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Each month, we’ll take you on a trip down the proverbial video aisle to look at some of the latest and best indie horror releases you need to check out.

Down the Video Aisle

 This month marks one year since I started writing this monthly release article. My hope when I started this column is the same hope I have one year into it: that some readers will find a movie they haven’t heard of and decide to give it a watch. Maybe the title will catch the attention of some, maybe it’ll be the poster, or maybe it’ll be my incredibly persuasive and informed writing on film. Kidding on that last one…kind of.

About a month ago, I tweeted that I’m not sure if what I’m doing here matters and wondered if I’m helping these films at all. And I never tweet stuff like that (I mainly focus on my incredibly persuasive and informed writing on film). But the response to that tweet was overwhelming. Over 100 film fans and indie filmmakers assured me that it matters, that indie film needs all the help it can get, and urged me to keep going. I was quickly humbled by and thankful for the support. Here’s hoping that a reader of this article chooses to give a film or 2 listed below a chance.

That said, let’s take our monthly walk down the video aisle and pick out something to watch! And thank you for reading.  

STAFF PICK

Automation

(Available 12/3 on VOD and Blu-ray)

Like the functioning of a robot, it’s the numerous little things that click and make Automation work as well as it does.  Attention to detail like a self-driving lawnmower or flying drones buzzing around a fast food restaurant help create a believable, slightly futuristic world where robots are playing a larger role in the day to day workings of society. As for Auto, our main character robot who walks around looking like a mix of RoboCop, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and the animated robot from 9 (Remember that movie? With Elijah Wood?), time is taken to show how he learns about people, especially what hurts them.

There’s one funny scene with a hilariously dickish Graham Skipper that teaches Auto what choking is. Sarah French is also great in this scene, getting a little too turned on when Auto says he can lift 800 pounds and has the ability to vibrate. Interactions and moments like this help complete this world, showing how humans are getting used to coexisting with robots. The cast also adds to the success of the film, and as a whole are spot on in this story. Parry Shen, Sadie Katz, Elissa Dowling, and Graham Skipper all know how to walk the line between quirky comedy and horror. Katz and Dowling are fantastic opposites with Dowling as the employee chasing a dream as an artist, and Katz chasing the bottom line as a corporate figure head.

Much like the inner workings of a computer with flashing lights and multicolored wires attached to green circuit boards, Automation features a colorful and vibrant color scheme. But nothing in the film is more vibrant than Elissa Dowling as Jenny. While her icy blue eyes and purple hair constantly draw the eye of the viewer, it’s Dowling’s charisma and charm that really steals the show here. Her endearing performance adds a great deal of depth and heart that is needed in a film about a robot going on a killing spree. Dowling is terrific, and as much as the rest of the film worked for me, she really makes Automation feel special.

This is a fun movie that explores a timely theme as AI becomes more and more prevalent, has a lot of humor, features some bloody deaths at the hands of a killer robot, and takes place during Christmas time. What more could you ask for!? (4/5 butterflies)

“When a prototype automated worker robot named Auto has proven  successful on the night shift at Alert Insulation, plans are put in motion to replace almost all the human employees with the next generation of robots — but to Auto’s dismay, he is also to be replaced by the new and improved robots — something he refuses to accept, and takes    murderous action to prevent.”     

FIRST LOOK: THE TOP OF THE RELEASE PILE

The Last of the Manson Girls

(Available now on VOD)

Based on an essay titled ‘My Acid Trip With Squeaky Fromme’ by counterculture journalist Paul Krassner, The Last of the Manson Girls is “speculative historical fiction,” that takes place over the course of a few days in 1972. The film looks at the time Krassner spent with former Manson believers Lyn ‘Squeaky’ Fromme (Jen Bevan), Sandra Good (Cindy Marie Martin), and Brenda McCann (Sarah Taurchini). It’s a fast paced, rapid fire freak out of a movie that is an entertaining, rabbit hole exploration of one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century.

Elliott Kashner who plays Paul Krassner is instantly likeable, and this is vitally important in order for the film to succeed. If we’re going along for a journey with the Manson girls, it’s important that the protagonist be someone the viewer can relate to as a “normal” guy. Kashner nails this part and his believability and sincerity is the comfort zone buffer between the viewer and the kind of creepy, maybe-still-a-little-brainwashed, unknowable Manson girls. When one of the girls asks in an overly calm, almost robotic voice, “I mean look at us, do we look like we could threaten anyone,” Kashner’s eyes shift from one girl to the next without saying a word, but his face is screaming what the viewer is thinking: Hell yes you look like you could threaten someone, you look out of your mind!

The film moves fast and uses stylistic flourishes to tell its story. The aspect ratio changes when witness accounts are being told, utilizing a square frame to mimic an archival news footage look. Other scenes use simplistic animation on the screen, like when they explain how “snitches get stitches” in prison or when a little white rabbit hops from person to person while Krassner and the Manson girls share a joint. Krassner also chats with a corpse in a bathroom in one scene. All of this adds an unpredictability to the film that mirrors the story that Krassner is chasing, not knowing what’s around the next corner once he enters the Manson world.

As Krassner’s time with the Manson girls goes on, the women become more human, more vulnerable, and as brainwashed as they were into thinking what they were doing was right and necessary, they become more confused than they ever were. Krassner picks up on this and he slowly becomes more comfortable around them, asking more direct questions and trying to dig deeper to find the truth. Of course, with conspiracy theories still alive and well, a complete understanding of the Manson murders and what happened at “The Ranch” will never be truly understood, not really. I don’t think it can be.

And that’s why The Last of the Manson Girls is such an interesting watch as it explores a “what if” 50 years later. Perhaps it raises more questions than it answers. Perhaps that’s the point. Regardless, writer and director Lonnie Martin has crafted a greatly enjoyable film that is worth checking out. (3.5/5 butterflies)

“Counterculture journalist Paul Krassner embarks on an LSD tinged investigation of the last of Manson’s disciples: Brenda McCann, Sandra Good, and Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme in order to find out if the Manson Murders were a CIA conspiracy.”

Armageddon Gospels

(Available now on Apple TV)

Writer/director John Harrigan clearly has a deep love for his country, and regardless of your position on or knowledge of Brexit, Armageddon Gospels is a wonderfully allegorical story about the threatened traditions that shape the values of its people. Despite a few establishing shots, the film takes a voyeuristic approach with the camera moving around the characters, watching and listening to them, functioning as a curious observer of their actions. This is like the world watching England, wondering what its next move will be.

The actors themselves are all very good here, simultaneously displaying hope and hopelessness in their characters, a sense of home and lostness. This meloncholly feel seeps from the film with stabbing hints of a homegrown danger. “I find nostalgia to be the most peculiar emotion,” says one character. This emotion is the heart of the film as the characters cling to something that may or may never have existed, wandering the land on a quest to save England.

Hoping the nostalgia and love for the values they seek to restore are conditions that will grow in the hearts of changed minds is the ultimate goal of these characters. In the end, they aren’t searching for the past but rather hoping, no matter how blindly, for the future.

Although the film is ultimately a somber affair, there’s an endless beauty in its cinematography and the many nods to British legends and lore are fun to keep an ear out for. Armageddon Gospels is self assured in both its messaging and filmmaking and is an aching journey to take. While it’s approach and solemn tone may not suit all tastes and push some viewers away, I recommend sticking with it if you give the film a watch, it’s worth your time. (3.5/5 butterflies)

“Refugee gods, transposed to flesh and blood, wash ashore to rouse the  myths of ancient Britain, half-drowned in a forgotten past. They disperse through shifting realities to awaken the giant Albion and find the holy grail in a ritual to save England from the rot of darkness and hatred that’s strangling its soul.”      

This is Our Home

(Available 12/3 on VOD)

It’s not often that the first few scenes in a film function as a spoiler when discussed but that’s the case with This is Our Home. When husband and wife Corey and Reina have to change a flat tire on their way to a weekend getaway, it’s a nice sequence that creates instant unease for the story, as well as a tension that looms over the married couple (Jeff Ayars and Simone Policano). Revealing more about the opening scenes isn’t so much a spoiler to the story itself as it is a fun tactic that is better left as a surprise, I’ll leave it at that. I mention this to throw something positive towards This is Our Home because the film doesn’t have much else going for it.

Corey and Reina argue constantly, mostly about nothing, and it’s clearly become a strain on their marriage. When they arrive at the getaway home (which belongs to Reina’s family), Corey starts munching on an apple. When Reina warns him, “I’d wash those before eating them if I were you,” he responds with, “tastes ok to me,” and takes another big bite. The guy is out of his element here, both in this remote, woodsy environment as well as helping his wife deal with the recent loss of their unborn baby. That changing-a-flat-tire scene from earlier is another painfully apparent display of how out of his element Corey is.

After another argument, a hair-raising scene finds a lost little boy at their front door, hurt, confused, and referring to the couple as mommy and daddy. The boy says his name is Zeke. Corey, not knowing how to deal with anything, throws his hands up and goes to bed. As if this isn’t strange or a possible felony, Reina doesn’t call the police and instead tucks the little tyke into bed for the night. She takes on an immediate motherly role for the kid and at this point one has to wonder who is the weird one here, the lost boy or Reina?

There’s a scene later that night where Corey wakes up, looking around an unable to find Reina. He walks the house entering every room calling her name. What he does find is the creepy little kid, Zeke. You know, the strange lost boy that doesn’t belong to them that’s sleeping in their guest room. Instead of getting very nervous and checking outside for his wife, Corey and Zeke talk about how Reina is lactose intolerant while they drink tea. Oh, and there’s something about a room in the house that Reina was never allowed in as a kid that plays some sort of role in all this…I guess.

I couldn’t get into this story or behind these characters with such ridiculous decisions being made. The film has a couple creepy moments and solid acting from the leads, but it’s really just not that interesting. It tries to tie all of this nonsense together while at the same time featuring a lot of filler scenes to pad the run-time. That’s a conflicting combination that is glaringly apparent during it’s quick 72 minute run-time. Throwing in some suggested sexual attention Zeke gives to Reina is just the cherry on top of this mess of a film. That and the completely obnoxious, extremely long final 2 shots. I don’t recommend this one at all. (1/5 butterflies) 

“A struggling couple’s weekend getaway goes awry when a child arrives in the middle of the night claiming to be their son.”

TO BE WATCHED: MORE GREAT HORROR

The Fare

(Available now on VOD and Blu-ray)

I love movies like this, those head scratching mysteries that unfold scene by scene as characters get to know each other. Because as they get to know each other, little by little the viewer gets to know story. It’s a clever plot device that never fails to peak my interest. Throw in the subtly menacing, possible alien invasion, science fiction subplot and I’m thinking The Fare looks like an entertaining watch.

“When a woman named Penny climbs into his taxi, Harris finds himself entranced. That is, right up until she disappears from the back seat without a trace. As he desperately tries to make sense of what happened, he resets his meter and is instantly brought back to the moment she first climbed into his cab. He and Penny find themselves trapped in an endlessly looping ride that changes their lives forever.”

A Psycho’s Path

(Available now on VOD)

It’s not often that a trailer makes me jump, but when Rampage Jackson goes busting through that lady’s motel door looking like Madman, let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t holding a cup of coffee. A Psycho’s Path really looks to lean on the brutal side of the slasher genre, with its bright and bleak desert landscape adding extra desperation to what looks like a gritty treat of a film.

“A small California desert town is being stalked by a motiveless psychopath who roams its streets killing at random. Captain Peters and his small police force are on the case searching for his whereabouts before he kills again.”

Follow the Crows

(Available now on VOD)

This trailer surprisingly packs a lot into its 2 minutes and promises a movie that’s more than just a bunch of wandering souls after an apocalyptic event. The somber mood is enhanced by the lost hope of the characters and an underlining terror lurks in this world’s dangerous remoteness. Follow the Crows seems to dig deep and explore what exactly is the difference between living and survival. Take note of this one, it looks interesting.

“Countless years after a devastating apocalyptic event, humanity has been reduced to a few wanderers searching the Earth for something to live for.”

Daniel Isn’t Real

(Available 12/6 on VOD)

There’s been a ton of buzz building around Daniel Isn’t Real and it’s by far one of the most highly anticipated releases of the month. If the trailer is any indication, viewers are in for one hell of a wild ride! Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy and this movie looks to explore that theme with stylish gusto. Mark December 6th on your calendar. I simply can’t wait for this one!

“A troubled college freshman, Luke, suffers a violent family trauma and resurrects his childhood imaginary friend Daniel to help him cope.” 

In Fabric

(Available 12/6 on VOD)

After seeing the way director Peter Strickland handled Berberian Sound Studio a few years back, consider me interested in anything the guy releases and In Fabric doesn’t look like it’ll disappoint. The idea of a killer dress has never looked so unnerving and deeply stylish as this trailer makes it out to be. I personally can’t wait for this one and I’m looking forward to a trippy good time.

“A haunting ghost story set against the backdrop of a busy winter sales period in a department store and follows the life of a cursed dress as it passes from person to person, with devastating consequences.”

Crepitus

(Available 12/13 on VOD and DVD)

Crepitus certainly looks like it nails the dreary, no nonsense tone of a serious chiller. While Bill Moseley looks downright dark and frightening, I’m just not sure of how much Bill Moseley we’re going to get here. I have the sinking feeling that Crepitus will feature a lot more of the crazy family than the killer basement dwelling clown in its title. Just based on the trailer, I’m not completely sold on this one.

“Elizabeth and her younger sister, Sam, are thrust into circumstances more terrifying than living with their abusive mother when they are forced to move into their deceased Grandfather’s house. Frightened beyond belief, they begin to learn horrible things about their family history. Nevermind the ghosts in the house, there is something far worse that takes an interest in the girls … a cannibalistic clown named Crepitus.”

Rabid

(Available 12/13 on VOD)

The long awaited new film from the Soska sisters is here, and I couldn’t be more excited about it! Tackling Cronenburg’s 1977 Rabid seems like a tall order but the Soska’s seem up to the task as their remake looks to go full throttle on crazed lust and the thirst for blood. Continuing their commentary on the high pressure for women to look beautiful, the directing duo sends a timely message that it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters, because that beautiful girl in front of you just might want to suck your blood and turn you into a frenzied savage.

“Rose works in women’s fashion clothing, hoping to be a designer. A traffic accident damages her face. She gets experimental stem cell treatment, leaving her stronger and prettier than ever – but there’s a side effect.”

Primal

(Available 12/31 on VOD)

Seems like Nicolas Cage has become quite the regular when it comes to indie horror/thriller releases, and that’s just fine by me! In Primal viewers get to enjoy Cage being Cage while he runs around on a ship with a bunch of loose wild animals. It seems like people have started making movies just to get Nicolas Cage to star in them, and the Oscar winner really looks to be enjoying himself in these crazy films! Plus we get Famke Janssen, so I’m sold.

“Frank’s caught wildlife in the Brazilian jungle incl. a 400 lbs. white jaguar. He ships it on the same ship as an arrested assassin. The assassin breaks free and frees the animals.”

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