Tag Archives: independent horror movies

Roadside Assistance

Goodbye Honey

by Hope Madden

Another new horror flick that does a lot with a little, Goodbye Honey is off the festival circuit and available in your home.

Director Max Strand’s isolated roadside buddy picture hitches a ride in the big rig with weary traveler Dawn (Pamela Jayne Morgan). She will deliver this cargo on time—she will!—but first she needs to pull into this isolated, wooded spot for a rest.

Morgan’s performance snagged her a number of fest awards, including Best Actress from Nightmares Film Festival. With so very few other faces on screen, it’s lucky she can carry so much scenery. She gives the character layers with a turn sometimes conjuring Melissa Leo or Ann Dowd—a no-nonsense everygal who is sometimes slow to pick up on things, has a bigger heart than you may think, and will surprise you with violence as needed.

Her nap is complicated by a plea for help: a young woman (Juliette Alice Gobin) wearing nothing but a tee-shirt, asking for water and a phone to call the police. But Dawn’s defenses are up—a woman alone out here can’t trust just anyone. Still, she wants to do the right thing.

Quickly Strand tweaks tensions as the isolated location brings out others, violent looneys mostly. Dawn will take care of this, all of it. All that matters is that her client is none the wiser and that she makes this delivery on time.

Gobin delivers a strong, wild-eyed but smart performance. Paul C. Kelly’s small but pivotal role could not be more deftly handled. Among the three primary performers, there is barely a wasted word or glance.

Strand’s nimble screenplay, co-written with Todd Rawiszer, twists and turns in ways that are both unexpected and fully reasonable.

Though one or two of the predicaments that befall the pair feel contrived simply to lengthen the film to feature-length, on the whole, Goodbye Honey delivers a tight set of smart thrills.

Benny and the Deaths

Benny Loves You

by Hope Madden

There is something inescapably silly about toy horror. Whether it’s a marionette or a ventriloquist doll, a china doll (with those creepy eyelashes) or a friend til the end, the toy itself can only generate so much authentic terror. After that, it’s just goofiness.

Karl Holt embraces that combination for his vengeful toy story, Benny Loves You.

We open on a spoiled child, her new Barbie, and the now-discarded stuffed dog, Todd. But soon we’re entrenched in the subpar life of Jack (Holt, who also writes and directs). It’s his 35th birthday. He still lives with his parents, still sleeps in his childhood bedroom that is still decorated as it was when he was seven.

Jack is a toy designer, but co-worker Richard (a colossal tit) makes him look like a peon. They’re both up for the same promotion. Things go from bad to worse, then worse, then worse still. Finally, Jack decides to grow up and put away all his childish things, including his beloved stuffed bear (Bear? With those ears?), Benny.

It goes less than well, the unruly toy responding like a bloodthirsty if very cheery jilted lover.

Holt turns in a solid performance as the stunted man-child living a nightmare of adulthood, and there are times when his writing suggests something deeper. He almost develops themes about arrested development, the entertainment/gaming/toy industry, maybe even masculine entitlement. Almost.

Instead of digging in, he settles for a superficial but generally charming and very violent comedy. (Dog lovers may want to skip this one.)

Low-rent FX heighten the film’s silliness and general wrong-headed glee. All the support work is on target, from George Collie as the noxious Richard to the love interest (Claire Cartwright), dog-loving boss (James Parsons), and incompetent cops (Anthony Styles and Darren Benedict). Each understands the tone here and nails it.

It’s just that it doesn’t amount to much. A mean spirit punctuates the romplike atmosphere a couple of times and feels wildly out of step with the balance of the film, but other than that, Benny Loves You offers forgettable, bloody fun.

My Sister’s Keeper


by Hope Madden

Authenticity is certainly the main differentiator between Chad Crawford Kinkle’s latest horror and others of the genre.

It’s been eight years since the filmmaker released his underseen backwoods gem Jug Face. He once again pits a tenacious female against the unrelenting pressure of an unholy presence, but Kinkle has a more personal kind of dread in store with Dementer.

Katie (Katie Groshong), looking for a fresh start, applies for a job at a skills training facility that works with adults who have special needs. She’s hired, working with clients two days a week in the facility, then spending two nights in a group home with three of them.

Katie is especially concerned with Stephanie (Stephanie Kinkle, the filmmaker’s sister).

Kinkle’s sister is an adult with Down Syndrome, which not only elevates the reality of the situation but also the tenderness and anxiety around the character’s safety. You can almost feel the filmmaker’s own personal dread over his sister’s vulnerability in an untrustworthy world.

Aside from Larry Fessenden, who appears briefly, Groshong is the only professional actor in the film. Kinkle, working with a skeleton crew, films in an actual skill center. The majority of the staff and clients represented in the film are, indeed, staff and clients.

The approach gives the film a verité style often seen in horror films, rarely if ever seen in a horror film with a main character who has special needs. Dementer lacks any of the sheen or noble heroism you often find in films centered around a character with a disability. The realism adds a level of discomfort, a sense that vulnerable adults who need care could easily find themselves in a precarious situation.

Dementer also offers an uncomfortably realistic look at working poverty.

Kinkle mines these anxieties as Groshong begins to see and hear signs that suggest Stephanie may be in real danger. As she races against the clock to save her, Kinkle slyly upends plenty of horror tropes.

It’s an often fascinating deconstruction of a particular subgenre of horror, an approach that usually benefits from the verité style. But too much of the loose narrative feels like filler. We watch Katie buckle her seat belt no fewer than five times.

Unanswered questions can strengthen a film, but Dementer feels underwritten. Still, you get the sense that Kinkle made the best of what he had on hand and told a deeply personal story in the most authentic way he could.

He Knows When You’ve Been Naughty


by Hope Madden

Working wisely to make the most of limitations, writing/directing partners Dan Berk and Robert Olsen mine a slight premise to examine human nature and ask: What would you do?

Their feature directorial debut Body follows three bored friends home for the holidays. When Cali (Alexandra Turshen) suggests the trio abandon the tedium of Mel’s (Lauren Molina) house in favor of an uncle’s empty mansion, the stage is set for merrymaking gone wrong.

Helen Rogers, starring as third pal Holly, is making a name for herself in horror, which is almost a shame because she’s proven a talented writer, director, and even animator. But her delicate, good-girl sensibilities make her a perfect go-to for the genre. In Body, she gets the chance to be a bit more than simply the delicate flower.

Another genre staple, Larry Fessenden (We Are Still Here), capitalizes on his screen time, managing to remain sympathetic enough to generate tension but distant enough to keep you open to whatever happens.

Molina’s authenticity is sometimes jarring in a film populated with solid but not exceptional performances, but props to Olsen and Berk for investing as much as they do in character development before submerging us in a battle of selfish decision making.

Strangely enough, it may be the time spent developing the characters that weakens the overall tension and enjoyment, as well. The girls are bored – this is important, because if they weren’t bored they wouldn’t agree to Cali’s sketchy plan. The problem is, the first act of the film is dull because of it.

Berk and Olsen’s ideas are strong, but their writing is not especially so. Though the cast delivers believably enough as one new piece of information after another alters their plans, it’s pretty clear where things are going from the first big reveal and the film can’t manage to feel fresh from that point forward.

As an exercise in making the most of meager options, Body excels. It keeps your attention, and though you know what’s coming, it manages to compel interest in the ways in which choices are made and unmade. It’s a decent genre effort – nothing revolutionary, but entertaining nonetheless.





by Hope Madden

Simultaneously spoiled and neglected, handed every luxury imaginable and then abandoned to do with their time what they will, a group of 12-year-old girls at a sleepover pay the price for a too-modern childhood.

Loosely inspired by true events, #Horror tracks the evolution of the mean girl. Between cyberbullying and online gaming, one pre-adolescent clique elevates their coming-of-age angst into a post-modern horror show.

Writer/director Tara Subkoff populates her soullessly luxurious world with bizarre and arresting visuals, and her cast – both the seasoned adults and the mostly unknown child performers – offer a range of unique and compelling performances. The atmosphere created is so detached, stylized, and surreal, you can imagine almost anything happening.

Subkoff has provocative things to say about coming of age, and though none of them are entirely novel, she wisely avoids one-sided arguments. Yes, the five 12-year-olds ultimately blame their selfish, negligent parents for their own fucked-up-edness, although the film’s heroine Sam, (Sadie Seelert) chooses to reject her loving and protective mother in favor of the attention of her new school’s mean girl circle.

Subkoff’s film is at its best when it drops you into the undercooked logic of a child.

“Nothing is mean if you laugh,” explains a genuinely earnest and confused Cat (Haley Murphy). And that’s really the point of the film: kids are stupid, parents are blind, the world offers more immediate and accessible dangers than ever before, and that time between childhood and adulthood is a haze of misunderstood circumstances and unavoidable selfishness.

Chloe Sevigny and Timothy Hutton are over-the-top wonders, both horrifying yet wonderful in their own way, but Subkoff’s real victory is her ability to capture, with the help of a game pre-adolescent cast, the combination of cynicism and playfulness that marks these particular girls’ youth.

The horror story is a tad thin – derivative, even – but what Subkoff, her visual panache and her cast manage to do with it keeps you intrigued and guessing for the full 90 minute run.


Read Hope’s interview with director Tara Subkoff HERE.

They Could Have Been More Prepared


by Hope Madden

Does this story sound familiar? Friends head into the woods, run into some trouble finding their exact camping spot, settle for an “almost right” spot, tell campfire stories about a lurker in the bushes, and die.

If it doesn’t sound familiar, you are new.

So why, then, is Cub (Welp) immediately scarier than other campground slashers?

Because they’re all little kids.

That is correct. It’s a group of wee Belgian scouts out on their big camping excursion into the wrong damn woods.

Co-writer/director Jonas Govaerts uses that small twist to build a lot of tension as imaginative little Sam (Maurice Luijten) – a boy with an uncertain yet tragic past – believes the campfire tales of Kai, a feral boy who hunts the nearby woods.

Govaerts knows how to wring anxiety as he unveils character, beginning with a group countdown as Sam sprints to try to make the truck that’s leaving for camp. Then there’s a run in with unfriendly French hoods claiming the right to the original camp site, not to mention the inner-troop skirmishes for hierarchy. Childhood is tough, tribalism is brutal, and camping in the woods is just plain stupid. If you don’t know that, again, you are new. No one survives the woods.

Most of the film’s success is due to the strong performances, particularly from Luijten, who is equal parts adorable, earnest, and impressionable. The adult cast is solid enough in a film that knows its territory and agrees to do what it can without redefining anything.

Which, of course, is also Cub’s biggest weakness.

Though Govaerts foreshadows quite well, and his camera captures both the wonder and terror of the woods, he can’t entirely overcome the template he’s chosen for his film. The entire effort just feels too familiar.

That doesn’t make the film an outright disappointment, either. There are bright, gnarly moments here and there. Govaerts just can’t finally deliver all the goods.


There’s No Vaccine for This


by Hope Madden

Welcome to the dog eat dog and child eat child world of elementary school.

Kids are nasty bags of germs. We all know it. It is universal truths like this that make the film Cooties as effective as it is.

What are some others? Chicken nuggets are repulsive. Playground dynamics sometimes take on the plotline of LORD OF THE FLIES. To an adult eye, children en masse can resemble a seething pack of feral beasts.

Directing team Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion harness those truths and more – each pointed out in a script penned by a Leigh Whannell-led team of writers – to satirize the tensions to be found in an American elementary school.

Whannell – co-creator of both the Saw and Insidious franchises – co-stars as the socially impaired science teacher on staff. He’s joined by a PE teacher (Rainn Wilson), an art teacher (Jack McBrayer), two classroom teachers (Alison Pill, Nasim Pedrad), and the new sub, Clint (Elijah Wood), in a fight for survival once an aggressive virus hits the student population of Fort Chicken.

School-based horror abounds – even Wood’s done it previously, having starred in Robert Rodriguez’s 1998 alien invasion fantasy The Faculty.

Cooties is also not the first horror film to mine tensions from the image of monstrous children turned against us. Come Out and Play (both the 2013 American version and its Spanish predecessor Who Can Kill a Child?) generate tensions based on the presumed difficulty an adult would have in slaughtering children.

Two things set Cooties apart. One: It is often laugh out loud funny. Two: It is willing to indulge the subversive fantasy of (possibly all) school teachers.

They kill a lot of children in this movie.

If Murnion and Milott couldn’t find the comedic tone to offset the seriously messed up violence, the film would be a distasteful, even offensive failure. But, thanks in part to a very game cast, as well as an insightful screenplay, Cooties comes off instead as a cathartic (if bloody) metaphor and an energetic burst of nasty fun. It might be welcome after school viewing in the teacher’s lounge.