The Battery (2012)

NOVEMBER 16, 2013


I'm about to shower a lot of praise on The Battery, but if you're a longtime reader or just know me personally, here's the most significant: I was happy to leave a Halloween convention early in order to see the film. That's pretty big; you know I live and breathe Halloween, and I could have even hosted another panel if I stuck around (incidentally, the scheduled moderator was at the same screening), but after raves from my friend AJ (and a positive review from Evan at Badass) I knew I'd regret missing the chance to watch the film with a crowd, and so off I went, missing some Hallo-fun (and a party) to sit in a folding chair and watch a projected Blu-ray... and I loved every minute of it.

If anything I should be pissed; a while back I wrote out an idea for a stripped down zombie movie that was closer to Cast Away than to Dawn of the Dead, and if I were to ever get it made (yeah, right) the first review would probably say "Rips off The Battery". But that's fine, writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner probably did it better than I would (well, I wouldn't have starred or directed, but you know what I mean), because he has the patience to stick to character instead of going for zombie action whenever things might get "slow" in the traditional sense. With only two people in the movie for the most part (the film has opening credits that spoil that won't always be the case - I wish they had gone without opening titles so it would have been more of a surprise when someone else shows up), it's not like much action SHOULD happen - after all there's little chance either of them will be offed until the movie's almost over (if then), so it wouldn't be very suspenseful to have them trying to outrun a horde of zombies.

And yes, they're zombies. The good (read: slow) kind, and the characters know what zombies are and will use the word when appropriate. It's one of many things that makes this feel like a much more realistic film than most z-territory; they're not oblivious to what the things could be (when the film opens, headshots seem to have been figured out, if not already known off the bat), nor are they in a hyper-realized version of the world and quoting Romero (or Wright/Pegg) to (over)sell the idea that this is not a "movie" universe. Nope, it goes down exactly as it might if you or I were among the last of the living and rarely facing immediate threat from the undead. The backstory of how the zombies came to be isn't explained, but it seems that the zombie numbers aren't much greater than that of the human race - it's not until the end that we see more than 1-2 at a time.

As a result, this allows for a lot of "hanging out". The two characters, Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) are a pair of baseball players who are just sort of roaming around Connecticut in their station wagon, stopping for supplies when necessary but otherwise never setting up a home base. We learn that they were shacked up in a house but became surrounded by zombies and trapped for days, and thus now they approach it like they are sharks: if they stop moving, they'll die. This allows the scenery to change up a lot, but also works as a throwaway explanation for why they're not in danger all that often, giving them a chance to play catch, go apple picking, or just hang out drinking beers and (in Mickey's case) listening to a Discman. There's a truly hilarious bit where Ben pretends to be a zombie creeping up on the plugged-in (and thus deaf) Mickey that serves as a perfect example as the kind of character-based humor that the film excels at, something that's often missing entirely from most modern zombie films, which are usually more concerned with new ways of killing the damn things than making sure we care about the guy holding the makeshift hammer or whatever the hell.

This low-key approach makes the 3rd act stuff work even better than it would if it came at the end of a typical NOTLD wannabe (mild spoilers ahead!). Rather than the usual "Characters find key to salvation, have to overcome insurmountable odds to secure it" or "There's a boat/chopper/jet/whatever waiting and we have until x o clock to get there!" run n gun finale, the two heroes find themselves trapped in their car, surrounded on all sides by zombies with the keys somewhere in the bushes outside. For a while, the sequence plays as the rest of the film does - they just sort of hang out, passing the time until the zombies leave or they simply die from thirst or starvation, with the undead (lightly) banging the windows 24 hours a day (they're in there for a few days). Finally, one character decides to make another attempt at finding the keys, and rather than go with him for what would probably be an exciting little action sequence, we stay on the one who remained in the car. I might be wrong but I think it's one long 7-8 minute shot as he waits for his friend to return, agonizing over every sound, desperate to find something to occupy his mind... it's an astonishingly great scene.

So how can you see this film? Well, being an indie without traditional distribution as of yet (something that baffles me; it's been on the festival circuit for about a year now), you can actually buy a digital download of it for a mere 5 bucks from the director himself. You can, and should, do that HERE. I've paid more than that to rent a film on demand, so to OWN it and watch however times you like even after a stupid 24 hour window has expired is a pretty great deal for any movie, let alone one as good as this. Big thanks to Elric and the Jumpcut Cafe for hosting the screening, and to AJ for giving it a loving intro despite being sick. I am truly impressed, and eagerly wait Gardner's next film.

What say you?


The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

OCTOBER 30, 2013


Due to travel, work, and other engagements, I only managed to make it to my good friend Phil Blankenship's month-long United States of Horror series twice this past month. Once was for Carnival of Souls, which I thought I had already reviewed here but never did (and now I'd need to watch again to do it right, so oh well), and the other was for The Brotherhood of Satan, which I had never even heard of and went knowing perfectly well I'd fall asleep thanks to a long, nap-free work day. Sure enough, I was dozing before the first reel had even finished, and kept going in and out throughout, but Youtube/Crackle came to the rescue, offering up a seemingly legal stream on Youtube (it had ad breaks, and Crackle's legit - right?) that allowed me to rewatch what I missed (and get a better sense of what was happening in the scenes I didn't).

But of course, you can't take that as a critique of the movie's quality; it IS a bit slow but it's a fine entry in the 70's Satanic Horror sub-genre, offering up some great kills, loads of creepiness, and a grim ending that left me even more impressed. Also, somewhat hilariously, it's kind of a ripoff of Manos, with a couple and their daughter driving through the Southwest and ending up the victims of a devil cult led by a dude with silly wardrobe (and, again, grim ending). Obviously, it's SLIGHTLY better than that masterpiece, since the filmmakers knew what they were doing and had crazy fancy things like sync sound and a couple of professional actors at their disposal. Obviously Rosemary's Baby was the other big influence (OK, Manos was probably coincidental), as nearly all supernaturally-tinged movies of this era would be until The Exorcist came along and allowed greedy producers to mix and match as they saw fit.

The supernatural element is a rather original one, and I'm pretty sure is unique to this film save for maybe a couple moments in Dolls - the folks are killed by giant sized versions of toys. So a kid's GI Joe-ish tank turns full-sized and crushes a car full of randoms, a figurine of a knight on a horse is suddenly big enough to really lop off a guy's head, etc. Due to budgetary limitations we don't actually see how this process completely works, but we get the gist and it's pretty clever, as is the overall plot, which takes a while to start becoming clear. At first it's the standard "hero ends up in weird town, isn't welcome, tries to escape, gets stuck there..." type movie, but with all these weird toy scenes and other oddities serving to intrigue while letting us know that it's not the usual gang of inbred cannibals or whatever (of course, it's 1971, so there was no Texas Chainsaw to rip off yet, but you know what I mean). I won't spoil it other than to say Tommy Wirkola must have seen the film, as he seemingly lifted one of its plot points in Witch Hunters.

Adding to the creepiness is the very matter-of-fact approach director Bernard McEveety takes with the material. He adds a bit of flair to the kill scenes and lets his actors go into camp-mode on those occasions, but otherwise everyone is unsettlingly down-to-earth about their devil business. The leader, played by Strother Martin, is almost TOO gentle with his deliveries (he reminded me a bit of James Karen, in fact - not exactly the scariest guy in the world), though on the flipside it makes his dialogue easier to digest - if he was shouting that sort of gibberish in a scary voice the movie would completely derail. But on that note, it had a very specific rhythm and pattern to it, leading me to believe that it was indeed actual Satanic text being spoken and not just made-up movie nonsense. We see a few "church" scenes and it all seemed very genuine to me, as if I could match it up to the equivalent portions of a Catholic mass. "Oh, this is a sermon. This is like their Communion. This is like the part where we all shake hands and say 'Peace be to you'..." I'm sure that no part of the Church of Satan involves turning Tonka Trucks into deadly weapons, but they almost definitely at least STARTED with legitimate text.

I do wish the pace was tightened JUST a bit. Shooting things so matter of factly may add some creepiness to the scenes where folks casually murder one another, but it robs the film of any real tension otherwise. Messiah Of Evil came to mind (70s, cult, town, uh... saw it at Cinefamily...), and I couldn't help but think of that film's standout sequences and how they'd stick with you when they were over, keeping you tense until the next one - this doesn't really have anything much like that. The father also becomes sort of a bystander in his own movie after awhile, robbing us of our surrogate for chunks at a time. It gives the film a loose feel that some might like, but considering how it ends up I can't help but think it'd be an even stronger film if it kept the dad front and center more often.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed it, and am surprised it's relatively obscure - even my devil/witch movie obsessed friend Sam Zimmerman hadn't seen it. But this had a benefit - due to never being played, the print was IMMACULATE; seriously one of the best 35mm prints I've seen at a revival. It's not unlikely that this movie would end up on a budget set someday (if it's not already) and that would be how I saw it for the first time; all scratched up on some cropped transfer from a VHS tape or something. So thanks, Phil!

What say you?


Where The Hell Are You, BC?

My sincere apologies for the lack of updates in the past couple weeks (only one in the past 3!); not only was I busy with the usual Halloween-y activities around town, but then I went on a vacation (my first real one in 8 years) and also started a new column at Badass where I'm finally going through and watching all of The Twilight Zone. So, HMADs have been harder to make time for, which sucks because even though I "quit" I still don't want the site to become abandoned, and DO still intend to update 2-3 times a week for as long as I can.

So hopefully I can make good on that intention very soon; Grabbers is on Instant and that's one I've been wanting to see for a while, and of course there's always more Scream Factory stuff hitting. And, if all goes to plan, I'm going to revive my old tradition of watching Dawn of the Dead every Thanksgiving, and if so I'll finally write up a "non canon" review of that (spoiler: I love it). In the meantime, feel free to check out my appearance on the awesome RocketJump podcast, as I spend a good amount of time talking HMAD history and am surprised to discover that the host of the show worked on Bear, and even reads part of my review! I also took part in the same company's Futures podcast, which was a little more random in nature but equally as enjoyable for me to participate. Was truly honored to be on (the previous episode's guests were Key and Peele!), though I would prefer you LISTEN instead of watch since I'm all fidgety and such.

Reviews soon! I swear!


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