Friday, February 6, 2015

The Fine Art

The Fine Art is the second film from St. Louis director Eric Stanze. Stanze is most well known for his later efforts like Scrapbook and Ice From the Sun, while typically his first efforts Scare Game and The Fine Art have gotten lost with age falling into the obscurity that many low budget films from the VHS era succumbed to. His first two flicks were relatively short and got chopped up and released as a compilation tape which seems even harder to come by these days than the individual releases. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a copy of this a year or two ago but unfortunately still haven't managed to track down a copy of his first release.

The movie kicks off with Julie bugging her painter friend Val to go on a blind double date. Julie and her boyfriend back out leaving Val on her own to date the stranger. Luckily for Val despite her fear of how things will go the two of them hit it off very quickly. Before she knows it he is proclaiming his love for her and she is feeling much of the same. Things couldn't be more perfect, hell they even share a love for painting! Soon the two spend a romantic night together. Val wakes up before her new man and decides to venture through the house. She stumbles upon some of his paintings which consist of intense violent images of women freshly murdered.

Val reports back to her friend Julie and describes one of the paintings. Once she mentions one displaying a woman tied up to a road sign it rings a bell that shakes both of them to the core. About a year ago there was a local serial killer that was never caught. One of his victims was found hanging from a street sign on a nearby highway. The two hatch a plan to have Val sneak into his house while Julie keeps him busy at work. They've read up on the murders and upon breaking into his house all the paintings seem to match up perfectly. Val discovers that he has some loopholes to his murderous ways. Phil has his "rules" for these killings and he has them dialed down to a fine art. An art that in his mind simply cannot be broken. Now all Val needs to do is beat him at his own game.

Stanze would later become well known in horror circles for his very visceral style with titles like Scrapbook. Although it is far from fair to call him a one trick pony as a director. Over the years Stanze has managed to show off a wide variety of skills in tackling films with heavy atmosphere, gore, and strong surreal moments. The Fine Art is very low on gore. In fact, aside from the paintings gore in the film is nearly nonexistent. That being said the lack of on screen violence is completely made up for with a healthy dose of suspense. Surprisingly for such an early work in his career (apparently a student film according to the behind the scenes) this may very well be Stanze's most suspenseful movie to date. The plot is fairly simple but kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Most of the tension that kept me from drifting off into boredom can be attributed to the acting. Don't get me wrong there aren't any award winning performances present here but the small cast does a pretty damn good job.

Overall The Fine Art is a great flick that really shattered my expectations upon first viewing. The few people I had spoken with over the years that had seen this always have the complaint that it is VERY slow. While I can see why some people may feel this way I'd have to disagree. The plot trots right along pretty quickly and there isn't much unnecessary downtime. The runtime is a swift 54 minutes and it really flies by. I'd imagine most who didn't enjoy the film had more of a problem with the overall lack of gore rather than the pacing. I can recommend The Fine Art to anyone out there into low budget films and specifically Eric Stanze fans. I've always been a big fan of these shoestring budget horror flicks from the early 90's and this one is no exception. GET IT IF YOU CAN!

Monday, February 2, 2015

House of Forbidden Secrets


House of Forbidden Secrets is Todd Sheets big return to horror after going nearly a decade without releasing a film. After watching Spirits I was very pleasantly surprised that the two films tie together. House of Forbidden Secrets gives a deeper look into the tale of the brothel that was briefly touched on in Spirits. Where Spirits honed in on pure, unrelenting suspense, Forbidden Secrets brings the suspense, gore, atmosphere and a plot with almost as many turns as the labyrinth within it. 

It's Jacob's first day on the job as a security guard at the Shadowview Manor. He comes in for work and gets introduced to the colorful group of people who stay in the building after hours. One of which is a clairvoyant woman who does occasional séances for people in the building. Although Jacob is very superstitious about messing with the occult he joins in on the circle after a bit or peer pressure. The seance quickly goes awry when the medium begins to lose control and an entity begins to speak aggressively through her vessel. Upon awakening she can't remember anything about what happened. Luckily there was a small crew present to film the event. Shaken to the core the woman who the seance was performed for leaves in a hurry. Once in her car she is attacked by one of the many tortured souls that are inhabit the Shadowview Manors grounds.

Everyone involved in the seance is ready to evacuate the building but they soon realize that the spirits have other plans for them. With no way to escape they are trapped in this haunted house for the long haul. Due to the seance the veil that separates our world from another with terrifying otherworldly inhabitants has been spread paper thin and the sinister possibilities are endless. With the wall being broken our small group begins their hellish descent into the vicious past of the Shadowview Manor. Hideous events had taken place there in the 1930's back when the building was used as a brothel. The group finds themselves decreasing in numbers and encountering things that the eyes can't unsee. 

The Prince of Gore without a doubt shows his true colors here. RED! There's plenty of gore to be found within House of Forbidden Secrets. The face tearing and womb removing are just a few highlights that will without a doubt have gorehounds foaming at the mouth. The death scenes are just as gruesome if not more than they were in Sheets past efforts. If he keeps going at this pace on future films a knighting will be necessary. The film also has a star studded cast for those into classic cult flicks. A definite highlight would be Dyanne Throne (Ilsa!!). Not to mention other greats like Lew Temple and Llloyd Kaufman among others. Surprisingly Lew Temple plays quite a big part in this one. I was expecting a few minutes of screen time but he definitely exceeds that and delivers an excellent performance. The whole cast really delivers solid performances though. Even though the faces may not be familiar the grand majority of them seem pretty natural in front of the camera. 

This film is loaded with so many send-ups to classic horror movies. Some are extremely subtle while some are more upfront. Surely most die hard horror fans can pick up on most of them but I'm sure on repeat viewings I'll realize I missed some. Forbidden Secrets is a true to form love letter to the horror genre. The influence from Italian horror of the 70's and 80's shines through big time in the form of surreal lighting. The movie also sports a stunning score by the one and only Fabio Frizzi who reached legendary status from his extensive work with Lucio Fulci. This score does a fantastic job at setting the tone of the movie. It really lends itself to the overall Italian vibe that comes across when watching. As a horror fan Italian horror has always been my pick of the litter. With that being said this is easily THE BEST modern day film to recapture the feeling of Italian horror from that era. The sense of dread and delirium is all there and served up in surplus.

Overall House of Forbidden Secrets is one of the greatest horror films of recent years. It delivers on all fronts. I loved Spirits but man this one solidifies the fact that Todd Sheets is without a doubt back and ten times better than ever. After nearly a decade long break for him to be able to knock the dust off and come out of the gate with something at this level is amazing. He managed to find the perfect balance of atmosphere, humor and suspense and rather than delegating each to their own sections they all coexist at once and compliment one another. This is an extremely difficult task that is not done often these days, but he knocked it out of the park with ease. Although I feel Sheets has been stiffed in the past and under-acknowledged there's absolutely no way this film can slip through the cracks and not find it's audience. WATCH OUT FOR THIS FLICKS RELEASE, IT WILL BE WELL WORTH THE WAIT!