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Portland Horror Film Festival 2017: Longer-Length Horror Shorts

Posted in Action, comedy, drama, Foreign, horror, Movies, Sci-Fi, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

For those Horror directors and writers who’ve had a shade bit more experience, or who need longer than fifteen minutes to tell their stories of terror and woe, we have a series of Horror shorts to shock and terrify. From the familiar twisted into something new, to ancient powers of the macabre, sit still for these longer shorts and let yourself be carried off into a whole new darkness!

‘Creatures of Whitechapel’

Country: UK

Director: Jonathan Martin

Review Rating: 8 out of 10

Spoilers will cut you down!

It’s the dark cold heart of London, and a killer stalks the alleyways of Whitechapel, hunting down the Ladies of the Night. But it turns out, that killer is actually a her-self too, and she has a Master she’s working for. What could “Jacqueline the Ripper” possibly need with those body parts she stole? Dr. Frankenstein needs a heart for his latest creation, poor thing; the eternal quest of man to make a thing with his own two hands, simply so he can boink it. He needs other parts too, and that’s why he sent the Lady Igor out in an opera cape and top hat with a scalpel blade, never imagining that she would find some kind of redemption in the arms of Mary Kelly. Nevertheless, Master needs a heart (and still doesn’t see the irony in that statement), so he can bring his lady love to life and hopefully responsive movement. Even Dr. Praetoris, Frankie’s fellow scientist, rival and skeptic, doesn’t quite seem to understand that women monsters stick together, through death and beyond!

When done well, Horror mashups are a terrific thing to behold, and Creatures of Whitechapel has certainly done that! The storyline rather reminds me of the awesomeness that was Penny Dreadful, well remembered and always missed, with scenes and sets inspired by From Hell and Victor Frankenstein, original musical scores that won awards and put me in the mind of Sweeney Todd, this particular short makes my little black heart so happy. We women really should get more gender-bent roles in the Horror world, that opens up all kinds of amazing intertwining possibilities!

‘The Madame in Black’

Country: Sweden

Director: Jarno Lee Vinsencius

Review Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Drawn from a Swedish legend in which a Countess was burned for witchery that purportedly killed her husband and children, which was of course turned into a mirror game for generations to come, very like the American legend of Bloody Mary, The Madame in Black also appears to be a parlor game for young adults who really should be more leery. Our siblings in the short played the game when they were very young and apparently the Madame makes no distinctions about what age she continues to haunt a person. Emma convinces Alex, while they’re hanging out drinking with their significant others, to say the words before the mirror again, and next thing you know, a scary Lady draped in all black is terrorizing everyone!

The story of course puts me in the mind of the movie The Woman In Black, and the atmosphere surrounding the short is very reminiscent of The Conjuring. The “gotcha!” scares are fairly good, and the makeup job for the Madame (when she is fully shown) is pretty darned terrifying, if a little predictable. While I agree it’s important to have background story to whatever game you want to play inside your Horror movie, a little too much time is spent on the brother-sister and their friends dynamic, which could be easily achieved with some flash scenes, and leave more time for the admittedly-good jump scares and hauntings of the Madame in Black.

‘Elegy’

Country: USA

Director: CJ Gardella

Review Rating: 6.5 out of 10

All around is the cycle of life and death, and nature reflects that in its simplicity and savagery. A brick house out near a swamp teeming with animal life that devours each-other endlessly holds many secrets, where the lines between being alive and being dead, or even undead, blur and become indistinct. A man and a woman walk the lonely halls of the house, attempting to not antagonize each-other, but rather understand the mysteries of the dead and the dying, and even returning back to a kind of existence. A strange kind of harmony exists, with the insects and those who feed off of death, and that which withers finds a kind of quiet beauty in its preservation.

The entire short, especially the animal scenes of hunting, killing, and decaying, really reminded me of the Lars Von Trier film Antichrist, and that was an incredibly odd one. The animals and insects caught on film mid-snap are certainly wonderful to look at, and the truly great thing about this short is the creepy between-life-and-death atmosphere the filmmakers manage to convey. In a short fraught with unique imagery, where none of the characters actually speak, one can only expect some confusion about what the short is attempting to convey in the depths of Horror. I’m still not entirely sure, but I wager it was some kind of descent into madness to study the whole process of death, and perhaps, how love never actually dies.

‘Others Like You’

Country: Italy

Director: Eugenio Villani

Review Rating: 7 out of 10

When does an obsession go too far, and land one in the depths of sheer Horror? Ester wants a child so badly, she’s been binging a series of one-night-stands to get herself pregnant, but somehow never manages to carry a baby to full term and birth. Especially after seeing the female Doctor for a pregnancy test, and showing off that what I assume is a hysterectomy scar all across her abdomen. Doc Greta herself is a scarred survivor and no longer able to have children either, yet she still manages to “mother” a group of hidden monsters, creatures of the old world and old ways, where the sacrificial math of one life for one life is perfectly valid. Ester’s looking for her missing kitten, and though it’s rather unfair of Greta to say Ester can’t even look after a kitten much less a baby, luring Ester to a place of dark birth magic doesn’t seem like the kindest lesson.

Another short that happens to be well-shot but whose storyline is near-inexplicable, Others Like You peels back the layers of women’s Horror, that deep desperate pain and emptiness of childlessness. Very much like the movie Grace with its eternal question of, ‘How far would you go for your children?’, the short adds its own dark European magickal twist that may send even the strongest advocates of The Handmaids Tale running away in disgust!

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‘Emerald City’ Premiere: Not your parents’ ‘Land of Oz’

Posted in Action, Fantasy, Romance, Sci-Fi, suspense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2017 by aliciamovie

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

What person doesn’t know the film of Judy Garland as a bright little serial killer of witches, and her unlikely companions? Your parents’ Wizard of Oz has gotten a serious upgrade, with everything from an expanded-world story, to costumes that rival entire stage productions on their own. But how well does the upgrade stand up?

Way back when, Dorothy and her mom were on the run, from who knows what. Dorothy’s mom crashed a certain Gale residence during a bad storm, and after some story glossing, we gather Dorothy was more or less adopted by her Aunt while her mom was off doing we don’t know what yet. Current-tense twenty-something Dorothy (Adria Arjona) is a medical student, avoiding contact with her birth other, who’s now apparently trying to reconnect with her wayward daughter. One nasty tornado, worried daughter about her missing mother, and a police car with a trapped German Shepherd dog later, and Dorothy is spinning vertigo in a completely different land.

And of course, what’s the first thing that happens next? The cop car comes into contact with an exotic person in stripey orange, BAM. Dorothy and the dog get taken by some seriously not-so-friendly natives, not a Munchkin nor little person in sight. In fact, Ojo (Olafur Darri Olafsson), the man who ends up helping Dorothy on her way, towers over her in that Viking savage kind of way. No, these people are the folk of the Tribal Freelands, though of course at some point in the show they’re referred to as the “munjedkins”, so make of that what you will.

Despite his misgivings of Dorothy, for she apparently killed the “merciful and stern” Witch of the Eastern Woods, Ojo decides to lead Dorothy to a road that will take her to the Wizard if she follows it far enough, in the hopes that the Wizard can get her home. Getting to the road itself means going through the Prison of the Abject, a really unpleasant place that houses Ojo’s own wife, that the Witch of the East made. And then here we finally make it to the road, which is barely even brick, instead dusted yellow with poppy pollen. Poppy. You know, opium? Oh yes, the Lollipop Guild is far away now.

Dorothy is striding down the road and comes across a man being crucified in a field, who of course she has to help down and at least tend to his injuries. The man claims to suffer amnesia, not even remembering his own name, so Dorothy names him after the home town back in Kansas she misses fiercely, Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). And as Dorothy and the newly-named Lucas take back to the yellow poppy road, they discover the Witch of the East isn’t entirely dead.

I’d like to state for the record that, while I understand the Witch of the East Woods was a savage and stern woman, the manner in which she actually did die was seriously incongruous and unlikely for a Witch of her potential caliber. Anyway, the upshot is, those ruby-and-gold clawed gauntlets the East Witch was sporting transfer to Dorothy at the moment of her death, which is interesting, because the power players of the show spend a lot of the premiere stating “only a witch can kill another witch”.

Meanwhile elsewhere, news of the death of the East Witch (Florence Kasumba) has spread very fast, and the Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) in the Emerald City is opening the sealed Witches’ Temple so her remaining sisters may give her a proper funeral. The Wizard also sent some of his personal Guard to check out the circumstances surrounding East’s death. But the opening of the Temple is a big deal, as it hasn’t been opened since the death of the Witch or Mother of the South was felled by this catch-all monster called the Beast Forever, and the Wizard ordered the place sealed up and outlawed magic entirely. Because somehow the Wizard did what no one else could, not even by magical means, and took out the Beast Forever himself.

Mother-Witch of the North, Glinda (Joely Richardson) of the chaste army of nun-like acolytes, and her opium-addicted whore of a sister, Witch of the West (Ana Ularu), converge with the Wizard to do a last “sing” for their sister of the East in the Temple, and also to pull off some kind of subterfuge right under everyone’s nose. Needless to say, the actual funeral of Sister East is rather unusual, even for Oz.

Elsewhere on the road, Dorothy’s concern for Lucas’ bleeding wounds lead her to the hovel of the Herb-Witch Mombi (Fiona Shaw), who happens to be keeping a young boy prisoner for some odd nefarious motives. And of course it turns out, this boy has a few peculiar secrets of his own.

We do Emerald City a disservice if we try to compare it to anything else, up to and including the original Wizard of Oz, or the current favorite catchphrase about the show, “Game of Thrones meets Wizard of Oz,” because the show obviously has its own mythos and backstories. They want rather desperately to give us a grand show and pack in as much of the world as possible, but its all for naught if we just don’t care about the characters.

I liked the interplay between the Wizard, (love me some D’Onofrio too) and the strikingly different Witches, their costumes, like everything from the original stories got polished or roughened elsewhere; the show has the potential to be something great. Give it a chance, and remember, Return to Oz was a very different take on the whole Oz world, but most of us loved that too. And a shoutout to L. Frank Baum too!

Transport yourself to Emerald City on NBC, Fridays @ 9/8c!