"Red Rooms" Webseries Review
The Dark Web. It is the underworld of the internet where anything and everything illegal happens. From selling passwords, to selling drugs, to human trafficking. It is also the setting for the web series Red Rooms. Five people, who have done horrendous things in the course of their life, have been kidnapped and tied to chairs in five separate rooms. Each room has a webcam and microphone for the viewing audience to see and hear everything. These individuals are unwilling contestants in a game labeled “Live or Die.” The host, known only as the Grandmaster, asks the contestants about the horrific things they have done. If the contestants lie about what they have done, they are killed before the end of the contest. When the questioning is complete, the Dark Web viewers vote on who is the worst. The person with the most votes gets to live; the rest are killed. Over the course of the first season, we learn about the contestants and who is behind putting them in the Red Rooms.
This definitely is a product of the pandemic. While big studios were putting the brakes on production, indie companies like Philly Chick Pictures were coming up with inventive ways to tell stories while still observing quarantine guidelines. Think of Red Rooms like Hostel meets SAW on Zoom. The series relies on the performances of the actors since everything happens in a single room where they are fairly immobile. Having to shoot their scenes via webcam on their computer or laptop must have made the roles extra challenging. Ricky Dean Logan plays the creepy Father Stephen Bishop. You could tell he was deep into this role which could not have been easy given the character. David Alpay puts in a convincing and unnerving performance as the assassin Alex Terizan. Everyone does well, but Logan and Alpay really stand out.
Joshua Butler, who wrote and directed all of the episodes, manages to piece everything together to create a series that will keep you wanting to see what happens next. Most episodes are about eight minutes and change which makes this series a breezy watch. The surreal red-colored CGI opening and Composer Luna Pan’s creepy theme music helps set the dark tone of the show.
The story is a great exploration into how people handle justifying bad decisions in their life. Each episode ends up being a different stage. From denial, to deflection, and finally acceptance. Things really pick up in episodes four and five, which are my two favorites. There is also a twist that is revealed that added an extra layer of weight to what was happening.
If you are not used to a micro-budget aesthetic and do not enjoy watching a video conference session from hell, this series may not be for you. Everything is tinted red which may put some
people off. Some of the dialogue could have been handled better, especially for the Grand Master in the first couple of episodes where they repeat themselves more often than necessary.
If you are looking for something different to watch that is bingeable and has a character-driven story with decent performances, you will want to check it out. I would have liked to see some of the writing tightened up and a little more time spent with the characters. I have a lot of respect for what they accomplished with the series and would be interested to see what they would do with another season with a new set of characters. I give the Red Rooms series three out of five stubs.
You can see Red Rooms for yourself on the "Deep C Digital" YouTube Channel here: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXNY08O_Iy2l95hAkqWtU6HWt6k1eQyoJ
The holiday season may be over, but horror movie season is year round. There is an indie holiday horror film called It Came Upon a Midnight Clear that you may want to add to your Holiday Horror watch list. We get the story of Jeremy Adams, a senior in high school who is not that popular except with his best friend Minka Romero. When Amanda, the most popular girl in school and Jeremy’s dream girl, agrees to go on a date with Jeremy, he thinks his luck has turned around. Unfortunately, fate has other plans for the two as Amanda is kidnaped. Even worse, it appears a serial killer from the town’s past has returned and is out for revenge. Now, Jeremy and Minka find themselves on a blood-soaked trail searching for Amanda leading to more bodies, feelings revealed and dark secrets uncovered.
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear is a coming-of-age story meets Scream in a Santa outfit. The story wears its influences on its sleeve and is having fun while doing it. Director and writer Stephen Allen Gutierrez keeps the story brisk and is not heavy handed in the exposition. While I like a fast moving film, I would have liked to see a few more emotional beats in the scenes that were supposed to have some weight to them.
There is plenty of emotion in the performance of Jaeden Riley Juarez. Juarez plays Minka with the perfect balance of emotion, wit and charisma. You immediately empathize with her and the situation she is in with her friend Jeremy, played by Drew Pipkin. Pipkin and Juarez are, for lack of a better term, adorable. I could just watch a movie with these two navigating the waters of their senior year in high school and their potential for being more than friends. The rest of the young cast put in solid performances. Katreina Sifuentes’ Amanda was a surprise. Amanda is not your traditional “Popular Girl” personality. Sifuentes plays Amanda with honesty and makes you believe that Amanda is actually excited to go out with Adam. She also is genuine in her defense of Minka when Minka was being bullied in the locker room.
The adult characters were also a delight. I loved seeing Michael Berryman in the unexpected role of Principal Lucas. You could feel the weight on the principal’s shoulders as news of more deaths came across his desk. P.G. Marlar plays the teacher Mr. Campbell, who ends up being one of the more badass characters. Chief Lawton is Amanda’s father, played by Rob Huey, who makes the audience feel the emotions of a parent whose child is in peril. Patricia Vonne also shows up with a solid performance as Jeremy’s Aunt Prudence.
The film shows its influences in the design of the killer; from the coat that looks like it came from “Silent Night, Deadly Night” to the extensive use of the augmented phone voice ala “Scream”. Now that said, the Santa Slayer's kills are unique to the character. The blood and gore in the film were nearly all practical and looked great. There is only one scene where it looked like they enhanced the wonderful makeup effects with some CGI. The ending was a bit of a disappointment only in that it was more cliche than I would have liked, though it did make sense given the rest of the film.
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear is a bloody genre mashup that has as many endearing moments as it does scary ones. While it does borrow from many past slasher films, it still manages to have its own identity and feels like a modern slasher. Like with many modern films, you will want to stay until the end credits to enjoy the blooper reel and an end credit stinger. Indie horror fans looking to get their killer Santa fix may want to check it out. I had a fun time and give it 3 out of 5 stubs.
The Cat (2022) Review
If you have been following the news at all, you know there has been a recent uprising by the women of Iran. Activists everywhere are standing up to the status quo that has oppressed them for decades. Mary Apick, a long-time activist, filmmaker, and actress has created a hand drawn animated film to reflect life in Iran since the 1979 revolution. “The Cat” tells the story of a little girl who sells flowers on the street. One day a darkness rolls in, destroying everything in its path, from artwork to individual will. The little girl tries to run from the darkness to avoid being consumed. At times she wants to give up but she keeps pressing on, hoping that she can once again find the light to push back the darkness.
“The Cat” is a powerful short film. No frame is wasted during the twelve-minute run time. Each scene is an allegory for what women and society as a whole have had to live with in Iran for decades. The various ways the darkness is portrayed is downright scary. There is a particular scene involving a factory that has stuck with me since I first saw it. So much is said without dialog, demonstrating the power of visual media. The hand drawn aesthetic of the animation gives the story an extra personal touch and an organic connection that is not as strong when CGI animation is used. I was very moved by this short and watched it a couple of times. I got more out of it with each viewing.
The message in the film of hope is needed in the tough times that the women of Iran are facing, as well as for those facing similar challenges around the world. I highly recommend this moving, poignant, animated short film that says so much in so little time.
Watch ‘The Cat’: https://vimeo.com/653885052
Curses, Demons, and the Occult. While most commonly found in horror films, these elements can also be found in other genres. Their meanings vary from culture to culture. There is a new film from Japan that deals with all three subjects, but not in a way that you might be used to.
In The Divine Protector - Master Salt Begins, members of a high school occult club discover a way to summon “Master Salt”, a protector of the Divine, repealer of evil, and eliminator of curses. One of the members of the club has had a number of strange and scary incidents that the club determines are due to a curse. They summon Master Salt to help get rid of the curse. Master Salt does as advertised. The club decides that there are many people who could use Master Salt’s help and they work together to help eliminate curses and heal those affected by them.
The Divine Protector - Master Salt Begins is a Buddhist morality play. It is a female driven story that is well acted, excellently crafted, and solidly written. I am glad that I watched the subtitled version with the original dialog. Rin Kijima delivers a skillful performance as Master Salt, played with such passion and strength that you can’t wait for her to appear. Her theme song is catchy too. By the third time I heard it, I was happy as I knew Master Salt was about to lay the smack down. There is a wonderful balance and honesty to her character that is amplified by Kijima’s performance.
The story plays out like an anthology with four self-contained subplots dealing with different curses. These curses take various supernatural forms and carry out selfish, evil deeds. There is a man who uses a phone scam to prey on the elderly, an abusive husband, an egotistical playboy, and a jealous classmate. These curses are exposed by Master Salt and removed from the people they are plaguing. In many movies, we would see the hero just kill the evil, but Master Salt rarely takes that path. Instead, she teaches the curse what it is doing wrong. She also teaches the person about what they did to allow the curse to inhabit them. The strong religious overtones may be hard to relate to, particularly in Western culture, but the story’s intention is one of positivity and redemption. The special effects were a bit campy but given the budget and type of film this is, I found amusement in their quality. The cinematography and color usage was beautiful whether it was just a scene in a hallway or someone walking through a park. It is a gorgeous film.
With all that is going on in the world, we need more positive films and The Divine Protector - Master Salt is definitely that. Director Hiroshi Akabane takes care in addressing dark subjects without turning bleak. While some may not enjoy the film due to the religious foundation, many will find a lot of fun with this fantastical tale. I know I did and so did my wife. The Divine Protector - Master Salt Begins is out in select theaters now and will soon be on VOD.
'Vampyrz on a Boat' Review
Romance, Vampires, and Groundhog Day collide in the latest horror comedy from Mark Allen Michaels called Vampyrz on A Boat. Max and Del are former military operatives who are asked by Del’s cousin to come out to his ship and keep an eye on a group of individuals who seem to be up to something. While keeping watch, Max crosses paths with Sara and there are immediate sparks, but Max isn’t the only one who is interested in Sara. Soon Max finds himself on a mission to rescue Sara from a dark force on the boat. Along the way, he meets an eclectic group of folks on the ship, kills vampires, and realizes that sometimes you do get a second chance…or more.
Vampyrz on a Boat is a crazy ride that has lots of laughs, blood, and scares. The design of the vampires is creepy, and the practical gore effects were really well done. They also use some old-school techniques such as using the sound of a mosquito to convey the idea there is something present that you can not see. Vampyrz was filmed on the SS Lane Victory, an actual ship, which resulted in a visually appealing setting and lent authenticity to the atmosphere.
The entire cast has great charisma and chemistry, and the performances were effective. I especially enjoyed Dalla Valdez as Max and I would love to see more of this character. Max is the not-perfect hero who still can kick some ass and figures things out very quickly. Even when things get intense, Max stays fairly chill. His buddy Del, played by Curt Lambert, is the loyal and more expressive best friend. The two characters play off each other very well with a believable friendship and sharp banter. Carrie Keagan’s performance as Sara is solid. You could tell that she really got into the role and was having fun, particularly later in the story. Her scenes with Valdez are great, and it felt like there were some real sparks there.
Mark Allen Michael’s script doesn’t hold its audience’s hand, sometimes to a fault. I don’t need everything spelled out for me, in fact I prefer it not be, but my impression of the second half of the film was that it had missing scenes, with pretty big jumps between events. The gaps are filled in with a bit of dialogue, but it can be a challenge to follow the plot in a few places. The story plays around with time quite a bit, and the director may have done this on purpose to help the audience feel the confusion the characters were feeling. Just be sure that you’re paying attention when you watch.
If you are looking for a bit of a bloody, tongue in cheek, wild horror cruise then you will want to check out Vampyrz on a Boat. What it may lack in story it makes up for in high production value, solid performances, and plain old fun. I give it three and a half stubs.
Vampyrz on a Boat will release on September 27th, 2022 on all major streaming platforms and select cable stations.
I have been reviewing films since high school. I love discussing films with those who share my passion for them. I also do video reviews on YouTube and on my podcast.