On face value Superhost begins by focusing on insipidly vacuous couple Claire (Sara Canning – The Vampire Diaries) and Teddy (Osric Chau – Supernatural) are unbearably false and vain, which is the point right? But as the story unfolds there are glimpses of their former selves, prior to the burning desire to boost their social ratings.
Claire’s and Teddy are a duo travel vloggers who spend their time residing in airbnb’s and promoting their thoughts of the locations and more importantly their hosts online.
Worried that their numbers and fanbase appear to be dwindling they start to up the ante in how to turn around their bad fortune.
So at their next location, when things appear to be hitting a dull point, they encounter more than they bargain for, but is it from the psychotic former host, Vera (Barbara Crampton – Re-Animator) from a previous location that they stayed at leaving unfavourable reviews? Or will it be the slightly off-kilter host Rebecca (Gracie Gillam – Fright Night) from their current place of stay?
Director Brandon Christensen (Still/Born; Z) much like his previous films manages to generate some genuinely cool moments. Here it is notably enhanced by the performances from Crampton and Gillam, but the end result is a mediocre affair and doesn’t generate much of a flicker outside of originality.
There’s enough here to entertain but not necessarily to stimulate.
For his sophomore outing in the director’s chair, Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) he serves a refreshing take of the vampire tale through the lens of a middle-aged couple who have lost their zest for life. Anne (Barbara Crampton – Re-Animator), the titular character has been playing the role of the dutiful pastor’s wife in a small rural town for the past thirty years, bottling up her emotions and constantly under the shadow of male oppression. This is exactly how the nosferatu preys on this weakness, hunger for new victims or brides to bring into her fold.
Pastor Jakob (Larrey Fessenden – The House of the Devil) is equally lost in his world. Set in his ways and with no real vocation, he has succumbed to the rituals that his position has provided to him.
When tempted by an old flame, Anne falls into seduction and it awakens a dormant part of her life. This too coincides with the arrival of the Master (Bonnie Aarons – The Nun) and soon she begins to pick apart the remnants of the town.
Anne reaches a crucial crossroads in her life… choose her existing life, give-in to the darkness, or find a way through turmoil and create a new path of her own.
In many ways, Jakob’s Wife defies the stereotype of middle-aged life where Stevens presents the world as a slow-paced, dull exposition, but as soon as the first kill happens, this world and our expectations get suddenly thrust onto its head. With every kill that follows, there is no holding back and the blood pours forth to the extreme. This choice in direction is what keeps us engaged and coupled with his two leads in Crampton and Fassenden, we’re provided with some depth to the extreme circumstances with some dry humour to make sure we stay tuned in.
It’s a painfully slow start and I thought that it was going to drag, but it then suddenly unleashes with a lot of fury.
While it struggles to keep the momentum going, Jakobs’ Wife inflicts enough torment to satisfy and keep you engaged with a peppering of decent humour to boot.
Jakob’s Wife streams on Shudder from Thursday, August 19th.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, January 16, 2019 – MidWest WeirdFest announces its first programming wave for 2019 today. The third annual festival – a cinematic celebration of all things fantastic, frightening, offbeat, and just plain weird – takes place March 8-10, 2019 at the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
“This year’s fest line-up is set to delight fans of cutting edge horror, sci-fi, underground, and documentary cinema”, says festival founder and programming director Dean Bertram. “We’ve put together a heady and eclectic mix of speculative genre offerings, underground strangeness, and paranormal revelations: From a psychedelic Manson Family reimagining and a post-apocalyptic dance-off epic, through tales about a reanimated electrokinetic teenager, haunted stoners, and inept buddy superheroes, to a bonkers lake monster adventure and the most in-depth Bigfoot documentary ever produced. And that’s just from MidWest WeirdFest’s first programming wave of 2019!”
Discounted festival passes are now on sale at: www.midwestweirdfest.com. Individual tickets to each film will go on sale closer to the festival; both on the fest’s website, and directly from the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Full program details and filmmaker guests will be revealed in February.
The first seven feature films announced follow:
FP 2: BEATS OF RAGE (director: Jason Trost)
Despite hanging up his boots following the events of the cult classic “THE FP”, JTRO must return to the blood sport of Beat-Beat Revelation one last time. JTRO and KCDC – his mystical hype man – will quest deep into The Wastes, a land decimated by the Beat Wars, to compete in the ancient Beat-Beat tournament, called “Beats of Rage”, face AK-47, and, hopefully, save the world. Imagine a MAD MAX style future, where battles to the death are fought via the video game Dance Dance Revolution, and you might have an inkling of the crazy and hilarious post-apocalyptic world of THE FP.
THE INVISIBLE MOTHER (directors: Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman)
When lesbian stoner Marcy returns to her grandparents’ home to help care for her mentally declining grandmother, she discovers they are being terrorized by a malevolent force from a Victorian post-mortem photograph. THE INVISBLE MOTHER is a giallo-styled, terrifying descent into supernatural terror.
LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER (director: Ryland Tews)
The eccentric Captain Seafield hires a crew of specialists to help him plot revenge against the creature that killed his father. After several failed attempts, Seafield is forced to take matters into his own drunken hands. What began as a simple case of man verses beast, soon turns into a rabbit hole of mysterious unknowns and Lovecraftian hijinks. LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER — banned in four lakes!
THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS (director: Lonnie Martin)
Convinced there’s more to the Manson murders than meets the public eye, 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. What he finds could change how the world sees the 60s… if he lives long enough to tell the story. A riveting, speculative, and psychedelic journey into one of the darkest byways of 1960s Americana.
ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT (director: Seth Breedlove)
From Small Town Monsters, and MidWest WeirdFest alumni filmmaker Seth Breedlove (THE MOTHAN OF POINT PLEASANT, THE BRAY ROAD BEAST), comes this enthralling documentary examining the history of the Bigfoot phenomenon. ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT was filmed coast to coast during 2018 and features witnesses and investigators of the elusive creature. Prepare to go deeper into the Bigfoot subject than you’ve ever gone before.
REBORN (director: Julian Richards)
A stillborn baby girl is brought back to life by a morgue attendant using electrokinetic power. On her sixteenth birthday she escapes her captor and sets out to find her birth mother leaving a trail of destruction behind her. Don’t miss this stunning modern twist on 70s and 80s horror classics like CARRIE, FIRESTARTER, and THE FURY. Stars genre legends Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR, BEYOND THE GATES) and Michael Parle (STREETS OF FIRE, THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT).
ZEROES (director: Charles Smith)
After leaving a Halloween party dressed as ninjas, Kenneth and Ray – two drunken roommates – thwart a robbery and their heroics go viral. No litterer or public urinator is safe until an actual serial killer begins to ravage the city. Our inept crime-fighting duo, with the help of the enigmatic and insanely wealthy Gary, must catch the killer before Kenneth’s crush Kate becomes the next target. Hilarity abounds in this superhero spoof.
When Gunnar Hansen of Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame wrote and pitched a who’s who of horror films pitted in a hellish place forming a macabre version of The Expendables, it would be a genre fans’ wet dream. The very idea of Jason aka Kane Hodder sharing the same screen as Tony Todd (Candyman), and Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects) along with the queens of horror, Dee Wallace and Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) would leave them salivating at the prospect at what could be an Uber-scare factory. What we do get is a lot of piss and wind in a lacklustre affair that never measures up to its promise.
Before I start lambasting this film though, I do want to focus on the positives. The very premise of staging a prison break containing some of the most vicious criminals known to mankind housed in a state of the art vicinity, which placates to the criminals whims in virtual space whilst using real victims from the homeless and deprived smacks of genius. It projects a utopian world that humanity could easily travel down if there were no morals or guiding principles attached.
Kane Hodder delivers to a tee and never falters from his iconic presence in front of the camera as the lead antagonist Sieg as he steers those fallen from grace further down into the pit of the jail system – level nine, a place where the five evils preside in a nod to Dante’s Inferno.
Equally Dee Wallace proves once again that she can offer intelligence, vulnerability, and apathy in her character, Dr. Eileen Fletcher and is always a welcome presence on screen.
And full props to Director Harrison Smith who saw fit to carry out Hansen’s vision in his honour, gifting him also with an on-screen presence in holographic form as the father to one of the prison inmates, Leatherlace, which was a nice touch.
And lets not forget those delectable sultry tones from Adrienne Barbeau as the narrator of the movie…
Sorry. Where was I?
Ah yes, all these elements are enough to keep you engaged, at least for a while. Even the strange dark arts that are heavily present throughout adds a decent hook to an intriguing narrative, but those who delve into Death House may find it a struggle as the further down the rabbit hole we go, the more far-fetched and ridiculous the concept goes.
And that’s where it starts to lose me. It doesn’t help that our two lead protagonists, Agents Novak and Boon who are so two-dimensional that not even their strange deep and meaningful conversation about how they became Agents whilst casually sharing a unisex shower cubicle can generate even a twinkle of interest… well, maybe. Which is a shame, because you want to be vested in their journey, but you really don’t care.
This is clearly an attempt to ignite the passion that fans of horror through the 80’s and early 90’s by grouping some favourites of the genre together. Whilst the premise did provide a decent hook, the journey leaves you floundering and left adrift without much care to its conclusion. A lost opportunity.
There are some films where the director and writer make choices that make you go: “These guys are invested. They are deliberate. They are proper film-makers, and they know what they’re doing”.
And then sometimes you realise “nope – it really was an elephant with a paint brush all along”.
And that was exactly what went through my mind when I watched Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Or Puppet Master 23 (or whatever number the franchise is up to now).
Although it IS easy to mock such a long-lived series, it does play on a sort of primeval fear of being sliced by a small sharp blade moving very quickly (and in this case – where the “monster” stands at a foot tall, it has to do a LOT of fast slicing). But that’s pretty much it for the scares.
As a horror fest it very much falls into the gore category – and not a lot of it clever. In fact, some of it is pretty tasteless in a “I bet you believed this was hardcore when you thought of it, but it’s really pretty effing stupid. And your execution is even worse” kind of way.
The movie does start off with an earnest attempt at dialogue between characters where the acting is decent and the direction very considered – everyone gets their own clean shot all the way through, no dirty frames or unnecessary camera movement.
But then you realise they are not being minimalist, they’re just being frickin’ basic.
Starring Thomas Lennon (a perennial “oh THAT guy” actor if there ever was one) as Edgar – a recently divorced lead character who decides to sell a creepy doll he finds in his recently deceased brother’s bedroom. You assume the brother was killed in the previous film, but it’s hard to tell as the order in which the films have been released don’t go in a linear in-film timeline. Plus, some of the sequels are considered “non-canon” and others re-boots…
Anyway – Edgar – a 45-year-old comic book artist is soon pursued by incredibly hot twenty something girl-next-door archetype Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), because if these films can’t be the deluded projections of middle-aged straight men, why make them? (We also get to see her breasts in a make out scene later, so in case you had any doubts…)
Together Edgar, Ashley and the best friend character – played by Nelson Franklin – go to a puppet convention to try and sell their doll at a hotel that was the site of a notorious Nazi murderer getting shot by police for reasons I can’t really remember (because – upon rewind – it wasn’t explained…)
Anyway, from there all the puppets come to life and blah blah blah, you can guess the rest. At one point one of the characters suggests to all the surviving hotel patrons (after the initial puppet attack) that they split up and lock themselves in their various hotel rooms until the authorities arrive. Not only did the writer write that, he also had every character think it was a good idea…
The movie also has great slabs of missing moments that forces you to fill in the blanks, NOT in a cool “we’re challenging the audience to be engaged” sort of way, but because the film-makers have no idea how to make a movie. Or they ran out of money. Or both.
Speaking of “oh that guy” moments – it also stars Michael Pare as a detective. For any child who grew up watching American film & TV in the 70’s, he is Eddie from Eddie and the Cruisers and the John Travolta wannabe from The Greatest American Hero. Yes, that’s how old he is. He was trying to be a knock-off of Saturday Night Fever John Travolta, not Pulp Fiction John Travolta. Truth be told it was his voice that gave him away. Although his face has had some pretty good work, considering he’s older than Tom Cruise!
Speaking of which Barbara Crampton is also in the film, who is no stranger to 80’s B-grade horror flicks, and appears to be making something of a comeback of late with this movie, Replace, and Beyond the Gates.
The Littlest Reich is a 90 minute stretch you won’t get back, unless you’re into gore for gore’s sake, or teenagers wanting to have a sleepover/video night.
Apart from that – if you’re a fan of dolls in horror – be sure to check out the excellent podcast on the subject which can be found here!