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Monday 28 October 2013

Cowboy Zombies (2013)

Director: Paul Winters
Stars: Greg Bronson, Sandy Penny, Lee Whitestar, Mark Trombino, A Calion Maston, Paul Winters, Jarod Anderson, Jessica Winters, Jean Paul Turgeon, Sam Keller, Efrain Escudero and Mark Grossman

I enjoyed Cowboy Zombies, a new feature shot entirely on location in Arizona and California with a few recognisable local actors, but it has many flaws, perhaps the biggest being that it can't seem to decide what it is. Beyond the obvious horror western, it's at heart a drama and, in its imagination, a comedy, albeit one that doesn't trawl for laughs but merely smiles if we do. However, for a story that so often seems to be carefully building a long complex joke, it refuses to give us a punchline. The feel is mostly old fashioned, as if this was a thirties movie given a colorisation treatment, and Clem, the dim witted deputy sheriff, is an acutely interactive character, reminiscent of the sidekicks kids used to shout at in Saturday morning matinees. The zombies are old fashioned too, slow moving snarly creatures, but the effects work is more modern and bloody. Paul Winters, who directed and co-wrote with the acclaimed cartoonist, Gahan Wilson, calls it a 'popcorn kind of movie' but that's about as definitive as this gets.

It starts out emphatically as a western, with lazy music to accompany Marshal Frank Wilcox riding his horse through the Arizona desert. Winters played this character himself, so it's perhaps appropriate for him to dominate the first couple of scenes, especially as there really aren't any lead characters in this ensemble picture. He keeps quiet for most of it, letting others do their thing, but the scene as he steps out from behind a cactus to walk slowly towards the camera, while the score frantically tries to build a semblance of suspense, is woefully overdone. It played to me like a silent movie and I expected a train to come hurtling onto screen with Buster Keaton on board to scoop him up out of harm's way, but no, he's just moseying up quietly to his prey, a trio of outlaws camping in the desert. He leaves two dead and one wounded, to face justice in Tucson, just as you might expect from a western. Back in town, to which we quickly cut, everything else fits that mindset too, until an absolutely glorious shake up.

There are some truly magic moments in Cowboy Zombies, though there are as many head scratching ones as consistency is not the film's strongest suit. My favourite magic moment is the very first scene in the tiny frontier town of Crumpit. The townsfolk are all ready for a hanging, with two rustlers strung up outside the Double Peach Saloon. The first dies with no last words but the other pleads for a sign from the Lord, which arrives not in his freedom but in the form of a zombie apocalypse, his partner in crime returning from beyond the veil to dangle helplessly at the end of his noose, surely a sadistic fate for a zombie. I am stunned that over the last decade of unending zombie movies, I've never seen this before. I absolutely adored this performance from Henry Ibarra, as he floundered around like a rabid chihuahua piñata, barking in frustration at his unexpected lot, constantly reaching in vain for a treat he'll probably never get. Every time he reappeared, I wanted to cheer.
Somewhat inevitably in this schizophrenic picture, one of the best moments is accompanied by one of the worst. The zombie apocalypse arrives in Crumpit in the form of a wind effect, which neatly avoids any need for an effects budget and is vague enough to only be hinted at as the film runs on. Perhaps it's appropriate that these frontier townsfolk haven't a clue what causes this world changing event but it feels like a copout for us to miss out on an explanation too. Most annoying is that various characters ask the same question every once in a while, if only to remind us that nobody has an answer. 'Why is this happening?' asks Rose Ann. Why indeed. We have no idea. Another pair of contrasts comes as the dead start to return. In a priceless moment of humour, dim witted deputy Clem manages to shoot the sheriff, but we're then treated to a weird loop where a host of characters die, return as zombies, only to be killed again, all accompanied by the same pantomime: 'He's dead!' 'No, he's not!' 'He is now.'

And, of course, here's where the joke comes in. Initially, it takes the form of, 'a preacher, a sheriff and a midget walk into a bar...' and then builds as we're introduced to characters. Before long, it seems as if we have a character of every ethnicity, minority or social background filling up the Double Peach, as if the zombie apocalypse has caused a dozen of these jokes to collide in the only bar in town, all of them apparently in search of the punchline, which unfortunately never arrives. Every time somebody new arrives in Crumpit, two things happen: that potential joke gets bigger and the bar gets more crowded. Early on, once the initial zombies have been cleared, there are only six characters sharing the frame, so it isn't particularly crowded, but the camera and actors are mostly static. As six expands to nine, eleven and thirteen, so does the complexity of the composition of frame, which is done very carefully indeed, so that we can still see everyone without even straining.

Like the mysterious apocalypse rapture thingamajig, this is surely a result of the lack of budget, but it rankles nonetheless, only to feel justified in the context. At least the budget does appear to be larger than the average local indie movie, perhaps in large part because of the authenticity of the sets. The lack of character motion within the Double Peach is often frustrating, these scenes reminiscent of the early thirties when microphones were bulky creatures carefully secreted behind pillars and props and actors couldn't move an inch without their voices vanishing into the background. Yet, for a completely different reason, this ends up easy to rationalise. Outside there's all the space in the world, if you can take down the zombies shuffling around the Crumpit streets; inside, the survival space becomes more and more claustrophobic. I can think of worse places to hole up during a zombie apocalypse and the various clear hints that this is a 19th century Dawn of the Dead don't stop there.
With the town looking great and the costumes following suit, the budgetary constraints become most apparent with the acting. Certainly I've seen a lot worse and a few of the actors do a solid job, but it's clear which of them are starting out and which have experience under their belts. Greg Bronson, the easily recognisable bearded presence in what often seems like every locally made student short, gets a peach of a role for a change as the preacher. Certainly he looks amazing in a black outfit that would work just as well for an undertaker. If this ensemble picture had a lead, it would be him. He gets more dialogue than anyone else and he drives much of the story forward, as both the preacher and the doc, but the script stretches his character a little far on occasion. Surely he's a particularly forward looking preacher for the old west, more of a Dr Frankenstein at points with his ruminations on science and its possibilities for the future. Still, it's good to see him not playing the usual homeless guy.

There are so many other characters that they're spread inevitably thin. Lee Whitestar maintains a firm presence as a stoic Indian warrior chief, but he gets precious little to do and he remains appropriately silent while doing it. Having kicked off the film, Winters plays the rest of it relatively quiet as the tough but fair marshal. A Calion Maston gets a few moments as an army sergeant picked up on the road, as does Sandy Penny as the black clad proprietress of the Double Peach, but those moments are either too infrequent or not consistent enough to resonate far. In the end, it's Mark Trombino, last seen in the unrelated 2009 short, Cowboy Dreams, who gets closest to stealing the show, as Jasper the diminutive barkeep with his sassy attitude and his delightfully evil eye. He gets the most motion in the bar, partly because he doesn't obstruct our view of anyone else as he does so. He makes for a memorable double act with the obnoxious marshal's convict, George Rivers, played capably by Jarod Anderson.

It's good to see a local film playing a full week at a single screen theatre, as Cowboy Zombies is doing at the Harkins Valley Art in Tempe. I'd like to praise it more, because there was much I liked and a few things that I loved about it; Winters promised 'lots of action and good stuff' and he delivered on that, but there's a negative point to counter every positive one. For each well choreographed turkey shoot of zombies, there's a slow and static scene indoors. For each running gag Jasper dishes out to Rivers, there's a strange character choice. For every well composed theme in a solid score, it's stuck backing people doing nothing but walking for far too long. And for every new character who shows up to be integrated into the wider story in decent fashion, there's a disappointing ending. Beyond not getting the punchline we expect, we don't get anything to go home with; even the characters are puzzled as the credits roll. At least I wanted more, which tells me that the balance is to the good side. Only just.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Rose White (2012)

Director: Daniel Kuhlman and Brian Kilborn
Stars: Erin Breen, Deneen Melody, Daniel Kuhlman, Tom Lodewyck and Anthony Fleming III

Not as great as Crestfallen but far better than As Night Falls, Rose White isn't merely a movie Deneen Melody acts in but also one that she created, passing it to director Daniel Kuhlman to turn into a script. She conjured up an interesting idea, one which mixes fairy tale and reality in a more believable way than the recent slew of TV shows and films would have deemed possible. Initially, it's stylish but not particularly original, as Melody narrates the fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red from the inevitable 'Once upon a time...' It tells of two happy sisters, Rosalyn with rose red lips and Lilly with hair as white as snow. Only as it reaches a crucial point do we realise where this version is leading us: Lilly is crazy as a loon. These sisters scrape out a life in a rough neighbourhood, as Rosalyn sells her body on the street and Lilly dreams her dreams, dancing in a forest with wild and exotic creatures throwing petals at her feet rather than in the middle of the street in front of working girls and a cop car.

The contrast between these worlds couldn't be more palpable and one of the best aspects of the film is how easily Lilly finds her way from one to the other. All it takes is a single step and the grim reality turns into a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Melody is good here, a denizen of two different worlds but far more at home in fantasy than the reality to which she rarely, if ever, fully returns. She also provides the narration, which unfolds throughout in simple fairy tale language, however dark, gritty or visceral the events that accompany it in visuals. She might explain how the kind ways instilled into her by her mother lead her to open their cottage door to let in a bear in need, but we see that it's really a small time drug dealer escaping a beatdown from the new kingpin taking over the streets. Whichever story we follow, the simple yarn of good and evil in a forest or the complexity of a tough life on the mean streets, it unfolds the same and there's no escape from the end, because every fairy tale has one.
For a story that immerses itself in subjects as unpalatable as sex, drugs, violence, murder and child abuse, Rose White has a strong beauty to it that can't be ignored. Because the guiding narration is so omnipresent, we might be surprised at the end to realise that very little takes place in the fantasy world in Lilly's head; the aptly named Melody transports us with her haunting words. She's better as the addled waif than as the innocent fairy girl, though either way her dirt is inconsistent. If Melody is good, Erin Breen is better still as Rosalyn. She's hot and wholesome as a fairy tale creature; fiercely severe as a a hooker coated in the muck of her trade, with chopsticks stuck in a tight bun when she's on the street; or quietly everyday as a jaded girl out of costume. Everyone gets to play in both worlds but she's the most notable in each of them. Melody is never far from our eyes and she's rarely away from our ears, but it's Breen who owns this film. The supporting cast don't stand a chance.

Rose White is a memorable film, though it would have been better served by a few more moments of happiness to keep the contrast alive between Lilly's escapist world and the deluge of brutality that is all around it like a stormy sea taking on a lighthouse. I'd have liked a little more clarity at the end, as the powerful finalé gives way for a brief moment where minds meet but we're not sure where. While Melody created the film and Breen owns it, it's Daniel Kuhlman who racked up the credits on it. His is the name on the screenplay, on the director's chair and in the cast, as the main supporting character, the bear. He's better behind the camera than in front of it, as he can't compete with Melody, let alone Breen, on the acting front, but his script is sure and his direction keeps it moving. While it's too much about the girls to really hold any balance, its toughest obstacle is its length: at just over half an hour, it's a long short, a full third of a festival short film selection. I hope that didn't hold it back.

Crestfallen (2011)

Director: Jeremiah Kipp
Stars: Deneen Melody and Michael Partipilo
In my review of As Night Falls yesterday, I mentioned that it was an early film in the career of its star, Deneen Melody, and that she'd gone on to play much better parts in much better films. Here's one of them, shot only a year later but in a completely different class. It's a deceptively loose short film from the prolific Jeremiah Kipp, who has as many pictures in process right now as I have toes, but one that fits well alongside his other directorial work. I knew Kipp as a writer, from insightful interviews he did for Shock Cinema with people like Ron Perlman, but he has a substantial body of work behind him to discover. I took a trip through his short films and discovered that 'trip' was a particularly good choice of word to use. He doesn't tend to give us stories, he asks us to find them within visuals that are often both nightmarish and beautiful at the same time. From the performance art of Drool to the 'cinematic prayer' that is The Days God Slept to the playful music video, Fate, he's both sacred and profane.

Crestfallen may well be my favourite of Kipp's short films thus far, as its apparent lack of focus hides an astounding amount of depth and I keep finding new things in each viewing. It's an impressionistic piece, apparently a very personal one for writer Russ Penning, who went through this story for real in what Kipp has believably described as 'the darkest hour of his life.' It isn't hard to believe that, given that the film takes the form of a set of disjointed memories running through the mind of a suicide, as she closes in on death. However much distance he obtained by changing the gender of the lead isn't enough to remove the palpable pain from these memories. Many are good, many not so good, but in the end they boil down to a deep and inexpressable sadness that leads to a character believing that the world would be a better place without her in it. The most brutal aspect of the film is that it's not that simple, that this character still isn't sure, even with a kitchen knife slicing into her veins.
Nobody speaks in Crestfallen, but they don't need to. That actions speak louder than words was never so true as here, as the emotion drips from the screen as surely as does the life from the protagonist's body. Deneen Melody does far more in six minutes here than she does in the whole of As Night Falls. To be brutally honest, she does more in her first thirty seconds, looking at what she sees in the mirror with a mixture of hate and dismissal, casually shedding her robe as if she'll never need it again, then moving hesitantly into the bathroom. She holds herself under the water like a baptism, yearning for rebirth, then searches for a moment and makes her change. As the blood comes, she relaxes, the job done; the camera becomes her consciousness and floats around as the memories start to flow. We see the happiest moments of her life juxtaposed with the most broken, blending together and gifting us with the meaning of this young lady's life. We don't know her name but, by the end, we know her.

This is a deep film indeed but it's clearly the result of a team effort. Kipp's direction must have played a strong part as this fits so well thematically with his other work, but this is Penning's story as well as Penning's film. The haunting camerawork is courtesy of Dominick Sivilli, who also did a stellar job in the editing room; his contributions cannot be underplayed. The superb score floats up there with the camera; it was composed by Harry Manfredini, who also scored Kipp's The Days God Slept, although he's surely still best known for Friday the 13th and its sequels. On screen, the support is solid, but we can't take our eyes off Deneen Melody, so strongly does she find her character. Apparently she had a friend who went through this story too, so was able to channel her performance. Whatever she did, it worked wonders, because she spends most of the film naked and we're too busy feeling her pain to particularly notice. This is bravura filmmaking and it deserves to be seen widely.

Crestfallen can be viewed for free at Vimeo.

Monday 21 October 2013

As Night Falls (2010)

Director: Joe Davison
Stars: Deneen Melody, Dwight Cenac, Lily Cardone, Grace Chapman, Joe Davison, Tyler Cross, Jeremy King, André Reissig, Julie Anne, Michael Ellison, Raine Brown and Debbie Rochon

While Breaking Glass Pictures has an annoying habit of sending out crappy screeners, they do tend to release interesting movies. They brought us the excellent Wound and Scalene, for a start, along with other fascinating films as varied as Dead in France, El Monstro del Mar! and The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol. So I'm rather confused as to why someone there felt that it would be a bright idea to resurrect As Night Falls, a pretty awful 2010 movie, whose official website has already vanished, for fresh release in 2013. For those still intrigued after reading this review, it'll hit the streets on 12th November, but I wouldn't recommend it, even if the ten minutes of sync issues that plague the early part of the film are restricted to the screener and, as I'd hope, aren't apparent on the actual DVD. Fans of scream queen Debbie Rochon should only pick it up if they're completists; let's face it, however much fun scream queens are to watch, they've all made a string of terrible movies like this one.

Written and directed by Joe Davison, who's made two further features in between completing this one and seeing it released, As Night Falls is one of those horror movies where something unspeakably evil that happened generations earlier decides to manifest itself afresh in the modern day for no apparent reason and continue on as if it had never been stopped to begin with. Unfortunately we get nothing to explain why little Amelia has to run from her parents in the Florida woods of 1933 and merely leap in time many decades to meet the current occupants of their house, the Crofts, an unlikely family. We meet three of them quickly, all apparently siblings, even though the actors were born as far apart as 1975, 1984 and maybe 1990. No wonder their mother, who owns the house, isn't in the film; maybe if she was, another baby might spring out of the aether and make it four, even though her husband's more believable excuse for not showing up for the film is that he's deceased.

The good news is that each of the actors is capable. On the basis of this film alone, Joe Davison is a far better actor than he is a writer or director. He's believable as a decent, mildly inept small town ranger, at least for a while. Deneen Melody is fair as his sister Lizzie, though this was early in her career and she's done better work in better movies since, as I'll be explaining with tomorrow's reviews. Youngest of the trio is Holly, a sassy role for young Lily Cardone, who keeps up with her screen siblings well. She may have been twenty as this was shot, but she looks believably younger. The bad news is that we're given a lot more characters to deal with than just these, and many of those are annoying, to say the least. First and foremost in that company is Otto, apparently Lizzie's boyfriend even though they share precisely no chemistry at all and she seems to be rather embarrassed by him. I honestly wondered if he was originally just a gardener/stalker but got written into a bigger part halfway through.
There's some generic character and story building for a while, though it's rather fragmented and only half attempted. Some of it clearly points to Davison's background in stand up comedy, such as Otto's samurai routine which is as oddly funny as it is utterly irrelevant to this movie. Mostly, we just wait for the inevitable party, because that's where the action is likely to start. It does indeed, but sadly a host of other characters show up for us to be inconsistently introduced to. Steve is the big guy playing Halo with Jen and Erica, who nearly punched out his ex. Dude tries to make out with Olivia by the miniature horses. A drugged out German punk called Pennywise plays table football with himself and can't figure out which accent he prefers. Colin tries to persuade Steph's sister Alyson to go down on him, but she's only fifteen and refuses. The rest play Munchkin and drink, which is fine by me, but they're not too good at the sass talk. We kick their ass here every Tuesday game night.

It's unfortunate that some of these actors are capable because they're not given much of substance to do. It's like Davison asked them to go hog wild with their characters by improvising gimmicks, but they went too far. That he spent a year storyboarding the film suggests that wasn't the case, but it's still a more believable explanation to my mind than that this was carefully scripted. The best work thus far is the most unlikely, that of Grace Chapman, the young girl who plays the ghostly Amelia, who pops up inconsistently in a flurry of blue light to scare the crap out of everyone. She's hindered by make up, special effects and a changed voice, not to mention cheesy dialogue to use to suggest that the Crofts move, but she shines through it all with a memorably freaky performance. Her screen parents, the real evil that's travelled through time, are Debbie Rochon and the 6'4" Michael Ellison, so we're clearly on the side of the overacting cursed Depression era bad guys and not the supposed heroes of the story.

I don't want to rule Joe Davison out yet. I liked him as an actor, for a start, and there are moments in this debacle that suggests that he might have good movies in him. He's certainly getting films made; beyond the two features he's directed since this one, he has a growing string of credits in a whole bunch of categories and they aren't slowing. Surprisingly, I'm less interested in Frost Bite, a zombie movie set in Alaska, and more in a romantic comedy called Mr Engagement for two reasons. One is that Davison's clearly a comedian before he's a filmmaker and he may well do better with a comedy than a schizophrenic horror movie like this that forgets about horror for whole stretches of time to briefly become a comedy instead. The other is that he didn't write it and his script for this film is the root of all that's wrong with it. Maybe he's got better anyway, as most people do, but maybe he can concentrate more on directing if he isn't writing too.
Horror fans may get a kick out of the last half hour of this film because whatever else Davison is, he's clearly a fan of the genre and he crammed a lot in at the end to make people happy. I'm not going to talk up his writing here, because it's sloppy, unfocused and frankly incomprehensible, but he knows what he likes and he clearly likes iconic monsters who would make good action figures, frequent and bloody death scenes and wannabe tough ladies with samurai swords. He even found a great eighties sounding hard rock theme tune to rage over the action, Dirty Black Halo's As Night Falls, which gets a couple of plays during the movie and also accompanies the neat end credits. When Otto pronounces, 'I've seen more action from a two dollar whore,' during a fight scene, he's not talking about this movie. At this point, the film is magnificently alive, even if it's entirely uncoordinated and has no clear idea what it is. It's a Frankenstein's monster of a finale and it would play well at a party in the wee hours.

While it's on fire, it's almost enjoyable sober. Rochon and Ellison are meaningless monsters but they clearly had fun shooting their scenes, wreaking no end of havoc with grunts, moans and pitchforks. Chapman's little ghost girl whispers aren't exactly easy to follow, but it doesn't matter. She looks as freaky as all get out and her presence only adds to the fun. The surviving partygoers flounder about trying to resist and fight back, while they figure out what the heck's going on. They're not helped by the editing and choreography, which are close to inept, but like the film itself, as long as they're able to keep up the momentum, they're watchable. This film is rather like a carousel: it's good, if entirely predictable, fun while it's in motion, but nothing more than a promise whenever it stops. I think that above all the many flaws, that's the biggest one this picture has: it always needs to keep moving and for two thirds of the running time, it just doesn't know how.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Sex and Violence (2009)

Director: Charles Peterson
Stars: Patrick Adam, Carrie Rapp and Elias Castillo
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Examiner film critic Bill Pierce had good reasons for including each of the short films he programmed for the AZ Forbidden Films selection at the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival, but this was always the gimme. Not only has it caught flak for its content, it actually found itself banned from a local film festival, under suspicious circumstances no less. After it successfully screened as part of the Deadly Event in 2009 and at the Phoenix Film Festival a year later, it was selected as one of a dozen films to be shown at the Cave Creek Film and Arts Festival in 2010. The venue was the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center, which sits inside the grounds of the Cave Creek public school, and it was 'school policy' that saw it yanked from the festival line up after an anonymous caller complained about its inclusion. Ironically, it wasn't pulled for either sex or violence, but for 'speech or language that is offensive or inappropriate to the limited forum of the public school educational environment.'

This decision proved controversial indeed. Festival director Suzanne Johnson resigned from the board of directors over it, though she still hosted the event, using the opportunity to deliver a speech about the dangers of censorship and the inappropriateness of a public school as the venue for a 'legitimate film festival.' Her loss, along with another unrelated resignation from the board, was enough for the festival to fall apart. While some of its categories have spun off into their own events, the full festival hasn't been held since. Pierce was also incensed at the decision, making sure to track down a copy of the film before he covered the event so that he could review it anyway, even though it didn't screen. The saddest thing is that, unlike, say, Slaughtered Vomit Dolls, whose numerous festival submissions deliberately aimed at rejection slips for publicity, Sex and Violence is a worthy, albeit controversial, film. While it's no rip-off, the comparison that can't be ignored is to David Cronenberg's Crash.
It starts superbly, as TV news reporter Paul Allen covers a murder/suicide at 40th St and Southern. As Allen, Elias Castillo nails the tone, carefully downplaying horror with clear concern and shock-induced stutter, all while leading us into gruesome footage. It's a routine scene, merely handled superbly; it's the next one where director Charles Peterson, who also co-wrote the story with Jose Rosete, starts us in a far less common direction. At the crime scene, fresh enough to still have a forensic team working around bloody, uncovered bodies, we pan across the crowd to meet the lead characters who couldn't stand out any more overtly if they tried. Amongst the shocked but absorbed looks of rubberneckers, Donald and Cassandra get hot and heavy with each other, their roaming hands only pausing to snap photos of the corpses. As we cut back to bedroom sex scenes with crime scene photos on the wall, Cassandra imagines herself on the ground with the bodies, touching them as she's being touched.

This is a great beginning and there's a great ending to come too, which I'm not going to spoil, but the scenes in between don't play quite as well, as Rosete and Peterson attempt to set up a deep conflict between Donald and Cassandra, only to find that it was never going to happen believably within only thirteen minutes of running time. Were this to be expanded to feature length, a disconnect like this could easily be gradated over a much longer period and play much better, but the short length only allows for a quick bounce between extremes, which is far less believable. Similarly, the embarrassing sex scene midway is supposed to be embarrassing, but it contrasts too overtly with those on either side because of how wildly different it is. A story that should inherently flow through shades of grey doesn't work as well when it only has time to show us the black and white at each end. Of course, given the controversy he stirred up with a short film, I hardly expect Peterson to attempt to expand it.

The acting is decent but flawed. Patrick Adam has more to do than Carrie Fee, but he's less successful. Fee, who was still Carrie Rapp at this point in her career, is clearly dominant as Cassandra. Thankfully, as she demonstrates how freaky her fetish is, she never overplays it to become a freak to goggle at. She appears outwardly normal throughout, even as she emphasises how far away from normal she is inside. It's notable that Fee's brief role in Dust Jacket, also shown at Jerome, could be seen as a wish fulfilment part for Cassandra. This examination of normality is the theme of the film, as Rosete and Peterson ask us, through Donald, to question what 'normal' really means. There's sex and violence here, the film's title being as honest as it is misleading, as this is far from exploitation, but the real controversy isn't about how often the leads are naked but in how Donald answers that question. I'd venture that anyone complaining about the film might wonder if they came up with the same answer.

Her Special Day (2009)

Director: Casey Moore
Stars: Patti Tindall, Chris Hays, Charlie Steak and Deena Trudy
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon IV in Tempe in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I've lost count of how many times I've seen Her Special Day but I still haven't quite figured out if I like it or not. Certainly I wasn't sold on my first viewing, as a festival screener. Remembering back, I liked the aging effects work (colour bleeding, frame skips, blurring, crackle, artifacts and oversaturation) that succeeded in making the piece feel like it had been shot in the seventies. It was far from a new approach at the time but the quality of the work was notably high and, unlike most pictures that do the same thing, it actually made sense in this instance. What I didn't like was how empty the picture felt and how obviously the story played out. It appears to be about a young girl celebrating her birthday. After all, its Her Special Day, right, and it's a lovely one that sees her out in the country having a picnic, frolicking in the fields and watching the ducks. Everything ought to be great but it feels utterly wrong. There are no other kids around; all the picnic guests are mummy and daddy's friends who wear strange medallions and talk about how awesome the dark is.

Perhaps I've seen too many Satan worshipping movies from the seventies, but I figured this out in no time flat and found no surprises waiting in the wings. Even the presence of Patti Tindall didn't save the film for me, though she had the lead role and did as solid a job as I'm used to seeing from her, in movies as varied as Death of a Ghost Hunter, Cloud 9 and There's Something Out There. She's the only cast member really called upon to do anything here, the rest simply hanging around and looking sinister, which Charlie Steak and Deena Trudy do well. In comparison, Tindall has to work her way through a set of competing emotions as she suffers her way through her daughter's special day. She also gets the best lines, but then this isn't a dialogue movie, it's a feel movie. It plays for that off kilter atmosphere that I remember well from Satanic and haunting movies of the seventies and gets pretty close, then adds in all those aging effects to really fill us with nostalgia. What we see even has curved corners, as if the picture is being projected in 8mm.

So I let the film go, but it kept showing back up again. It played better when I watched it as a Fear Fest 4 submission and then better still on the big screen at the event itself. By this point I realised that the piece had an ethereal quality that meant that it didn't want to be forgotten. The choice of shots does help it feel like a memory, one that Tindall and her screen husband Chris Hays might have played over and over again in the years that followed. There isn't enough internal consistency for that to be literally true, for it to be a home video, but there is a dreamlike quality that would ring true as a remembrance within a nightmare. I realised too that I was remembering it far more clearly than other Synthetic Human films, such as Pattern: Response, which I still saw as a better movie. Then Bill Pierce, local film critic for the Examiner, chose it for his superb AZ Forbidden Films shorts selection at the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival, where he talked it up effusively. He clearly likes it more than I do, not to mention more than the folk who made it.

Now I'm watching afresh, so I can write this long overdue review, and realising that I don't need to, as it's stuck in my subconscious like a catchy tune. It's easier to take a clinical approach, to tear it apart and see what makes it tick. As loose and improvisational as it feels, it's carefully constructed, with a Frankenstein homage early on and a clear lifeblood reference in the red balloon. What I believe I've figured out now is that the film works best in a communal setting. At home, it's a personal piece, not one that I identify with but one I can sympathise with. It isn't about the child, it's about her mother. Tindall is good at playing torn and her solitary dramatic performance makes her stand out from her infuriatingly calm cohorts, every one soulless and unemotional for a reason. I feel for her, though I'm not sure I should. Watching in a crowd, it feels less inevitable, more about the child, and it calls in a protective way, prompting a mob response. Bill may carry a torch for the film, but I want to light a torch, grab a pitchfork and go save a child.

Saturday 19 October 2013

A Stray (2013)

Director: Hayden Blades
Stars: Joe Flowers, Myrsadyse Pangburn and Mina Mirkhah
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
I've reviewed films by Synthetic Human Pictures before, but I was surprised to find that they've made no less than a dozen of them, the latest being A Stray, which premiered a week ago today at the Herberger Theater Stage West in downtown Phoenix. It runs 37 minutes, an awkward length for a lot of film festivals: far too short to be a feature but still too long to fit comfortably into a selection of shorts. As they take up two or three slots in such sets, lesser such middle length films can be frustrating but the best of them can be exquisite, as they provide smaller subjects with welcome depth. This one is closer to the latter than the former, as it effectively tells two stories simultaneously: a regular one that plays out chronologically, as well as another that unfolds backwards to gradually flesh out the background needed for us to understand the regular one properly. However, it avoids really giving us a key, meaning that my lass and I had a long discussion about it all the way home. A second viewing is required to fully grok what it's doing. At least.

The regular story phrases itself as a thriller, as census taker Gabriel Althaus finds himself surrounded by threats of every description: house prices are dropping and neighbours are wary of 'the wrong kind moving in'; finances are obviously a concern as he's living to a strict budget; there are reports of coyotes attacking people in the area and one may have bitten his six year old daughter, Katie, especially as there's a large and mysterious dog hanging around their rural home, apparently watching them. Even inanimate objects appear to have it in for him: his car breaks down and he's always getting caught on the rickety fence out back. But, as a well placed zoom into the missing piece in the family's framed jigsaw puzzle of Hokusai's Great Wave demonstrates, we don't have the whole picture yet. Presumably that ties to Evelyn, who has a particularly strong presence in this film for someone who isn't in the regular story. We see her all the time and it's an open question whether she's only real in the back story.

Evelyn is also the spark for us to think about normality. Gabriel clearly wants to be a Norman Rockwell painting, even as a single father. Daddy and Katie live in a house in the suburbs, he has a white collar job and they have a cute little dog called Cowboy. Yet Evelyn is far from normal: Mina Mirkhah's exotic looks are emphasised here with sharp angles and strong eyeliner. The constant confrontations between her and Gabriel are nothing like the calm, multi-racial family of three on the cover of Modern Living that sits on his lap at the hospital. She's clearly a challenge to his perceptions of normality. The question that A Stray has us ponder on is how far outside those perceptions she really is, but it stubbornly refuses to let us know for sure. There are many ways to read this film, just as there are many ways to read its title. If everything we see here unfolds in Gabriel's mind, already tormented by Evelyn leaving and now by everything else, the stray is the literal one outside, watching him and possibly doing more.
I don't buy that this is anywhere near that simple. Sure, we only see Evelyn through Gabriel's memory of her, but there are too many other little details that point emphatically to this being a mature and complex work of horror. We don't notice them, or at least don't understand them, on our first viewing, because we don't have that back story to flavour our understanding, but they can't be missed on a second run through. Which character delivers the first words is surely important, as is the first line of dialogue Katie delivers. The neighbour's dog barking at night is far more than just an annoyance. The scars on Gabriel's back have meaning, as does the pristine crane shot that highlights the full moon. There's clearly a supernatural story here, as much as writer/director Hayden Blades refuses to rule out the possibility that everything is just in Gabriel's head. If so, there are at least two other strays. Even the song that unfolds over the end credits, a wild version of Hound Dog by the Sugar Thieves, becomes a double meaning.

I don't believe a third viewing will help to firm up my reading of A Stray because I don't think Blades wanted to make it that simple. This can be enjoyed simply, as an exploration of a man driven to desperation by his wife leaving, or it can be explored as a supernatural horror story with a number of layers. Even there, it can be read in different ways: maybe it's Gabriel's struggle with who he is, maybe it's all a battle between him and Evelyn. Fortunately the cast are up to the task, whichever way we read it. Joe Flowers, who I last saw in an utterly different role in a four minute romantic comedy called Vinyl, is excellent here, grounding the film with a performance deep enough for each reading to safely hang upon. Mina Mirkhah, so delightfully down to earth in The Big Something, haunts the film as much as she haunts Gabriel; she's the jigsaw piece that we need to fit into the puzzle but she refuses to play ball. Child actor Myrsadyse Pangburn could have been just a tie between them, but she's good enough to be a little more and open up still more possibilities.

Even with solid support from Ronald Bush and Laura Durant and strong cinematography by David Matteson, this surely belongs to Hayden Blades. He wrote and directed A Stray, along with contributing in a number of other ways behind the scenes. I was particularly impressed by his editing, because it very neatly blurs the two stories, the past and the present, meaning that we can't help but wonder about how much importance Evelyn really has to Gabriel and what's happening to him. Blades has credits all over the Synthetic Human oeuvre, but he's only recently started directing for them, this being his second effort for them in that vein after 2008's Roman a Bottle, though he also co-directed The Heaviness of Here with David Matteson a year before this production company came into being. With only Not Quite Dead and Pattern: Response reviewed here and Her Special Day long overdue, clearly it's time for me to take a journey back through the rest of their films to discover how they progressed in six years to something as mature as this.

Friday 4 October 2013

All I Think of is You (2012)

Director: Shad Clark
Stars: L Jeffrey Moore, Simone Olsen-Varela, Rowan Brooks, Rolf Saxon and Jeremy Kaller
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
We might be excused for thinking that the pained and bloodied gentleman dying on a gurney as this film begins is too busy to think about anything. Either that or he's seeing his entire life flash before his eyes; that's the cliché, right? Well, every movie has a title for a reason and we find out about this one soon enough. This man is Nate and he's dead by the time we see that title. What he really thinks of as he dies is his wife, Claire. In fact he tells her that in the next scene when he rings her up. Yes, that's the chronological order of events, because this is a science fiction short and we're here to watch the results of technological advancement. Scientists, led by a Tim Curry clone and notably including Nate himself, are working on what they call reconstructions through serial sectioning microscopy but we're more likely to call mind uploads. And, as he starts to question what they're doing, he finds himself in a fatal car accident and his mind uploaded into a different body. Now he's Subject 0001.

There are a number of ironies and contrasts here, as this story aims to cover a lot of ground in a mere eight minutes. Clearly it's a shock for Claire to receive a phone call from her dead husband but that's only the first. When he shows up at their house to surprise her when she gets home, she discovers an equally obvious change: he's not a thin white guy any more, he's a chubby black man, who had died of a pulmonary embolism at only 36. Nate died at a particularly convenient time for his team's debut reconstruction and the consequences of that soon test him as much as they do his wife. The grandest irony was shared by a few sci-fi shorts at this year's International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, most obviously Flashback: that the man who makes something technologically possible is the only one not to benefit from it. In a flashback, Nate explains to Claire that it's her that drives him; 'All day at work, all I think of is you,' he tells her. That scene resonates throughout the rest of the film.

This is a good story and writer/director Shad Clark takes it exactly where it needs to go, but sadly it feels far too crammed into this short a running time. One of the most common comments I hear after watching festival short sets is that people want to see good shorts expanded to feature length. It's rarely appropriate, because most shorts have stories to fit their running time, but this one is a notable exception: it absolutely would benefit from an expansion to feature length because it's far from a one idea piece; many of the ideas here deserve more attention that only more time can allow. I certainly wanted more background about the scientists, Nate's conflicts and the convenient timing of his death; I wanted a lot more about Claire and her reactions to the events that unfold; and I wanted more about the shells being inhabited by orphaned minds, a darker aspect to donating your body to science. The circles we see here are fascinating, but there should be circles in the circles too.

While we would benefit from such an expansion, each of the actors would benefit even more. The film as it stands doesn't give them much opportunity, as they all play second fiddle to the script. They do good work but unfortunately they each discover that their wings are clipped as soon as they try to fly. What's more, I have a feeling that some of the depth they try to explore goes beyond the script as it exists here. I wonder if Clark has a wider story written and whether his actors got to see it before they shot this short. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that actors like Simone Olsen-Varela, who plays Claire, are reacting to material that would logically show up in a longer picture but isn't actually in this one. Perhaps its a whole new irony that in writing a story about technology that can cheat the ultimate limit of death, the film's biggest flaw is that it can't cheat the inherent limit of its running time, a sort of death equivalent for a filmed piece of fiction. Let's hope Clark can achieve that with a feature.

All I Think of is You can be watched for free at YouTube or at the film's website.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Sol (2013)

Director: Mark Falls
Stars: K J Saifullah and Rahmell Peebles
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I've been reviewing a lot of 48 hour films lately but they're home grown ones, shot here in Arizona for the IFP Phoenix Beat the Clock challenge. This one, which opened the Sci-Fi Shorts B set at this year's International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, comes from a little further afield, made by Superlux for the Atlanta 48 Hour Film Project in 2012, for which it won K J Saifullah the Best Actor award. He's a young boy whom we meet enthusiastically reciting statistics about baseball player Jackie Lewis to his father. Dad's clearly proud: 'You're perfect,' he tells him, but he carries sadness in his voice as well as pride. To discover why in the eight minute running time, we're gradually given not only their personal back stories but the end of the world to boot. This is a refreshing post-apocalyptic story, because you won't be able to find a single zombie, mad scientist or political message anywhere. What we get is realistic and believable, all filtered through a very personal little story.

That story was conjured up by Tom Rittenhouse, who turned it into a script in collaboration with the film's director, Mark Falls. Neither one of them appears to have much experience, if their scant IMDb credits are anything to go by, and they certainly didn't have much time to work on it. Until a 48 hour film has a script, everything else is on hold and if it's left that way for long, the time limit is going to kick your ass. Yet this is an accomplished script, one that builds cleverly and carefully all the way to the admirable grand irony that ends the picture. Reflecting back on the short after it's done, it feels unrushed and confident that it has the space to tell its story, even though it resorts to voicemail and flashback to make that happen. Perhaps Saifullah's cheerful smile sets us in the right mood to watch the apocalypse unfold and his father's carefully PG choice of words keeps us there. Rahmell Peebles certainly has the sort of voice and demeanour that we instinctively trust, so it's an easy ride.

If the script is accomplished, I'd need another word to describe the acting. Saifullah is a joy to watch and even more a joy to hear. Peebles matches him well, utterly attentive throughout. The third great performance is by Alanna Bryant, who plays the boy's mother. We don't meet her at all, but we hear her voice bubble at us over the phone and it's as nuanced as those of the rest of her screen family. I see that none of them have many credits either, Saifullah surprisingly having the most. I'd have been impressed if this was a regular short film that its creators took their time to produce, but for all three of them to be this note perfect in a 48 hour piece, which was shot in a day before hitting post, I'm far beyond impressed. I enjoyed Sol when I first saw it, but it's such a smooth ride that it takes a couple more times through to really appreciate how pristine it really is. Being surrounded by the best sci-fi shorts this festival has seen in years surely didn't help, but it was a great way to begin a set.

Sol can be watched for free on Vimeo.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Killer Kart (2012)

Director: James Feeney
Stars: Christine Rodriguez, Ray Bouchard, Elly Schaefer and Britt Michael Gordon
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I don't know what they're putting in the water down in the Sunshine State, but the horror filmmakers emerging from Florida State University's College of Motion Picture Arts are making themselves rather noticed. There was only one set of horror shorts at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival this year, but two of the best films in it have ties to FSU: Killer Kart was made there and The Root of the Problem was made by an alumnus of the school who shot Kirksdale there, a festival selection in 2008. This one works as a companion piece to Quentin Dupieux's Rubber, but its questions about technique are not posed on screen but only in our minds. The goal, of course, is to make a slasher movie with a plainly ridiculous antagonist but to play it so straight that we can't help but be affected even against our better judgement. In Rubber that antagonist was a tyre, able to explode its victims through some sort of psychic power; here it's a shopping cart seeking revenge on mankind for years of abuse.

To explain how well this fifteen minute short was constructed, I should point out that there isn't one thing in the entire movie that you haven't seen before, merely with a different villain. The whole thing is so archetypal that you could easily use it as a template. Conjure up a new monster, then take this script, change the location and character names and shake up the dialogue until you're not going to get sued for plaguarism. You'll then have a framework on which to build your horror movie. Rinse and repeat and you'll have a dozen of them ready to go. Don't feel too bad about it either, as it's nothing new: Charles B Griffith reused some of his scripts for Roger Corman three or four times. Of course, to make a generic script worthy, it takes a crew to make it work and a cast to make it shine. Fortunately those aren't problems here. The crew hit their beats so well we could set our watches by them and the cast play their roles delightfully straight, however many takes it must have taken them.

We follow Cass, a young lady on her first night as closing manager at the Victory supermarket. It's not going well for her: the phones are failing, the comm system is failing and the lights go out while she's in the bathroom. Her boyfriend Ryan, who stocks shelves, wants to get frisky in the aisles. Bailey, the only cashier still working, disappears with her till open. That leaves Hale, who's been the maintenance man forever and looks like it. 'There's a lot of years there,' suggests Cass, 'and they weren't all good.' He gives good jibe though and he's a joy from his first moments on screen. Ray Bouchard channels a Bill Moseley vibe as he delivers the serious lines, putting the case for the abused carts with a straight face that deserves our admiration. His performance would play well next to Christopher Bradley's in Black Gulch and for most of the same reasons. It's hard to pick a favourite, but I'd have to go with his line after realising Bailey is still alive. 'Jesus!' he cries. 'I thought she'd be the first to go!'

Elly Schaefer does well as Bailey, although she has little to do except scream. She's good at that and she is in the ice cream aisle, making it all a bad pun too. Christine Rodriguez comes out best as Cass, because, surprisingly for a short film, she grows believably throughout. In the beginning, she's just a nervous young store manager but, by the end, she's ready to kick ass and take names, as nervous but now able to work past her fears to do what has to be done. When she screams, 'Shopping carts can't kill people!' it feels right and, given the line, that's pretty astounding. Of course the main characters in slasher movies always take a back seat to the monster, even more the case here because of what it is. Writer/director James Feeney obviously had a lot of fun contrasting wild reactions with benign motion; Cass's pans across the parking lot to find the killer are hilarious. He had even more fun modifying his cart to pay homage to Jaws or Alien. And at the end of the day, that's what this is all about: great fun.

Welcome Wagon (2013)

Directors: Jessica Lee Wright and Sadie Shaw
Stars: Maitress Madeline, Bryan Coons and Mineko Brand
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
OK, I didn't get this one at all, unless its point is scarily obvious. It's a short film by The Wooden Lens, in collaboration with Everyday's a Holiday, and it markets itself appropriately as 'a dark comedy from the most twisted parts of Jessica Lee Wright's and Sadie Shaw's brains.' It may just be the definition of 'it seemed like a good idea at the time,' given that it was shot as part of a 24 hour film challenge one Friday night and Saturday morning. 48 hour films are tough enough, but 24 hours is surely enough to only throw out wild ideas for five minutes to see which ones stick, before getting down to business. This one appears to rail against the normal world by pointing out that what goes on behind the front doors of those quintessentially nice folk in small town America is wilder than you're likely to imagine. Maitresse Madeline ought to know that, given that she's a professional dominatrix, fetish model and BDSM performer, but as Mary Lou Blue from number 259, she's saccharine sweet with a cherry on top.

I don't need to have watched The Andy Griffith Show to know why Grand Mayberry sounds so decent and all-American. Here it's a down home town full of other down home locations: Sunnybrook Lane, Strudel Street and Chesapeake Lane. You just know that if you moved into this neighbourhood, you'd have neighbours pounding on your door with apple pies to make you welcome. Well, Mary Lou brings cupcakes and lemon meringues instead, but she's just as wholesome with her striking red hair and gleaming smile. She even has a dog that's as tiny as you might expect. What you won't expect is who moved into number one to spark such a welcome. It's a panda. Well, really it's some dude wearing a panda suit, but Mary Lou takes it entirely in stride and never even mentions it. The script doesn't have any concerns with the concept either, suggesting that furries moving in next door is so unremarkable that it isn't even worth commenting on. They're just neighbours.

And so it goes. We see the front as long as there's time to see the front until we find out what goes on inside Mary Lou's house. Quite why this sprang out of the imagination of Jessica Lee Wright and Sadie Shaw, who directed and co-wrote the film with Dave Malloure, I have no idea. How they happened to have a professional dominatrix and three panda suits immediately to hand, I have no idea either, but I'm sure the aftershoot party must have been memorable. What they were trying to say here, I have just as little idea: either it's that old chestnut that the people who seem the most vanilla are secretly the wildest of the bunch or it's a call to action to rid the world of the furry menace. From glancing at their other films on Vimeo, I have a feeling that The Wooden Lens are non-commercial absurdists who enjoy the process of filmmaking and like to see things on screen that they've never seen before. For my part, I'm all for it. They succeeded here on that front, but that's about all.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Detective Shaves (2011)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Travis Mills and Lindsey Cork
Here's another Travis Mills review to kick off a new month; this time it's the one I've avoided watching for the longest time. I'd heard that Detective Shaves was not only one of his more experimental works, an edgy piece in more ways than one, but that the content was guaranteed to make any male viewer cringe. So, given that October is the month of Hallowe'en, I decided to take a walk on the wild side and avoid it no longer. Now I can't help but wonder that if the Arizona film community threw a Hallowe'en party, someone would dare to show up dressed as Travis's testicles, because those are apparently the stars of the show. Those and a razor blade. Now you can see how edgy this one is and I haven't even begun to talk about the story yet. Of course, I'm still trying to figure that one out, because this is one of his periodic stream of consciousness pieces that may or may not make any sense at all outside the world of dream, and if it does, perhaps that's only to him on a very personal level.

I know Mills as a filmmaker, surely Arizona's most prolific, but apparently that's not his only ambition; my discovery here wasn't merely what's dangling between his legs but that he also writes prose and this short film seems to have sprung from one of his compositions. There's a blog called Stark Naked Pen that was highly active throughout 2011 but has sat idle ever since. Among other pieces by other writers, including Running Wild co-founder Gus Edwards, who directed their next feature, Black Eros, Mills channeled his thoughts in expressionistic shadows through the role of the Detective, clearly an alter ego. Given his fondness for film noir and classic detective fiction, he's presumably searching for the sort of persona under which Tom Waits suffered romantically for so long, abstracted through the beat poets who he sees as the literary equivalent of the French New Wave, shaking up the status quo with provocative material that may find a meaning through influence if not through substance.

Trying to understand this film has to assume that sort of framework. I doubt there's any clear meaning to grasp, in the way that Martin Scorsese's The Big Shave supposedly carries. That leapt to mind here because of its title and its experimental approach, in which a man shaves his chin in a bathroom, but continues on in increasingly bloody fashion to shave away his skin as well as his stubble. It supposedly served as a metaphor for America's involvement in Vietnam, but I doubt Mills is extending that to Iraq or Afghanistan. He also thankfully stops short of mangled flesh, though there are quite a few nicks on show that presumably weren't there before filming began. The obvious valid comparison turns out to be La Jetée, the 1962 science fiction short from experimental French filmmaker Chris Marker that was such an influence on Terry Gilliam that he fashioned Twelve Monkeys around its ideas. The reason is that both La Jetée and Detective Shaves are told through still images explained by narration.

The difference is that La Jetée had a story, a complex and involved one at that, but Detective Shaves is more of a prose poem. Its narration follows the same track as the story at Stark Naked Pen but with differences here and there. What's shared is his profession as a detective, the post-coital setting with a naked companion, the pose she has him adopt like a Greek statue, the testicle shaving action and the last line: 'Are there any men left in the world?' If there's meaning to be found here, it's presumably in that line, as if Mills is eagerly adopting the time honoured persona of the hardboiled detective but realising how impossible their shared proficiency in the sack really is. Read a Mike Hammer novel and figure out how he could conquer that many dames without the benefit of blue pills. Trying to emulate such achievements in reality would surely end in tears. Maybe the point here is to highlight the tough detective in a position of submission, utterly under the control of a woman.

Certainly that's what the reality must have been here. On paper, Mills was in charge: as the director, producer and leading man. However that's an woman with a razor blade to his testicles, Lindsey Cork, who had also appeared in Running Wild's The Middle Toe of the Right Foot. The other credited name also belongs to a woman, Cara Nicole, who epitomises feminine power given that she's well known in the Arizona cosplaying scene as AZ Power Girl. Unlike The Detective's Lover, where she was the one stripping off as the title character to share the screen with a detective, she's behind the camera here, responsible for all those still photographs. It's interesting that when Mills decides to get naked for the camera, he shared the room with two women, one just as unclothed as him, but to explore precisely no sexual content while being extremely trusting and submissive. While the most obvious things on screen are his testicles, the most obvious off screen are his cojones in being willing to do this.

Detective Shaves can be watched for free at Vimeo.
The Detective Shaves can be read for free at Stark Naked Pen.