Monday, September 25, 2006

This Is One SHIVER You Don't Want Running Down Your Spine

Tis the season for sequels. The Grudge 2, Crank (Come on, it's really just The Transporter 3), utility companies crying for rate increases and most of the crap on the fall schedule for network television.

And Fear Of Clowns 2. Yup, Shivers is clawing his way back to a DVD player near you. For those of you who have no idea what the first film was like, go rent or buy it. Scary clown, severed head, naked blonde and big axes. Good for an afternoon of thrills. But the sequel offers more violence, more action, and, well, just more.

Kevin Kangas, the director/writer of both of these films, is currently wrapping up the editing and polishing on Fear Of Clowns 2. As much as I'd like to say that we here at The Dog Pile ran into him at the local Supercenter as he was buying large amounts of cold medicine and sulfur matches in a bid to finance his next project, it just wouldn't be true. He's at home working around the clock (the man doesn't even have the time to watch an episode of Family Guy). So, we pestered him through emails until he threatened lawsuits to get this interview. Thankfully, he has dropped the lawsuits, but he did mumble something about still having that huge axe Shivers used in the first film.

Dog Pile: What prompted you to revisit the Fear Of Clowns concept? I mean, I know Lion's Gate asked, but beyond the simple answer, what do you want to achieve in this film that you didn't in the first one?

Kevin Kangas: Well, when they indicated they were interested in a sequel, it was the furthest thing from my mind. So at first I balked -- I didn't really want to jump back in, especially since the entire experience wasn't exactly a good one. But then an idea hit me, and I got excited. I thought it was something I could get behind, and, at the same time, I could answer some of the unanswered questions from the first movie -- things that got cut out of the final version of the movie. I started writing the script, and things fell together. I was pretty happy with the final script -- after the set up it's pretty fast paced.

D. P.: You seem to have Shivers and the leading lady from the first film back. But Rick Ganz is absent. Why is that? Are you saving him back for that sequel to Hunting Humans? Since he doesn't seem to be on screen, is he on the crew? What did you do with his body, man?!? We know what you did last summer!!!!!!

K.K.:Well, I don't want to go into the specifics of why Rick's not in the film. I haven't talked to him in about eight months. Eventually I'd love to get him back for a Hunting Humans sequel, but for now I'm done on the sequels. From a story vantage though, this is actually Detective Peters' story now -- it's not even Lynn's anymore. So Tuck(Rick's character) didn't really fit into the picture anyway.

D.P. : From what I've been able to figure out from the message board postings and from your casting, this film sounds like it will be less suggested horror and more action horror. Is this the direction the film is going, or do you have something sneaky in mind using a group of beefy guys going after Shivers? Brokeback Carnival, maybe?

K.K.: Damn -- you leaked the subtitle of FOC2: Brokeback Carnival--well, I guess it's out there now. But seriously, yes, this is a faster horror film -- more killing. There's burning cars, gunfights, action scenes, stunts and, oh yeah, CLOWNS.

D.P.: What can you tell me about the story without ruining things for anyone who stumbles across the interview on my blog site?

K.K.: It's two years later, and Shivers has escaped from the asylum with two other psychopaths -- and he's once again on the hunt for Lynn Blodgett. Frank Lama returns as Detective Peters, the sarcastic cop with an attitude. He's diagnosed with a rare disease that's going to kill him within a year (not a spoiler -- it's the first scene of the movie), and he decides that rather than try to catch Shivers and put him away again, he's going to kill him. Only problem: Shivers is not that easy to kill.

D.P.: You torched a car in this film. Is this the one you mentioned on your message board ( you were saving back for just such an event? What history does this vehicle have? Why sacrifice the poor thing? And what was up with the freaky clip of the torching on YouTube? Anyone get hurt?

K.K.: Yes, it's the car I was saving for this event. It was my old car whose engine died. It still looked great, so I never got rid of it. I knew I'd either burn it or blow it up or crash it, and it would look like I'd ruined a perfectly good car. So it sat in my driveway for three years -- neighbors offered to buy it from me because it looked so nice. But I knew one day it would come in handy. The Youtube clip ( shows Johnny, the pyrotechnics guy, lighting the car. It was supposed to be a small, controlled fire, but you can see from the clip that all that went out the window. The car blew up, and the fire burned out of control. Johnny got some pretty bad burns and then, later got arrested. All in all, another perfect day of low-budget filmmaking.

D.P.: How did the production go this time? I mean, no hurricanes or tropical storms got in your way. And this is your third film. Did it go smoother? Do you feel more confident as director? Any new challenges (don't ya just hate those damn Yuppie buzz words?) this time around? Anything happen that honestly made you want to throw your hands up and walk away?

K.K.: It didn't go any smoother. We were denied permission to shoot in a park that originally gave us permission, and it was too late to change the schedule. So I found another hole in the fence, like I did in the first movie, and we snuck in. We had to post crew to watch for the security trucks -- every time one came by, we'd all hit the ground. And this was the first day of the shoot -- and I'm using an actor who appears regularly on One Tree Hill and was on Dawson's Creek. I was completely embarrassed. And also that day Mark had problems with the contacts -- he couldn't get one of them in. So all day long I have to shoot a movie about a black-eyed clown when he only has one black eye. We're shooting all sorts of weird angles so we don't show that eye. Another day we had police shut us down because we had two fake police cars with real police light racks driving around, lights blazing. Without permission or permits, I found out -- I thought our producer had all that stuff. Then the police tell us there's a local ordinance that says no one over the age of 12 can wear a mask or costume within the city limits. And I'm shooting a movie there with three clowns. The good news is that we had a behind-the-scenes guy shooting during this movie, and he got some great footage of all that stuff (including the cop shutting us down), so even if you don't like the movie you're gonna LOVE the Making Of. As far as directing, I get more confident after each movie. It used to be that if things went wrong I wondered whether I'd be able to make the scene work -- now I'm not so worried. I can always make it work. The question now is: How well can I make it work? But there were plenty of problems, believe me.

D.P.: You openly said you weren't completely happy with the last FOC film. Did this one give you a better feeling? Any one thing in this film that made you think, "This is why I got into filmmaking."?

K.K.: Yes -- this is going to be a much better movie than the first. I had more time to devote exclusively to the script, and I designed it from the get-go to be faster, much more action and killing. I set out to write the kind of script that I would have loved when I was twenty, and I think I got close. How close the script comes to the movie is still to be seen...

D.P.: Not to get into the budget, but did you bring this film in on the money? Have you discovered ways to cut corners without cutting yourself or the film short? Any one scene or event in the film that you can point at and say, "That is the most expensive thing in the film."

K.K.: This film went over budget by about twenty percent. I didn't try to cut too many corners on this one; I really wanted to make sure this didn't suffer from sequel-itis. I wanted better than the first movie -- and for the most part, it is. It still has a few problems -- indy shooting is all about compromise, but I hate compromise. As for the most expensive thing -- I spent a lot on FX this time around. There's thirteen deaths in this movie that involve FX as opposed to the four or so from the first movie. And then props and costuming cost a fortune. One of the new clowns is 6'8" and that costume had to be specially designed. They just don't make them that big. Then we had to get duplicates made of the other costumes since they're vintage, and you can't find them anymore.

D.P.: Are you done with Fear Of Clowns for the time being, or is Shivers going to be your trademark character, like Craven's Freddy or Paul Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky (a German/Polish name for a latino character in a series of Spanish films -- now THAT takes balls)? What is next for you as far as films go?

K.K.: I am DONE with Shivers--DONE with clowns. My crew tried to get me to commit to a third movie, but I've had enough. Even thinking about doing a third one sends images of the word "SELLOUT" through my mind. FOC2 is a self-contained movie. If I never revisited it, the story stands, and as it is, I feel like I've completely told the story. That said, a writer buddy of mine did advance a story idea that interested me, but I wouldn't do it until I had another movie or two under my belt. That said, I'm thinking about doing a Fear Of Clowns comic book. As for my next movie, I'm mulling over a few things right now. I have to finish the FOC2 stuff before moving on to anything else.

D.P.: Totally off the wall, but have you EVER considered a gothic story reworked for a modern setting? I think something like that could work. Like Blood-Spattered Bride with Renee Zellweger as the young bride and Sharon Stone as Carmilla. But on a far smaller budget. Just throwing the idea out there.

K.K.: No. Gothic to me screams of women in castles. But as far as remakes go I had a chance to see Brigadoon again for the first time in years, and I gotta tell you: I'd love to do a horror remake and call it Brigadoom. And yeah, I'd probably still keep it a musical, but it would have music by Rob Zombie and Nine Inch Nails. It would rock. And I'm not even joking.

D.P.: Not to have you trash other filmmakers, but what is the WORST film you've seen in the last year or so. I mean, one that makes you want to physically hurt people.

K.K.: X-men 3. This movie sucks so hard, especially coming after a good sequel in X-men 2. I don't think I've been this offended by a movie since I saw Tomb Raider.

D.P.: Thanks for the interview!

K.K.: Anyone in the New Jersey/New York area is welcome to come meet me and see the first footage to FOC2 at Fango's Weekend of Horrors at the end of September. The details are below:

(As always, The Dog Pile would like to thank Kevin Kangas for being a good sport. And we'd love to be on the list for a screener for Fear Of Clowns 2, but suggesting such a thing would be rude. Hint, hint. Show your support by visiting Kevin at his web site:

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Back Into The Bloodbath

Those folks at Mill Creek Entertainment are at it again. Well, they will be in a week or so. More new releases. More horror. More Science Fiction. More weirdness. More cheese.

I know, I know. I'm starting to sound like the self-appointed cheerleader for this company. Okay, I guess I am. But I gotta tell you, it isn't often that I find anything in the video stores that makes me feel like it's Christmas morning when I get my purchase home. These 50 and 20 and 10 movie sets leave me half-crazed with which title I want to sit down and watch first. But you should have no pity for a fan with a deep love of cheap movies in vast quantities. No. You should pity my poor girlfriend. She is often kind enough to grin and bear through these films. (I think Terror Of Tiny Town damn near killed her, though I found the second half to be a tolerable cheapy Western tale.)

So, now we have another 50 movie set called "Nightmare Worlds". There are a good number of titles fresh to Mill Creek's line up. Alien Contamination. Atomic Rulers Of The World. Embryo. Radio Ranch (The Phantom Empire). Nightmare Never Ends (seen in a drastically cut version in Night Train To Terror). Terror At The Red Wolf Inn. UFO: Target Earth. Werewolf Woman. Eternal Evil. Ring Of Terror. That's just a few. With forty more movies, you'll be burning up almost 67 hours. So take a week off work. The boss will understand.

And if you prefer your horror a touch more modern and often more bloody, then definitely check out the new releases from Mill Creek's Pendulum Pictures. 3 titles: "Everlasting Evils", "Demented Deviants", and "Brutal Bloodsuckers".

Each collection has six films on two disks. If you are a die-hard fan of Brain Damage Films, a direct-to-video film company, then you may have some of these titles, so check the title listings. For those of you who have never heard of Brain Damage Films, prepare for movies that push the limits of gore, good taste and, on occasion, logic. Still, if you like your violence without sugarcoating and your savagery shown in full color, these releases from Pendulum Pictures will keep you busy for a weekend of gruesome entertainment.

(As always, we like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the kind use of their graphics. Check out their site at

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mostly Indie Films, Cheap and Plentiful

I can understand how someone could log onto this blog and wonder why I am talking up companies selling collections of films on DVD. This blog is, by its own definition, about indie films and the people who make them.

Films don't stand on their own. Long gone are the days of Herschell Gordon Lewis and filmmakers promoting their own films at local drive-ins. These days, it doesn't matter if you have the greatest thing since the discovery of Lycra -- no distributor, no one is gonna see your films. Part of the whole is the distributor. The people at Mill Creek Entertainment are dredging up mostly indie films that, in some cases, time has forgotten. Of course, opinions may lean in the direction that some of these films should be forgotten, but the point is they are compiling collections for those who enjoy the old stuff and/or for those who want to do their homework before tackling the new stuff.

Four new releases should be hitting your entertainment stores around June 27:

"Tales Of Terror"

This is a 50 film collection that covers a lot of ground as far as film history. Throughout the 12 discs, you will find classics with Bela Lugosi ("The Bat," "Bowery At Midnight," and "The Ape Man") as well as oddities from the 70s ("Curse Of The Headless Horseman," "The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave," and "Werewolf Of Washington"). They took the time to track down some of the Skid Row horror films aimed at black audiences in the 30s and 40s ("The Devil's Daughter" and "Midnight Shadow"). You can have your own Todd Slaughter film festival with four of his films. If you tire of that, check out the various Italian horror films ("Terror Creatures From The Grave," "The She-Beast," and "The Long Hair Of Death"). This collection lists at $29.98, but you should be able to find it for considerably less, around $19.99 or so. At almost 62 hours of material, you'll stay busy.

"Strange Tales"

A 20 movie set that leans towards the science fiction film. Some of the more notable selections are: "Idaho Transfer" -- directed by Peter Fonda, a tale of time travel and ecological disaster; "The Doomsday Machine" -- an early 70s oddity with Casey Kasem (Shaggy from the original "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" series on Saturday mornings from the same era); "Warriors Of The Wasteland" -- one of the dozens of cheap Italian sci-fi action films we were assaulted (and insulted) with in the 80s. The set lists at $14.98, but don't be surprised to see it for 10 or 11 bucks. Expect almost 29 hours to cheap thrills.

"Cult Classics"

Another 20 movie set, this time featuring some lovely grindhouse nightmares that dwell in mostly realistic subject matter even if the presentation is absurd. Drug-crazed people run the streets, corrupting all they touch in such heartwarming fare as "Cocaine Fiends," "Reefer Madness," and "The Marijuana Menace." Learn how to avoid moral decay by absorbing the lessons presented in "Delinquent Daughters," "Slaves In Bondage," "Escort Girl," and "The Wild And The Wicked," sometimes known as "The Flesh Merchant". Then you have films that defy rationale, such as "Child Bride," "Terror In Tiny Town," and "Chained For Life," which starred real Siamese twins. Lists for $14.98, but you are likely to do better price-wise. Almost 24 hours of some of the most insane films collected. Show it at your next frat party.

"Vampires And More"

A 20 film set that brings together the various vampire films from most of the other collections Mill Creek has out. A great way to sample the range of films the company has to offer as well as being a easy way for those who like their wine red and their meat rare to have a collection of bloodsuckers and flesheaters to entertain them until the dawn. "Devil Bat," "Atomic Age Vampire," "Last Man On Earth," "Nosferatu," "Revolt Of The Zombies," and "Voodoo Black Exorcist" (a personal favorite) are just a taste of the titles in the collection. Listing at $14.98, but -- well, you know the drill by now. Expect nearly 28 hours of bloodletting, bloodsucking and gut-munching fun.

Do your history lessons, folks. Check out the origins of your current favorite horror and exploitation genres. You might just find a few hidden gems.

We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the permission to use their cover art. To visit Mill Creek Entertainment's website for more information, go to

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bargain Bin Battle

People love a bargain. Everyone knows this. Wal-Mart has made billions utilizing this information about the American consumer. Maximize the goods while minimizing the price, and even if you are pushing stale bread, a good number of people will do some quick math and fill their carts with bread on the verge of being tossed.

Entertainment is rarely the place you find bargains. Video games and game consoles are more complex and expensive. Movie ticket prices keep crawling upwards even in the face of more and more commercials running before the feature. Forget about the cost of going to see a major league ball game of any type; you'll be spending your kid's college fund if you take the family. Look at your cable bills over the last year, and you'll find that unless you drop services, you are paying more. And let's not forget that the price of new DVD releases have been slipping upwards a dollar or so every now and then.

So, do we hang our heads and weep? Is there no hope for a touch of sanity when it comes to entertainment? Can't someone do something to ease the burden?

Oh my, yes, there are voices of sanity out there, so take a moment to breathe deep, blink your eyes clear and look at the potential for cheap thrills in your local video stores. Welcome to the world of bargain-priced DVD sales.

There are many companies out there with an idea to get movies in your hands at prices starting as low as $1.99. On DVD. Think of the possibilities. Think of these companies. BCI Eclipse. Mill Creek Entertainment. Madacy. St. Clair Entertainment. East West DVD Entertainment. Some of these companies package multiple films per disk and/or multiple disks per package. The collections can be as large as 50 films per set for roughly 20 dollars.

"These films must be crap," you may be thinking. "No one can afford to release good movies for prices like that."

You won't be finding Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson starring in the films released at these prices. You can't expect them to make mega-millions by letting their films sell at a couple of bucks per DVD. But we are talking about entertainment. You want something to pop into your player and have some fun for an hour and a half. You will find a stunning array of titles, ranging from horror to crime to comedy to action. You'll see classics and cult nightmares. You can go from Lou Gossett Jr. to Yvonne Michaels. You'll see the spectrum of black and white to stunning color. You'll also see films that will leave you bewildered by their mere existence if you dig deep enough into this niche market.

"We determine themes or genres with broad appeal and attempt to gather the most appealing mix within the available content universe. We utilize a variety of resources for content masters, but focus on suppliers that are renowned in the industry for quality and diversity," says Ian Warfield, president of Mill Creek Entertainment. His company releases a large variety of content, from double feature disks all the way up to 50 movie megapacks. The collections are built around themes. A couple of examples are "Chilling Classics", which showcases enough horror and suspense films to keep you awake for weeks, and "Drive-In Classics", which puts together 50 films that will remind you of family outings to the local drive-in and will give those who never had a chance to go to a drive-in a glimpse of what their parents might have seen in their teenage years.

BCI Eclipse has been releasing collections of various themes for a number of years. The most visually arresting are the four movie sets which usually use a theme for the films, such as "Flesh Feast", which contained films about cannibalism, and "Horror Rises From the Grave", running with the theme of ghouls and zombies. The bulk of their releases lean more specifically toward the exploitation areas of horror, science fiction, action and urban thrillers.

Still, four films, even if they aren't blockbusters, at six dollars? How do they make money? Simple. They make use of public domain films (films that have fallen out of their ownership rights over the years or have had their ownership rights relinquished for various reasons) and special arrangements with various distribution companies.

"We used to release a good deal of public domain or unregistered films. We have begun to move away from this line of product and are now focusing solely on licensed/exclusive content...Our new multi-film sets that are made up of all licensed content come from sources that are willing to license content at a very competitive rate." That is the word from Jeff Hayne, Director of Acquisitions at BCI Eclipse. His company has long made use of direct-to-video films and recently have been re-releasing films from companies like Sub Rosa, known for their catalog of horror and erotic horror films made exclusively for video distribution, as well as Brain Damage Films, which tends to release extreme horror films. "We do have license agreements in place with both of these companies -- both of these companies provide films that are good examples of multi-film collection material."

Recently, Mill Creek joined with Maxim Media Group, a sister company of Brain Damage Films, to form Pendulum Pictures. This company will be releasing six-film sets under themed titles like "Savage Sickos", "Hostile Hauntings" and "Fatal Femmes". The bulk of these films tend to older and hard-to-find direct-to-video films. They will carry a very low price of $9.98 per collection.

The companies offer entertainment in pretty much whatever size you are willing to commit yourself to. They do so at prices that make you feel like there has got to be something wrong with what you are buying. Who cares if you get ten, twenty or fifty movies for less than you'd pay for a couple of mega-sized meals at some happy fast food joint? Well, people may want a bargain, but it isn't much of a bargain if you're getting something useless, no matter how low the price.

The bottom line is: Are they worth your time?

BCI Eclipse, under their Brentwood imprint, has a deep catalog of various collections. The packaging is often inventive to allow them to secure up to ten disks in a specially-designed DVD box. Every disk has at least one movie on each side. The DVDs sport at least a "Play" and "Scene" selection on the main menu, but some have trailers. Special features and audio commentaries are not to be found on any that have been previewed. No close captioning, so unless you are a dedicated lip reader, hearing impaired people won't get much from these collections. The films themselves usually look very good, though they are limited by the source material BCI is presented with. In some of the older films, the quality can be on the level of a VHS tape from a rental store, but it is definitely watchable. The product is occasionally edited, but not by BCI. On average, you are seeing the film uncut on all of their product.

Mill Creek Entertainment utilizes a variety of packaging, depending on what you are buying. The smaller collections are packaged in the usual plastic DVD cases, but when you get to the mega-packs, the films are placed in their own paper sleeves with the disk's contents, along with a description, printed on the outside. These sleeves are boxed in a Velcro-sealed heavy paper stock box. Again, the disks contain at least one (usually two) films on each side of the dual-sided disks. There are "Play" and "Scene" selections for each film as well as an image of the film's title screen. No special features, commentaries or close captioning. The films vary in quality, but never worse than VHS quality of image. In Mill Creek's defense, most of their releases are older films that haven't seen the inside of a remastering suite and never will. A number of these films are lucky to find anyone to give them a new lease on life. The films are occasionally edited versions (not edited by Mill Creek, though), but the bulk are as uncut as you can hope to find.

East West DVD Entertainment releases primarily single disks with two features on one side of the disk. They use slim-line plastic cases. There are "Play" and "Scene" selections for each movie. No extras, commentaries or close captioning. The versions they release are similar to the quality of the previous companies. Very few of their product were previewed, so it could only be assumed the versions they release are not edited anymore than the product from the other companies.

Emson USA releases 50 film sets on five double-sided disks. Packaged in a plastic DVD case designed to hold the multiple disks. The menus are just lists of the films on that side of the disk. No extras, no commentaries and no captioning. The films are packaged five per side on the disks. They use compression technology to do this. The downside is that the compression is so intense that the films become pixelated nightmares when there is any action on the screen. Aside from that, their selections can be had, at much high quality, from almost any other company mentioned in this article.

Product from other companies mentioned in this article were not available for preview.

Low prices. A wealth of films and a variety of genres. Quality of film sources that ranges from okay to excellent. As long as the buyer is aware of what to expect, there are plenty of bargains to be had from many sources. Consider these collections to be launching pads that might introduce you to new films, new filmmakers, old favorites and forgotten classics, as well as inspire you to seek out some of the higher-priced, remastered versions of some of these films that small, niche distributors are making available.

At the very least, you can never claim to be unable to afford to entertain yourself.

Links to some of the companies mentioned:

Emson USA

Mill Creek Entertainment - Changing the Face of Value entertainment

Welcome to Navarre Corporation (BCI Eclipse)

St Clair Entertainment's DVDs

(Many thanks to Ian Warfield from Mill Creek Entertainment and to Jeff Hayne from BCI Eclipse. They took time to respond to my questions about their companies and gave permission to use images from their web sites. There will be future short postings on upcoming releases from both companies.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

REVIEW: Fear Of Clowns

Hunting Humans was the first feature by Kevin Kangas and crew. I was fortunate enough to snag that DVD from a bargain bin. I did so because a filmmaker friend of mine had an idea to do a film about two serial killers in competition with each other. Hunting Humans was nothing like what my friend had in mind, but was entertaining as hell. It had all the basics of the serial killer films, but threw so many twists and turns at the viewer that it never skated by on cliches.

So then the big question is: Can Kevin Kangas live up to a very solid first feature with his second feature?

Fear Of Clowns gives us a lead character haunted by some childhood trauma that left her with coulrophobia, which is a fear of clowns. She does the whole intensive therapy routine by way of splattering her mental demons onto canvas, creating an artistic resume littered with paintings of distorted, mutilated and just pain disturbing clown imagery. Her life is slipping down the toilet, her finances are fading, and, damn it all, a hideous clown seems to be stalking her. People around her die, often and in various grisly ways.

The film does a number of things rather well. The opening sequences are truly disturbing. Frankly, I would have been happy with a whole movie about a young girl haunted by a gruesome clown. The actors are very appealing, and there are no distracting performances. Fear Of Clowns also tends to avoid the "stalk and kill" format with small twists to the story that keep diverting your attention. And the single greatest thing is that Kevin Kangas knows how to actually put together a low budget film that looks like it was made on a far larger budget. Thanks in this area also goes to his Cinematographer, David Mun. It is a great looking film.

With the good also comes a couple of bad things. The least of the two problems is the opening of the film is so strong that it sets up some images that seem to go nowhere. It seems as if the main character's fear of clowns is merely hinted at and then takes a backseat to hitting the story points. A bit more development of this part of the film and the main character's fear would have made for considerable emotional tension as the story continued.

The biggest problem I had with Fear Of Clowns is the final third of the film. The whole film trips along with great pacing and action. Suddenly, everything grinds to a halt. The film seems to lose its focus and becomes the "stalk and kill" film it had so carefully avoided being. To be honest, Kevin Kangas said he had some misgivings about parts of the film. I assume it is the final third of the movie that he is referring to.

Does that soft final act of the film ruin the whole thing? No. Sure, it's frustrating, but I still sat through the rolling credits feeling as though I'd gotten my money's worth. The main thing is that the film is entertaining and worth investing your time in the hour and a half or so that the movie lasts.

Another nice bonus is the "Making Of" documentary included on the DVD. It is as fun to watch as the actual movie. It makes you realize the strain a production like this puts on everyone. Watch Kevin Kangas slowly deteriorate as the documentary progresses. Marvel at the hurricane that put a crimp on the crew's very limited filming schedule. Cringe as Shivers the clown puts in some very uncomfortable-looking contacts.

Rent or buy Fear Of Clowns. Consider it an investment in the sequel that Kangas is supposed to start filming soon. You'll feel good about doing so.

(Images are used with the kind permission of Kevin Kangas. I just hope he's as kind after he reads this review.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Clowning About (Or, How I Beat Down A Slag At Wal-Mart For A Bargain)

I have a love/hate relationship with Wal-Mart. I think everyone does. Cheap crap and lots of it, but it does tend to attract the dwellers of the Nether Realms from Trailer Park Limbo. Sadly, much like myself, they seem drawn to the dump bins of DVDs for three bucks or so. And such a situation came to pass when I paused to scan the jumbled mass of cases one day.

Instantly, a bovine-inclined lady awash in a heady fragrance of cigarettes, body funk and spoiled food decided I shouldn't have freedom of choice, but that I could have what she deemed "beneath" her refined taste. Wherever my hand went, hers beat mine there. She pretended to be intent on making her selection when I tried to see the evil in her face. Nah, she was just ugly as a turd. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my buried treasure. Hunting Humans sat unsullied by her nicotine-stained fingers. I focused on some Pauly Shore tripe, muttered a happy "Oooh!" and reached for it. Sensing I might snap up something wonderful, the heifer yanked it up as my fingers touched Pauly's image on the cover. I swiftly snagged Hunting Humans and muttered, "Bitch" as I walked away.

Was my showdown worth it? Hell, yes.

Kevin Kangas wrote, directed and produced Hunting Humans, a great example of what can be done with a minimal budget and a cast and crew who will see the project to the end. It deals with a slick and likeable guy who happens to be a serial killer. No stalk and kill crap here, though a few folks do bite the dust. Kangas opted for suspense and mystery by having our anti-hero be the target of someone hunting him for their own purposes. A refreshing change in the indie horror world full of slasher clones.

On the DVD, released by Mti Home Video (out of print as far as I can tell, but check eBay and Amazon, or if you want a copy with an autograph, go to, I found a mention of their next film buried in the "Biographies" area of the disc. Fear Of Clowns ( had an interesting title. And I went on about my life, silently waiting for the movie.

Fear Of Clowns is now out. Does it stack up to Hunting Humans? Well, check out the review to be posted soon. But it did inspire me enough to use those cyber-stalker skills to track down the director/writer/producer Kevin Kangas. Okay, he has an email address on his web site. I have no Internet kung fu skills. But I did convince him to answer a few questions. I have people skills. Okay, Kevin Kangas is really just a nice guy who enjoys talking about movies, so it wasn't that hard to convince him.

At the risk of appearing lazy, I'll present my short interview with him in the question and answer format. I could pretend we met at some hotel restaurant, and I could pepper the give and take conversation with little details of the wallpaper and the food and the odd looks from the other diners. This isn't Vanity Fair. In the time it'll take you to peel those damn security seals off your copy of Fear Of Clowns, you can just read the more direct questions and answers.

Dog Pile: One thing I've noticed about Hunting Humans and FOC is how professional they both look, though FOC does seem to be a stronger film as far as visual presentation. Most low-budget, direct-to-video features look cheap and are impossible to hear. Your films have such a strong element as far as how the shots are framed and structured. Do you take the extra effort to storyboard your shots in advance, or do you just work within the confines of the locations you have available to you?

Kangas: Thanks! We love compliments! And truthfully, a large chunk of that should go to my DPs (Director of Photography)--David Gil on HH and David Mun on FOC(he'll be returning for FOC2). To answer your question--I don't do any storyboarding, but my shooting scripts are extremely detailed. The only problem comes when I haven't actually SEEN the location before we get there to shoot. (Hard to believe, but this happens a LOT on low-budget flicks.) Then it's a matter of looking for interesting compositions given the layout. David Mun in particular has a phenomenal eye--he's working on big, real-budget projects out in Los Angeles, so he knows what he's doing. I trust him a lot, so if he tells me what I'm thinking of shooting is gonna come out like crap--well, we shoot it anyway, but then we get the shot he wants just in case.

Dog Pile: I noticed FOC had the camera moving for a wide variety of angles, whereas Hunting Humans seemed to have fewer cuts within any given scene.

Kangas: Hahahaha. Yeah. For HH we had almost NO money, and we shot entirely on 16mm film. So we shot a total of 5.5 hours of footage to make a 90 minute film. If you know anything about shooting ratios you know that's RIDICULOUSLY low. There were times we only had one-take shots--get it or you don't get it at all. For FOC, we shot a combo of digital and Super16, and we had a crane (small) and a steadicam. Makes all the difference in the world. You can do a LOT more, the more toys you get. But those toys cost money.

Dog Pile: Do you work with one camera?

Kangas: Yes, though FOC2 may employ 2 cameras.

Dog Pile: How do you and the cast handle the time involved shooting the same scene from different angles? I mean, you have a fairly small window of time in which to shoot your films, so anything that slows forward progression would have to be a bit nerve-wracking, though the multiple angles do improve the movement of the scenes.

Kangas: It's tedious, obviously. But most of the actors--if they've done ANYTHING--know to expect it. So you just get it done, as well and as quickly as you can. When stuff goes wrong, you curse and wish you'd picked another career. So there's a lot of cursing and wishing going on. But you try to have fun too.

Dog Pile: You've said Fear Of Clowns fell short of your expectations. In what ways?

Kangas: As a filmmaker who started as a writer I'm constantly fighting an internal battle: Story versus Marketability. The writer wants to tell the filmmaker, "Fuck your marketability--the story is all that counts! Write the best story you can and the movie will sell itself." This, unfortunately, is a lie. Especially in the low-budget market. So I wrote Fear of Clowns knowing that there really aren't that many good horror movies featuring clowns. I had in mind a kind of homage to Halloween--with the strong, silent killer pursuing the woman in distress.But things happened and the first draft took longer than I expected (my wife got pregnant--she delivered the child about 2 months before we started filming--right in the middle of MAJOR preproduction). I should have spent another three months on the script, but if I had done that we would have had to wait another eight months for the weather to change again. So it was either: Film now and do the best you can, or wait. I went forward. The result was that the ending was completely unusable, and since the clown's entire motivation was based on that ending--there I was in the editing room trying to come up with new motivation. We also lost the rationale behind the lead character's coulrophobia, which was a MAJOR part of the story. My bad. I take responsibility for it.

Dog Pile: How do you intend to address these elements in the sequel?

Kangas: The sequel will avoid those problems for two reasons: I've spent more time on it, and I've gone back to basics. It's more of a mainstream horror, where the original became more of a suspense movie. For those die-hard horror fans who were bored by the first movie--that's not gonna happen in the sequel. Believe me.

Dog Pile: How do you feel about doing sequels? Did you originally intend a sequel to FOC, or are you attempting to make the movie you hoped the original would be? Do you see sequels as being a likelihood in your future, or do you prefer to focus on fresh topics for each feature?

Kangas: Sellout! I see it already! But no, sequels were not something I was planning on doing. As far as FOC I had no plans for a sequel even though I left it open, but when Lionsgate mentioned they were interested...well, how stupid would I be to say no? Still, I gave it some thought, because I wasn't going to just crank out a film to crank it out. When I commit to a movie, I'm committing about 2 years of my life to it, so I have to be invested. And I came up with something that interested me a LOT. Then another idea popped up and I started writing. As for the future...who knows? I wrote a sequel to Hunting Humans and am actually writing a third, but that's more because I really find Aric Blue (the main character) fascinating. Neither script could be shot on the budgets I work at. I may shoot another feature at the end of the year that's not a sequel. In general I would say I won't do too many sequels (for instance--the likelihood of me doing FOC3 is almost nil).

Dog Pile: What kind of budget to you have for your films?

Kangas: HH's total budget was about $24,000--and it was shot entirely on film. That is MINISCULE for film. Anyone who knows anything about it knows that about half of that went to film/developing/transfer to video. So for those douchebags online who like to act like they know something when they say "God, when are filmmakers gonna learn not to shoot on video, it looks like shit" when they talk about HH--clearly you don't know the difference between film and video.The reason HH looks so muddy is not because it was shot on video. It's because it was shot on film and then one-light transferred (which is like $300/hour) instead of best-light transferred(which is like $500/hour). That per hour fee is not per hour of your footage--it's per hour of the transfer house's time.Not that I'm bitter about know-it-all online critics or anything... As for FOC's budget I'm not supposed to say. Not that much more than HH.

Dog Pile: Do you still have to pound the pavement to round up investors, or is it easier now that you have a couple of features to back you up?

Kangas: One of the producers from HH came back for FOC, but we needed someone else so a long-time friend came in, plus I put my money back in. Now I'm pretty much footing the bill on FOC2, but when I step up to the half-million range, I'm going to have to have investors. No way can I come up with that kind of cash.

Dog Pile: What kind of contract do you have with Liongate Films? By that, I'd like to know if you have a set number of films you will be doing for them, or are they working with you on a film-by-film basis?

Kangas: Film by film. I'm an unproven commodity right now (even though FOC has made almost a half million dollars in rental fees alone in the two weeks it's been out). Who knows what will happen after FOC2. My master plan is to finish FOC2 and one more ultra-low budget, and then I'm hoping to step up to something more in the half million dollar range. Which is still ultra-low budget for most films, but will be a major step up for me.

Dog Pile: I remember reading that you have a different type of film coming up, or at least, that is what I remember from a recent Fangoria article. What do you have in the works other than the FOC sequel?

Kangas: The thing I'm going to try to shoot isn't exactly horror, but I'm not talking about it yet. Until I finish the script I'm not exactly sure what it's going to be. And with all the preproduction going on right now for FOC2, I haven't had much time for PE, which are the initials of the script's name.

Dog Pile: Any plans to do a frat house comedy? Just kidding.

Kangas: No, but my interests are broad. I like horror, suspense, fantasy, thriller, westerns (yeah, I know) and more. The only thing you won't ever see me doing is romance, and probably comedy, unless it's very black comedy.

Dog Pile: Last one. What horror movie freaked you out the most when you saw it? I don't mean your favorite movie, unless it happens to be the same.

Kangas: Well...I'd have to say Giant Spider Invasion and The Giant Leeches were two that scared the shit out of me. I was 5 when I saw GSI and not much older when I saw GL (it was on an afternoon Creature Feature) and they REALLY scared me. If you watch them now, they are hilariously bad. Later on Nightmare On Elm Street did scare me (I had to walk home from a friend's house that night, and I walked in the middle of the road so if anyone jumped out at me I'd see them coming), but that always had the "It's not real" rationalization.Which Friday the 13th and Halloween did not--those killers felt like they were real. Those two scared me probably more than Nightmare.My favorite horror movie is John Carpenter's The Thing. It scared me and grossed me out at the same time, but it also played with the theme of identity which is something that really resonates with me. Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers wigged me out a little for the same reason. Like, maybe one day people I knew would start acting different because they weren't THEMSELVES anymore...THAT'S scary stuff, especially for a kid.

Dog Pile: Thank you for your time.

Kangas: No problem. I think it's great when people enjoy the low budget stuff. There are a lot of people who rent the films and expect to see Star Wars and are naturally disappointed.

(Kevin Kangas appears here of his own free will, and The Dog Pile thanks him. All images were "borrowed" from his web site Please visit the site and find out more about him, Rick Ganz (the star of both of Kevin's features), as well as order goodies. I would also like to thank Lionsgate Films and Mti Home Video for releasing these films. For the love of God, please, no one sue me!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Being of Unsound Mind

I tend towards obsessive behaviors. Get a bug up my butt about something, and I'm a gone Daddy-rabbit. One of my recent obsessions? Brentwood Video. You've seen this stuff in your favorite place to buy DVDs. You know, the mega-compilations of mostly horror movies going for bargain-basement prices? Well, I've started buying these silly things any time I find them. Why? Mostly, it's my Wal-Mart mentality -- Cheap is good. Not "quality", but like most guys are by breasts, I'm a quantity over quality guy when it comes to movies.

So I snag this collection called "A Night To Dismember". Ah, the wit! But 12 movies for 17 bucks? Sure, I can be had, especially when one of those movies is "Bloodletting," a classic indie made a number of years back. So I get the thing home and decide to start from the beginning. "Insaniac" was the title of the first film. I rolled my eyes, and prepared to be cheesed to death.

The sound, well, sucked, which doesn't work well for me. See, I watch these things late night when my girlfriend, who has enough sense to avoid most of these movies, is conked out on the couch. If you turn up most of these "made-on-video" flicks to a volume that enables understandable dialogue, then the music or sound effects will cause the dog down the street to convulse and bite small children. But I stick with it, right through the barest story setup, and I'm wondering when the movie is going to take off.

Next thing I know, the film has slipped into this slightly Goth chick's mental Circles of Hell as she tries to come to terms with her past and what happened that apparently landed her in a psych ward. Rough made? Yes. Polished in every area? Ha ha -- no. Yet, even with half of the dialogue unintelligible, I was stunned and pleased that someone out there tried to do something different. The main character grows on you as you realize she is either very screwed up or very heavily drugged. Just so wonderful to see something other than the usual "let's copy anything that will allow spraying blood" mentality.

Still enamored of the film, I went to to check out the filmmakers. I discovered the lead actress did work behind the camera as well. So I used those all-important cyber stalker skills and tracked her down. Ain't the Internet the greatest thing? Yup, that's her. Please meet Robin Garrels. She wrote "Insaniac". She starred in it. However, in spite of, or because of, her direct involvement, she seems to have her own reservations about the film. In one of my first emails from her, she thanked me for sitting through "Insaniac" and "Last House On Hell Street", another film she wrote as well as doing a small role. Odd behavior. Well, I can somewhat understand in relation to "Last House On Hell Street", which apparently was trimmed down to a short film later and will be added as an extra on another of Robin's films, "Buzz Saw". "Yeah, Last House was a nice experiment, and actually, it's an extra feature on the Buzz Saw DVD, it's edited down to a 17-minute short, which I think is MUCH better," she told me.

But what do we really know about Robin Garrels? Not much. She lives in Missouri. She seems to be in her twenties. She was, at the time I exchanged emails with her, running in 18 different directions with twice as many projects -- a play/film called "Fourth Dimension" with 8 handheld cameras filming and choreographed in sync with the actors, helping a friend with a film he was trying to wrap up, holding down an office-type job, writing another script and mainlining pure sugar and high-octane java. The woman should be ashamed of having so much energy.

Influences? The theater. "I played a prostitute in Madwoman of Chaillot in high school (a walk-on part) because I had a crush on one of the boys in the play. The next year I got the lead in Skin of Our Teeth. Senior year I wrote this HORRIBLE play that the school kindly put on, and I realized that this was in fact what I wanted to do...write I majored in Lit in College, got a writing internship in L.A. at a theatre company my senior year, then came back to St. Louis, Missouri and started the 'shoestring' theatre company The Tin Ceiling, with some friends."

She takes her theater background with her when she writes and when she watches other people's work. "I love me some over-the-top pretentiousness. I don't know why, but I've always found theatrical films and t.v. to be so funny! Maybe not intentionally so...but there's this weird undercurrent when someone seems to be taking themselves too seriously that I just LOVE, and find HILARIOUS. I think David Lynch (my Yoda) does this extremely well...using...or rather, requiring over-the-top performances in certain situations to create a sort of (should I laugh?) state of mind."

What label can we throw at Robin Garrels to define her? Actor? Writer? Director? Being a member of the low-to-no-budget school of filmmaking, she clearly does all of them, but how does she see herself? "I have to say, that as far as an expression to product ratio is concerned, with WRITING, I feel like I've got about a 95%. In other words, I feel that on paper, I'm saying almost exactly what I want to say, in the way I want to say it." Robin feels less confident when it comes to directing her own material. "...I can't get outside of it enough. So that's what I'm working on." By her own admission, collaboration is more her thing at this point in her film career. She has co-written and co-directed "Buzz Saw" (with David Burnett, who has worked on "Insaniac" and "Last House On Hell Street"), and done the same thing on "China White Serpentine" (with Eric Stanze, director of the indie cult hit "Ice From The Sun"). Her next big step? "Directing someone else's work just hasn't really been something I've ever made time to do yet, although some day it'd be a great experiment."

Sadly, Robin is frightfully busy these days, and I have little else of interest to relate about her and her current work. I do intend to follow up and write a second piece about her and the films she has worked on as well as any new projects. Perhaps I can convince her to slip me a few photos of better quality than the ones I used here. In any event, I hope what little I have presented here will serve as an incentive to track down some of her films and see the beginning of what appears to be a long and innovative career for Robin Garrels.

(All screen shots were lifted from the Brentwood DVD version of "Insaniac" using using CyberLink PowerDVD. Just a word of warning, the Brentwood version of "Insaniac" appears to be edited, according to my conversations with Ms. Garrels. Go to to see about ordering her films. Sub Rosa Films used to have a site, but I have had little luck in tracking it down. You might also try as it is related to the people behind Sub Rosa.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Night of the Vampire Hunter

(This is a repost of a film review from the old Dog Pile site. If you read this review and think you would like to see this film, do two things: 1. Go to and poke around on the official web site for the film; 2. Contact American film distributors of horror films and badger them to pick this film up and release it in the United States. Go on and do it now.)

You know, I really don't care for Superman. He's like this all-powerful character with precious few weaknesses, so they have to keep bringing out more and more powerful enemies and more and more complicated schemes to hurt him. Oh, sure, he has his emotional weaknesses that have been played with in the last few years, but who wants Alan Alda as Superman?

Give me Batman any day. Not because he's dark and hip and got that Gothic thing going (although there is something to be said about Goth girls with their frightfully pale skin). I prefer Batman because he has nothing going for him except himself. Yeah, he's got gadgets, but he doesn't have x-ray vision or high-tech blades that shoot out of his hands when he wants to slice people up. He's human, just human, and a single bullet or miscalculation could end his life. That makes the man himself more interesting; the character IS the focal point, not his mutant/alien powers.

I know, I know, the question here is why am I talking about superheroes when I am supposed to be reviewing a movie? The movie in question here is "Night of the Vampire Hunter," also known as "Night Shade". It's a German film shot over three years as the production company gathered money to continue filming. And as you can tell from the Americanized title, the movie deals with vampires.

You know, I really don't like vampires. Here is where the superhero thing comes in. Vampires are the Superman-type of your basic roster of monster. They can shapeshift, turn into vapor, move with superhuman speed, there's only a precious few ways to kill them, blah blah blah. And they sleep ALL DAY! (Lucky bastards.) They have this supposed sexual attractiveness that wows the opposite sex. (How sexy can someone with rotted, clotted blood breath be?) They just have too much going for them; they are too much like Superman.

But there has been a recent trend to bring the image of the vampire down to earth, to make them more human. In essence, they are turning Superman into Batman. Kevin Lindenmuth has put a few spins on the vampire myth, turning vampires into supernaturally advanced humans in his "Addicted to Murder" series of films. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has paraded so many vampires past our eyes that by sheer volume they have become demystified and have taken on the image of people afflicted with some rampant disease.

"Night of the Vampire Hunter" continues this line of thought, only using traditional vampire myth where it helps to enhance the story. In fact, the story doesn't depend too much on the fact it is about vampires. With just a little tinkering, it could almost become a revenge flick of any genre. So you are really working with normal characters that happen to be vampires and WHO they are becomes more important than WHAT they are.

Jens Feldner(Stefan "Cheesy" Keseberg)writes under the name of Henry Gloom. He churns out a novel a week in an on-going series about vampires. His books have become a big hit. Yet he lives a simple life with his girlfriend Selin(Nicole Müller), who works nights at a photo-processing shop. The city is living in fear of a serial killer who has been racking up a hefty body count. Nothing too unusual. Except that Jens knows his subject matter so well because Selin IS a vampire. And Selin isn't too worried about the serial killer because she IS the killer. But that is just your set-up in this movie. The story itself doesn't really come into its own until Arnold (Alex Kaese) comes to Selin's aid after she is nearly killed during a fight with another vampire. Creepy Arnold wants nothing more than to be turned into a vampire, and he thinks Selin is his gateway to the dark side.

The acting is pretty solid from just about everyone. Only a couple of people ham it up, like Alex Kaese, but it tends to keep things from getting too serious and intense and maintains an air of fun escapism, which, I think, was the aim of the filmmakers. That is not to say that it is a family film. Ample blood splatters the scenery, nudity pops up occasionally, and there are a few truly tense scenes to remind the viewer that this is a horror film.

One minor complaint I have is the film quality. It is kind of muddy and dark. That may have been caused by the fact that the tape I watched may have been a copy of a copy. I tend to think the original film would look better, but then a lot of small budget films seem to look rough, and personally, I feel it adds to their charm as long as it doesn't get in the way of following the film's story and action.

The only other complaint I have is that the characters are interesting enough to support a couple more films, but to get a second film out of this, the filmmakers would have to pull the American bullshit of basically repeating the same story or popping the characters into a ridiculously contrived story.

No matter, though. "Night of the Vampire Hunter" is good bloody vampire fun. Crack open a couple of beers or a bottle of your favorite red wine and enjoy it. Now, where do I sign up for the Nicole Müller fan club?