Sunday, November 10, 2013

All Hallows' Eve (2013) review


Katie Maguire (Sarah), Mike Giannelli (Art the Clown), Catherine A. Callahan (Caroline), Marie Maser (Costume Designer), Kayla Lian (Casey), Cole Mathewson (Timmy), Sydney Freihofer (Tia)

Directed by Damien Leone

The Short Version: The feature film debut of Damien Leone is this above average anthology that centers around a Halloween surprise that's a cruel Trick for its characters and a treat for horror fans looking for something old, something new, something borrowed, and something red. Blood red. Art the Clown is a killer of supernatural origin who carves a memorable impression without resorting to Kruegeresque comedy routines. In fact, he doesn't speak at all, preferring a mime schtick of epically reprehensible proportions. Combining two earlier shot short subjects with one new segment and a scary wraparound, Leone and his crew have fashioned a mostly successful Halloween bag of creepy candy.

Sarah the babysitter returns from Trick r' Treating with Timmy and Tia only to discover that somebody has placed a VHS tape in Timmy's bag. After the kids repeatedly beg to see what's on the tape, Sarah relents and they settle down to view its contents. After 15 minutes of an evil clown and a sinister devil worshiping cult, Sarah shuts the tape off and puts the kids to bed. Afterward, she becomes curious about the rest of the movie, so she puts it back on and watches the remainder. By the time it's finished, Sarah discovers to her horror that the cruel clown seen throughout the film is more than just a character in a movie.

The feature film debut of Damien Leone will bring to mind a myriad of familiar horror films as it unravels -- yet instead of rehashing old material, it takes the ingredients of its influences and makes an entirely new meal out of them. HALLOWEEN (1978) is one of the most obvious, while the pictures nightmarish qualities are akin to the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series; but minus the nauseating stand-up comedy routines Freddy Krueger implemented into his act.

Originally the film was to have been structured like the atrocious V/H/S (2012) with its multi-director motif. Leone was able to convince the producer to let him be responsible for all segments of this anthology. Coincidentally, two of the tales seen here were shot much earlier. The sole brand new entry is the second. The first and third segments were produced in 2007 and 2011 respectively. The process of using previous shot material intended for feature length (or an abandoned production) to fill out an omnibus was a frequent method utilized in Hong Kong anthologies of the 1970s. All three of the stories seen in ALL HALLOWS' EVE have a single thread running through them that holds it all together, and that's Art the Clown. More on him later.

The source of the first story was taken from a short film entitled THE 9TH CIRCLE (according to the commentary track, Leone plans to make this a full length feature). This would explain the fragmented nature of this virtually plotless scenario. Essentially a girl is on her way home on Halloween night and finds herself face to face with Art the Clown at a seemingly abandoned bus station. Drugged by the sinister figure, she wakes up in what looks like the basement of a factory with two other women. There they encounter a cleaver slinging, crusty-faced creature a slew of demonic monstrosities and the devil himself.

The second story is the sole new addition. It's in the 'stalk and slash' mode, but substitutes the masked killer for an alien. Art the Clown is here, too, but only in spirit. The director found a creepy, almost NIGHT GALLERY-like method for incorporating him into the story. He appears only on a painting. The diabolical origin of the frightening canvas is revealed through dialog. It's here that an innate sense of the supernatural is imbued in reference to the clown; even his visage is a beacon for evil. 

The plot of this story is simplicity as a woman is terrorized by a visitor from another world that invades her home. Unlike the first and third tales, this one is a bloodless exercise in suspense. Think of the scene in WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) where Gene Barry and Ann Robinson are stalked inside the dilapidated house by the martians; only here, it's one alien, and done using a slasher template. Eagle-eyed viewers will spy a great HALLOWEEN moment where something is happening in the background while the actress is oblivious in the foreground.

The third entry is the meat and potatoes of ALL HALLOWS' EVE, and what got the film financed. This 20 minute fright-fest is a tour de force for Art the Clown and his supernatural shenanigans. Shot as TERRIFIER back in 2011, the short was marketed at some film festivals before landing onto youtube where it got noticed by one of the producers. If you'd only seen this one piece of film, you'd be hard pressed to not be entranced by the malevolent manifestation that is Art the Clown. To avoid using the now sickeningly over-used 'G' word, Leone shot it as a gore-soaked ode to the 70s exploitation style of cinema with that damaged film print look. 

The plot is again of the slasher variety detailing a young costume designer on her way to New York. About on empty, she pulls into an out of the way gas station. There she sees the attendant running off a weird guy dressed in a clown costume. It's Art the Clown, of course, and looking even more maliciously evil. The young lady soon finds herself pursued by the devilish murderer. No matter where she goes, he's there. The other segments used Art fleetingly, but here, his gleeful Grim Reaper status is shown in all its gruesome, gory glory. It all leads to a satisfyingly grotesque conclusion. 

For TERRIFIER, the director and his crew work wonders on a few occasions in amassing an atmosphere of isolation and generating a sense of fear. As the wraparound concludes, the fear builds even more with one spine-crackling moment where the film on the VHS tape crosses over into the real world (just see the movie). This is also the cue for Art to cross over as well. It's also here where the films best examples of goosebumpery come into play.

The wraparound itself is mixed seamlessly with the three shorts despite their having been shot at different times. We're occasionally reminded via cutaways that we, along with Sarah are watching a movie. Feeling like an extended take on the opening 20 minutes of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), ALL HALLOWS' EVE is capped with a graphically cruel coda.

The acting is believable from start to finish. Katie Maguire (see above) satisfies as the concerned babysitter who finds herself mesmerized and disgusted by the tapes contents, but is compelled to watch further. In so doing, she inadvertently allows Art a gateway into her reality. Catherine Callahan and Marie Maser take center stage, though. They come off the best, and register their fear wonderfully.

The superlative music by Noir Deco reeks of an 80s vibe with its electronic compositions, and is key to the films spooky success.

About the only bit of awkwardness that stands out like a sore thumb is the whole VHS tape plot device. The film feels very much like an 80s horror movie at times, but the use of an LCD television set and the smart phones are anything but retro. So it's a bit odd to see a household with a VCR as the main source of entertainment. Not to mention it would be seemingly impossible for someone to slip a bulky videocassette into your Trick r' Treat bag without you knowing it. 

If there's one other negative (and it's a minor one) it's the disassociation between all three entries. Even with the clown connection, you get the feeling portions of the film were shot at separate times. This is noticeable in the first story and in the make up design of Art. His look fluctuates between the first and third segments. For the first tale, Art looks like any other clown -- as insidious as he is. For the third, he truly looks demonic with bony, protruding facial features that gives him an unsettling countenance. 

Thankfully, Leone and company wrote Art as a silent villain with nothing but a sinister smile and mime-like mannerisms to get his acting across. Hopefully, future adventures of Art will not tamper with his character by transforming him into another wisecrack spouting slasher comedian.

The special effects (one of many tasks tackled by the director) are occasionally rubbery looking, but they're far more welcome than any lame computer graphics -- which are all the rage now when you want to whip up a crummy effect on the fly. Granted, the least looking of the SPX are relegated to the first short subject. Considering they're all practical effects, there's much to appreciate about them. The masks for the demons are varied in design. The fang-toothed witch and the blank face with the Mr. Sardonicus smile (see insert) are suitably morbid.

Writer, director, editor, SPX creator Damien Leone has created a nice little multi-tiered tale of terror, and introduced an intriguingly revolting villain based on humanity's long-standing fear of clowns. Occasionally scary, intermittently impressive, and always entertaining, ALL HALLOWS' EVE (2013) is destined to become a cult item. It's not quite as polished as the fan favorite anthology TRICK R' TREAT (2009), but it's made with just as much passion for delivering a satisfying slice of seasonal horror.

This review is representative of the Image DVD.

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