Monthly Archives: October 2014

Review: Caesar & Otto’s Deadly Xmas

[This review originally appeared on Nerdly. I would have put it up sooner, but shortly after the piece went up the director commented on the site and we entered into a slightly embarrassing – you’ll see why – discourse about the film. I wanted to see how that played out before posting this and leading him to my personal site. I’m paranoid like that.]

Stars: Dave Campfield, Paul Chomicki, Linnea Quigley, Deron Miller, Summer Ferguson | Written by Dave Campfield, Joe Randazzo | Directed by Dave Campfield

caesar-and-ottos-deadly-xmas-cast

It would be pointless – not to mention foolish – to judge Caesar And Otto’s Deadly Xmas by the same standards as other films. This is chiefly because if we did we’d have to face up to the fact that this Christmas-themed horror/campfest doesn’t even deserve in the same VHS bargain bins as the films it clumsily imitates. That said, if the only movies people ever enjoyed were the good ones then…well, Netflix wouldn’t exist, for one thing.

With that in mind, I decided to view Caesar And Otto in the spirit in which I hope and pray it was intended: with tongue firmly embedded in cheek. It’s a good thing I did so immediately, as an early scene sees the recent recipient of a double arm transplant having his new limbs lopped off by a psycho in a Santa suit (CKY’s Deron Miller). He manages to escape this most unchristian fellow by headbutting him and manages to hotwire a car with his feet and escape without bleeding out.

It’s a silly enough way to begin a movie that concerns itself largely with pointing out how cheap the writing is, but it’s actually kind of a refreshing take on slasher movie tropes, albeit a nonsensical one.

The remaining minutes mostly follow the eponymous leads – Caesar (Campfield), a highly effeminate and OTT aspiring actor, and Otto (Chomicki), his overweight and underworked half-brother who wants nothing more than to reunite with his childhood sweetheart –  as they attempt to bring in some rent money by first playing a charity Santa Claus and later shooting a Christmas horror movie. The brothers’ violent banter with one another gives way to flashbacks (called “cheap devices” by Caesar, channeling his former screenwriting professor) and cutaways to scenes of decapitation by the grisly Santa. The violence in these scenes, as throughout the film, is occasionally ridiculous enough to raise a chuckle but ultimately far too cartoonish to create any sense of horror the filmmakers hope to achieve.

However, as the plot progresses and Caesar & Otto take Demion – the killer – on as their new roommate and various dream sequences and non-sequiturs are had, I started to wonder whether or not they should have just picked one genre and stuck to it. While there are some laughs to be had in the nudge-nudge-wink-wink of almost every line of dialogue, Caesar And Otto fails to elicit the kind of thrills that even bad horror movies manage to achieve.

Much of the problem, I’d wager, is down to the director, co-writer and co-star of the film, Dave Campfield. Placing himself in almost every scene as a thoroughly unlikeable, prissy bully with an irrational fear of Santa Claus, Campfield attempts to ridicule the overused tropes of bad movies in his script but ends up using far more than he ever comments on – sometimes exploiting the same one twice! – resulting in a parody that’s often too cynical to be funny.

The end of the film is a perfect case in point: Caesar and Otto have tracked down Demion and seemingly won the day, only for three unbelievable twists to come at once and the movie ends with the two leads mostly sitting back and watching it happen. Our armless victim from the very beginning of the movie makes a baffling yet triumphant return – this time with both arms back but wheelchair-bound – but even he’s not enough to make us forgive Caesar And Otto‘s many contrivances.

Ultimately, despite an endearingly schlubby performance from Paul Chomicki, some only-slightly-forced laughs and a welcome but all too brief cameo from Return of the Living Dead‘s Linnea Quigley, Caesar And Otto’s Deadly Xmas suffers as a comedy by trying to be off-the-wall wacky and far too fragmented, losing any chance at proper hilarity or scares as a result. It might well have been better off as a slapstick short – Campfield certainly has enough ideas to fill ten minutes – but, alas, the teaser in the final scene reveals that we’ve another feature to come in (the recently crowdfunded) Caesar And Otto’s Paranormal Halloween. This will join the four other Caesar And Otto films that I’ve just learned exist thanks to a quick Google search.

I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about, because these guys have a whole film franchise under their belts. Maybe I need to go rethink my life.

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Review: Blood Soaked

[This post originally appeared on Nerdly]

Stars: Rachel Corona, Laina Grendle, Lauren Myers, Heather Wilder | Written and Directed by Peter Grendle

blood-soaked

I’m not sure where exactly to start when talking about Blood Soaked. I considered including a brief plot synopsis so that I could more freely associate with whatever other elements of the film I felt required more discussion. I thought about opening with my surprise that there was archive footage of Adolf Hitler in the opening credits. I even wondered if I’d be called out for bad criticism form for considering just second-screening the rest of the movie ten minutes in.

But really, I can’t talk about anything in Blood Soaked before I talk about its technical limitations. And, really, “technical limitations” is a generous euphemism. The quality of filmmaking on show in much of the film is on par with the worst of what some of my classmates were doing in film school (and I didn’t even go to a good film school). The entire first scene, in which two young girls attempt to resuscitate their dying father using a syringe of a formula that we’ll later learn turns folks into zombies, is barely comprehensible due to a combination of epileptic camera movements and the monotonous screams of the two girls. Fortunately, the first issue is resolved fairly quickly. Unfortunately, sound problems plague the entirety of the film that follows.

Now, the screener I was given to review may not be the same version of the film that everyone else who’s seen it was subject to, but the fact that it was packaged and endorsed by the film’s distributor, Wild Eye Releasing, doesn’t give me much hope. The sound kept going slightly out of sync in the first ten minutes, with characters’ dialogue barely matching up with their mouths. I thought it was a problem with my browser, paused and unpaused the video repeatedly to try and fix the issue. But halfway through, I knew it definitely wasn’t me, as there was a chasm between onscreen actions and their accompanying sounds. Not only that, but the audio clearly wasn’t mixed to a standard level as I needed to keep changing the volume in order to hear the dialogue comfortably. These kind of problem makes for a pretty unwatchable film, in my opinion. It’s hard to know whether the movie I watched was the one its creators intended to make or simply the result of a series of cock-ups at every stage. From what I could gather from this muddled vantage point, Blood Soaked is full of thinly-drawn characters, near-comedy violence perpetrated for the sake of the most basic social commentary imaginable and a fatal lack of tension.

It may seem like I’m picking at relatively unimportant threads, but let’s be serious here: when we’re being entertained, there’s a baseline of quality we expect, even with low-budget grindhouse fare such as this. The fact that Blood Soaked couldn’t live up to even my lowest expectations of a no-budget slasher should set off alarm bells to anyone. And are we really okay with being presented with frankly amateurish fare like this and being told it’s good enough to be on our shelves? I don’t mean to come off as elitist – I’ve worked on my fair share of micro-budget productions, and I have no delusions about their quality – but I’m afraid that with the current wave of independent films, self-distribution and a move away from studio-controlled properties that there’s no clear indicator of the watermark for movies like this any more. I want films to be good, and I’m not inclined to let one get away with being far less than that just because it was independently produced, because indie filmmakers have more to prove, not less.

All of which is to say that Blood Soaked isn’t deserving enough for a proper critique as it’s not really a proper film. I couldn’t tell you who to blame – though the director, production company and distributor would probably all be good bets as they’re all responsible for letting such a shoddy product work its way into my eyes and ears – but whoever’s responsible needs to start trying a hell of a lot harder if they want people to start treating their movies like movies.

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