Tag Archives: gory

13 Sins (My Exclusive With The Director)

26 Apr

13-sins-movie-poster-ron-perlman-mark-webber-2014

Synopsis: “A cryptic phone call sets off a dangerous game of risks for Elliot, a down-on-his luck salesman. The game promises increasing rewards for completing 13 tasks, each more sinister than the last.”  (Rated R; 1 hour, 32 minutes)

(NOTE: If you haven’t already read my previous interview with Daniel Stamm, I would strongly recommend it as it is one of my all-time favorite blog-posts, linked here for you to read before or after my latest one below.)

On Thursday night I had the massively cool and enjoyable experience of gathering a group of friends to see a movie directed (and co-written) by a good friend of mine. It came out exactly one week ago, and the only problem is – you can’t find it in theaters as of today even if you tried. How can this be?

Video On Demand is a service that has been around for years which allows people to watch movies from the comforts of their home. In the past, people would pay to see movies once they were gone from theaters, sometimes before they were even officially released on DVD; but the movies certainly had their primary run in theaters before that became the backup method to see them later. There seems to have been a shift in the movie industry which has made it common for movies to be made with the complete intention of releasing them “on demand”, and at most giving the movie a token theatrical run.

To clarify, there have always been movies made with the direct intention of being “straight to video”, but what seems to be happening now is different. You have filmmakers – often successful theatrical writers and directors – who go into the process with the intention of making their movie for cinema audiences, but are then told along the way that it isn’t the intention at all.

The following are pieces of a 90 minute “interview” (let’s be honest, it was a conversation) with my talented friend Daniel Stamm (second from the left in the photo below), who also co-wrote and directed 13 Sins, NOT playing in a theater near you…

danielstamm13sinsredcarpetarrivals2014drdpbio3oxul

Boaz – We just came back from seeing your movie, and had a great night out. Some of my friends now think I’m “sick” for having so much fun watching some of the more sadistic scenes from the movie, but I couldn’t help it! Where are you calling me from right now?

Daniel – I’m in Canada filming episodes of Intruders for BBC America, and will be back in a few months. So let me ask YOU Boaz, was anyone else in the theater actually watching the movie other than your friends?

Boaz – Yes, I counted and there were SEVEN other people (in addition to the seven of us). And when the next showtime started I counted THREE others entering, so that’s another whopping 238 dollars for the movie last night alone! Remind me, what was the budget?

Daniel – 4 million dollars. We’re on our way! Boaz, you’re better at math than I am, what’s the tally so far?

Boaz – Well I don’t know about the last few days, but on its opening weekend it was released on an astounding 45 screens, with a total of $9,261, giving it a per screen average of $206. I can fairly say that if there was ever an antithesis to Avatar  and Titanic, this might be it. 

Daniel – You may be right, but the movie was actually profitable, in spite of this.

Boaz – Seriously? HOW?!

Daniel – Our production company and the financiers made their money back before the movie was even made, by selling the international rights to it. Places like Japan and Germany come up with prices and pay it, and then it’s up to them if they release it in theaters or not, but the people who put up the money here lose nothing. As a filmmaker though, it still hurts to go from a movie that had a theatrical release in America, made a lot of money, and then have the next basically go straight to VOD (Video On Demand) where nobody has heard of it. 

Boaz – Why would they do this though? It just doesn’t make sense to me that you’d have your previous movie The Last Exorcism do so well, so why put nothing into this one?

Daniel – I really don’t know, these days it is becoming more and more common for studios to make movies that are either huge budget tent-poles like Iron Man and Captain they put hundreds of millions of dollars into making and promoting them, whereas more and more of the movies that cost a few million like ours aren’t worth the time or risk to promote, so they just put them out on VOD. We’re actually lucky, I was shocked when I saw we were released on 45 screens, many are on 2 or 3, and I personally didn’t see a single poster or ad for it, so I don’t think they put any money into marketing it. It was all about VOD. As I said, they already made their money on foreign presales, anything else from iTunes and (Time Warner Cable) On Demand is a bonus.

Boaz – I just don’t get it, it’s not as if you have a spotty track record, you made one movie in film school which did amazingly well in film festivals (A Necessary Death), you then were paid to make your first movie (The Last Exorcism) and made it for how much money?

Daniel – 1.5 million dollars.

Boaz – And it made how much money?

Daniel – Almost 70 million dollars.

Boaz – Right! It made over 20 million dollars OPENING WEEKEND, how do they go from that to hiring you to make something that doesn’t get a single billboard or commercial or any marketing, and has the intent of being seen on VOD only? It seems ludicrous. Do legitimate filmmakers have absolutely no safety when they sign a contract that it will actually go to theaters? Can’t you sign a contract that ensures it will get a full theatrical release?

Daniel – You could do that, sure, but it usually won’t make a difference. There are huge producers who commonly pay for movies which are “supposed” to go to theaters, but then they go VOD. If the filmmaker threatens lawsuit, then they usually lose. And even if those power-house producers lose, the amount they have to pay in penalties for breaching the contract is nothing compared to the amount of money they’d have to pay to promote and release a movie in theaters, so they accept that as a part of the business.

Boaz – This happens to people I’ve heard of?

Daniel – Absolutely, you’d be shocked how many never see the light of day; good movies that for one reason or another they decided to not release. I’ve heard that (NAME EDITED OUT TO PROTECT DANIEL’S CAREER) for example makes about 10 movies a year from successful writers and directors, but only releases a few. Some don’t even end up as VOD, they just collect dust on his shelf, so-to-speak. I don’t know why, but that’s what he does. I assume he releases less because it may maintain the success of the brand. But why make all of the extras in the first place? I honestly don’t know.

Boaz – How does the marketing work with VOD in the first place? Your movie was released in theaters last week briefly and immediately can be found on iTunes and VOD, does that mean they’re spending money to market it online for streaming at least?

Daniel – I don’t think so. They seem to just put it out there, and if enough people start to watch it, then they’ll start to put some money into marketing it. The idea of VOD seems to be that they just make the movies, throw it out there, and if people don’t see it, then they don’t put any money into marketing it. That’s how it works now.

Boaz – So this is now backwards marketing? Instead of spending money to market something and tell audiences where to catch it, now you’re supposed to catch it on your own, and only if you do will they start telling others to catch it?

Daniel – Yes, I believe so.

Boaz – That’s insane.

Daniel – They had 13 Sins in the “New Arrivals” section of iTunes, they tell me it didn’t do anything, so they won’t be marketing it… that’s just how it is. Actually, Ron Perlman (supporting actor in the movie, and pictured on the very left of the photo above) said he’d be happy to promote it, he believed in the project, but nobody reached out to him whatsoever. 

Boaz – You’re making me so upset here, as a movie-lover, and as your friend and fan.

Daniel – There’s a huge positive side you’re not seeing. Independent filmmakers who would have never been able to make movies are finally being given the chance to make something that people can see. In the past if you wanted to make a movie you needed lots of money, you needed so many different departments to back you and put time and energy into you. Now small people who have a passion for movies but no track record can make something and release it themselves for free on the internet. Those movies can get you noticed, and make it into film festivals. It’s quite incredible, and is making the entire industry more accessible to the world.

Boaz – Okay, so it’s great for people who are just starting out, but how is it good for someone who already has had success, like yourself?!

Daniel – Oh, no question that it sucks for me, because I’m coming from The Last Exorcism’s theatrical release, but for independent filmmakers there is now nothing standing in their way from making a movie for a few thousand dollars, which used to be unthinkable.

Boaz – You continue to be the world’s most positive person, I think I’m angrier about this than you are!

Daniel – (Laughs). To be fair, it’s been so long since making the movie that I’m not as much in the moment. We were shooting it in Halloween of 2012, now it’s April 2014. It’s just not as fresh or immediate as it would be if it was immediate, so that helps cushion the blow.

Boaz – What are you taking out of this experience then, mister positive?

Daniel – Listen, its not a money issue… nobody lost money on this movie… nobody put a dollar into marketing, it’s just a different movie model now. It’s crappy as a filmmaker because the public doesn’t know the movie exists, and VOD is basically a dumping ground for movies, but from a pure business standpoint it’s still profitable for everyone.

Boaz – How will this affect your future in the business?

Daniel –  I’ve benefited from making this movie, because it’s a different style, I got to use some great name-actors, and we had a great experience putting it together. But career-wise it wasn’t good; it was 3 years of me basically treading water in the same spot. It can be quite hard not to think of that way. If you’ve made a movie that didn’t make money but is a critical success, then at least you can point to that… some people will hire you for for that at least. This one is getting less good reviews and far less money than the last one. In this industry you’re only as good as your last movie. One consolation I’ve been told is that it’s not as bad as if it was released wide and bombed, then you’re considered box office poison, at least this still made people money… but it’s still not good overall.

Boaz – What’s with those reviews, anyway? I thought it was a really great idea and enjoyed it from start to finish.

Daniel – It’s frustrating actually, many of the negative reviews kept comparing it to another VOD movie that was released last year, Cheap Thrills, which got great reviews. It shares a lot of the same plot, and many critics thought we were just copying it. That’s a completely unfair comparison, because we were already making our movie before theirs had even come out. Not only that, but ours is an official remake of the Thai movie 13: Game Of Death from 2006. So it’s ludicrous to say we’re copying this other movie when we’re actually legitimately making an American remake of a 2006 movie. It’s very frustrating…

Boaz – Okay, I think we’ve beaten all of that like a dead horse, let’s get a bit more fluffy. How were the actors to work with?

Daniel – Mark Webber (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) was perfect in the role, and such a great guy. And you couldn’t ask for a nicer guy than Pruitt Taylor Vince (Identity), he was amazing.

Boaz – What was Ron Perlman like? You got to work with Hellboy!

Daniel – He was very much making his own movie. Most of his scenes were separate from the rest of the cast, looking at crime scenes. So while the rest of the crew had a very close-knit family feel, he kind of filmed everything separately and did his own thing. That being said, he turned out to be absolutely the nicest, most unpretentious and supportive man I could have asked for.

Boaz – Where did you film it?

Daniel – Most of it was actually shot in New Orleans; that was awesome.

Boaz – I couldn’t find anywhere on IMDB who played the “voice” on the phone throughout the movie? Who the heck was that?

Daniel – He’s not listed? Interesting. That’s George Coe, from Kramer Vs. Kramer.

Boaz – Oh my God, I know him, and he’s the voice of Woodhouse on Archer, that’s probably the funniest show on television!

Daniel – I haven’t seen it.

Boaz – You should! Anyway, it’s been an hour and a half of talking on the phone and you’re filming more in the morning, so I really really appreciate you taking the time for this interview, and to catch up. Zoltán (Honti) did another great job as your cinematographer as usual. Is he with you working on the BBC America show you’re doing over there now?

Daniel – No, they have their own crews set-up here for this show I’m doing, so I couldn’t bring him along. We love working together as you know!  

4-24-14 - 13 Sins (1)

Boaz – I do know, and he’s a lovely guy who I haven’t seen in years! Adi and I were so excited to see your name on the poster outside the theater, and when it came up on the screen we screamed like lunatics. The other seven people in the theater probably thought we were nuts!

Daniel – Well I certainly appreciate it! Great catching up with you Boaz, see you for some movies when I get back in June!

Thanks to the great fun I had going to see the movie with Adi, Leah, Jason, Shira, Avish and Cindy, the night was a blast. We saw it at the beautiful Sundance Sunset Cinema, which has a full bar and lounge, and at least a few of my friends wanted to kill me afterwards because they didn’t realize it was going to be a bit of a horror movie. Mwa ha ha…

4-24-14 - 13 Sins (5)

To be fair, it wasn’t a horror movie, but rather a suspenseful thriller which had some horror movie imagery. I told Daniel that it was like a cross between Hostel and Die Hard: With A Vengeance. Thankfully, he loved the comparison, though I’m sure what it was most like was the Thai movie it was remaking which I haven’t actually seen. As with The Last Exorcism, the movie didn’t end with us going our separate ways, but rather a group of friends discussing and arguing about the “what would you do” quandaries of the movie. Would you start to play the anonymous game-show that proves to give thousands of dollars for increasingly bad behavior, or would you not participate in the first place? No matter what your answer is, it’s not every movie that gets you to keep thinking about it the rest of the night.

The movie wasn’t as GREAT as Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism, which felt like an entirely original and almost flawless film. It was however much better and far more interesting than the Hostel franchise which involved sadistic behavior with no point other than to tantalize sadistic viewers. This movie was entirely about human morality, and how easily we might slip.

Quality Rating: A- (There were some technical/continuity problems which I mentioned to Daniel, and he admitted that there’s not much you can do when you have a limited budget, even when you catch the problems at the time you have to sometimes just let it go and move on because you can’t afford to re-shoot the scene!)

Boaz Rating: A+ (Was there ever any question that I was going to love the entire experience of seeing my friend’s movie with a group of other friends, and then interviewing him immediately thereafter? Of course not!)

Advertisements

Evil Dead (“When Horror Met Funny”)

26 Jun

Image

Synopsis: “Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 31 minutes)

There are so many different types of horror movies, it’s actually become challenging to track them all. Between supernatural horror, exorcism movies, slasher films, torture porn, even Japanese horror has become its own genre (think of The Ring or the equally terrifying original Ringu as one of many movies with pale, disturbing ghosts staring at the victims, and literally scaring the life from their bodies). Some use humor as their characters get picked off one by one (Scream was an extreme example of this, while the later Final Destination movies were gruesomely hilarious). Others go via a humorless route, hoping that where they fall short in making their audience laugh they’ll make up for it by scaring the bejesus out of you (Insidious and the aforementioned The Ring were prime examples of this).

In this piece I’m interested in discussing the humorous variety. Anyone who hates being scared would understandably ask how a horror movie could ever be funny. Allow me to describe the different ways:

Horror Spoofs – This is the most obvious kind, as movies such as the Scary Movie franchise are anything but frightening. They take the scary ideas, and use humor so silly that even if there is gore it’s absolutely absurd. These flicks are not intended to scare, chill or make their audience jump, and their genre would more aptly be considered comedy – not horror. (Examples of this include a couple of movies I reviewed this year, such as Scary MoVie and the less awful A Haunted House.)

Horror Satires – This is where the lines start to get blurred between comedy and horror. Half the people leaving these films will refer to them as horror, others laugh at the description and claim they are simply comedies with gore. They ideally are clever satires that take the genre and try to flip it on its head. It’s an interesting device because some of these movies have no intention of actually scaring you, but will have as much gore as you can imagine (Tucker And Dale Vs Evil) and others truly want to scare you, but the humor is not merely comic relief, it is central to their core (Scream).  Some of my favorite horror movies fall into this category. (Other examples: Shaun Of The Dead and Cabin In The Woods.)

Horror Camp – No, I’m not referring to the countless horror movies that take place in a summer camp, though those will often also apply to this category. I’m referring to campy horror flicks, both intentional and also marvelously unintentional. I refer to the many horror movies where the acting is so terrible and the dialogue is so lame, that when they say “I’ll be right back” you’re not wondering what will happen, but rather how the person will soon die. It’s the movies where one teenager (always played by older actors of course) goes to the forest to have sex (let’s just ignore the fact that they always seem comfortable on the twigs, bugs and rocks for a moment) and you get those fun moments of gratuitous nudity followed by a (hopefully) creative death. Bonus points for the movies that enjoy combining those two elements and include gratuitous nudity and death in the same image (use your own imagination, this is supposed to be a semi-clean blog!) Countless movies fall into this category, from some of the later Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street sequels, to the more recent Final Destination movies. Each of these started as serious horror movies, but at a certain point the mystery of WHO the killer was revealed, and the fun became more about HOW each person would be, ahem, dispatched. I used to watch these movies with my childhood friend Josh, and we’d laugh hysterically as each person would be killed in a ridiculous way, and rewind and re-watch some of the better scenes. And by better, I mean over-the-top cheesy-bad special effects, where you could see the person clearly become a mannequin as they’re killed due to lousy editing. And for any of my parents reading this blog, no we wouldn’t rewind and re-watch the nudity over and over again cracking up, of coooooourse not…Speaking of Josh, if you haven’t already read about him in my Blockbuster Video story, check it out here, trust me.

There are many other categories of horror as mentioned earlier, but those are generally not comedic. Very few people will be laughing at or with The Ring or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and they have a strong place in the horror medium, but not really anywhere in the horror comedy spectrum. Although I will note that there is some laughter that sometimes emanates from the audience even in the scariest of movies immediately after a scare has been truly effective. This is less a statement of the audiences’ sadistic pleasures, and more a catharsis of relief after the scene ends, as it generally gives you a breather until the next scary part builds up.

The Evil Dead has always been a franchise that interestingly mixed comedy with horror. Directed by the brilliantly inventive Sam Raimi, there were three movies made that would each fit into my different categories. The original was probably “Horror Camp”, since it was predominately intended to scare, and although people find it hilarious now, that is in large part due to its extremely low budget production quality, as well as the cult phenomenon that has come from it. (Think of how people laugh throughout The Rocky Horror Picture Show now, it’s in line with that same idea of cult-classic camp.) Its sequel, Evil Dead II, was more of a “Horror Satire”. It took the same ideas and story of the original, and somewhat recreated it in an intentionally hilarious way, while still maintaining the gruesome factor. The third and (until now) final one was called Army Of Darkness, and I suppose it fit into the “Horror Spoof” category, since it was really nothing but a cartoonish comedy that still had a bit of a horror theme. I actually discussed these films in a previous post you can read here, in the paragraph about Sam Raimi.

As a quick tangent, I would like to point out that the Gremlins franchise also drastically changed horror genres. The original 1984 movie was a cleverly funny horror film, and the much-maligned (but quite underrated in my opinion) 1990 sequel transformed into a comedy with only slight horror elements. The idea of a movie sequel creating a noticeable tonal shift is a discussion I will leave for another day.

For years the fans of the Evil Dead franchise had been hoping that Raimi would return to create another sequel, but he simply wasn’t ready to do so. Along came Fede Álvarez from left field (aka his house in Uruguay), and he won over the studio, as well as Sam Raimi’s blessing to make the fourth movie without him. How did this happen? It’s quite the Cinderella story…

Álvarez spent a whopping total of $300 to make a 5 minute short called Panic Attack. Let me clarify that, not 300 million dollars like the budget to huge blockbuster movies, not 300 thousand dollars like the budget of a tiny independent film, not even 3000 dollars like the budget of a little student film. No, he spent the same amount of money to make his special effects-riddled short, as it costs to buy an Xbox. He wrote, directed and edited the movie, and then created the special effects using his computer. Before you continue this article, sit back, turn off the lights, and watch the short here. (Fear not scaredy cats, it’s tense and exciting, but not scary or gruesome).

Finished yet? Now imagine watching that, realizing this man managed to make it for next to nothing, and seeing it go viral within days of being put online (in large part thanks to Kanye West tweeting it when it was first released). It definitely got him immediate attention, meetings, and a deal that eventually resulted with him directing this newest Evil Dead. Although it’s somewhat ironic that the special effects he cobbled together in the short were computer generated, considering the movie was almost exclusively not. It turns out that Álvarez finds much of CGI to be cheap and lazy (a sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly) and went out of his way to make all of the special effects old school. Nice! And there were some impressive effects here ladies and gentlemen. Hands sawed off, things flying in the air, and even the infamous nod to the original – yes, there was a tree-rape scene. In fact, thanks to my friend Shani (who went with Adi and myself to see the movie), I got tons of great information about the movie itself. Here is a great link for anyone who’s already seen it (because it CONTAINS MANY SPOILERS). If you’ve seen the movie, it will show many of the many respectful nods to the original that Álvarez included.

How did I like it? Quite a lot. It was definitely meant to be great fun to watch, but not necessarily funny like the originals. Of course Álvarez knew that he would be providing funny moments simply by association, but as a whole the movie was tense, had great timing, and a consistently awesome visual setting. He also provided a clever context to justify the typical idiocy of a bunch of guys and gals staying in the woods who clearly should get the hell out of there. The main character quickly starts doing crazy things and has clearly been taken over by some sort of evil demon spirit, and in lucid moments she begs everyone else to leave. Álvarez had to think up a way to most creatively keep them there, and he came up with a doozy. The entire plot of why they’re isolated the woods is that they’re all trying to dry her up from her recurrent drug addiction. They know she’ll lie and do anything to get out of it, so it becomes a hilarious and convincing reason to not believe anything she says or does, because she’s a lying junkie. So clearly when she’s covered in wounds and looks like a ghost and making things fly in the air, it’s all part of drug withdrawal. Awesome. That reminded me of one of the truly hilarious moments of the horror classic The Exorcist. After Linda Blair first levitates her bed and speaks in tongues, her doctor describes that this is all explained by ADHD, and prescribes her this miracle drug called Ritalin. AMAZING.

Unfortunately, my horror-loving fiancée didn’t enjoy it much, because it was simply too gruesome and gory for her. As much as she loves the genre, she can’t handle explicit (fake) imagery, which made this movie a bit of a losing battle for her. But as for Shani and myself, we loved it. A now somewhat-typical horror story, with a hefty offering of great scenes and visuals, along with some nifty film-making and editing, made for a fun night out at this rebirth of the horror franchise.

And if you’re a fan of the series, be sure to stay until the end of the credits, you’ll see…

The movie was better than Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, which was a funny “cabin in the woods” riff. But it wasn’t as amazing as THE ultimate “cabin in the woods” riff, you know, The Cabin In The Woods!

Quality Rating: A-

Boaz Rating: A