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“El Gigante”: A Giant Short Review for a Giant Short Film

Think of an author you enjoy. el-gigante-poster

Now, if applicable, think of a film adaptation of their work that badly missed the mark.

What did the filmmakers get wrong?

No, I don���t mean that unfilmable plot-point they had to change to make the movie work, don���t be so basic.

Yeah, you���re second answer was correct: sometimes adaptations just don���t feel right.

They can stick closely to the plot, even end up transposing whole swaths of dialogue to the screenplay, but something about most adaptations just doesn���t live up to the movie you had in your head.

In a little over ten minutes Luchagore Production���s ���El Gigante��� feels right-er than almost any film adaptation I can think of.

It would be very easy to describe McKenzie���s novel, Muerte Con Carne, as The Tex-Mex Chainsaw Massacre. Plot-wise Hooper���s film is an obvious touchstone for the book and McKenzie doesn’t hide that, but it���s the differences in tone and focus that makes Carne so great.

The title character of the short, El Gigante, is an attempt not to mimic the mythic status that culture has built around Leatherface, but to reproduce the phenomenon. The way he���s described in the book is as cartoonishly large (to give you an idea: he tangles with a car at one point���and wins). Although that doesn���t seem like it would work on film (or at the very least would make casting the part difficult), the Luchagore team takes that exaggerated feel of the character and builds a film around him, so that by the time the world is established it feels only natural that El Gigante and his family could inhabit it.

Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero (with a co-director credit given to D.P. Luke Bramley), ���El Gigante��� is polished to the point of absurdity. It���s colorful and art-produced to the nines. These filmmakers went all out to replicate the gonzo opening to McKenzie���s novel and it���s the detail that makes the picture.

With minimal dialog and entirely in Spanish, ���El Gigante��� is the result of plucking the prologue off of the novel and filming it with very few alterations. With the exception of a new character, a creepy child in a monkey suit (the inclusion fits, in fact it retroactively seems integral to sell you in the heightened world), nothing else I picked up on is different here. The film was partly financed via Kickstarter, the stated goal of which was to have a short film that could be used to raise funding for a feature.

It doesn���t feel like test footage. The ten minutes of ���El Gigante��� are their own thing, complete with a (very bleak) arc for our protagonist. But I guess it does work wonders as a proof-of-concept reel because all I wanted to happen when it was over was for the rest of McKenzie���s novel to unfold onscreen.

It feels weird to be reviewing what could sound on paper like promotional footage, but the film really does stand on its own and I encourage you to track it down when it becomes available to the public. I���m sure the Luchagore team will let you know when that is on their Facebook and, in the meantime, you can check out the source material here.

*So. A disclaimer, I guess. I know Shane McKenzie and I���ve co-authored a couple of novels with him. Back in October of 2012, I was even a pre-reader on��Muerte Con Carne��(not usually a responsibility I relish but I remember that the book made it easy).

But believe me: if I didn���t like this movie I probably would have saved myself the trouble of typing up a review and just shot Shane a disingenuous: ���Sure, man. It was really good. Loved the lighting������ via Facebook messenger and have been done with it.

Books Coming…

Signed Limited Editions….

Adrift by K.R.Griffiths    The Summer Job by Adam Cesare    Scavengers by Nate Southard

Violet Eyes by John Everson    Episodes of Violence by David Bernstein

Trade Hardbacks……

The Weight of Chains by Lesley Conner    Gardens of Babylon by Sara Brooke

Fresh Meat Volume 1 by new writers    Cut Corners Volume 2 by Ray Garton, Shane McKenzie & Monica O’Rourke

 

A Big Night – Adam Cesare

I was fifteen when Brian Keene’s The Rising came out and I’m pretty sure I read it within the first month the Leisure mass market edition was available.

I say this not to bolster fifteen year-old me’s street cred, that ship sailed a long time ago, but to give you some context as to how old I am (not very) and how long I’ve been into horror fiction (a good percentage of my life).

Without someone to show you where you’re supposed to be starting as a reader interested in this stuff, I imagine a lot of people my age took a similar path through the genre. It starts maybe a little precociously, with Stephen King when you’re too young to appreciate him.

Screw ‘appreciate’, I was too young to string a few pages of King together when the man’s legend first struck my interest. In grade school I took out a slim biography on King from the library (large print and lots of pictures, a biography clearly meant for younger readers. Which is really a bizarre target demo, if you think about it) and used it as the basis for a book report. How young was I? I don’t quite remember but the “report” took the form of a clothes hanger mobile, if that gives you an idea.

So, realistically, reading King was still a few years away but the great thing about the early-to-mid 90s for a kid with this specific interest was that R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series existed as a placeholder to guide that transition from The Poky Little Puppy toCujo.

Not to knock Stine, but I remember feeling like I was outgrowingGoosebumps even while I was consuming (read: freebasing) them. It was both that magnetic pull of King and that weird inferiority complex that I felt as a young boy getting his books from the children’s section of Borders when I just knew that I was meant to be browsing the “grown-up” shelves.

When my ability caught up with my will, I started with the short story collections, taking little bites, experimenting with books on tape (Nightmares & Dreamscapes, I distinctly remember Whoopi Goldberg reading about a teacher shooting a roomful of little kids and it broadening my definition of horror), and wading into the pool.

Okay, I’m digressing a lot, we’ve got to move this along. Where does a young horror reader of my vintage go after King? Well if you’re like me and you have parents who were into reading but not into reading horror, you go for another big name: Poe. Which, again, proves difficult, even once you’ve got modern style and diction down and are blazing through King and a surfeit of tie-in paperbacks based on movies (I vividly remember reading the novelization of 1998’s thriller Disturbing Behaviorand the passage beginning “[female character’s name] knew what guys liked”) and games (Warhammer 40k, natch).

Finally, once a few years pass and you gain an awareness of branding and publishers, you notice that two of the books on the “New in Paperback” endcap at Waldenbooks* have similar looking covers and boom!: you’re in deep with the Leisure horror books line. At that point, if you hit it at just the right time, you were set. Trying to keep a correct chronology is tough looking back now, but within a three to five year window those paperbacks exposed me to Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, Edward Lee (his “tamer” stuff which isn’t really tame at all), Ray Garton, John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow (which made me go back to the Skipp/Spector years, I guess I’m part of the first generation who can make that claim, which is cool because Goodfellow’s still kicking all the asses), Tim Lebbon (Berserk, mmmmm::Homer Simpson drool::) and, (I’m pretty sure) my gateway author into the line: Brian Keene.

Wait wait wait, why is this post called “A Big Night” again?

Give me a second, I’m getting there.

reading

Last night my buddy Scott and I attended a reading and signing at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The guests were Laura Lippman and Duane Swierczynski** and they were both excellent.

Since I’m such a class act and unwilling to perpetuate stereotypes about twenty-somethings, I turned my cell phone off during the presentation. By the time I turned it back on my Facebook messages were ringing off the hook.

“You’re on Brian Keene’s Top Ten of the Year list!” was the gist.

Whoa, back up (again).

So the night before this I’d been tagged by buddy (and generous, tireless pre-reader) Tod Clark into one of Brian Keene’s facebook posts. He alluded to the possibility that a few other authors and I would be getting a mention on the next episode of his podcast,The Horror Show. As someone who’s been listening to the show this bowled me over, as you can expect, but I figured the mention would be in passing.

For about as long as I’ve been reading Keene’s work he’s been making yearly top ten lists and (even if they don’t stretch backthat far, his various blog posts and non-fiction pieces were quick to name-drop seminal works) I always take his recommendations seriously, especially in the time before I was thinking about writing and looking to broaden my genre reading.

It’s surreal to hear him (podcast link and full list complete with book links reprinted here) put Deadite’s 2014 re-issue ofTribesmen on a list with Bryan Smith (another Leisure author I was reading!), Stephen King, Laird Barron(!!!), friends John Boden and Jonathan Janz (dopey picture with Janz here), and a few other writers I clearly need to check out.

It feels real good, but still surreal, especially when taking into account the reverence with which Keene goes on to discuss editor Don D’Auria later in the show.

It feels weird because, well, throughout high school and college I wanted to be one of those Leisure authors. It was my main goal, while living in Boston I had discussed as much with Nate Kenyon(a Leisure author I tracked down and harassed into having lunch with me), and my first novel, Video Night, was written with that market in mind. It was a goal that began as a wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if? pipedream as a kid, worked its way into a vague well maybe when I’m a lot older… in my late teens and then became a schucks-I-guess-we-won’t-know-how-that-would-have-turned-out bummer when the publisher folded in 2010.

Things, clearly, turned out well (and much sooner than expected) in the end. I got to work first with John Skipp (still my spirit guide), then with Don D’Auria at Samhain, then everything came full circle as that first book with Skipp was re-printed with a rad cover and I’m on this list and oh my god I need to go lay down it was a big night.

Huge thanks to Mr. Keene.

*Whoa, bookstores in malls! Remember that? Ever notice how the spot that used to be the Waldenbooks in your mall is, like, cursed now? Mine was a Journeys shoes for a hot minute. I think it’s now an As-Seen-On-TV money laundering front.

** Yup, both crime writers, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that you’ve got to diversify your genre reading, yo!

Follow Adam as we do ……at his website!! Or look for him on all those social media places you know and love.

Smashing Spirits in the Face with HOUSEBOUND (2014) – Adam Cesare

housebound

In its two hour runtime, Gerard Johnstone���s Housebound has a lot of plot, a lot of ideas, a robust cast of characters, and a lot of gags (both of the splattery and ha-ha varieties, sometimes with significant spillover). This density is part of what makes it a great, refreshing film, but it���s also what makes it a hard film to discuss without spoiling.

The story takes several unexpected digressions, each of them feeling like a riff on a different sub-genre. While never feeling disjointed, this is still a film that can accurately be said to evokePoltergeist, The People Under the Stairs, and Peter Jackson���s early splatschtick (probably a hacky comparison that every blogger has made, this being a New Zealand production, but not a comparison that���s untrue. In a few shots the blood even has that Dead-Alive pinkness to it, something in the water, maybe?).

Possibly the best, spoilerphobic, way to describe the film is as the ultimate skeptic���s haunted house movie.

The film starts with a botched ATM robbery and concerns a twenty-something screw-up (Morgana O’Reilly) who is court-ordered to (haunted?) house arrest with her kooky mother (Rima Te Wiata) and step-father. While stuck there she does some investigating into the house���s mysterious past. That���s about all the plot synopsis we need to get into.

Housebound is keenly aware of horror tropes and at constant work to subvert them. Take for instance our protagonist. Kylie (O’Reilly, who���s wonderful here) doesn���t hide from threats, she attacks them head on. On paper Kylie may sound reminiscent of You���re Next���s cunningly competent Erin (Sharni Vinson), but this being a straight-up horror-comedy, Kylie���s agency blows right past ���strong��� and into the realm of ���pathologically aggressive.��� This virtue/flaw is fun, and even something another character comments on late in the film.

The subversion of horror clich��s doesn���t stop with the characters and their upheaval of archetypes, sometimes a joke is made out of strict adherence to clich��s. There���s a great bit right near the climax of the film where the pace halts so Kylie���s psychiatrist can define ���dissociative personality disorder.��� It���s a scene we���ve seen so many times that its inclusion in a film as savvy as Housebound (and where it’s located)becomes something that made me laugh out loud.

It���s important to note that while a comedy, Housebound is not a parody. What sets it apart from something like Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil or Cabin in the Woods (both movies I like a lot, so don���t take that as a dismissal) is that Housebound���s aware of horror tropes, but its comedy and plot is not shackled to them. The film is never too in-jokey, never does disservice to the story or characters in order to service something ���meta���, and never feels like a movie your friends who aren���t ���into��� horror wouldn���t get.

The film���s broader slyness is perfectly encapsulated in the character of Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), Kylie���s personal rent-a-cop security detail and, it turns out, a paranormal investigator in his spare time. It would be easy for the film to treat Amos like a total joke, and the first scene where he whips out his tape recorder and tries to sweep the house for EVP is very funny in a ���get a load of this guy��� kinda way. But Johnstone grants Amos a usefulness, sweetness, and competency that it���s hard to give real-life reality show ���ghost hunters��� (even if the film is totally against the idea that the cosmic mysteries of the universe will somehow be cracked wide open by a bunch of guys with chinstraps and cassette tapes).

Are there some jokes that don���t land? Some moments that clunk? Certainly, but what���s remarkable in a film that feels this quietly ambitious is how much of the material works. And for adebut feature to have this much going for it, I can���t wait to see what Johnstone does next.

See it before the (already announced) remake so you can feel superior.

P.S. Saw this while doing a little editorial research and it���s a pretty sick burn:

A lot of complaints about the Housebound remake are followed by a link where you can watch the film for free to see what the fuss it about.

— Gerard Johnstone (@GerardJohnstone) February 12, 2015

If it sounds up your alley (especially if you want the right to some guilt-free whining), drop the couple bucks to see the film legitimately.

P.P.S. Now that I say that I must say that ��I bought this via Xbox���s Xbox Video app (because it was slightly cheaper than Vudu, an app that seems to work fine) and the streaming was AWFUL. The service froze at key moments, the audio continuing, so I had to rewind several times. It really kills the momentum of a movie and if streaming is really the future of distribution these services have got to sort crap like this out.

Then, to doubly kick myself, I saw that the movie was already out on blu-ray (as an amazon retailer exclusive, which is a new one on me) for just a couple bucks more than my sub-par digital purchase. If you���re going to go the route of buying over renting: go with the disc. Support physical media because streaming is the devil.

Take My Wife, Please

Adam Cesare’s Blog

Take My Wife, Please: HONEYMOON (2014)

honeymoon-quad

A lot of modern films, sometimes much to their detriment in a Screenplay 101 kinda way, take��Chekhov’s rifle��extremely literally.

But few films display the discipline that Leigh Janiak’s��Honeymoon��does while turning everysingle prop introduced before the 45-minute mark into its own Chekhov’s rifle, poised to explode in the second half without the audience knowing quite where it will fit in.

Rope? That’s going to get some use. The idiosyncratic call-and-answer pet-name the protagonists repeat? That comes back. The camcorder? Double yup, both for its form and for its expositional content. The skewer used to cook s’mores?

Not even s’mores are sacred in Janiak’s world.

All of this planting and revisiting is necessary, because the best way to describe��Honeymoon��without spoiling it is that: it’s a horror movie that’s fond of sci-fi but it likes to use the native language of the mystery to communicate.

Wait, that was all confusing, let me start again.

Every horror fan likes to whine, but they���re not often specific��enough when they do their whining to effect change.

Well then, you ask: I���m a horror fan, so what���s my biggest problem with genre cinema, even when you get to its more edgy and indie fringes?

Answer: I���m annoyed by horror���s propensity for using the most broad-based, over-used fears to work with. I think that whole ���find a universal fear to exploit so everyone can relate��� tactic is garbage.

Fear of the dark, claustrophobia, fear of the ���other��� (whether they be bumpkins or whatever), fear of histrionic bodily harm. Those fears all get a lot of play and it’s not that Honeymoondoesn’t touch on any of them, it does, but those aren’t the main interest.

Fear of intimacy? Fear of commitment? Fear of starting a family? Fear of second-level betrayal, a violation of who you thought someone you loved was? Those are the kind of paranoia deep-cuts that don���t get a lot of play in modern horror cinema. What Leigh Janiak (who not only directs but co-writes Honeymoon) understands is that specificity does not always upend relate-ability.

I am not married, but I understand getting into a fight with my girlfriend. I have not had the displeasure of discovering my girlfriend cold��and lost in the Canadian wilderness, but I can understand that sick double-edged sword of fearing for both her vulnerability and possible culpability in the act. And that���s what a well-made, confident film can do: it can use the emotions its audience has experienced as analogues for the emotions it hasn���t.

Why am I being so vague and so wordy when talking about Honeymoon? Well, mostly because I���m such a spoilerphobe that I don���t think I���m capable of discussing the specifics ofHoneymoon���s plot without completely giving up the ending.

Honeymoon is a movie that would lose all power, may even fall prey to being called ���predictable��� if it wasn���t capable of subverting your expectations. But subvert expectations it does, even with its��first line of dialogue.

Honeymoon is the rare horror film where the actors are tasked with doing most��of the heavy-lifting. Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie are not only the stars of��Honeymoon: they are the only actors on screen for 98% of the film.

What���s interesting about these stars is how I (and I���m guessing a lot of other American viewers) perceive them before the movie begins.

These are two of the most British/Scottish actors I can think of. Leslie rose to prominence in a supporting, but memorable, role in Downton Abbey, but later traded in her maid���s uniform for furs when she moved beyond The Wall to join the Free Folk as Ygritte on Game of Thrones. Likewise, Treadaway plays Victor Frankenstein in Showtime���s (unbelievably good, so much better than its premise should allow) Penny Dreadful.

Picking up the Blu-ray and looking at the above-the-title stars, I just assumed that Honeymoon was a British movie, one of those flicks that is prefaced as having been ���awarded funds from the National Lottery.” That British-ness brings with it a surfeit of preconceptions. I was prepared for some folk horror, maybe some Hammer/Amicus-tinged Gothic melodrama.

But the film’s not British and doesn’t fall into either of those catagories, it���s a movie about Americans (Brooklynites, at least for Treadaway���s character, Paul) who go honeymooning in a remote lakeside cabin in Canada.

It���s that kind of displacement that starts a movie that has, at its core, a “are you really the person I married?” mindfuck. So touch��, film, I officially don���t know whether I���m supposed to criticize your star���s accents or not. Their inconsistencies (and even a few egregious ADR inserts) could very well be part of the text, could be what Janiak wants. But even that stuff doesn’t matter because, whether it’s the performances or the script, I buy Leslie and Treadaway as a couple.

If any of the stuff above sounds at all like I didn���t like Honeymoon:��it shouldn’t. I enjoyed this movie as a whole and loved the last fifteen minutes so damn much. In fact, it���s one of those movies I���m really sad I was asleep at the wheel for its theatrical/VOD release, because it has a handful of stylistic and thematic links with Starry Eyes, so much so that would I really have to think about which movie I prefer.

Many debut feature films��feel like debut features. Even when they’re great that greatness often feels like it’s carrying an asterisk. They have indulgent dialogue, deep flaws in logic, and stylistic flourishes that have to be overlooked as soon as the director makes a newer, superior film, but here Leigh Janiak has made a movie that doesn���t possess any of those blemishes. She���s honedHoneymoon into a sharp one hour and twenty seven-minute blade, a blade that’ll make audiences feel the shock of its body horror (easier, when the gag is right) and the sting of loss (a much more advanced maneuver).

Without spoiling it: damn are a few of those last bits good.

View more on Adam Cesare’s website »

 

Coming this Year….

Here are the contracted Limited Editions for 2015 in no certain order:

Jagger by Kristopher Rufty (order now)

Adrift by K.R. Griffiths

The Summer Job by Adam Cesare

Companions in Ruin by Mark Allan Gunnells

Scavengers by Nate Southard

Episodes of Violence by David Bernstein

Untitled Prequel to Survivor by J.F. Gonzales w/Wrath James White & Brian Keene

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