(Print version published in the May 2014 issue of The Scene Newspaper, scenenewspaper.com)
It has come to my immediate attention that some of the more necessary recent examples of quality genre cinema appear to center the weight of their chosen plotlines around some curiously small packages. The most obvious of the commercial, mainstream representations of this can be found in the work of director James Wan, most specifically 'Insidious', but I was thinking more in terms of reduced popularity yet equal (or greater) value and I have two wholly fitting flicks that fit this criteria; 'Here Comes the Devil' and 'Knights of Badassdom'. It is with these two very differing slices of economic yet effective little big threat storytelling that this month's chapter in slightly off the radar motion picture analysis and incessant rambling is prepared to devote itself.
Here Comes the Devil.
When the comfort zone of a typical familial structure becomes uprooted, say by virtue of the mostly commonplace interferences of emotional, financial and/or fidelity issues, the chief members are left with the taxing yet inevitably surmountable task of picking up the metaphoric pieces of their given lives and continuing to soldier on. In the moody and unapologetically graphic case study of the young Mexican family unit in 'Here Comes the Devil', however, we find the main parental pairing abruptly forced to contend with the sharp and dedicated intervention of a cruelly possessive element that seeks to drain away the innocence of their two prepubescents in favor of a more malicious alternative.
The set up is simple, following a startling prologue of sorts involving a juicy lesbian tryst interrupted by a maniacal house invasion and subsequent bloodletting, the base action shifts over to a sunny Baja California vacation site being occupied by the film's protagonist foursome. While Sol (Laura Caro) and Felix (Francisco Barreiro) sun themselves with nary a care to mention, their kids, Adolfo (Alan Martinez) and Sara (Michele Garcia) are nearby dealing with the alien prospect of Sara's inaugural encounter with that strange feminine occurrence known as menstruation. A quick trip to a local convenience store to deal with the inconvenient 'girl' problem and we're back in business with the kids looking to explore some area caves and the adults just looking to further pursue their relaxation agenda, only on a more romantic level (naughty, naughty). A couple of beats later finds them snoozing in their car, the sun has set and their children have not reported back.
Thus begins the thrust of the whole 'parent's worst nightmare' come to life (and then some) scenario that really informs this delectably demented piece of modern horror. With the local law alongside, the couple frets and scours the surroundings to no avail, only to have their babies appropriated off some remote road the very next day and delivered to their door. All is set to right, or so we are briefly mislead to believe. The kids almost instantly begin to exhibit a notably detached, vacant quality and suspicions arise that they may have been more than just lost in the cavernous hills. At first, after some snooping in and around the area of the disappearance, a local social reject may prove to be a prime suspect and solution to the mounting mystery of what hath molded the children in such a dark and uninviting fashion. In fact, the spectre of some variant of child abduction/unspeakable contact eats at the parents to such a degree that they carry out their rabid phobia to ultraviolent ends (no direct spoilers, just know the effects crew more than earned their keep). This all leads the parents on a downward spiral of their own en route to the true source of the madness, the dread that awaits with a proper solution they could probably due without ever encountering.
'Here Comes the Devil' marks the 10th feature offering of a deft Spanish fella named Adrian Garcia Bogliano (with another feature, 'Late Phases' waiting in the wings). He infuses his weird and wonderfully creepy opus with healthy measures of the requisite horror staples of sex, gore, lingering unease and lurid personas taking the task of boundary pushing and amping the shock and awe factor to acceptably elevated degrees. He has also made it clear in previous media coverage his love and adoration of the exploitation cinema of the 1970s and 80s and that is in blatant display care the warm, somewhat sleazy imagery and fearless employment of sharp zooming in on key moments (Bogliano has also stated his specific use of lenses based on those used in comparative old school favorites). This all combines to make for one of the more satisfying and fully unnerving horror entries in recent memory. Produced for a relative pittance by even so-called low budget standards, 'Here Comes the Devil' shines with a polished look and fitfully creepy vibe that is certain to endear it to a wealth of genre devotees.
The rich looking Blu Ray from a company called Magnet Releasing comes complete with the usual audio commentary input form the Bogliano man himself plus several bits of behind the scenes info to help flesh out the origin of this warped lil' devil. Recommended to all who still hold hope for the future of all things horrific.
For more info, check-magnetreleasing.com/herecomesthedevil
Knights of Badassdom.
Back in the summer of 2011 I was attending the enormous nerd-chic mecca known the world over as San Diego Comic Con when I found myself surrounded by a grand party of fools dolled up as some sort of medieval war party (or cast offs from a Manowar video shoot, take thy pick) and fully reveling in slapping the piss out of one another with big, realistic looking weaponry right outside of the convention's most beloved of locales, the infamous Hall H. Turns out, this was all a part of the publicity juggernaut for a charming little love letter to something dubbed 'Larping' (where participants enact a roleplaying scenario on a three dimensional scale) named 'Knights of Badassdom' that I would have to wait a further 2 1/2 years to actually witness. The film, for one reason or another, sat dormant until being swept up by distributor eOne Entertainment for fleeting screenings and a decent home video berth.
The story involves a basic collection of boy buddies, the majority of which cling to this Larping thing as if it were a serious religion. When one of their roommates, Joe (Ryan Kwanten of 'True Blood' fame), finds himself abandoned by his true blue love of all that is worth living for the resident nerd posse takes it upon themselves to lure him into a weekend role playing getaway. The gents, made up of a fairly solid batch that includes Steve Zahn (a very accomplished thespian who saw this picture released in the near vicinity of more recognized fair that he also took part in like 'Dallas Buyers Club', now there's a strange double bill) and that mightiest of little big men, Peter ('Game of Thrones') Dinklage, see this as both a bonding ritual to help bring their bummed bro back up to par and as a method of further strengthening their dominance in this fabricated geek realm.
Complications and such arise when Zahn's character, Eric, invokes a diabolical succubus that so happens to occupy the body of Joe's former flame. Once this disturbing revelation comes to the fore, our noble lads must find a way to wrangle their fellows in geekdom to help combat the rising body count and become true, victorious...er bad asses. The guiding hand behind these ramshackle events is Joe Lynch, a director whose most noted previous credit is 'Wrong Turn 2' coupled with acting/producing chores on the late FEARnet series 'Holliston' (which also featured the equally 'late' Gwar frontman Oderus Urungus). Lynch has crafted a right serviceable mash-up of comedic shtick and blood splattering spectacle in spite of the much mumbled about budgetary short comings and debated handling of the actual final edit of the film. The pace and progression of the whole affair is adequate and the technical aspect (especially the mostly old school, hands on make up and gore effects) only aids in the cause. By the time the film rambles its imperfect way to the climactic stage and the final monster is let loose on the party, the picture will likely have endeared itself to many a game viewer (awful pun, you're welcome). The cast gives it like seasoned pros, both the above mentioned peeps as well as Summer Glau (the gal from the T.V. shows 'Firefly' and 'Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles') filling out the hot babe/rebound love interest part and many, many actual dedicated Larper types (many of which were among the crowd lurking around San Diego Comic Con way back when) all do their duty at a commendable level.
The video release of 'Knights of Badassdom' contains several interview segments with the cast members and the director along with a lengthy panel presentation from the greatly aforementioned Comic Con Hall H appearance wherein many of the players discuss the project and their approach to the material and also entertain questions from selected lucky nerds from the massive crowd. This whole thing makes me ever so eager to return to another ridiculous convention down in southern California this July. Can't wait.