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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…

Hellbent – 6


Director – Paul Etheredge

Cast – Dylan Fergus, Bryan Kirkwood, Hank Harris, Andrew Levitas, Matt Phillips, Luke Weaver, Miguel Angel Caballero, Nina Landey, Wren T. Brown

Release Year – 2004

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I first heard of Hellbent several years ago and remember being quite interested in this piece due to this simply being a “gay” horror movie. What do I mean by that? Well, it is strongly influenced by the “gay” culture, all in male-male form, and holds no restraint in delivering such elements. While I am not gay and do not plan to experiment in such acts unless this guy allows it, I really found this idea to be a unique twist to the slasher sub-genre and a unique addition to the horror genre overall, which along with great kills and plenty of gore to go around made for a mostly-positive watch despite several faults.

After two gay men are brutally murdered in West Hollywood the night before Halloween, Eddie and his friends attend a Halloween festival downtown and make contact with the psycho killer of the two gay men, who then sets his sights on offing Eddie and his gay friends.

Political issues aside; it is about damn time my gay friends were given a voice in the horror genre. Some may balk at this film over its content, which was never truly raunchy or sleazy but does consist of buff men kissing each other and dressing in drag, so those of you who feel that is a problem will possibly not find this film as enjoyable as those who can look past those. Am I saying that you are wrong for feeling that way? No, not necessarily, but consider it fair warning and please do not hate on the film for such antics.

The storyline is quite the usual slasher template, following a group of friends who are vehemently stalked by a savage killer for no apparent reason, which is a storyline that I often enjoy. We get plenty of characters thrown into this piece, and the film taking place on Halloween night makes for a fun visual experience due to the numerous horror-esque costumes adorning the party scenes when the group of friends hit the Halloween festivities. If you read my reviews then you should know my emphasis on “more characters = more kills”, and that was the case with this piece as we were given numerous kill sequences that thankfully came in gruesome fashion. The killer was great, giving us numerous decapitation scenes delivered via a small scythe that blended in very well with his awesome costume, which was never fulled explained whether or not it was really a Halloween costume or just the way he looked. Speaking of the “unexplained”, (spoiler approach) we never find out the reasoning behind the killer’s madness and why he is seeking out male homosexuals to kill. Some of you may balk at this and others may not, but for a film that shows us a gay element that I have never before seen in the horror genre I really wanted to know the reasoning behind the killer’s actions, so I found it unfavorable in my case. Sadly, that is not the only fault of the film. There were way too many sequences merely consisting of the gay friends out having fun and boozing it up, which would have maybe been OK for another genre, but for a horror film I felt that it detrimented from the film via its pacing and really kept this film from achieving a higher rating. This was a very big deal given there are plenty of kill sequences in the film, but they were not paced properly and allowed the party element to take control for way too long – losing focus constantly throughout this piece.

Director Paul Etheredge(Angel of Death) did a mostly-positive job executing this piece, giving us great kill sequences and a favorable killer who issued plenty of gore for us to savor. For this being his first feature film he did a swell job in bringing his screenplay to screen despite its numerous faults, and despite the pacing issues he managed to keep the level of fun fairly high thanks to fun characters who reaffirmed my opinion that gay bars are just as fun as (political correctness need not apply) “normal” ones, and don’t play crappy bro-rock either.

Overall, Hellbent is a unique watch thanks to it being the first truly “gay” horror film that I have seen, and thankfully it also delivers some good horror as well. The kills are great, gory, and are provided by an enjoyable killer, however the film does suffer numerous unforgivable story-related faults that kept this from being an effort that I recommend for a good horror experience. If you are looking for something “different” and can look past the odd-pacing then this one may work for you, but you have been forewarned.

Rating: 6/10

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