Two couples (Xavier Samuel, Georgina Haig, Sophie Lowe, and Bob Morley) are on a getaway in the outback. They're all friendly, but you can tell there's tension in the air and that it has something to do with relationships. The group packs up their SUV and hits the road for their next destination. Along the way, they encounter a "Road Train" – which is apparently a big deal in Australia. This thing is really just a semi with more than one trailer. Anyway, before you can say "Steven Spielberg's Duel", the rig is ramming them from behind and sends them careening off the road.
At this point, if you're at all like me, you're thinking "oh, another 'kids on the highway stalked by a madman in a tractor trailer' flick. Yay....or something." Needless to say, this is not the most auspicious of beginnings. But, if you stick with it a bit, you'll find out it's not that kind of film at all. Road Kill is something entirely different – and the execution is so bad that I found myself wishing Francis had just spent the hour and a half ripping off Duel instead.
I don't want to spoil the big "surprise" of Road Kill, but I will tell you that it's filled with unlikeable characters, a ludicrous situation, and feels like it's four hours long. Skip it.
Wizard of Darkness directed by Shimako Sato, 1995
The cynical amongst us will look at Shimako Sato's Wizard of Darkness – the first of the Misa Kuroi Eko Eko Azarak films – and think of it as a Japanese riff on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It does feel like that – with Misa being a more serious Japanese version of Buffy, fighting the supernatural. However, the reality is that Kuroi has been around since the 1970s, so it's pretty much impossible for her to be a Buffy homage.
That doesn't really matter anyway – what does is that Wizard of Darkness is a really cool little Japanese slasher flick that combines sex, gore, girls in school uniforms, and the supernatural to tell a tale sure to please fans of the form. This one's got a little something for everyone, basically.
This entry finds our heroine (Kimika Yoshino) entering a new high school. It seems that some supernatural dealings are afoot, and it's up to Misa to get to the bottom of it. Several murders have been committed in the city-murders that when connected form a gigantic pentagram with the high school as the center. The purpose of the murders and the pentagram configuration are to raise Lucifer-the most powerful act any wizard can perform.
Things come to a head when 13 students are kept after class to retake a test. After hours of waiting for their teacher to return, they decide to leave on their own-only every door leads right back to the school. Meanwhile, someone has written the number 13 on the blackboard-and as each of the students meet their end, the number magically decreases. Fortunately, the students have Misa with them-unfortunately, none of her powers are working for some reason. Can she save her class and stop the dark wizard? You'll have to watch the film to find out.
The first film in the Misa Kuroi canon Wizard of Darkness is an atmospheric and intriguing little movie that works far better than most would expect. Director Shimako Sato demonstrates she has a keen understanding of horror cinema aesthetics, weaving in just the right amounts of mood, gore, sex, and violence while never allowing her characters to become human spam. Since the film boasts an ensemble cast, it's inevitable that some characters will get the short end of the character development stick, but for the most part, the cast of the film actually becomes real people. Add in the aforementioned sex, gore, and supernatural elements and this becomes one of my favorite Japanese horror films. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.