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Quint at Fantasia FF reviews Thai anthology horror flick Phobia 2 and doc Herschell Gordon Lewis - The Godfather of Gore!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here playing catch up a little. I’ve seen 6 films since the last Fantasia write-up covering the opening night of the festival. I’m going to cover two of them here, one a Thai anthology horror flick and the other a documentary on Herschell Gordon Lewis of Blood Feast fame.

Phobia 2 is a follow-up to a fairly inconsequential anthology film. The first one didn’t work very well, in my opinion, but I’m a sucker for horror anthologies. I guess I find there’s little risk and a lot of reward with these kinds of films. You’re going to get 4 or 5 stories from different filmmakers, so the odds are there’s going to be something good and if they suck, well at least they’re only 20-ish minutes each. There are five stories in Phobia 2 and of those five 2 of them are great, 2 of them are okay and one is mediocre.

The mediocre story, Novice, kicks off the movie. This tale of Karma in overdrive ends really strongly and has some nice tension, but there’s some incredibly cheap CG animation that kind of deflates the suspense. The story follows a troubled teen who is left with a bunch of monks who happen to be in the middle of worshipping “the hungry ghosts” of the forest. The kid, of course, breaks some of the traditions and stumbles across the ghosts one night. They’re depicted as tree-like with shaggy white hair, but they looked like PS2 effects, which counteracted all the good sound design and framing that was genuinely making me tense up. With a brutal and bleak ending this segment redeems itself a bit, but if it had played later in the film it would have felt like a dip in quality.

The second segment is called Ward and is a hospital horror flick as a cocky young guy is recovering from a motorcycle accident and is put in a room with an old, braindead guy with a ton of a crazy occult tattoos all over his body. Naturally this dude isn’t as braindead as he seems, with the ability to project his being in the room to torment this poor kid. I wouldn’t say this is a particularly strong segment, either, but there is some effective atmosphere and a likeable central performance. The ending goes into Rosemary’s Baby territory and plays a bit cheesy.

The third segment is called Backpackers and is flat out fantastic. This segment reminded me so much of what a modern Tales From the Crypt episode would be. You have a classic sleight of hand premise… Japanese hitchhikers are picked up by a truck driver and his young associate who seems nervous to pick up these kids. Shortly after the pick-up, the driver gets a call and just starts screaming into the phone, all charm gone. Then something starts banging around in the container behind the cab. The noise stops and so does the truck. The drivers get out and open up the back of the truck to reveal at least three dozen dead bodies. What made this really feel Tales From the Cryptish to me was that the filmmakers focus your attention on the Japanese tourists slowly becoming aware that they might be in some bad company and while you’re looking at that, one of the corpses sits up and it becomes a completely different movie. Very well done, very cool and very effective. I actually thought this was the end of the movie because the segment was so strong I couldn’t imagine not closing with it, but I got one more good story and one more great story.

The fourth segment is called Salvage, which is another tale of karma as a young mother and owner of a used car lot loses her son. You see, this lady buys wrecks, repaints them and resells them as slightly used. Imagine a used car lot full of Christines and you start to get an idea where this one is going except instead of cars being possessed they’re more haunted by those that died in the wreckage. Throw in a little Poltergeist and you have the DNA of this story. The owner’s son disappears in the large lot and as she searches for him she runs into ghost after ghost… my favorite being the kid ghost tucked up into the wheel-well. None of them are happy and are presented much like the ghosts in The Sixth Sense. The whole segment escalates to a pitch black ending that is kind of fucking ridiculous, but it’s effective.

Then the fifth and final, titled In the End, hits and really carried us out of the theater with smiles on our faces. It’s kind of a horror spoof, but smarter and more fun than all the Scary Movies and all but the first Scream films. This segment focuses on a film crew making a horror movie. When one of the actresses, playing a long haired pale ghost, falls sick the movie shuts down. She is taken to the hospital and we are told she dies there. Suddenly she shows back up, looking even more sinister in her make-up, wanting to finish her part. It’s her first movie and she wants to finish it. The AD, the sound guy and a camera operator play our Scooby Doo like team that find out that she’s dead and realize the only way to get rid of her is to film her final scene. In the End is hilarious, poking fun at genre (we see the director get a good take with the lead actress, tell her to do more and then see the actress go radically over the top, which he thinks is perfect), poking fun at J-horror (“Why did we go through the trouble of putting make-up on her, then?” the AD asks when the director demands the ghost’s long black hair cover her entire face as she crawls on the floor) and at the industry itself (the lead actress is talking about how bad this movie is right up until the behind the scenes camera comes up and she gives a canned “This is such a great script, great people to work with” interview). It’s just smart and fun. A real crowd-pleaser. So, you have probably the best made segment, Backpackers, in the middle, a strong horror segment, Salvage, bridging that one to In the End, the most fun of the whole movie. Much, much better than the first. If you get a chance to catch the flick at a festival or DVD I very much recommend it even if it’s just for the two fantastic sequences.

Now, I’m not going to spend too much time on this one. For one, I feel very conflicted about writing anything on it since I had to leave to try to make the midnight movie about 5 minutes before the end of the film. I don’t believe I can give a full review since I didn’t see the entire product. Had this been a feature film I wouldn’t be mentioning it at all, but I feel a documentary, especially one like this which is just chronicling a filmmaker’s work, has a little more leeway than a narrative feature. Also, I’m not a massive Herschell Gordon Lewis fan to be completely honest. One thing I really liked about this doc, though, is that HG Lewis doesn’t think he’s important or a real filmmaker either. I’ve seen Blood Feast, 2000 Maniacs, The Wizard of Gore and the Gore Gore Girls. I actually want to see Gruesome Twosome after watching this doc, but yeah… I respect what he did, that he was the first to bring gore to movie screens, but his movies are frankly shitty. The acting, the direction, the effects… it’s all Ed Wood level, but unlike certain German filmmakers trying to capture the same namesake at least Lewis was first. And between Lewis and David Friedman we at least get a feeling that these guys were trying to make entertainment that pushed the envelope. And push product, of course, but they weren’t willing to settle for the norm. So, I give them both respect for that and even more respect that neither of them hold themselves up as important or great filmmakers. There’s nothing worse than someone who makes shit that feels like he’s the next Spielberg. I see that day in and day out at festivals. Overall, I felt the doc was a bit reverential of its subject, but that’s to be expected. I can’t really fault them for it, but it did start feeling like a greatest hits puff piece around the middle of the film. There are some really solid interviews throughout, especially from Joe Bob Briggs and Jon Waters, but about the time they hit 2000 Maniacs the movie started losing me. Instead of keeping the theme of exploring each film with those who made it and those who were impacted by them the filmmakers started getting cute and started intercutting Friedman and HG Lewis revisiting the town they shot 2000 Maniacs in with the film itself. It felt forced to me. This is the kind of doc that you see on Netflix Instant and you give it a whirl. You can walk away knowing more about HG Lewis and learn a little something about the pre-ratings system and feel happy, but I don’t know if I’d say this is a doc that must get theatrical distribution. It has kind of a niche audience and for that audience this is a fun time, but it doesn’t really stand out. That’s two movies down. I have a fun Greek Zombie movie review coming up as well as my coverage of what I see today, which begins with a killer tire movie that was a big hit at Cannes called Rubber! -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

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