Saturday, December 31, 2016

#247: The Black Cat (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

The Black Cat, a very loose Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, is a bit subdued by Lucio Fulci's standards, especially compared to the films on either side of it (The Beyond and Gates of Hell aka City of the Living Dead). This is a guy who included a scene of a zombie fighting a shark in Zombie. Still, it's got plenty of inspired lunacy and narrative incoherence, a pretty sick black cat with supernatural powers, and Patrick Magee and his incredible eyebrows and patented Patrick Magee intensity. It's pretty minor Fulci, but I had a good time watching it, and so did one of my cats.
The Black Cat takes place in a small village in England, but a lot of the interior scenes were shot in Italy. The cast includes veteran theater actor and supporting player in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon Patrick Magee in one of his last roles before his death in 1982, Mimsy Farmer, and Fulci regular David Warbeck. Magee plays retired professor Robert Miles, the town eccentric who keeps trying to communicate with the dead and who has an antagonistic relationship with his pet black cat. Farmer plays Jill Trevers, an American photographer taking pictures in the village who develops a fascination with Miles. When a young couple mysteriously disappears, the town police sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver) sends for help from Scotland Yard, which arrives in the delightfully campy form of Inspector Gorley (Warbeck).
Gorley stays on when the couple turns up dead under bizarre circumstances, the second and third victims in what soon becomes a string of freak accidental deaths. They were preceded in death by a man who drove his car at full speed into a parked car, and the body count just keeps increasing. Miles and Trevers both know the deaths aren't accidents but instead the work of Miles' black cat, which may be acting under the influence of psychic human impulses. But why is the cat causing these deaths, and how is it capable of human intent?  And how can Trevers convince the detectives without sounding insane?
Meanwhile, Miles is clearly hiding something, and the antagonistic relationship between him and his cat culminates in a hilariously nutty scene where he actually hangs the cat from a tree with a tiny kitty noose. Too bad for him this cat is unkillable, baby! Shortly afterwards, Trevers experiences a poltergeist-style window explosion in her bedroom for reasons never explained. In the next scene taking place in her room, the damage appears to have been repaired completely. I don't understand, but I love it.
This is all pretty silly stuff, but Fulci commits completely. I especially loved the closeups of Magee and his amazing eyebrows as he makes deadly serious pronouncements like, "Cats take orders from no one!" Ain't that the truth, buddy. There are lots of cool shots of the cat scratching the ever-loving hell out of people, some pretty sweet cat's-eye-view camera movements, and lots of atmospheric fog. Warbeck is also pretty funny as the frequently drunk and campily macho Scotland Yard inspector. (I also got to say things like, "Now he's the inspector from Scotland Hard" when he kisses Trevers and "Now he's the inspector from Clawtland Yard" when the cat scratches him. I have good times.) The Black Cat isn't a lost gem or one of Fulci's best, but it's a solidly enjoyable, delightfully goofy, and unusual horror film.
By the way, my tortoiseshell cat Fern went apeshit over the film's first 15 minutes. She was completely riveted by the scenes of the black cat scampering across the village's rooftops, and I was momentarily worried she would try to attack the screen, but she held it together. My wife and I watched the cat documentary The Lion in Your Living Room last weekend, and Fern's response was similar. We've unwittingly set a precedent for supplying her with cat-based entertainment every Friday night. Happy New Year, everyone. If we survive what is certain to be the destructive and incompetent presidency of the orange-sociopath-in-chief, I will continue to write these posts. Thanks for reading.  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

#246: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Russ Meyer, 1970)

At this late date, I think Russ Meyer's reputation as a genuinely talented, unique filmmaker is as strong or stronger than his mostly unfair reputation as a purveyor of low-grade T&A schlock. Meyer's films are campy, and he is obsessed with the figures of voluptuous women, but there's so much more going on in these movies than just that. Meyer was one of the most original film stylists, creating a dizzying blend of live-action cartoon, comic-strip, pop-art montage that used elements of exploitation movies, classic Hollywood, burlesque shows, the aforementioned comics and cartoons, and a troupe of oddball actors that built their own personality-driven images onscreen, much like John Waters' group of Baltimore oddballs. And, also like Waters, Meyers celebrated bad taste, the wide world of sexuality and fetishism, letting your freak flag fly, and fabulousness on the cheap.
Meyer's films are full of contradictions, however. He can be an old-fashioned moralist doling out punishment for hedonism while also celebrating the epicurean lifestyle. His sensitive, troubled characters are likely to end up dead or broken, while the brasher, more confident ones succeed and thrive.
Both regressive and progressive, a Meyers film ogles the bodies of beautiful women but also loves these women as people and performers creating characters. The women in his films are sometimes close to superheroes or supervillains, fighting squares, sexists, and dullards, carving out a space for their own lives and personalities to exist and triumph. I don't want to get carried away making a case for Russ Meyer as a feminist because I don't think he was (you only see one kind of body type in his movies, for example), but put a Russ Meyer film up against the entire filmographies of most male Hollywood liberal directors (Oliver Stone, etc.), and you'll see who cares about creating lots of great parts for women and who doesn't.
Meyer got his biggest budget and widest distribution with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, probably his most well-known film to this day. A sequel in name only to the Jacqueline Susann adaptation, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was written by Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, from a story idea by Meyer and Ebert. It still blows my mind a little that Roger Ebert wrote this film. He had a lot of things going for him as a critic, but one of his major blind spots was the hard-to-describe category of exploitation/drive-in/psychotronic/cult/midnight movie/b-movie. He tended to dismiss or ignore these kinds of films, but he ended up writing one of the great ones. Weird. (He also co-wrote two other Meyer films, Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, under the pseudonyms Reinhold Timme and R. Hyde because his bosses at the paper weren't so keen on him writing for Meyer.)
For his relatively mainstream crossover film, Meyer toned down the sex (by his standards, not Hollywood's -- the film is still full of sex) but kept the weirdness cranked to the maximum. For those of you unlucky enough to have never seen it (or lucky enough to have the chance to see it for the first time), I'll give a quick description. A trio of rock musicians, Kelly MacNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and the awesomely named Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom), and their manager (and Kelly's boyfriend) Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), get sick of playing to squares at local dances and head to Los Angeles to try for rock stardom. Kelly has a fashion designer aunt she's never met, Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis). Susan introduces the newcomers to rock impresario and Hollywood scenester Z-Man (John Lazar), a demented svengali famous for managing rock groups, throwing debauched parties, and speaking almost exclusively in Shakespearean language.
Z-Man takes a liking to the women's rock band, renames them The Carrie Nations (in ironic honor of pro-temperance activist Carrie Nation), and makes them stars while also introducing them to the sleaze, depravity, drugs, and cruelty of the Hollywood scene. Wild characters enter their orbit, including porn star Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams), fashion designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin), perpetually shirtless heavyweight boxer Randy Black (James Iglehart), law student Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page), unscrupulous lawyer Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod), and part-time actor Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett). Things get dark, darker, and finally, dark as fuck. Crazy shit happens, someone is beheaded with a sword, and hard lessons are learned. Sample dialogue: "This is my happening and it freaks me out!' and "You shall drink the black sperm of my vengeance!'
In the almost two hours of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the pacing never flags, despite the almost constant whirlwind of events, drama, and insanity. Moving to Hollywood and losing one's soul was a familiar trope even in 1970, but you've never seen it told like this. Meyer's strange sensibility and uniquely personal approach to editing, framing, and storytelling was not compromised by the Hollywood money backing this film. His actors all have that patented Meyer mixture of naivete and knowingness and give slightly stylized (or in Z-Man's case extremely stylized) performances that fit perfectly in the world Meyer creates. This is both a sublime and a ridiculous film, and I love it. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

#245: The Show (Tod Browning, 1927)

Yet another fascinating gem from the great Tod Browning, The Show is an offbeat, visually expressive obscurity that resonates in its own strange frequency, hovering in the spaces between genres without committing to one. Browning, the Louisville-born director of The Unholy Three, Freaks, Lugosi's Dracula, Mark of the Vampire, The Devil-Doll, and the famous lost film London After Midnight, had a knack for striking images, great faces, and unusual stories, and he mined a rich vein of weirdness in films about people living on the fringes of society, particularly carnival workers and low-level show-biz types, small-time criminals, and supernatural figures of menace.
The Show combines pieces of the crime thriller, horror, melodrama, romance, dark comedy, and the backstage lives-of-show-people drama with a subtle German Expressionist influence and a clairvoyant eye toward the film noir of the future to tell a story about a seamy traveling carnival and medicine show performing a string of dates in Budapest. The show features a menagerie of deadly animals, phony circus freaks, and a theatrical retelling of the Salome story, complete with a fake beheading.
Performing double duty as ringmaster and actor in the Salome portion of the show is Cock Robin (John Gilbert), an opportunistic ladies' man always on the make for sex and money, making his living off the charity of the women he seduces. His current target is naive farmer's daughter Lena (Gertrude Short), whose father has just come in to a nice pile of money after selling several sheep. Gilbert is great as Cock Robin, with his rakish demeanor, pencil-thin mustache, stylish 'do, and hilarious self-regard.
Robin's attention on other women draws the ire of Salome (Renee Adoree), who has been having an affair with him. In bad news for everyone, the black-hearted entrepreneur who runs the carnival, The Greek (a hilariously evil Lionel Barrymore), thinks Salome is his property and is willing to murder the star of his show if his suspicions of their affair are confirmed. He tries to intimidate Robin in a hilarious macho dick-measuring scene by casually taking out his switchblade and flicking it open. Robin responds by taking out a blade that's three times bigger and even more casually using it for a few housekeeping chores.
The film spends the next breakneck 30 minutes tying together a performance of the show, some stolen money, a murder and robbery, an attempted murder, two love triangles, a giant lizard attack (!), and a police pursuit before the tone dramatically flips and The Show becomes a slow-paced melodrama about Robin, Salome, and a blind man who lives in Salome's apartment building. The film loses a little momentum here, and the change in atmosphere and scope is jarring, but Browning's sure direction and his actors' performances maintained my interest. The wild plot strands wind their way back into the melodrama by the film's end, and the viewer is left wondering how Browning can fit so much into 76 minutes.
Browning creates one expressive image after another and many great scenes. It's a pleasure to see a director who cares about everything in his film and knows how to realize it. The beautiful sets, the framing of shots, the movement of the camera, the actors' faces and bodies and their inhabiting of the characters, the structure and movement of the story, the little details that go so far in making a movie a self-contained world of its own and not just a filmed plot, all this is why Browning is one of the greats.
The film's leads, John Gilbert and Renee Adoree, had successful show-business careers, but they both died tragically young. Adoree, a French woman who moved to New York in her early twenties to pursue her stage and screen dreams, slowly built up her credits until becoming a major star in 1925. Hollywood is fickle, though, especially to women, and Adoree's career was on the wane when she retired in 1930 after a tuberculosis diagnosis. She died of the disease in 1933 at the age of 35. The film that made Adoree a star in 1925, King Vidor's excellent WWI film The Big Parade, also starred her Show co-lead John Gilbert. Gilbert was one of the most popular actors of the silent era (another great film of Gilbert's is Erich Von Stroheim's The Merry Widow), and the tabloids loved him for his on-set affair with Greta Garbo that turned into an on-going romance. Gilbert and Garbo were engaged to be married, but Garbo dumped him before the wedding, and Gilbert withdrew into a deep depression, drinking heavily. Gilbert's career also suffered in the transition from silent to sound. The oft-repeated legend is that audiences found his speaking voice weak compared to his silent film heartthrob image, but many film historians dispute this story. What no one disputes is that the major roles dried up for him. Garbo got him a leading part in 1933's Queen Christina, but his drinking continued, and he stopped acting shortly thereafter. He died of a heart attack in 1936 at the age of 36.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

#244: Biohazard (Fred Olen Ray, 1985)

In the wake of my country's suicidal decision to elect a fascist monster, Europe's move toward fascism, Brexit, and the horrors of what's to come, it seems completely ridiculous to write about a goofy monster B-movie. I feared the intertwined demons of global predatory capitalism and bigoted scapegoating would eventually cause something this cataclysmic, but a big part of me is still in shock, appalled by and embarrassed for and terrified of the direction western civilization is heading. A lot of good people are going to be hurt terribly by what's going to happen, and we all have to find our own ways of pitching in to stop it. We've also got to keep living our lives, finding spaces to celebrate what's good, having fun, staying sane. This is also important. In that spirit, and in one of the most awkward transitional sentences I've ever written, here's a little something about Fred Olen Ray's Biohazard.
Much like our country's response to the Trump candidacy, Biohazard is about a problem that is not taken seriously until it starts destroying people. Deep in the California desert, a scientist is working on something big, and the Army and Congress are taking notice. Two senators, an Army bigwig, and some career military types head to the desert to check out the vague, weird experiments Dr. Williams (Art Payton) is conducting in his desert lab with psychic Lisa Martyn (Angelique Pettyjohn). In a hilariously awkward scene, Dr. Williams gives a spiel about how he's using the psychic's powers in tandem with his science machines to grab actual objects from other dimensions and bring them to this dimension using science. Then he and Lisa actually do it.
The government and military dudes, including Hollywood veteran Aldo Ray as General Randolph, decide the mysterious container taken from another dimension belongs to the military. They order underlings Mitchell Carter (William Fair) and Roger (Richard Hench) to load up the weird container and follow the big shots back to base. Driving the big shots is gum-chomping, macho dickhead Reiger (David O'Hara), who has a long-standing feud with Mitchell dating back to Vietnam (though both guys seem too young to have seen any action there). Before they make it very far, a diminutive but deadly alien jumps out of the container and shreds Roger's face, making a hasty getaway immediately thereafter.  The alien looks like a four-foot-tall cross between a Power Ranger and a beetle and is played by the director's son, who was then five, six, or seven years old, depending on which source you read.
The rest of the film concerns Mitchell and Lisa's attempts to find and kill the alien, and the alien's path of destruction through a nearby desert town. There are lots of nods to Alien, some pretty convincing makeup effects, some pretty terrible non-makeup effects, hilariously awful dialogue, gratuitous nudity, the destruction of an E.T. poster, hobos waxing rhapsodic about cheap 1983 wine, and an abruptly hysterical twist ending followed by a blooper reel.
Fred Olen Ray, who I call the "Fassbinder of schlock," has 148 directing credits to his name and shows no signs of slowing down or learning how to make professional product, and for that, I salute him. His films are not very good, but they are a great deal of fun. This is Olen Ray's fourth appearance on this site, and I encourage his fans to check out my previous reviews of The Alien Dead, Alienator, and Armed Response. Ray's child Christopher, who played the alien, has followed in his father's footsteps as a prolific director and producer of B-movies, with 18 credits as director since 2008. His notable titles include Reptisaurus, Megaconda, Mega-Shark vs. Crocosaurus, and They Want Dick Dickster. I wonder what Thanksgiving is like at the Olen Rays. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

#243: Shock aka Beyond the Door II (Mario Bava, 1977)

The final film from Mario Bava, Shock sees the groundbreaking Italian horror director going out on a high note. This is a suspenseful, weird, visually powerful, creepy movie that skillfully weaves together the supernatural and the psychological, told so energetically that it's hard to believe an older man three years before his death is behind the camera. The film also benefits considerably from Daria Nicolodi's virtuosic performance in the leading role. Nicolodi has one of the most visually expressive faces in film, and Bava puts it to highly effective use here. Yeah, the movie has some cheesy dialogue, stiff English-language dubbing, occasionally baffling character behavior, and irritatingly patronizing male characters, but if these things are enough to turn you off, you're obviously not a fan of '60s-'80s Italian horror. The film's virtues are so much stronger than its flaws.
A word about the title. Entertaining Exorcist ripoff Beyond the Door had been a huge financial success a few years earlier, so the American distributors decided to cash in on having the same child actor, David Colin Jr., and released the film as Beyond the Door II in the United States. In addition to the presence of Colin, both films were horror movies about a family unit directed by Italians. Besides those superficial similarities, the films have absolutely nothing to do with each other and are sequels in name only. Not quite as egregious as the time the Spanish film about the murderous ghosts of some Knights Templar, Tombs of the Blind Dead, was repackaged for drive-ins as a Planet of the Apes sequel (a new prologue was filmed explaining that the Knights were actually ghosts of the apes from the Planet of the Apes movies, which might be my favorite stupid cash-grab in the history of cinema distribution), but still pretty silly.
Shock, co-written by Bava's son and Demons director Lamberto Bava (who has a cameo as a mover), is about a woman named Dora (Daria Nicolodi), her son Marco (David Colin Jr.), and her second husband Bruno (John Steiner) moving back into the country home Dora shared with her first husband, Marco's father, and which she still owns. Her first husband was a depressive drug addict who committed suicide at sea seven years earlier, and Dora has had trouble with anxiety, depression, and fear since then.
Now remarried to airline pilot Bruno, Dora is persuaded that a return to the peace of the countryside may be the perfect thing for everyone. After the obligatory few minutes of sentimental, happy-family cheese are dispensed with, things get pretty disturbing pretty quickly. Marco starts saying and doing incredibly strange things, but in classic macho, paternalistic Italian fashion, Dora gets the blame for being a nervous, fragile woman. Bruno even hides sedatives around the house and slips them in Dora's water without telling her, in order to calm her. He's kind of a douche. He's also frequently away from home flying planes, so Dora is alone with her newly creepy son and his newly creepy behavior.
Soon, Dora is losing her shit, having horrible but beautifully filmed nightmares, and dark family secrets get uncovered. Is she going crazy, or is the ghost of her former husband haunting her and possessing their son? The film skillfully avoids taking sides, and a pretty good case can be made for both supernatural and psychological explanations of the terrors happening in the home.
Nicolodi kicks ass throughout, giving one of my favorite performances in horror. She's so good at telling a story with her facial expressions, making you forget about the Italian tradition of overdubbing the dialogue later. Nicolodi is most famous for her work in many of Dario Argento's best films, and she wrote the screenplay for my favorite Argento movie, Suspiria. (She's also the mother of Asia Argento, and she and Dario were a couple for many years.) Bava was lucky to get her in this role, since she was coming off a pretty intense stretch of collaboration with Argento, both artistically and romantically, and the two had decided to take some time apart from each other, just in time for Shock. (Steiner would go on to work with Argento a few years later, in Tenebre.)
The film builds in intensity, culminating in a great final third that has one of my favorite surprise scares in horror. I'd seen the film once before, and I was happy to see that this scene had the same jump-out-of-your-seat effect on my wife, who was watching it for the first time. Shock is a real treat for Italian horror fans, with its stunning shot compositions, creepy red-haired child (I say this as a creepy red-haired former child myself), horror veterans behind and in front of the camera, and weird-ass prog/jazz/funk/hard rock score from the band I Libra. I love this movie. It's scary, fun, weird, occasionally ridiculous, and just the kind of thing I like.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

#242: The Cat and the Canary (Paul Leni, 1927)

Paul Leni, the German expressionist art director and filmmaker who fled the Nazis to make a couple silent classics in the United States (Waxworks, The Man Who Laughs) before his untimely death from blood poisoning in 1929 at the age of 44, also created this wholly entertaining exercise in genre, style, and atmosphere between those two epics. This is Leni in a lighter mood, having fun with the tropes of horror, the whodunit mystery, and slapstick comedy, with a postmodern approach to intertitles and camera movement and a theatrical use of performance and facial expression. It's a hell of a fun movie, and it's one of those rare silents that feels modern.
Based on the stage play by John Willard, The Cat and the Canary begins with a prologue about Cyrus West, an eccentric millionaire who lives in a creepy Gothic mansion overlooking the Hudson River. He's old and frail, and his greedy family are waiting for him to die so they can inherit his wealth. He finally kicks the bucket, but he's left instructions with the executor of his estate that the will must remain locked in his safe for 20 years. Once the two decades are up, his surviving relatives must come to his mansion to hear the reading of the will at midnight. Before that happens, however, someone with leather gloves sneaks into the mansion, opens the safe, and reads the will before putting everything back into place.
This prologue contains German expressionist technique out the wazoo (or "out the kazoo" if you're xenophobic bass guitarist/political huckster Mike Huckabee (see infamous Jaws interview for more information)) with striking use of shadow, superimposition, and a slightly distorted sense of scale. The sneaky reading of the will, on the other hand, flips the point of view so that the audience member is the one committing the deed, with the camera acting as the perpetrator's eyes. With these two opening sequences and a credits sequence that is far more stylish than the usual flat informational title card more typical of the era, Leni lets the audience know from the beginning he's transforming the theatrical material into pure cinema.
Soon, our cast assembles at the mansion to hear the will. The group is made up of elderly lawyer/estate executor Roger Crosby (Tully Marshall), hilariously creepy housekeeper Mammy Pleasant (Martha Mattox), the mansion's sole occupant (when Crosby tells her she must have been lonely in the mansion alone for 20 years, she smirks and replies "I don't need the living ones"), and a gaggle of distant nieces, nephews, and cousins. These survivors include kindly Annabelle West (Laura La Plante), scared goofball Paul Jones (Creighton Hale), elderly Aunt Susan (Flora Finch), Cecily (Gertrude Astor), and a couple of cold-as-ice, suspicious types, Charles (Forrest Stanley) and Harry (Arthur Edmund Carewe). Most of these people seem to be in their twenties and thirties except for Susan, so I presume the bulk of the relatives who plagued Cyrus in his living years must have followed him to the grave in the ensuing 20 years. The film doesn't say.
The will is read, most of it Cyrus railing at how awful his relatives are and deciding to leave the entire estate to his most distant relative, with the stipulation that a doctor must examine this person to determine sanity or insanity. If declared insane, the person relinquishes the estate to the next most distant relative, named in a second envelope. A third envelope contains the location of some hidden diamonds.
Soon, a disappearance occurs, which leads to the discovery of a murder, a report of an escaped lunatic, and a plot to drive the estate inheritor crazy so the next person on the list gets the fortune. Lots of adventure, intrigue, suspense, horror, pratfalls, and gags ensue, and it all looks great and moves satisfyingly along.
The Cat and the Canary doesn't have the seriousness of intent of Leni's films on either side of it, but that's not a weakness. Not just an exercise in style, the film is light on its feet and never flashy or overwrought. Leni uses everything he's learned behind the camera, but he doesn't batter the audience over the head with it. Every stylistic touch is in service of the story, the atmosphere, the mood, the characters, and the audience. This is a fun, satisfying film.

Friday, September 30, 2016

#241: Beyond Dream's Door (Jay Woelfel, 1989)

Jay Woelfel's feature film debut, Beyond Dream's Door, is a fascinating regional indie with some serious flaws, an intriguingly unconventional narrative, and a few genuine scares. It's easier to admire than enjoy, and I can't wholeheartedly recommend it, but Woelfel is really going for something unusual here, and he intermittently succeeds. This is a real A for effort, C for delivery kind of movie, kept afloat by its weirdness.
Beyond Dream's Door is about psychology student Ben Dobbs (Nick Baldasare). He's been having dark and disturbing dreams that seem to spill into his waking life, which is unusual since Ben hasn't been able to remember any of his dreams since the death of his parents several years earlier. Ben writes these new dreams down in detail and asks his highly unorthodox psych professor Noxx (Norm Singer) to read them over and see what he thinks. (An aside -- Norm Singer as Prof. Noxx is a hilariously weird over-actor, and I especially enjoyed his delivery of this line spoken to the prof's class of psych students: "Yesterday I promised to tell you about a case of major league insanity.") Prof. Noxx gets very excited about this dream diary, which bears striking similarities to a case from 20 years ago, and begins to work with Ben into the wee hours in a basement of the college's library. Ben also involves two grad student TAs, Eric Baxter (Rick Kesler) and Julie Oxel (Susan Pinsky) into his dream life, but things very quickly go awry when Ben's dreams invade the waking lives of everyone he talks to about them. Soon, the line between dreams and reality erodes, and the rest of the film takes place in that weird purgatory between the two consciousnesses.
Woelfel is really good at capturing a waking dream state, avoiding most movie cliches about dreams, and creating a weird, unsettling atmosphere with some nice shots and tricky camera movements that rise above his budgetary restrictions. Woelfel is not so good at finding actors who can deliver his material or special effects artists who can suspend disbelief, and the narrative occasionally drags.
Shot in Columbus, Ohio with assistance from Ohio State film students, Beyond Dream's Door's cast is made up of Woelfel's friends, most of whom have no acting experience, which makes for some rough viewing. If you read this site with any regularity, you know that I often champion nonprofessional acting, criticize the slick professionalism of a lot of Hollywood acting, and have real issues with what is characterized as "good" and "bad" acting in mainstream culture. Sometimes, though, people with no acting chops are just stiff, awkward, and hard to watch. That's the case with most of the people in Beyond Dream's Door.
Baldasare, in the lead role, is understated and not that bad but lacks charisma, Singer is terrible but compellingly strange, and Kesler, Pinsky, and most of the extras and bit players are pretty, pretty, pretty stiff (Larry David typed the end of this sentence). The special effects, too, are cheap and silly and look like some teens made them for a home movie, which means they're still about 89% more effective than CGI. These are genuine criticisms, but you know I always have a tender place in my heart for the cheap, awkward, homemade, and regional, no matter how good or bad. I salute anyone getting out there and making stuff outside of the Hollywood machine. This movie has plenty of problems, but it's unusual and personal and looks like it was made by real humans.
I haven't seen any of Woelfel's other films, but he's still at it, cranking out low-budget horror movies, sometimes straight to video, as director, writer, editor, and soundtrack composer. He even made an interactive, educational documentary about the Titanic for schools that was narrated by Patrick Stewart. Most of the actors never appeared in another film, but Susan Pinsky (not the wife of Dr. Drew, who is also named Susan Pinsky) went on to become a doctor and has a practice in Florida and one of the extras went on to write for Dora the Explorer.