And now a PSA on texting and driving… My review of horror film “Avenged” by Michael Ojeda – OWN

Avenged posterI had the great pleasure to see ‘Avenged’ on Amazon Instant Video (love Video on Demand for finding indie horror and sci-fi treats). And I can say unreservedly that I can’t wait to see it again AND own it once it’s available to purchase.

Written, directed, edited and cinematograph’d (I know that’s not a real word but go with it) by Michael S. Ojeda, this film is a gritty, “Redsploitation”/grindhouse, rape revenge film that moves quickly into horror film territory. The rape/revenge genre is larger than most people probably would imagine, and a frequent film trope whether full on horror film or not (examples including “Straw Dogs,” “Lady Snowblood,” “I Spit on Your Grave,” “The Crow,” “The Last House on the Left,” “Ms. 45” “Baise Moi” “Irréversible,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy, etc.).

I would, of course, argue that rape is true horror so any film focused on that could qualify as a horror film. But I digress (see this list for more on IMDB)

This film, originally titled “Savaged” when shown on the festival circuit in 2013 is newly christened and out for blood – much like the star of the film. Featuring a lot of references to atrocities committed against native peoples (past and present), the film also features a twist having a deaf/mute heroine (reminding me slightly of the mute heroine in “Ms. 45”).

tumblr_n6adywLsiv1syptjoo6_500This character is played with an intense ferocity belying her sweet girl-next-door appearance. Her transformation over the course of this film is nothing short of stunning. The devastation wrought on her body actually reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 during “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

I CANNOT emphasize enough how amazing Amanda Adrienne’s performance is through what must have been a rough production (physically and emotionally). Her “Zoe” joins the ranks, in my mind, of Jenny Spain (as the eponymous “Deadgirl”) and Uma Thurman (as “The Bride” in “Kill Bill”) fully embracing the raped/abused/killed woman on a revenge rampage.

interview-ojeda-s-avenged-is-something-to-crow-about-32d577c2-78e9-4e72-b7f0-52a6ec0db47cIt starts out simple/sweet enough showing us just enough background detail to get things moving. Zoe is dating nice guy Dane long distance (a solid performance by Marc Anthony Samuel), and is going to drive across the southwest to move in with him. Left a Ford Mustang GT by her father, she rockets through a beautifully shot, but lonely southwest with, as her mother predicted, few people on the same path. As a precaution, she takes a photo each hour and texts it to him. Sometimes, while driving which leads her into the horror.

This film should be a PSA for high school students about texting and driving!

Barring one slightly out-of-place special effect shot used to convey Zoe passing the Grand Canyon (ahem), this film is shot and edited with great skill. It is really fantastic considering this was an indie, low budget shoot and a testament to the crew in general and Ojeda in particular. Having seen as many indie horror films as I have, the difference between quality can be astronomical. This film, however, stands out from start to finish from writing to acting to directing to cinematography to music score to editing.

I don’t want to spoil anything, the trailer clearly gives you much of the story, but broadly speaking it follows the rape/revenge sub-genre’s standard story arc. And that’s not a bad thing. I LOVE a revenge film where the wronged perseveres and overcomes obstacles to wreak havoc on tormentors. I don’t like the dread/nihilism/defeatist plots that have crept into many films (“The Strangers” and “Oldboy” being perfect examples).

I want to go on an emotional journey and root for a solid main character, in particular a woman and watch them (her) kick ass. For me “Kill Bill” will be the gold standard for this and right/wrong I tend to gauge films against that. On a lower budget scale, films like “Sushi Girl” (my review) and “Avenged” fulfill this need in spades.

In lesser competent hands than Ojeda, lower quality production, lead stars who weren’t up to the considerable challenges presented and this would have been one of the 1000s of low budget, indies showing at numerous film festivals and on VOD. You see them and try to ignore low quality work, however earnest, and wish more budget and skill had been involved. This skilled team, however, rose to the challenge and created a paranormal “Kill Bill” meets “Deadgirl” in the end.

safe_image.phpAfter she’s gang raped (mercifully shown only in its initial phase), beaten and then killed and buried, Zoe should have been desert vermin fodder. Found by a native with spiritual powers, she’s brought back to life (maybe she was just “mostly dead”) by him, however she had wandered enough and seen/heard enough of the rednecks’ backstory (which I won’t go into as it would spoil much of the storyline) to summon the wandering and VERY pissed off spirit of an Apache general.avenged-5

Through great practical F/X, with occasional use of more CG-ish, but low key, F/X, we see Zoe return to try and recover her love and seek her revenge. However, this zombie warrior is on borrowed time, rotting away. Essentially unkillable (hey she’s already dead), though her body’s damage increases with each encounter, Zoe has amazing strength and arms herself with bow and arrow, tomahawk and knife.

savagedpic13-620x400-620x400Arrows, blood, guts and scalps are soon flying.

One could argue that the redneck crew was made so reprehensible, and with little fleshing out, that you can’t help but want to see them suffer. But that’s the point of this sub-genre. We have a victim we care about, they’re hurt and suffer terribly at the hands of true bastards, and they must recover, grow stronger and seek vengeance.

avengedpic7I absolutely enjoyed this film and hope it sees the success it deserves. It should find a great reception in the horror community and while it features some extreme gore and horror, in many ways it does seems like they restrained from going too far.

And that’s not a bad thing. Several of the scenes are pretty intense and long lasting, however it moves along at a fast pace once the mayhem starts and doesn’t draw out most scenes to the point where you’d be reaching for a vomit bag (unlike say Jessica Cameron’s “Truth or Dare” which I reviewed previously here).

In the case of Ms. Cameron’s film, the extreme horror/gore was intentional and suited the story perfectly. Here, any more I think would have distracted from the story and the film’s energy/vibe (if that makes sense). Here the focus is rightly on Zoe and that’s 100% where it needs to be.

Side note: for once the law enforcement characters aren’t so stupid that you hate them as well. While recurring character Sheriff/Texas Ranger “Earl McGraw” (Michael Parks in “Grindhouse,” “Kill Bill” and “From Dusk to Dawn”) is the gold standard for great southwestern law enforcement characters, the sheriff here is actually really good. Not perfect, few are, but I have to say having worked in the law enforcement space, small town cops are often portrayed on screen so awful that it detracts from the film.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 5.56.08 PMIn fact, to be honest looking for dings, I thought I found a goof/continuity error in a late scene where Zoe is diving under a car flying through the air. It was something I noticed when I watched the trailer, one of her legs is cut short under the knee. So, I assumed, that either that was due to a change in storyline direction whereby she originally was losing body parts as she went along (but needing to keep the only shot with her diving like that), or something went amiss creating the f/x shot.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 5.56.22 PMI was 100% wrong. I’m overly anal about catching anachronisms, camera reflections, boom mic shadows and continuity errors. This film is blissfully free of those as far as I can tell. In particular as I now realize upon going frame-by-frame in the trailer that her leg is actually bent and it was an optical illusion. I withdraw my objection your honor.

So if you’re a fan of horror, grindhouse, and/or revenge films with leading ladies who kick ass… “Avenged” is the film you need to rent right now!

tumblr_n2toorDiBX1qjhmz5o1_500And again – Amanda Adrienne has a new fan who is eager to see what she does next.

In fact, if I had to criticize anything about the movie, it’s that it was rental only on Amazon Instant Video so I have to wait to own it…

See the film and follow its makers online:

Watch the trailer

Watch the movie on Amazon

Watch the movie on iTunes

@AmandaAdrienne

@MichaelOjeda2

@JGurvitz

@avengedmovie

@Savagedthemovie

@GreenDogFilms

Quick update – lots of horror/grindhouse film reviews coming soon

Watched and about to watch a ton of what I hope to be great films and review them. I’m going to switch from giving films star ratings as it’s so arbitrary and eventually it starts to look like I’m giving everything the same rating.

So, going forward, I will review based on a very simple scale of:

Skip: it’s terrible and waste of time/money

Rent: really enjoyed it, worth seeing, wouldn’t necessarily want/need to own or rewatch it

Own: it’s awesome, love it, have to see and own it and will likely be one I rewatch

INTERVIEW: I play ‘Truth or Dare’ with horror queen Jessica Cameron

Jessica CameronJessica Cameron: Scream Queen, Actress, Writer, Director, Producer and more

Website | Twitter | Facebook | IMDB

Robert Ropars: I know how busy you are so I appreciate you doing this. For this interview I looked for interesting/different questions hoping they are ones you’re not normally asked. Are you ready?

Jessica Cameron: GO FOR IT! :)

Robert Ropars: Ok the first question is: What is your earliest memory?

Jessica Cameron: I remember attending hearing tests in the doctor’s office, I remember the toys and thinking that they were boring and what child would ever want to play with them. It was one of the toys with the wooden loops on the metal wires that twisted which are intended for young children to learn problem solving and hand/eye coordination. I was 3.

I was born prematurely with very little hearing in one ear and virtually none in the other. It took them a few years before then felt I was safe to operate on; I had to have the tubes in my ears corrected. I hated the tests; I had taught myself how to read people’s lips and was able to mimic words around 4. This would cause me to mispronounce certain words and as a result make my spelling skills very poor, something I am still not very good at today.

Robert Ropars: What do you do to relax? Any specific hobbies or activities you like to do that would surprise your fans?

Jessica Cameron: I love urban exploring! Which is when you explore an abandoned location. I have found some wonderful places and even an abandoned resort in Mexico that is nowhere online. Its always interesting to me when you find a place that people left and you see what they took and what they left behind. Also Mother Nature is gorgeous and when you see her reclaiming land and space, it’s quite thought provoking and breath taking.

Robert Ropars: If tomorrow were your last day, what would be the first thing you would do?

Jessica CameronJessica Cameron: Make sure my film TRUTH OR DARE was uploaded on a platform for the world to see.

Robert Ropars: What do you like the most about working in the horror industry? And what do you like the least?

Jessica Cameron: I LOVE telling stories and making the audience feel whatever I want depending on character/story/arc/etc. It’s a very creative process that allows me to pull from deep within myself, and it’s hard for me to do which makes me want to do it more.

The WORST part for me are the people that kiss your ass to your face, then talk behind your back as soon as you turn around. I have always been a “tell it how it is” kinda girl so this is something that really bothers me. To my core. I don’t have time in my life for such people and there are far too many of them.

Robert Ropars: Why do you think you’ve succeeded in an industry where so many others, particularly women, haven’t?

Jessica Cameron: It’s my work ethic that has enabled me to succeed. I work longer hours, every day then most people can ever even imagine. The entertainment industry is filled with a bunch of people who are in it for the wrong reasons (to make lots of money, become famous, etc.) and those types of people typically don’t want to put in the work or the hours.

I don’t think either sex succeeds less; there are just fewer women involved at all levels in behind the camera stuff.

Robert Ropars: To date, what has been your most challenging role in a film, on any level (physically, mentally, acting, etc.)?

Jess FangoJessica Cameron: Starring in Truth or Dare while directing it was a nightmare. Directing and acting both directly conflict with each other as far as focusing on each job’s priority, focus, etc.

As an actor you are working through your lines and making sure that your character achieves everything she needs to in each scene, finding the realism and truth that connects you to the character (at least for me).

As a Director you have to pay attention to all the characters, the overall beats of the scene (which may not be the same as the beats for each character), how the actors are working together, if all the notes are being hit, and the list continues. Also it made the hours long even for me. I didn’t sleep more then 3 hours any night and it was constant GO, GO, GO for 21 hours each day.

Robert Ropars: If you could direct the re-make of a classic horror film, what film would that be and why?

11749_3042607560393_1446891269_nJessica Cameron: I would LOVE to remake Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. I would make it WAY MORE graphic and vicious. I would also make it from either the captor’s POV or the victim’s. Probably the captor’s since I think this would be a more interesting film. It would make TRUTH OR DARE look tame by comparison.

I REALLY want to remake it!

Robert Ropars: How much do you draw upon yourself when creating a character? The character you portray in your multiple award-winning film Truth or Dare for example Jennifer Collins.

Jessica Cameron: It honestly depends on the character. For Jennifer in Truth or Dare we have some similar traits, we are both very organized and rational. So I used those elements. She is MUCH more conservative then I and secretive, where I tend to be more of an open book. So for those elements I drew from others I know who possess those traits. Her upbringing was challenging in far different ways then mine, so I really worked on those details since they are what made her the woman she is today.

It’s a long process to really craft a complete character, but so worthwhile in the end.

Robert Ropars: Is there an actor/actress present, or past, you most want to work with? Why?

1377443_679994502025895_36268758_nJessica Cameron: I would love to work with the original scream queen, Jamie Lee Curtis. I adore her work; she is such a strong actress. I have a great deal of respect for her and all women who have managed to maintain strong careers consistently throughout several decades. Her ability to seamlessly jump from different genres is an inspiration to all actresses. I also happen to think she is one of the most intelligent people on the planet, if you have ever heard her speak (in an interview, at a convention, etc.) then you know this.

Robert Ropars: As my readers are reading this interview; you’re about to embark on what surely must be one of the most ambitious film projects in memory. What can you share about your plans for a road trip to film three movies at the same time? I was particularly impressed with the originality in using crowd funding to reward contributors by giving them “pins” on a map of the U.S. The more the contributions, the more pins a state earned. I understand you’ve recently announced the winning states and the detailed road map is coming soon?

Jessica Cameron headshot 2 by K.S.GillJessica Cameron: We have announced the winning states and they are California, New Mexico. Arizona, Ohio, Alabama, and Texas. I am excited though quite nervous as well since it’s a lot of work to location scout from far away. The fans have been really great in helping us :) We will be posting the detailed map soon, showing exactly where we will be traveling, stay tuned to the website for more details: www.killtheproductionassistant.com

We really want to bring the films TO the fans, cause as a horror fan I love seeing how the films are made. It’s going to be an insane amount of work – after all making one film in 3 weeks is hard, 3 is kinda insane. But I cannot think of a better way to spend 3 weeks, then with your favorite people, traveling across the country making movies. It’s going to be an incredible experience.


Read my review of Jessica’s directorial debut – Truth or Dare:
http://robertropars.com/2014/04/20/truth-or-dare-review/


Connect with Jessica Cameron online:

Website
Twitter
Facebook
IMDB
Jessica’s Demo Reel
Twitter for ‘Truth or Dare”
Twitter for “Mania”
Twitter for “Desolation”
Twitter for “Kill the PA”
Twitter for “The Tour”
Twitter for “Save Yourself”

Enjoy an excerpt from my first full-length horror book: ‘Ghosts in the Graveyard’

My book is set both in the present and 10 years in the past. The following is the first part of the story taking place in the past when three girl friends enter a cemetery on Halloween to play a children’s game. The night one of them disappeared and the town was never the same. All anyone wanted was for the missing girl to come home… until she did…

=============================

Halloween 2004 – Part 1

=============================

Ari West followed Lisa and Louise, along Argento Boulevard. As usual, the twins were in the midst of a heated argument. The three fourteen-year-olds had left a Halloween party this Friday evening. Lisa, normally the calm and polite twin, was upset.

“You know I like Carl!”

Louise, the wild twin, laughed at Lisa.

“Seriously? He’s so not into you.”

The twins’ feuds were legendary at St. Albin High School, and Ari struggled to think of something to diffuse things before they began to really fight.

“Hey, do you guys know of any other parties?”

Louise looked at her and rolled her eyes. Although they were all friends, Ari and Lisa were, to Louise, intolerably close. Louise, rather than be a third wheel, had begun to embrace her troublemaker image. She was thrilled that a growing number of older boys had begun to notice her as a result.

Ari sighed and continued to follow them as the argument continue to rage. Louise paused to dig in her purse for one of her hidden cigarettes and lit it. She offered one to Lisa who made a disgusted face. Louise turned to Ari with a mischievous look.

“How about you Ari? Ready to grow up?”

Ari bit her lip; she had seen the way the older boys responded to Louise when she met them behind the school stadium to smoke. She made the mistake of a glance towards Lisa who glared at her.

“No.”

Louise laughed and blew smoke at her sister.

“Damn it Louise!”

“Let me try it.”

The twins turned to Ari in surprise.

Louise handed the lit cigarette to her and the sisters watched as Ari put it to her lips. She inhaled and immediately began to cough and gag. She practically threw it back at Louise who laughed at her reaction. Lisa shook her head and just frowned at Ari.

“Well I hope you two are proud of yourselves. Let’s get going.”

They started off again along the road again. A few minutes later, a sign appeared ahead on their side of the road. A car passed by, the driver honked as he did so. Louise gave the driver the finger and flicked her tongue provocatively.

Ari watched as Lisa and Louise began to shove each other and she was sure one of them would end up in the street shortly. She needed to distract them and an idea came to her. The passing car’s headlights briefly illuminated the sign ahead and she saw they were near Broadmoor Cemetery.

“Hey, you two. Do you guys wanna play Ghosts in the Graveyard?”

The twins stopped and turned to their friend with a pair of frowns.

“What are we seven?” Louise asked. “Shut the fuck up.”

“Remember how much fun we always had? We could even play in Broadmoor unless you’re chicken?” Ari had no idea why she had just suggested they break into a cemetery on Halloween night, near midnight to play a game for kids.

Louise’s reaction was, as always, predictable.

“What did you call me, bitch?”

=============================

Read the full story now:

Kindle:
http://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Graveyard-Robert-Ropars-ebook/dp/B00MT6OWZM

Paperback:
http://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Graveyard-Robert-Ropars/dp/1503157652/

Smashwords (ebook):
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/495490

Horror film review: ‘Starry Eyes’ – OWN

Starry Eyes Poster

‘Starry Eyes’ – The Poster

I had heard a lot of buzz about “Starry Eyes” and when I saw it was available on Amazon I jumped at the chance to add this to my video library. I only knew that the film was about a young lady trying to make it as an actress in L.A. and the trailer had a creepy vibe that called to mind “Eyes Wide Shut” and potentially “Rosemary’s Baby.”

I was absolutely intrigued and given it was another film linked to Dark Sky Films I had faith it was going to be something fresh, different, low key (in a good way), non-CG and good.

I was not disappointed. The more I seek out horror films and find ones I love, the more Dark Sky Films is involved. These films are old school, classic style films that I’m going to be re-watching for years to come. These are the antidote to the overwrought, mass produced remakes/reboots coming off the Hollywood mainstream conveyor belt.

These are films with great acting, writing, directing, mood, music and feel like time capsules from the 70s and 80s when many of the great horror films arose.

Sarah

Sarah at her day job

“Starry Eyes” stars Alex Essoe as the lead character Sarah, at first glance the stereotypical struggling actress looking for her big break while holding down a crappy waitress job. Her circle of friends are mostly supportive, but one gal, Erin (Fabianne Therese) is clearly not in her corner. Her disingenuous support and congratulations are delivered with a consistently sugary sweet coating.

Sarah is dejected, losing faith and we watch her have weird episodes when faced with stress and disappointment. Then there’s the audition that changes everything.

Sarah has a fit

Sarah’s Fit

In a scene having a very David Lynch vibe, two unusual characters The Casting Director (the always amazing Maria Olsen) and The Assistant (Marc Senter) give her odd directions and she clearly doesn’t give them what they want. Finding herself in the women’s washroom in tears she snaps. A sudden explosion of rage and temporary insanity which is witnessed by Olsen who brings her back to the audition.

The Producer

The Producer

In the new audition, they push her to unleash her inner “monster” and after some delay she does. In a scene that has to be seen to be understood, lead actress unleashes a fit that’s unnerving and raw. She gets past the audition to a private meeting The Producer (Louis Dezseran).

At his creepy mansion, The Producer blatantly implies that in exchange for sexual favors he’ll make her a star. Running in disgust she confides in friends and they all agree she’s done the right thing, and Sarah returns to her routine life of waitress drudgery. Soon the desire to achieve stardom overwhelms her and she returns to the mansion to surrender to The Producer.

Sarah Transforms

Sarah’s Transformation

What follows I won’t spoil, but the slow burn build up to her surrender and the transformation of her character is stunning. This is one of those roles you can’t see many actresses having been able to handle/cope with (such as Laura Dern in David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” or Jenny Spain in “Deadgirl”).

The final act is bloody, disturbing, twisted and calls to mind a lot of great horror film moments. At the same time, “Starry Eyes” remains true to its own unique vision. Even a few weeks later, the ending continues to reverberate in my mind like the blinding reflection of sunlight on another car’s windshield. You blink but that “after image” haunts you.

Conclusion:

If you love horror, strong female roles/leads and exploring unsettling themes on a dark journey you MUST see “Starry Eyes” and soon. It’s an instant classic I’m proud to have in my collection. As a horror author, this is exactly the kind of film that resonates with me on every level.

Watch the trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JbO0eIc3jM

Watch now:
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00PLGDZKA

iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/starry-eyes/id936588095

Google Play:
https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Starry_Eyes?id=CfpBdCDykVQ&hl=en

Vudu:
http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!overview/604512/Starry-Eyes

Learn more about Dark Sky Films:
https://www.darkskyfilms.com/