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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…

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The Innkeepers – 7

January 15, 2012 1 comment

Director – Ti West

Cast – Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, George Riddle, Alison Bartlett, Lena Dunham, Jake Ryan, John Speredakos

Release Year – 2011(VOD)

Reviewed by John of the Dead

After making a name for himself with slow-burner horror films The Roost and 2009’s The House of the Devil, Ti West returns with one of the best horror films of 2011(VOD)/2012 in The Innkeepers. Once again blessing us with a slow-burner in the vein of 80s horror, Ti West delivers another positive horror experience that comes with not only more laughs than usual but also great horror as well. Fans of the supernatural will be glad to see Ti West taking a shot at the paranormal, a shot that he gets right – proving that he is here to stay as one of horror’s best modern day auteurs.

It’s the final weekend of existence for the Yankee Pedlar Inn and the employment of its two employees, Claire(Sara Paxton) and Luke(Pat Healy). Both have a heavy interest in the paranormal, and with their boss out of town they seek to expose the hotel’s haunted past – a past that is brought to light when strange guests check in for the weekend.

I have always given Ti West props for his good direction, but after viewing this piece I must also give praise to his ability to write a damn good story. First off: the setting and the overall elements involved in the story are fantastic. We have an old spooky inn that is near closing, so if anything crazy is going to happen it has to happen before the weekend is over, and with our protagonists being ghost adventurers of sorts you can bet your arse we are going to get some good spooks before the credits roll. The story does start off a bit slow, typical of West’s work, but unlike his other films we are given a fair amount of comedy thanks to the quirky antics going on between Claire and Luke, which aided in keeping my interest until the horror surfaced. I admit that there were several times where I literally laughed out loud over what was going on, and much to my surprise there were simple yet crafty jokes that I never saw coming nor would have experienced in the horror genre. Once the first act is over we start receiving our first bits of horror as strange/odd guests begin checking in at the hotel, which just so happen to coincide with strange events that occurred and are still occurring at the old inn. Our protagonists employ some of the usual paranormal detection equipment, which despite seeming lame was not very lame at all, and was used to full potential given it not only proved a paranormal existence in the inn but angered whatever presence there was. Most of the horror is fairly subtle during the second act, however once the third act kicks in the horror hits the viewer with full force and delivers lots of enjoyable spooks and results in a climax that I not only found a bit unconventional for the genre but pretty enjoyable too for that reason. There are a few faults in the storyline here and there, mostly having to do with a few useless characters (the estranged wife hiding out at the hotel), and of course the fact that I wanted more horror during the earlier acts – which I know by now is just the way Ti Wests writes, but still.

West’s direction rivals his writing, expertly executing his story in high detail and securing my attention for the entire 100 minute experience. The character play between Claire and Luke is fantastic, with both Sara Paxton(Shark Night 3D, The Last House on the Left remake, Return to Halloweentown) and Pat Healy(Rescue Dawn, Ghost World) providing excellent performances in unique and quirky fashion – which I would expect from two crafty innkeepers with nothing better to due but surf the web and consume vegan products. Their chemistry was fantastic and provided for much of the “fun” feel the film brings, even during the scariest sequences. Speaking of scary, Ti West gave me some delightful scares that I was not sure would be made present due to the “fun” feel of this piece, but he showed his established prominence as director in giving us a harrowing third act that contained all the horror I need to find this film and enjoyable one – although I did want more horror. The look of the ghosts was great, especially the older gentleman, and West’s camerawork made for some pretty good scare sequences without actually showing anything, a tactic perfected by Sam Raimi and other greats decades ago. The sets used were fantastic and provided a nice spooky feel to the film, and throughout the entire piece I marveled at his cinematography and crafty camerawork that seems to come naturally to this awesome director.

Overall, The Innkeepers is one of the best horror films of 2011 and once again proves Ti West has what it takes to solidify himself as a genre filmmaker.  The storyline is great and highly-engaging thanks to many unique elements going on, and his direction sells the storyline and the horror involved in equally engaging fashion.

Rating: 7/10

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