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Before I even begin with the plot, I just want to say that SAMMAZM (no, that’s not an old incantation to summon Pazuzu) found my alley and went right up it. Like, right up that alley, my friends. I think I need surgery to get it out.

As you may know, I am a fan of campy, schlocky goodness. I drink it down deep and enjoy the burn, like a fine whiskey. So, their movie, with its boyish wish-fulfillment fantasies featuring zombies, babes, and riding sky-high ollies while yelling, “Later, bitches” isn’t my cup of tea. It IS my tea. And, sure, we’ll get into some of the flaws and my brain roll juice, of course, but I was ecstatic to watch this and it did not disappoint.

The Plot:

So, this is actually two movies. It is, in large part, a documentary and also the final film. So, let’s take them both as separate beasts. 

The documentary is about real-life best friends, Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt. They have been very close friends since childhood, often doing what every aspiring film-maker does with their friends – making crappy movies in the backyard. However, their dream went bigger than just those movies and they dreamed big – they wanted to make their own teen zombie movie. So, with the help of Sam’s brother, Jesse, they set out to do just that, while also learning a plethora of lessons along the way.

The movie portion is a wild ride that is part Andy Sedaris, Charles Band and Velocipastor. The story goes: the Smith brothers are born on the same day, literally as “brothers from a different mother”. And all is okay-doke until Satan shows up to be a massive dick. After being told to “grow up”, the devil kills the mothers and plots his revenge against the brothers. 

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Twenty years later, these dudes ROCK (like, literally, they’re in a band). They fight off bullies, are members of underground martial arts gyms, and are gifted with bionic powers to survive Satan’s zombie, demon, and zombie-demon hordes. It is a kaleidoscope of fake blood, Pauly D, and slow-mo action scenes that are cooler than you will ever be (no matter what your mom says). 

Thoughts:

So many thoughts. So, so many. 

First off, I love the “making of” process alongside the movie. For many aspiring indie film-makers it really shows the process of making it all work (including begging people for money and free work). It’s exhausting. It’s time-consuming. It is a labor of love. It’s not easy. 

Pictured: somewhere between zombie, demon or zombie-demon

The dudes showed their dedication and commitment throughout the whole thing, even when things got tough and it would have been easier to just give up. I enjoyed the scenes when they would argue plot structure or nonsensical details that they wanted to be in their movie because it really is their movie. 

Their chemistry and writing is fun and engaging. These are two seriously funny dudes, especially when you get them in a room together. And I’ll be honest, I was on Sam’s wavelength and vibes for most of the movie. His wit and self-deprecating humor is on point and I’m hoping to see more scripts from him and Mattie in the future. 

Pictured: yessssssifeelthatsam

There are a few problematic areas, however. The first being the cuts in the actual movie, to explain certain scenes, were incredibly abrupt and took me out of the momentum. It happens three times and after the first part being all documentary, and at that point, I just really wanted to watch the whole damn movie without any interruptions. I think those should have been added prior, just like the rest of the documentary and that would have been a better flow.  

Also, I appreciated the “girl power” moment, but I would like more of that in their sequel…maybe a secret half-sister? I agreed with the director that there’s a fine line of wish-fulfillment and misogyny, and thankfully, they did pull back after consideration. To be honest, more time exploring their relationships would have been a great way to further engage the audience and to pad the time. We would get more of a sense of who these bionic warriors were and are, especially in relation to other people in their lives. 

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But on the other hand, one huge thing that thoroughly delighted me was the absolute paradigm shifts in the plot and how unaffected the characters were. There were times that they just didn’t give a fuuuuuck (pg-13 means I get one f-bomb, thanks). For example when Sam’s girlfriend was like, “I’ll break up with you if you don’t do what I say.” And his response was basically, “Yeah, okay. Whatever.” 

There were quite a few scenes like that where their utter dismissal of another character when there’s usually some kind of emotional bond was hilarious. Same with one of my favorite scenes with Mattie and a zombie, where she’s crawling towards him and he just tells her, “I hate you” and then walks back into the house.

Pictured: Comedic Gold

But the real story is about love, and I mean the real story behind SAM AND MATTIE MAKE A ZOMBIE MOVIE. It’s about love of the family we make and the family we’re born into. It’s about taking chances and taking risks. And about working towards (maybe impossible) dreams with the acceptance that the journey is so much more important than the end. 

I really hope to see a sequel from these two and, even more so, I would love to see more scripts. These are incredibly funny writers with heart and cliché-breakers that are so refreshing in the horror genre. They manage to take the tropes of movies we all know and love, and then completely push them out of the way with a “later, bitches”. And we need more of that, especially in our camp movies, as camp never goes out of style and always needs fresh blood.

Brain Roll Juice:

Okay, I’m going to say the thing that stuck out to me and you can feel weird or hate me or whatever, but their movie, Spring Break Zombie Massacre, needed to be an R. That seemed like that was the vision of what these dudes wanted, but were strangely denied. In fact, multiple times during the documentary they were told, “No sex! No nudity!” And a part of me was like:

If these are adults, wanting to make a more adult movie…why not? In fact, sexuality and drinking was completely and utterly stripped away although they were college students portraying college students. Even a kiss seemed risque for this film and…that makes me a bit uncomfortable because it never explains why.

When our society is already squicked about sex in general, the conversation gets so much more complex because people with disabilities are sexual and desire intimacy (should be a ‘no duh’). They have sex lives and should have healthy sex lives. This fact doesn’t go away and isn’t erased just because people don’t want to talk about it. We need to advocate for their sexual health, awareness, and well-being; and, of course, listen to people with disabilities.

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As the National Down Syndrome Society states, “Creating an environment conducive to healthy sexual expression must be considered in designing educational, vocational, social, recreational and residential programs. Positive sexual awareness can only develop through personal empowerment, self-esteem, understanding of social relationships and personal interaction/communication skills.”

Building this personal empowerment and identity is crucial because if there isn’t any education and awareness, it can lead to being taken advantage of. In fact, people with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities. And the National Down Syndrome Society explains that, too. And telling two adults, without any clear reasons, that they can’t show some titties or an after-sex scene in their own movie doesn’t seem empowering.

But I want to be crystal clear that I am just on the outside looking in, so I don’t know everything in the background of that discussion or in their lives. Maybe it was for budgeting reasons. Maybe for distribution reasons. I don’t know (it was never said why).

However, I just wanted to bring into focus something that stuck out to me as a viewer and I will admit that I’m hoping the sequel thinks about this. It’s clear the dudes wanna show their characters being as badass as possible and they want to be swimming in V. I would something more substantial for a female cast member and exploring the relationship with them (maybe even a girl comes between the brothers and Mattie is the “but I’m just in it for the V” type and Sam’s like, “no, dude, you have to be in it for the love” – just spitballing here).

Plus, look how badass these dudes are

Regardless, I’m sure with the creative ingenuity of Sam and Mattie, the two ideas could meet and make for a movie that the fans and the directors both want. Tag me in your next kick-starter, my dudes; I’ll gladly fork over the cash. 

Bottomline:

If you love camp with a background into how films are made, but also something with some heart, you’ve found it, my dude.

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5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

And to that, I say:

When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

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Movies n TV

Shutter Island (2010): Review

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Leonardo Dicaprio’s films rarely disappoint. It was interesting to see him flex different acting muscles in this psychological thriller Shutter Island alongside Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams. When I say that I was not expecting such a turn in the story, I mean that my jaw was pretty much on the floor the entire time. Without any further ado, let’s dive into its mastery, shall we? 

A cliché setup done right 

We have been here before a million times. A character stumbles into a scene to solve a mystery. Everyone is acting just the right amount of suspicion to make you wonder. Dicaprio’s Edward ‘Teddy’ travels to an extremely remote island where a woman goes missing from a psychiatric institution. He’s experiencing migraines and flashbacks to his murdered wife while receiving little to no help from the hospital staff. 

Teddy soon suspects that the hospital is experimenting on patients which fuels his theories on what happened to the missing woman. Things take even more of a turn when his partner also disappears. Unsurprisingly, everyone insists Teddy came to the island alone. Feeling like he’s losing his mind, our protagonist finds out that this is exactly the case. He is a patient in the hospital and the entire investigation is an attempt to get him to understand the truth. 

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Leonardo di Caprio stands in front of the camera looking down, concerned with Mark Ruffalo looking baffled in the background

While the whole ‘it was all in your head’ trope has a bad rep for the fans of any genre, this film uses it masterfully. Watching it for the first time not knowing what to expect is obviously a shock and then watching it again, looking at all the clues that were the which you missed – that’s a treat on its own. After all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using cliches if they are done the right way. 

Things that go bump in our minds

A huge part of this movie’s storyline is Andrew’s inability to process the truth. The roots for it stretch far beyond the plot twist. Andrew is unable to acknowledge that his wife is mentally ill and believes that moving them to the countryside will fix everything. After she murders their children, he is further pushed into the world of delusion, convincing himself to be a hero because he couldn’t save his own family. 

It’s interesting to note that in his delusion, Andrew is the one who set fire to their house. Is this a little sliver of his mind whispering the truth to him? Is it his subconscious villainizing himself out of contempt, searching for answers that are never going to come? Andrew’s psychiatrist pointed out that his moment of clarity has happened before, only to be undone quite quickly. Perhaps it was easier for Andrew to shut it off rather than live with the knowledge that he could’ve done something to prevent a terrible tragedy. 

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Overall thoughts

Shutter Island is a movie that provides both the entertainment value you would expect from a suspense thriller and a deeper layer of thought. Coated with a perfect atmosphere and amazing acting, it’s a piece that will definitely hold the test of time.  4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Wheel of Time, Daughter of The Night

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We’ve reached episode four of Wheel of Time, which means we’re halfway through the season. While it doesn’t seem like much has happened so far, this is the episode where things start heating up.

The Story

We begin this episode with a flashback. Ishamael is raising something dark and twisted. As we watch, it takes the shape of a woman.

More on that in a bit.

Meanwhile, Nynaeve is healing from her time in the arches. She is quiet and withdrawn. She’s also awkward and uncomfortable around Egwene now that she’s initiated and Egwene is not. Her new friendship with Elayne isn’t helping.

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But the three girls come together when Liandrin tells Nynaeve that Perrin has been captured by the Seanchan.

Zoë Robins, Madeleine Madden and Ceara Coveney in Wheel of Time.

However, Perrin is no longer in the clutches of the Seanchan. He was rescued by Elyas and a pack of beautiful wolves. Beautiful and deadly AF by the way. If you have any fear of dogs, this episode might not help that.

Elyas explains to Perrin that he is a Wolf Brother. This means that he can communicate with the wolves, and eventually will gain some of their abilities. While Perrin and Elyas don’t exactly get off on the right foot, he does find a fast friendship with one specific wolf. After a time, he introduces himself by showing Perrin an image of himself jumping up and down. From this, Perrin assumes his name is Hopper.

Finally, we return to Rand. He and Selene have been off in the mountains. They haven’t done much more than each other so far.

And that’s exactly what it appears they’re about to do when Moiraine bursts into the cottage and cuts Selene’s throat.

Rand is surprised and furious until Moiraine explains that the woman he knows as Selene is the Dark Friend Lanfear. With this shocking revelation, the two run off into the night.

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What worked

It should be a surprise to no one that I loved the wolves in this episode. Hopper himself was worth an extra Cthulhu. But this is not just because dogs are cute. It’s also because the dog playing Hopper just does a great job.

On a more serious note, I loved how Nynaeve responded upon coming back to the real world. She isn’t okay.

Zoë Robins in Wheel of Time.

And it’s a good thing that she isn’t. Too often in fiction we don’t see the fallout of emotional damage. Hell, we don’t usually see realistic fallout from physical damage.

But she is hurt by what she experienced. And you can tell. That’s realistic character building, and we don’t see that enough.

I also really appreciate the special effects in this episode. The first time we see Lanfear, she’s eerie. She’s frightening. Part of this is thanks to Natasha O’Keeffe, who does a great job. But the effects are what really sells this.

What didn’t work

If Wheel of Time has any fault, it’s that there is far too much sitting about and talking about things. In this case, there’s a lot of standing about and talking about things. Some of this was necessary, and some of it could have been done better. Honestly, there just has to be a better way to convey that characters are struggling.

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This was most apparent with Rand and Selene/Lanfear. Honestly, anytime the two of them were on screen it was a great time for me to catch up on Instagram.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t read the books, but Rand is supposed to be the main character. And here we are, four episodes into an eight-episode season, and so far all he’s done is mess about with his emo girlfriend!

That being said, the story is starting to pick up. With four episodes left, I can’t wait to see how far we go.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Elevator Game, a Film Review

Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks.

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Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks. It adapts the supernatural myth and creepypasta of the same name while providing an original plot. This unrated Shudder exclusive stars Gino Anania, Samantha Halas, and Verity Marks. In full disclosure, I had the opportunity to interview Gino Anania and Stefan Brunner about the film.

Ryan seeks to find answers to his sister’s mysterious disappearance. To do this, he infiltrates a myth-busting web series that seems to have some ties to her final confirmed moments. Desperate to force a confrontation, he encourages them to play the elevator game. Unfortunately, there seems to be more truth to the myth than expected.

A woman bends backward to look over at someone. The street she's on is red and ominous.
ELEVATOR GAME’s Samantha Halas as the 5th Floor Woman

What I Like about Elevator Game & as an Adaptation

I am lucky to have additional insight into the development hell this movie overcame due to COVID. It’s commendable that the film manages to make it of that, even if it requires a lengthy delay of the film.

Usually, I provide a separate section for adaptation quality. However, the source material remains the ritual, which Elevator Game performs accurately. While the myth inspires many creepypastas, Elevator Game doesn’t directly take or adapt any of these works from what I’ve seen. Instead, it makes its own film based on the legend.

As the Fifth Floor Woman, Samantha Halas creates an eerie and disturbing character. While I won’t go so far as to say terrifying, she certainly makes an impression. The revelation that the stunts and performance are all her, as an actual contortionist, I give her more credit.

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Gino Anania, given a more complex role than most of his cast members, really does bring a strong performance that creates either friction or synergy with his cast members. I suppose I wanted more of these interactions as some cut sooner than appreciated.

Another amusing element is that the entire motivation for the plot to follow is a forced advertisement from an investor. Something about the chaos being a product of appeasing some investors feels uncomfortably real.

The alternate reality remains surprisingly effective. To be clear, it’s not impressively realistic but stylistic. It genuinely seems like an alternate world with a skewered impression.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes or Trigger Warning

I feel weird mentioning this, but endangering a sister’s life to push the brother’s story forward seems a common trend beyond one form of media.

No discredit to the actors, but the romance feels rushed and unnecessary. Without going into too much detail, to avoid spoilers, there is synergy between the actors but little chemistry in the plot.

A woman holds a man's arm as an elevator door closes.
ELEVATOR GAME – Verity Marks as Chloe Young and Gino Anania as Ryan Keaton

What I Dislike or Considerations

Elevator Game remains set in providing a B-movie experience. Its tight budget leaves little room to surprise the viewer visually. While I am surprised at what it accomplishes, it’s far from overwhelming. This film also remains the first production of Fearworks, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’m interested in the future, but Elevator Game leaves much to grow from.

Rebekah McKendry may have a directorial style that influences dialogue, but the line delivery evokes an overexpression that’s common in Lovecraftian films. I say this not as a direct negative, but it remains a required taste best known before viewing. As this isn’t Lovecraftian, I fear it removes some of the reality and tension of those haunting elements.

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Many of the characters feel underdeveloped, making me wonder if cutting these roles might lead to more invested characters. While the performances hit their marks, a tighter cast might give each role more to work toward. As this is a tight cast already, it seems an odd issue to rectify.

Final Thoughts

Elevator Game provides an interesting B-movie experience for those who know the legend. For those expecting something different, this film may not work for you. This film overcame a lot to exist but doesn’t break the mold. While I am excited to see Fearworks pursue further ventures toward its ambitious mission statement, I find Elevator Game falling short of its goal.
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

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