Category Archives: Nerdly

Change, Please

Nerdly shut down last month due to some Google Adsense bobbins that is far too dumb and arbitrary to go into here. Short version is…don’t feature pictures from gory horror movies on your horror/genre blog, I guess?

The first review I wrote for them was a review of Warren Ellis’ novel Gun MachineThe last was a piece on the Criterion edition of It Happened One Night. Technically I started writing for the site in 2009 when it was Blogomatic 3000, but I don’t have access to the archives so you’ll just have to use your imagination until I get my hands on those old (maybe terrible?) pieces.

I’m considering starting a side-blog exclusively for my writing on film. This place has been cluttered with stray notions and cobwebs for a while now, and I might even be able to maintain something with a single focus far better than this brain dump.

[Though, of course, now I’ve mentioned that it may be doomed never to happen.]

A panel from Plutona #5, written by Jeff Lemire & illustrated by Emi Lenox

In the meantime, like any good scavenger I went looking for other places to ply my wares and found Flickering Myth, where I’m doing comic and movie reviews for the foreseeable future.

So far I’ve covered new issues of East of West, Cry Havoc, the brutal finale of Plutona and the promising first installment of conspiracy thriller Throwaways. The pay is peanuts and I know that “hey, free comics and movies isn’t a bad deal” is a chump’s line, but deadlines keep me working and – for now – it’s far better than not writing.

In other news, my dad died two months ago today. I wrote something about that on Medium; grief and learning and realising he was probably not the man he presented to me for 25 years.

I turned 26 two weeks ago. I just connected those dots and realised I’m now in a post-dad era. Numerically speaking, anyway. Well, I had him for a quarter century. My guess is that people who get a hundred years tell you it’s still not enough time.

Speaking of time constraints, I and my friends Dave & Alice went on a [THOUGHT BUBBLES] hiatus almost a year ago. Yesterday our first new episode since September 2015 went live, and it’s a doozy. This one’s a departure in many ways that I’ll go into in a later post, but I’m pretty thrilled with how it turned out (but mostly just that we’re making these things again. I’d recommend short bursts of creation to absolutely everyone) so yeah, go and watch it.

Alice, the musical side of the project, creates beautiful, dreamy synth pop under the name Mayshe-Mayshe. You can listen to one of her tracks above. I’m biased but I think Alice is great; she’s putting out two EPs and going on tour in the next couple of months so you’ll have plenty of chances to judge for yourself.

I’m going to update this blog more frequently. I know I say that every time and then you don’t hear from me for three months but I’m trying out this whole “discipline” thing and I think it might stick.

The current state of British politics

Oh, and my country’s about to collapse under the weight of its own apathy and xenophobia, the economy’s in freefall and the British political arena is looking more and more like Thunderdome every day.

Plus I’m quitting my job and leaving my flat within the span of two days in August so I might have some spare time on my hands. Gulp.

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High-Rise is a deliciously cynical elevator ride through hell

[This review was originally posted at Nerdly as part of my London Film Festival coverage.]

First we’re given a glimpse of the end: Tom Hiddleston’s neurosurgeon Robert Laing calmly sifting through the filth-strewn hallways of his tower block, encountering a dead man with a TV smashed over his head…and cooking a dog’s leg. This is director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump’s subtle way of telling us that this isn’t where we’re going as a society, despite High-Rise ostensibly being a period piece; it’s where we are right now, and we better get comfortable.

Discomfort is the main order of the day, though, as Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s dystopian novel about climbing the social ladder is given to mayhem from pretty early on without order. Upon moving into the titular tower block, the reserved but disciplined Dr. Laing is quickly introduced to the hierarchy of the building by Sienna Miller’s neighbour Charlotte: the obscenely wealthy live at the top, throwing decadent parties, riding horses and maintaining gardens; the middle classes are in the centre, their sizable apartments half-filled and hallways becoming venues for petty squabbles about rubbish disposal; and the poorer residents occupy the bottom, trying to scrape a living to support their children and afford service charges for power that is often switched off at a whim.

Initially wanting only to keep himself to himself, Laing quickly becomes entangled in the politics of his building. The two main ideologies at war are represented by Luke Evans’ philandering filmmaker, perpetually drunk and rowdy, and Jeremy Irons’ architect Royal, who built the blocks that now pepper the skyline and hopes they will act as a catalyst for change. The only problem is that, living on the roof of the building as he and his nostalgia-obsessed wife (Keeley Hawes as both peacock and caged bird) are, he’s oblivious as to what kind of change will actually happen.

After a number of ugly incidents mar the uneasy peace between the different levels, a full-on gang war breaks out between rich and poor (and eventually, when food grows scarce, between everyone), though Laing attempts to stay apart from the madness. Hiddleston plays him with a masterful restraint that steadily cracks to reveal both his distaste for the hedonistic upper classes and undeniable desire to be on top. Most other characters don’t try so hard to mask their feelings: Charlotte casually ends a sexual encounter with Hiddleston after he tells her he “thought we were doing this” by saying, “we’ve already done it”; Ann Royal calls Laing a dilettante to his face after he arrives at her powdered-wigs costume party in black tie. Though High-Rise offers obvious villains, its archetypes are completely intentional, the escalating debauchery (and, more shocking, acceptance) of everyone’s actions all serves to illustrate a black-tongued, comical critique of society and is all the more intoxicating for its directness.

All of this is filmed in claustrophobic close-ups by Wheatley & co., especially in the corridors where most of the anarchy takes place. Flats are havens for the characters like the elite, who relax in orgiastic ignorance while the distant angles and classical versions of pop songs (shout out to Abba’s SOS, which receives two hilariously subversive covers) serve to separate them from the reality beneath their feet.

But Laing’s home, too, is his sanctum santorum, one which he devotes a disturbing amount of time and energy to decorating. He’s trying to achieve material perfection, right down to the clothes he wears (and insists he must keep on, even after having sex with Elisabeth Moss’s heavily pregnant Helen), and by the end it could be argued that he’s achieved just that. One great success of Wheatley’s direction is to make Laing a compelling lead without becoming hero or villain – in a film where almost everyone commits ugly acts, the man who stands and waits for the dust to settle is both the smartest, coldest and dangerous person you could hope to meet.

High-Rise is out in UK cinemas today.

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Baby Got Back Issues

I covered the BFI London Film Festival last month, which I really should have been posting about as it was happening, but it would be disingenuous to suggest this blog has ever been anything but erratic at best. As ever, I intend to change that, but actually doing things has taken priority over writing about them recently. Which is how it should be, but self-improvement (i.e. relearning the blog discipline I once possessed) is ever the goal.

Anyway, all of my festival reviews are handily collected here, via Nerdly. I may post write-ups of some of my favourites on here, which included a rollicking trans prostitute screwball comedy and a tar-black satire about the perils of implementing social mobility.

Mickey O’Hagan and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in the blisteringly funny Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)

The whole experience was thrilling and exhausting in equal measure, and though I’m grateful for the privilege of being able to attend LFF in a critical capacity, I was also working a full-time job at the same time and suffered something of a mental burnout by the festival’s end which I’m just now recovering from.

“Oh, the poor little boy watched too many films and now he needs a good lie down.” Well, yes. But in my defence, I did watch a lot of them.

Speaking of festivals I covered but forgot to mention on here, August 2015 saw me attend my first Frightfest! Only a weekend long and situated in Leicester Square (as opposed to traipsing up and down the West End and rocketing across the Thames between screens), the Film4-run horror festival was ironically a much more relaxed experience than LFF, due in part to being attended by friends new and old, not to mention the myriad delightful genre fans the weekend brings out of the woodwork. Can’t wait for next year. You can read my reviews of Over Your Dead Body (the first of two Takashi Miike films I’ve reviewed at London film festivals in 2015, funnily enough), JeruzalemScherzo DiabolicoAwaiting and the bafflingly enthralling Aaaaaaaaah!, which was probably my standout film of the weekend.

I also saw the very silly ’80s nostalgia-fest Turbo Kid and took the opportunity to recreate one of the film’s many Mad Max-on-a-BMX scenes, as evidenced by this bitchin’ pic:

“@jackkirby: Da original #TurboKid @arkmallen “

The owner of that tweet (but can you really own a tweet, man?) is none other than Jack Kirby, writer of the all-ages extraterrestrial sports comic Alien In The Outfield. The long-awaited third issue is due to be launched at this weekend’s Thought Bubble Festival by Jack and artist Mat Barnett – talented fellas and good friends both. I’ll also be there covering the con for Nerdly in…some capacity or another. It will involve some combination of words and pictures. (I’m nothing if not a forward planner.) It will probably be dissimilar to my previous coverage of Thought Bubble in 2013, which was a rambling series of panel summaries and awkward encounters with comics professionals.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to be granted a sneak preview of issue #3 (read: handed a proof copy when they came in as we all work in the same office) and I am happy to announce that it’s Barnett & Kirby’s best work yet. Humour, sweetness, romance and cliffhangers abound! If that sounds like your bag, you can find the book (and the first two issues if you don’t already have them) and its creators at table 53 in the Royal Armouries Hall or, if you can’t make it, buy it online for whatever price you like! Here’s the wonderfully evocative cover for the third issue by the marvelous Meryl Trussler:

Jack recently wrote a blog post on the development of issue #3 and some exciting plans he and Mat have for the future. If you have any interest in the creative process and the struggles of self-publishing comics, it’s definitely worth a read.

I have more things to share, but that’s probably enough for now. Watch @arkmallen for con updates (which will largely consist of amazing cosplay, I’m sure) and, um, keep watching the skies.

Thanks for reading!

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Whitewashed Films & White Guilt


I’ve been terrible at blogging lately. I aim to rectify this, starting now. A good number of people have followed this blog after viewing the [THOUGHT BUBBLES] site, and I feel a mounting sense of guilt with each new cheery notification.

So as both catch-up and potted introduction to how things work around here, I present you with some reviews I’ve written for Nerdly in July:

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

If there’s anything that connects the Mission: Impossible films in my head, it’s that I consistently come out of each new installment wondering what the hell happened.

The Gallows

Despite his main function being to pretend to carry a camera around, Ryan voices his unwanted and abrasive opinions at every possible opportunity, from telling the lead actress Pfeifer that his best bud Reese (her opposite number and, incidentally, terrible) has the hots for her to talking to himself about how much he hates acting. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to want Ryan to eat it immediately, but a scene in which he prangs a stereotypical drama nerd with a football cemented my desire to see him strung up IF ONLY JUST TO MAKE HIM STOP TALKING PLEASE JUST STOP


Another Marvel movie, another bad – and bald – industrialist trying to weaponize something cool. They have their formula and they’re sticking with it, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play with their  own tropes. After the first forty-five minutes of exposition Lang is finally given the Ant-Man suit and discovers (along with the film) a whole new world of possibilities. Instead of being seen as an unreliable crook with a lot of potential but no options, Scott chooses to disappear altogether, becoming a catalyst for Hank and Hope’s damaged relationship to repair itself and learning how to be a hero – through a series of training montages, natch. Rudd’s character arc is nicely underplayed if somewhat baffling; he goes from being unable to make a fellow prisoner flinch to taking down an Avenger in a scant hour, but the lead is so much damn fun to be with it’s easy to forgive most of the film’s minor flaws.

There are a couple of other reviews in the pipeline – I saw Pixels the other day and British council-flat horror Containment last night – and I’m literally just now seeing that the summer of 2015 promises to be the blandest yet in terms of blockbuster fare. Though if those are the only kinds of movie you’re seeing I don’t have a whole load of sympathy. That’s like having McDonald’s three meals a day.

Ah well. At least Dear White People finally got released in the UK:

If you’re in London or near a Picturehouse that’s showing DWP, I would urge you to see it. The film’s not as incisive as I would have hoped, and there’s a real lack of punch to its ending, but it’s a gorgeous, mostly-honest piece of entertainment that’s actually about something. And, if you’re white, makes you realise just how racist you might be.

And you know how much I like punishing myself, right?

More soon. You’re the best.

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The Sweet Pain of Power Pop

Sometimes I don’t think I’ll get over my romantic obsession with wry, melodramatic but utterly sincere power pop that threatens to destroy me with THE POWER OF EMOTION whenever I listen to it too much.

But then I discover a band like Trust Fund and realise there’s no need to get over it.

You can listen to their debut album at that link up there. Or here if that’s too far. I’ll let the music speak for itself, as I’m usually really bad at selling bands I like to other people.

That said, I have been seriously toying with the idea of writing an account of my relationship history in parallel with Los Campesinos!’s album releases.

Because that’s the kind of thing I consider fun, obviously.

In other news, I wrote some more reviews for Nerdly. Blackhat and Jack Strong, which it looks like very few people will actually see, were kind of a mixed bag. Similarly with the FrightFest Glasgow screeners I got for [REC]488 and The Atticus Institute, although they were at least consistently entertaining. And one of them has Ethan from Lost in it!

Even if I wasn’t blown away by the fare I saw, the lineup for FFG still got me psyched for the main event in London later this year. I’ve been doing a lot of solo cinemagoing over the past few weeks (yet I’m still way behind on my Letterboxd challenge) so it’ll be nice to attend a huge community film event for a couple of days before returning to the hermitage of the multiplex.

I’ve seen a lot of bad thrillers and horror movies recently, but one of them may actually end up making the list of my favourite films of the year. That film? The Boy Next Door. My review should be out soon, but don’t bother reading it if you have the opportunity to go and see it; just do it. You will not regret a second or penny spent, I assure you. Thank me later.

And thanks for reading. You’re my favourite.

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Stuff You May Have Missed…

…or, to put it more fairly, things I just haven’t told you about. If you follow me on social media or actually know me in real life you’ll probably be aware that I started a job in London (not in Ontario – sorry, Canadians) and moved here in December. Which was all very exciting, but as I was hopping from couch to couch & looking for my own place while trying to figure out how this whole 9-5 job thing worked I didn’t have a whole lot of time for writing.

Well, not on this blog anyway. I’ve started contributing regularly to Nerdly once again, and to my delight I’m much better located to attend preview screenings for upcoming movies than I was Up North™. Since 2015 began I’ve reviewed the following:

And there are plenty more in the pipeline, including my thoughts on Michael Mann’s Blackhat, which I saw before most of the above but am still kind of processing.

At any rate, I’m being more productive in some form or another online than I have been in a year or so. This would be great if it didn’t make me feel like I’ve been incredibly lazy over the past twelve months. But I’m not going to dwell on such thoughts, no!

Another thing that’s been eating up my time has been my aggressive consumption of cinema as part of an attempt to watch at least one new (to me, anyway) film every day, as documented on my Letterboxd. Sidenote: you should sign up to Letterboxd if you like film discussion, ranking and list-making. It’s got a lovely sense of community, which is a surprising and welcome thing to find on a social networking site.

(Earlier tonight a friend asserted that I’m basically living in the cinema much like Francois Truffaut and his cohort back in their early days. It was awfully generous of him to mention me in the same breath.)

Yes, I know I’m behind, but being homeless for the first three weeks of the year doesn’t leave you with a lot of independent free time. I’m catching up with myself, though, and once I’m on track – I’m currently clocking about 1.5 flicks a day, so I should be right in a week or so – things will ease off and I intend to start blogging here again more regularly.

I know, I know. You’ve heard it all before. But this time I mean it, not least because now I actually have something to write about again. Yes, that something will mostly be movies, but there are other, more creative endeavours in the works that I’ll hopefully be able to share with you soon.

If those things end up being delayed for whatever reason (and I usually find one) then at least you’ll get some dispatches from my new home in the aisles. Watch this space, but maybe bring a magazine or something so you don’t get bored.

Happy new year (yes I know it’s February shut up) and thanks so much for reading this far. You’re the best.

Review: The Shoot

[Originally posted on Nerdly]

Stars: John Adams, Toby Poser, Sam Rodd, John DiMaggio, Claire Denis, Doug Spearman | Written and Directed by John Adams, Toby Poser


Put simply, this is a mess. And not the good kind of cinematic mess that’s so overflowing with ideas the filmmakers can’t fit them all onto the screen without throwing coherent storytelling out the window. No, this is the other kind of mess – the kind where the script runs out of gas halfway through and the film carries on anyway.

What story there is in The Shoot concerns Tommy and Dougie, a pair of middle-aged rockers in dodgy debt up to their ears who decide that robbing a fashion shoot in the desert is their express ticket to solvency. Tommy’s wife Maddy works as a costumer for the shoot so it’s pretty obvious things aren’t going to go well. Things take a turn for the violent when the hired security/slumming actor with a gun starts taking shots at the duo and the corpses begin to pile up. Dougie inexplicably executes one of the crew and decides that, in order for him and Tommy to get away clean, all the witnesses need to die. Seems reasonable enough.

What follows is not a series of tense stalking sequences punctuated by searing violence but forty-ish minutes of aimless wandering, mean-spirited gross-out comedy and cod philosophising about binary states of morality. Some of these elements could work if the script had a consistent tone or any of the actors seemed vaguely interested in anything happening onscreen, but as it happens everyone just looks like they’re waiting for the next bus.

It says a lot that the best performance in the movie is given by John DiMaggio (the voice of Bender and Jake!) as a politely menacing loan shark. This would be a good thing, except that he only ever appears in one scene early on. Frankly, the rest of the film is so contrived, aimless and frankly boring that I would have much rather the plot shifted focus to DiMaggio’s character and left the utterly charmless leads far behind. Unfortunately we’re left to Tommy and Dougie, who inevitably turn on one another after it’s clear the film’s about to end soon.

Things turn out well for some of the characters until you remember that nothing whatsoever was resolved, but that’s apparently okay because – according to a perfunctory enough final shot – Tommy’s relationship with Maddy was supposed to be the main thing the whole time. I guess that’s why there was that protracted, otherwise completely gratuitous shot of the two having sex at the beginning. Right?

Except Maddy doesn’t have anything to do in The Shoot except be threatened with rape by the loan shark and let the leads know that there are expensive jewels on her set. Her superfluity to the film’s story – other than as a plot device – is even highlighted in that first shot, in which her ceiling-stretched legs are the only part of her visible. She’s barely half a character, which is still more than the rest of the flattened showbiz stereotypes that populate the supporting cast can say.

All of this would be par for the no-budget pet project course if not for the fact that The Shoot was written and directed by John Adams and Toby Poser, who play Tommy and Maddy respectively. You’d think a male/female directing team – especially one that’s presumably also a couple – would push each other to do better when it came to fleshed-out characters, but evidently they got stumped at the earlier roadblock of making their damn film entertaining.

I find it hard to write about this film because it’s difficult to remember anything of importance or interest that happened in it. When even the cast look bored by the movie they’re being paid to be in, how can an audience be expected to put up with this shit? I appreciate the amount of work Adams and Poser put into The Shoot, because according to the credits they did most everything on set. But it seems that at some point they started spreading themselves far too thin to make anything worth seeing, and unfortunately hard work is but one of many ingredients required to make a good movie. If that was all it took anyone could be Stanley freakin’ Kubrick.

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Review: Billy Club

[This review originally appeared on Nerdly]

Stars: Marshall Caswell, Erin Hammond, Nick Sommer, Max Williamson, Mark Metcalf, Mathew Dunlop | Written and Directed by Drew Rosas, Nick Sommer


I’ve always had a soft spot for slashers with a decent gimmick, so I was delighted when Billy Club‘s penchant for baseball-related violence was revealed. Too many horror movies are content to stick to the humdrum formula of having a nondescript masked killer stalk the nubile teens of Camp Lake Name with no more of a unifying theme than having surfboard impalements be the chief cause of death; not so this film. Here bats, balls, diamonds and even – especially – pitching machines all have a central role to play in the slaughter of Billy Club’s innocent-but-not-quite-so-innocent victims, and the movie is all the more enjoyable for it, despite some ultimately negligible production flaws.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The film’s story chiefly takes place fifteen years after a set of grisly murders on a Little League baseball field (which we see in juddering but effective flashback) where we meet Bobby Spooner, a softly-spoken James Dean wannabe who’s reunited with his old baseball buddies Danny and Kyle in self-proclaimed former tomboy Alison’s bar. After catching up and establishing an appropriate level of sexual tension between Alison and Bobby, the gang decide to play some ball and reflect on their dearly departed teammates before inexplicably deciding that heading to their dead coach’s forest cabin and getting loaded is the perfect way to memorialise them.

Oh, and some homeless guy gets brutally murdered by a psychopath in a fetish catcher’s outfit with a spike-ridden baseball bat in the first scene. But that probably won’t have anything to do with the rest of the movie, right?

Wrong!  No sooner do our lovable bunch of goofy hicks and the central couple arrive at the aforementioned cabin than the batter arrives to take them all out one by one. There are some grisly moments, certainly, and the villain himself serves exactly the right purpose in looking like someone I’d run a million miles from if we ever crossed paths, but much of Billy Club is firmly entrenched in horror-comedy territory, with one of the death scenes in particular being an abject lesson in farce. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say that psychedelics are involved.

All told, there actually isn’t a whole lot of murder to be found in the movie, as Billy Club‘s latter half mainly develops the relationships between the three leads (there’s a somewhat unconventional love triangle between Bobby, Alison and Kyle, of whom the latter two used to date) and, crucially, sheds light on the bullying incident fifteen years ago that connects the past and present murders. The revelations of the story are convincingly put across, with some younger performers in flashback sequences giving even some of the adult actors a run for their money. And while it’s no surprise to discover who’s really behind that catcher’s mask, the climax – ending up at the same diamond where it all began – nicely ties the film together with the ribbon that is an on-the-nose but extremely satisfying victory for the forces of non-psychopathy.

That all sounds simple enough, and I’d be perfectly happy with the movie I’ve just described. However, there were some minor elements that I could have done without, like an almost completely unnecessary subplot involving a police detective and a couple of other red herrings that threatened to lead into interesting territory but ended up adding nothing but running time. But that’s not to say I ever stopped enjoying Billy Club or got bored; I was on board for the whole ride (all 90-ish minutes, the perfect length for a throwaway flick), which is really the best thing you can say about any film, right?

While there were some technical tics that would give me pause in a studio-produced film – on the whole, the cinematography is clear and consistent, but it occasionally tries to be artier than it can pull off; some of the acting comes off as hammy and insincere, but that might just be down to the occasionally tin-eared and expository dialogue – the confidence with which the filmmakers tell 90% of their story on what was clearly not the highest budget shines through and ends up making Billy Club  far more than the sum of its parts.

And for a film like this – for any film – that’s a goddamn home run.

[Sorry. I couldn’t resist!]

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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


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


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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