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Starry Eyes – 7

January 31, 2015 Leave a comment

Director – Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Cast – Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan, Fabianne Therese, Shane Coffey, Natalie Castillo, Pat Healy, Nick Simmons, Maria Olsen

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Women suffering psychological torture to attain what they want in life are a real life tragedy, and it is the basis of horror in Starry Eyes. I can’t think of many horror films involving an actor in a film, so this idea is unique in a day where genre fans are begging for something “new”. On top of this, the film dabbles into the cult sub-genre. Writing/directing duo Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, Widmyer’s employer, who happens to be famed author Chuck Paluhniuk, played a heavy role in helping the filmmakers attain the financial support they needed to make the film, which winds up as one of 2014’s most unique.

Alex Essoe stars as Sarah, an optimistic yet severely struggling actress desperate for her big break. When she finally succeeds at an audition for a major studio, she discovers the heinous secret behind the Hollywood elites she wishes to join.

The story begins with a strong emphasis on the struggle Sarah faces as she pursues her dream to become an actress. She works a dead-end job as a waitress for a lowly restaurant and a loser of a boss. In her free time she attends casting calls and the end result is usually the same – she never gets called. It is obvious she has talent, but the only person who is taking notice to it is…herself. Now when I say she “desires” to be an actress, I mean that in the most extreme way possible. After failed casting calls she makes drastic, psychotic decisions that leave her physically maimed. She finally gets her break though, when a notable studio gives her a shot after taking notice to her drive and determination. The casting directors are very odd, but don’t be turned off by them right away – their mannerisms serve a purpose. When she receives a second call back from the company her audition takes a more drastic turn than the first, and things begin to get fishy as I detected that something was very wrong. It isn’t until the 31st minute of the film when we start to get an idea behind what is going on with her auditions and the shady figures behind them. Without giving too much away, I can only say that there is a daunting secret behind how the Hollywood elites achieved their stardom, and Sarah has a decision to make. She can turn them down and keep struggling, or she can give in and pay her dues. I don’t think I am spoiling anything in saying that she chooses the latter.

The story begins a bit slow but you should still find yourself engaged thanks to the hell that Alex puts herself through. Basically, her torture is your entertainment. The first act is all development, and the second act is where I felt like the film started to lose me. The action is there, but for me it was unlikable. Alex begins to experience extreme changes in her persona and physical appearance, and her friends are taking the brunt of it. She deteriorates her relationships with those who have stood by her in her quest for stardom, and for no obvious reason (at the time). The second act left me thinking that I had maybe made a mistake in thinking this would be a good effort, but the third act changed all that. It is during the third act where the psychological horror becomes physical, and boy does it reach extreme levels. It is during this act that the first kill hits the screen, a whole 78 minutes into the experience. Trust me when I say this about the kill and the subsequent kills, they are worth the wait. It is not often that a third act is so good that it pretty much makes up for the rest of the film, but I believe that is the case here with Starry Eyes. The horror that erupted in this final act left me in awe, and to top it off the film’s climax includes a revelation that I did not see coming.

The directors did a fair job executing this film, with their talent showing during the awesome third act. They get things started pretty well, giving us gloomy atmosphere and proper “odd” execution of the quirky characters seen in the first act. Actress Alex Essoe gave a tremendous performance as Sarah, going from one emotional extreme to the other and delivering some of the best kills I have seen this year. If it were not for her incredible performance early on I am not sure I would have been as into the flick as I was, so she deserves a lot of credit for that. The directors definitely left their mark on the genre this year with the final act thanks to their execution of the kills. These kill sequences were brutal, shot in full-frontal fashion, drawn out to keep you squirming, and they come via live-action effects…which means you get some great gore. Hopefully these directors stick around and maintain the horror seen in this effort.

Overall, Starry Eyes is an incredible experience that I suggest to those who want to see something unique and brutal. Keep in mind that it may try your patience at first, but the payoff is well worth the wait.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

Spider Baby – 8

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Director – Jack Hill

Cast – Lon Chaney Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn K. Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner, Sig Haig, Mary Mitchel

Release Year – 1968

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I had always heard great things about this 1968 cult classic from friends of mine, and thanks to its recent DVD release the doors have been opened for me to view this flick, and I am glad that I did.  Despite its debut over 40 years ago, Spider Baby gives us a sweet horrorific tale blending several sub-genres into one fantastically fun experience that you will never forget nor stop appreciating.

Lon Chaney Jr. stars as Bruno, a caretaker who has devoted himself to raising the inbred Merrye children of an old friend in their run-down rural mansion.  The inbreeding has left the children with an inherited disease that forces them to regress mentally after the age of 10, and because of this Bruno has been forced to cover-up their murderous acts and keep them out of the pubic eye as much as possible.  Despite all of this Bruno & co. live a simple and comfortable country life, but this equilibrium is threatened when distant relatives of the childrens’ father show up with a lawyer looking to acquire the home, an act that the Merrye children will not take kindly.

From the get-go we are thrown into an awesome introduction to the film that bleeds creativity and a fun “cult” feel sure put viewers in the proper mindset for the zany events that are guaranteed to ensue.  I loved the storyline and everything that it consisted of, especially the usage of the Merrye children once their greedy relatives come to town with unfavorable intentions.  It is rare that a debut low-budget film comes with great writing, but Jack Hill did a fantastic job mapping out his characters and writing them to full potential.  Time and time again we get worthless characters that do little for the film, but every character involved played an important role in moving the story and making me give a damn about what was going on, especially Bruno.

Hill’s direction is superb for such a low-budget debut effort, and his execution sells the horror perfectly when you consider the ramifications mentioned regarding the budget, film era, and mostly no-name(at the time) actors used.  Lon Chaney Jr. was fantastic as Bruno, and while most of the other actors came off a bit cheesy it was nice to see veteran horror actor Sig Haig(The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1,000 Corpses) appearing as the lunatic son of the group, showing he had the ability to portray such actors decades ago.  We don’t get too much as far as gore and awesome kills go, but the kills involved were of a brutal variety, just with the film’s extreme low budget it is safe to assume it limited the graphic scenes to clever camera work instead.  Hill’s overall execution is incredible, and he makes this a truly fun film to watch thanks to each of the previously mentioned elements, as well as one of the grooviest film scores I have ever heard.

Overall, Spider Baby is a truly memorable cult watch that gives us an awesome story, superb direction/execution, and great zany antics that make for one of the best horror films of the 1960s.

Rating: 8/10

Burial Ground – 7


Director – Andrea Bianchi

Cast – Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Simone Mattioli, Antonella Antinori, Roberto Caporali, Peter Bark, Claudio Zucchet, Anna Valente, Raimondo Barbieri, Mariangela Giordano

Release Year – 1981

Reviewed by John of the Dead

This film’s DVD cover alone is what interested me in giving this one  watch, and thankfully that sweet looking zombie on the cover came with many cohorts as well.  Most fans of zombie films have an appreciation for Italian zombie films simply because the Italians rely much on gore first, sleaze second, and then everything else is supplementary.  I personally love these types of zombie films, and Burial Ground is the newest addition to my list of favorite and must-have/see zombie films ever.

Burial Ground follows the events that ensue when Professor Ayres discovers an ancient tomb that unleashes a hoard of flesh-eating zombies.  Unbeknownst to a group of Professor Ayres’ colleagues whom he invited earlier to celebrate his discovery, they arrive at his home ready for a night of fun and celebration.  Soon enough, the group is attacked by the very hoard of zombies that Professor Ayres released, and must now hole up in his home to fight off the zombie onslaught.

I really am surprised at how much I enjoyed this flick.  For some reason I expected a slow-moving zombie film with only a few cool zombies due to obvious budgetary constraints, but that was not the case at all.  Burial Ground takes off right away and after just a few moments of development we are thrown into an all out war of man vs. zombie, and with awesome results.

Director Andrea(not a girl) Bianchi did a superb job in providing some of the very best looking zombies and zombie action I have ever seen.  This guy gives Fulci some competition in creating the sweetest looking zombies, and their mannerisms added to just how awesome they are.  We do not get any fast-moving zombies in this film, but we do get zombies that are able to throw a few daggers here and there to pin their victim to a wall and do what zombies do to poor victims, and it was awesome.  Mr. Bianchi threw in some crazy amounts of gore in the film, and both the zombie kills and human kills were awesome to watch and did not come with any skimpiness in bringing on the “goods”.  The rest of his direction outside of the zombie-usage was favorable as well, as he gave us some very awesome looking sets and his atmosphere(including usage of a zany musical score) was on par with what I wanted to see in this film.  The acting jobs were nothing above mediocre at best, but with this type of film that only adds to the fun and does not detriment from the film whatsoever.

Story-wise this flick is as simple as it gets, and it works for this film.  I loved the idea of the professor unlocking a secret tomb that releases a large hoard of the living dead because we really are not told how these zombies originated.  From the looks of things one thing is obvious, it is not the usual radiation or government cover-up reason behind the unleashing of the undead, and them simply coming from an old crypt looking thing was creepy enough.  The rest of the film (about 70 minutes of it) follows the group of colleagues as they fight off the zombies by hiding in the professor’s home, which to me quantifies as a nowhere-to-run situation, and you know how much I LOVE such situations.  This element allowed me to envelop myself in the film and think of what I would do if I were in that situation, with those exact people, and when a film allows you to do that it makes the watch all the more enjoyable.  Oh!  I must mention that this film does have a cult following based solely on the usage of the character Michael, a midget who lusts over doing naughty things to his mother.  Yes, you read right.  Gotta leave it to these sleazy Italian films to give us things we’d never expect to see in such flicks.  Yeah, I love it.

Overall, this is an awesome zombie experience that brings us some of the sweetest looking zombies of all time, as well as some of the most awesome zombie scenes I have ever seen.  This film’s simple plot and great direction make this sleazy Italian zombie effort an easy to love film that comes highly recommended.

Rating: 7/10

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