Thursday, July 4, 2013

Lori Bowen
writer, director
Kimyoo Films

Director of Operations
Viscera Organization

Monday, April 22, 2013

movie review: Lords of Salem (2013)

The Lords of Salem (2013) directed by Rob Zombie.

I'm hesitant to write a review for the film, not for any other reason than I'm not too familiar with the witch subgenre of horror, particularly from the 60s and 70s, and I like to be relatively knowledgable about the history of a subgenre a film I've just seen fits into to give a more well-rounded review. To be honest, I've found most of the witch films I tried to watch laughable. In the 60s and 70s, they were examinations (or exploitations) of the hippie movement and we've since realized that those good old days weren't really all that good. In these increasingly dark times, it seems quaint that Rob Zombie chose to make a 70s style witch film.

If I'm not too big on this particular subgenre, why on earth did I want to watch this?

Five words: Rob Zombie Lady Patricia Quinn

I like Rob Zombie's work...for the most part. I didn't like House of a 1000 Corpses, but I'm thankful for that film because without it, we wouldn't have The Devil's Rejects, a film that cleverly manages to subvert its predecessor and make you care about a family of homicidal sociopaths. I liked about half of his Halloween remake (all of the prequel stuff was great, though cliche. Once he got the film into Haddonfield, I was bored.) I didn't bother with the sequel. And when I saw the trailer for Lords of Salem, I saw instantly that he was trying to do something completely different from his usual fare, something that pushed him artistically and story-wise.

As for the other three words, Lady Patricia Quinn (she married into the title and the Lord has since passed on, may he Rest in Peace, but I think her name flows better with it...Lady Patricia Quinn), you should know that I love her because of Rocky Horror and especially Shock Treatment (I'm one of those freaks who loves Shocky almost as much as she loves Rocky.) When I heard the announcement that she was going to be in this, I already knew my butt was going to be in the seat opening day (we tried, but couldn't do it so opening weekend will have to do.) I was not disappointed.

Before I get to the meat and potatoes of my review, a synopsis: Heidi (Sherri Moon-Zombie) is a rock D.J. in Salem, Massachusetts, who receives a mysterious package from a band called The Lords with a record inside that plays a disturbing (really, more like annoying as hell) series of notes that effects her in both a physical and mental way, and resurrects the town's morbid past.

I'll start off by saying that I really liked the film, but I can't for the life of me figure out exactly why and this review is going to be very contrary and may meander a bit because of it. The film is deeply flawed and unnecessarily slow at times, but there's no denying that Zombie has affection for his material. A lot of the imagery, though beautiful, doesn't feel fully thought through in terms of what it means to the internal logic of the film...if they were meant to mean anything at all, a point to which I concede readily. And there are times where his imagery gets hamfisted and, now that I think about it, kind of felt like images that would be best inside CD liner notes. I would not be surprised to find them in the liner notes for the Lords of Salem soundtrack.

All of that said, the cinematography was gorgeous (even when it got repetitive) and the acting, for the most part, was spectacular. It's the older women in this film who really make it work...Meg Foster was fearless and brilliant as the main witch, Margaret Morgan, and Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, and Lady Patricia Quinn were phenomenal as sisters Lacy, Sonny, and Megan. These four roles were great, fun parts for older women and these ladies were damn good in them. I dare say that without them, the film would have fallen completely flat.

Sherri Moon-Zombie was...Sherri Moon-Zombie. At times, her readings were believable and at other times, they were laboured and false. Personally, I don't really care if Rob Zombie wants to keep casting her in his stuff. She's not horrible, and she was damn good as Michael Myers' mother in Zombie's Halloween, but this did kind of feel like a step back for her in terms of her talent. I say keep at it, Mrs. Zombie. You'll get there.

As far as the witches are concerned, Zombie didn't go the usual route and have them all be nubile young models. All of the witches are women of varying ages and body types and for a film concerning the birth of Satan into the physical world, the nudity wasn't gratuitous or sexualized. Actually, the only nudity I thought was gratuitous was that of his wife.

While Lords of Salem doesn't really do anything new for the witch movie, this is entirely new territory for Rob Zombie as a director. Yes, the film is highly derivative - if you're going to knock him for that, you must not have seen House of 1000 Corpses or Halloween - but it shows a growth that's leaps and bounds beyond what he's done in the past; however, I think he might have leapt over himself just a bit. He didn't make his lead character likable, which is necessary for the audience to connect to this story. We don't care that she's going through all of this strange stuff. There's a subplot that, if he'd brought it up earlier in the film may have helped to make Heidi a more sympathetic character and added more mystery to the proceedings. Alas, putting it later in the film made the subplot feel contrived.

So...with so many negatives, why do I want to see it again, like, right now? And why will I be buying it when it comes out? Because the positives I listed are, for me, exactly that strong, and I feel like I can learn something from what I consider to be missteps.

I look forward to the next one, Mr. Zombie.

Friday, April 5, 2013

movie review: Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013) directed by Fede Alvarez

Let me get this out of the way right away: generally speaking, I don’t like remakes. My problem with them stems from the fact that the people making the remake are not the people who made the film and the film is no longer a product of its time, it’s just a product. The people remaking the film often don’t have any concept of why the film was made in the first place, they only know that it was and react to it as a fan does, with a fan’s selective memory.

There are a few remakes that have managed to transcend this very basic problem. I happen to like the American version of Ringu and I like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, not to mention the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982 (which was remade {and very, very badly} in 2012) and Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead from 1990. Night of the Living Dead is an interesting film and quite relevant to my review of Evil Dead because of a key ingredient: just as George A. Romero was heavily involved in the making of NotLD’90, the “Michigan Mafia” - director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and actor Bruce Campbell - were heavily involved with this remake.

To recap for the uninitiated: five kids go to a cabin in the woods and stir up trouble in the form of Candarian demons which feed on their souls.

This summation applies to the original and the remake equally. In the remake, however, the five kids are there to help one of their number get through her cold turkey recovery from some unnamed narcotic which is a heavy handed way of metaphorizing the Evil Dead (Girl vs. Her Demons) and was really only used enough so that her friends would think that anything she said she saw or said happened to her was the result of hallucinations from her withdrawal.

If you’re looking for characterization - you know, people to care about and a story and crazy stuff like that - this isn’t the movie for you. In fact, neither is the original, really. That brings me back to the fan’s selective memory. Let’s ignore the sequels and just think about The Evil Dead for a moment. Those characters are all really annoying and underdeveloped, too, but Raimi moves the film along at such a pace and pounds you over the head with intense imagery and gore that you don’t necessarily care that the story is wafer-thin and is the kind of funny that arises out of outrageous gore effects and stupid people doing stupid things. By the time many of us saw The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 was on video next to it so we had that relatively instant injection of more Bruce Campbell and a more fully developed storyline (Evil Dead 2 is widely considered to be a comedic remake of The Evil Dead.)

Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead is the same way. It has largely unlikeable characters who do stupid things and get covered in obscene amounts of gore. The fans have had decades to love Raimi’s film and gloss over the negatives in favour of Bruce Campbell’s insanely wonderful performance. The remake's filmmakers tried to add some interesting details that I think help the story even if some of those details don’t make any sense to the plotline.

The following is kind of a spoiler...if you don’t want to know, scroll down.

If you’ve read any reviews or any articles about the film, you might already know that The Olds is in the film. Not the actual car as the one in the film needed to be trashed, but a stand-in. So, what does that mean, particularly when combined with the opening hook of a young possessed woman being purified by her father and a mysterious Spanish witch? It means that stupid people raising the Candarian demons happens over and over again...and the owners of that car are long gone. In terms of timeline, I think that it places Evil Dead in the Now of The Evil Dead universe except for two small details:

1.) The car was sucked into the vortex at the end of the Evil Dead 2.
2.) So was the Book.

The fans are going to have a field day with this one...particularly when they see what’s in store for them at the end of the film and if they’ve been paying attention to anything Alvarez, et al, said at WonderCon. I couldn’t HEAR what was said in the end tag because the fans in the theatre were cheering too loudly, but I’m sure it was good.

For those who didn’t read the above, a non-spoilery bit is that you should stay through the end credits.

Technically speaking, the film is well made. It’s not 100% practical effects like director Fede Alvarez claims, but it’s close enough that the important gags are real. The film is built on the effects. Since you’re not going to care about the characters, they’re going to make you feel something by jacking up the gore (gore is the usual crutch of a film without solid characters or plot, the other crutch would be nudity for the sake of nudity. Horror fans might revile me for saying it out loud, but we know in our hearts that it’s true.)

Director Alvarez takes his time with the film, which brings out more of the story’s flaws (it’s 91 minutes long as opposed to Raimi’s original clocking in at a breezy 85 minutes). There are visual references to Raimi’s original (I didn’t like how they accomplished the shaky-cam effect in this one, though), but Alvarez injects enough of himself in the picture to keep it visually fresh and not call attention to himself (a problem of Raimi’s throughout his career.)

The actors are competent given the fact that they’re really just there to be fodder for the Demons, and that’s where they shine. I imagine that it’s a lot of fun to play possessed and the actors did well, not cheesing it up too much more than necessary and not channeling the performances of those who came before them.

While the Michigan Mafia were involved in the production, they weren’t involved in the writing of the remake’s script. Diablo Cody famously took a turn at the script, but the people who got the onscreen writing credit are Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who co-wrote the short that got Alvarez the job, Panic Attack. In this instance, I don’t think that having Sam Raimi involved in the script would have done anything for the film, unlike Romero writing the script for Night of the Living Dead in which he took the original already layered script and film and elevated it, changing it just enough to make it better in many ways and also more sad in others. Why wouldn’t Raimi’s presence have helped? Because The Evil Dead is just as skeletal as the remake. Alvarez and Sayagues added some details, but I think they might have been too afraid of pissing off the fans to add more meat to the bones.

OVERALL VERDICT: I think your personal enjoyment of Evil Dead depends on your personal level of nostalgia, your memories of the original, and your expectations. If you’re expecting a new Ash or a story you can sink your teeth into, this isn’t it. The Evil Dead and Evil Dead are so much the same film that it won’t matter which you see first if you haven’t seen the original (but go rent the original first...for reals.) I say go and don’t expect to leave with your mind blown or anything like that. It’s not as fun as the original, but it was a solid remake that won’t leave as much of a mark on cinema history as the original did.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Movie review: Excision (2012)

When the credits rolled on this feature, the first from director Richard Bates, Jr., I had - as the kids today say - conflicted feels. There was so much that was great about it and so much that was lousy. And this film illustrates exactly why I don’t want my first feature to be from one of my short films.

EXCISION is the twisted tale of a teenaged aspiring surgeon’s coming-of-age in an uptight household whose whole attention is devoted to their chronically ill younger daughter. It’s based on the short film of the same name, which I’d gotten to see at ShockerFest in 2008 (funny side note: the “women’s horror film festival” I mention near the end of the post was Viscera...funny how things work out!)

I loved the original short film. Unfortunately, the feature length version suffers greatly from a lack of focus that was evident, but controlled, in the short.

According to the IMDb, the director has only made Excision and its feature length sister. Excision was released in 2008, after God knows how long in development and production, and then he made the feature in 2011/2012. The feature has a complete lack of proper development for Pauline and her family. If he’d focused less on the pseudo-psychosexual fantasies, or had worked them into the story better, and instead focused on the psychotic devolution of this troubled young girl, the feature would’ve been better.

To expand more on the above: the “psychosexual” fantasies felt like the director was imitating other filmmakers (Lynch and Kubrick in particular) and their definitions of psychosexual, but because they weren’t weaved into the story well, they felt completely hollow. As it stands, if they’d been taken out, it wouldn’t have affected the story at all.

This is not to say that Excision is a complete loss. The minimalist score from Steve Damstra II and Mads Heldtberg was pretty perfect and Itay Gross’ cinematography was mostly gorgeous. The real stand out here, as in the original short, were the performances. I’m going to say this right now: AnnaLynne McCord was fabulous as Pauline, but Traci Lords stole the show as her mother, Phyllis. It would’ve been amazing to see a more developed interaction between the two of them.

The film is frustrating because there’s so much that’s good about it, but it needed at least one more pass while still a script.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A promotion and a note about rude people...

Viscera Organization 2012 trailer. from Viscera Organization on Vimeo.

As some of you may know, I'm involved with the Viscera Organization, a 501(c)3 non-profit out of L.A. that works to support, promote, and encourage women working in genre media by offering a variety of services.

My film aftershock is a part of their library and played the L.A. kick-off event in 2011. This year, I started working for them as a tour coordinator with James Morgart, the Director of Media and Distribution for the Organization. In August, I was given a different role: I was asked to run the yearly L.A. carpet ceremony which basically means that I'm in charge of everything for the Viscera Film Festival EXCEPT the actual film program (that's all up to the rockin' Heidi Honeycutt and the amazing Kayley Viteo) and which includes the other activities for the weekend such as the Mistresses of Horror Alliance dinner on Friday and the Post Apocalyptic Brunch on Sunday.

My role has expanded again as I've been voted onto the executive board of the Viscera Organization as the Director of Operations!

This won't be affecting my filmmaking, though it's more important than ever that I move out to the Left Coast. Not to L.A., though. I LOVE my L.A. friends, but I really don't want to live there.

On the filmmaking side, however, I have some great news! Tonight, Stella Buio is up for Best Horror Short and our leading lady, Linnea Quigley, is up for Best Actress in a Short at the Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival! Good luck to all of the nominees, but fingers crossed for Linnea! :D

And, speaking of screenings, the film also screened last weekend in the October FilmSlam at the Enzian! It's a great venue and the crowd was wonderful, surprising to me since we were the only horror film in the 'Slam. It was a great time and I have to thank Tim Anderson for screening the film and just being a really awesome guy! He loves indie film and it shows in the twinkle in his eyes.

And, finally, for this post anyway...Stella Buio screened at Creative Loafing's Reel Terror Film Festival in Tampa last night and we won an award for Best "Jaw Dropping" F/X!!

This was my second year taking part in Reel Terror and I like what Creative Loafing Tampa is trying to do. So far, it doesn't seem to be about fostering relationships with "celebrities," but about fostering a community. I did have one problem with the event this year, however, and it's not Creative Loafing's fault. My problem was this: if you want to have a conversation with someone and there's a panel or screening going on at the same time, either whisper or take it the fuck outside.

It's fine if you're not interested in whatever's going on because it's not about you, but you don't have to be rude to whoever is on stage, the filmmakers whose film is on screen, or the people who are trying to watch what's playing.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Music review: Just Tell Me That You Want Me

I’m going to step out of my comfort zone a little bit and review an album I bought off of the other day. I don’t normally review music because that’s not where my “expertise” lies. I make horror films. But, in this case I’m going to make an exception because the album in question is Just Tell Me That You Want Me, a collection of Fleetwood Mac cover tunes by some of Today’s Biggest New Stars! and a couple of Yesterday’s Biggest Shining Beacons!

I’m a HUGE fan of Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac because I’m a HUGE fan of Stevie Nicks and I have been since I was eight years old. Now, I normally HATE covers, really of any group, but especially of Fleetwood Mac. It’s the same problem I have with most film remakes: it’s very rare that a band doing a cover can capture the emotion of the original song and what comes out is usually a trite, paint-by-numbers affair offering up so little innovation as to be a carbon copy of what came before or so much innovation that the song is completely lost.

Overall, the album is meh, but the handful of songs that I feel got it right are nearly worth the price of the entire album.

WARNING: foul language ahead.

“Albatross” covered by the Lee Ranaldo Band (featuring J Mascis). It’s not too far removed from the original instrumental piece from the Peter Green era. They’ve added a few filters to make it sound more indie, I guess. Passible.

“Landslide” covered by Anthony. I know people have this same problem with Stevie Nicks, but I find this guy’s vibrato to be very distracting. It’s like he doesn’t have control over his voice. Stevie has tight control over her voice and has maintained that control through the drugs, drinking, and smoking (I said I was a fan, that doesn’t mean I’m not realistic.) There’s no power behind this guy’s voice in this song so it comes off whiny.

“Before the Beginning” covered by Trixie Whitley. I’m familiar with quite a few of the pre-Nicks era songs, but not enough to be considered a fan. I sought out the original version of this song after hearing the cover, but I have to say that this version is AMAZING. I love love love this song.

“Oh Well” covered by Billy Gibbons and Company. “Oh Well” is one of my favourite songs. I usually prefer the faster, more intense Lindsay Buckingham version, but this version, by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, has taken Buckingham’s version and shown it how its done. This song is so damn’s gritty and sexy and surprisingly controlled in its chaos. Love it!!

“Rhiannon” covered by Best Coast. What the fuck? Who the fuck thought this was a good fucking idea? GAH!! FUCK THESE PEOPLE IN THEIR EARS! This version makes me want to smash things. It’s like the Chopsticks rendition of Rhiannon. I probably can’t hate a cover song more than I hate this one. I can’t even listen to the whole thing. HATE HATE HATE.

“Think About Me” covered by The New Pornographers. Passible. I don’t think I’d search it out, but it’s got a fairly groovy surf vibe to it.

“Angel” covered by Marianne Faithfull. This is easily the most disappointing track in the collection. I expected far better from Marianne Faithfull. Angel is one of my top favourite Stevie Nicks songs, but this arrangement strips all of the dynamism and power out of it. Marianne Faithfull’s voice is just not up to this song. To be fair, Stevie Nicks’ voice may not be up to this song now, either, but it deserves better treatment. (1:55 and from around 7:03 to the end in this video (Click "this video" to be taken to the YouTube. :D)

“Silver Springs” covered by Lykke Li. More filters. What are these indie bands hiding behind all that crap? Oh, right. That they’re really not that good.

“Dreams” covered by The Kills. The garage-as-recording-studio sound does nothing to enhance the lack of enthusiasm shown in this song. It the chorus, but it’s not impressive in the least.

“Gold Dust Woman” covered by Karen Elson. More thick reverb filters on another passible cover, but, it’s yet another paint-by-numbers piece.

“Storms” covered by Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Another favourite Stevie Nicks song turned into a pretty good cover. Not outstanding, not horrifying (I’m looking at you, Rhiannon.)

“Straight Back” covered by Washed Out. It’s got a slight Spanish feel to it and a lot of layers, but there so many filters on the “singers” that you can’t really understand the lyrics unless you already know them. Overall, however, I really like this cover. The original is very intense and the intensity here is approached from a different angle and with a lot of respect.

“That’s All for Everyone” covered by Tame Impala. 70s sci-fi version of one of Lindsay Buckingham’s better songs. Meh.

“Sisters of the Moon” covered by Craig Wedren and St. Vincent. This is another deep cut of Stevie Nicks’ that I adore and this cover came thisclose to blowing my mind. There are only three missteps in this song: the singer is singing through his nose for the majority of the first verse and chorus wherein he also sounds like he doesn't know the lyrics ("the black widow spider makes more sound than she // and the black pools in those eyes of hers make more sense to me.") And, finally, when the chick singer comes in, she really should've belted out “Does anyone know her name?” That’s the thrust of the song. Stevie’s asking if anyone knows her name, her real should be heartrending. Instead, the chick who sings it in this cover is just like “Whatever...” and can’t even be arsed to sing over the drums (the drums should not be lowered in this song...) Even Lindsay belted it out in this amazing live version from the Mirage tour.
(edited to add: Turns out my talent for mishearing lyrics has struck again. I've always thought Stevie was singing "black pools", but it IS "black moons".

“Dreams” covered by The Kills. Not a cover I would seek out in the future. Forced power, but true earnestness.

“Gypsy” covered by Gardens and Villa. Boring and trite cover of an incredible song.

“Tusk” covered by The Crystal Ark. This cover doesn’t make me as angry as Rhiannon, but come can you take such a dynamic song and make it so incredibly boring? Where’s the power? Where’s the emotion? Instead it’s all electronic beeps and boops and some drummers who are bored even before their section starts.

“Hold Me” covered by Haïm. An okay cover, more paint-by-numbers, but there’s a section I really like, I think it’s the rhythm guitar that’s playing under the solo and then the picking part that comes before the series of choruses that finish out the song (for those who have this album and are keeping score, anyway.)

“Green Manalishi” covered by The Entrance Band. An original Mac song that I’m kind of familiar with and a remake that’s just sort of meh.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A passel of great news!!

It's been a while, but I've got quite a bit of good news to share! First, the biggest news... When I feel that something is worth my time, I become dedicated to that thing. It doesn't replace any current passions, it tends to add to them. In this case, that thing would be the Viscera Organization, a non-profit based out of L.A. that works to support and encourage female genre filmmakers. Among their services is the Viscera Film Festival which has a carpet ceremony every July and then the current's year's selections go out on tour around the world. My film aftershock is one of the films in the library, as an official selection of the 2011 Carpet Ceremony and Tour.

I started working for them in April as the assistant to James Morgart, the guy who's in charge of the tour (his official title is now Director of Media and Distribution.) In July, after an offhand, but sincere, series of remarks, a lot of contemplation, and quite a bit of discussion, it was proposed that I take on a different task...that of the Director of Operations for the L.A. Carpet Ceremony. According to the list of duties, I'm essentially in charge of the weekend festivities for the Viscera Film Festival. It's a bit daunting, but I'm up for it!

Viscera is very important to me. For years, I've felt alone as a woman who directs horror films. On the rare occasion that I met other female filmmakers (before Viscera, that is) they tended to be snobbish and catty. I don't see the point in that kind of attitude. It's boring. And I expected the same treatment when I got to the carpet ceremony last year. While there are certainly those who think they're better than the rest of us (there always are), the majority of women I've met thanks to Viscera have been people I'm so happy to have met, some of whom I now call friends. I'm so happy and so honoured to be a part of something as meaningful as Viscera!

By the way, we're looking for volunteer staff members! If you want to help out an amazing film-oriented non-profit, head over to the contact page, look at the staff PDF and send us an email!

On the film side, Stella Buio has gotten its first two festival acceptances!! The lovely Miguel Rodriguez of the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, who played my film JustUs last year, has accepted Stella Buio into their line-up and I've since learned that fellow Viscera staff member Maude Michaud's film Red and my soul-sister-in-horror Karen Lam's film The Stolen will also be playing there this year! This festival takes place November 10 and 11.

Stella Buio has also been accepted to the Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival in Buffalo, New York! This festival takes place October 17-21.

But JustUs isn't was just accepted to the ShockerFest Horror Film Festival in Modesto, California! ShockerFest has morphed into a local access television film festival and JustUs will be screened on October 14 on KAZV-TV, channel 195 / broadcast channel 14.

And, finally...I GET TO SEE STEVIE NICKS IN CONCERT IN A FEW DAYS! That's not really career related, but whatever...