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TADFF 2022 Review: ‘MexZombies’ Knows the Kids Are Alright

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MexZombies

Along with writers Luis Gamboa and Santiago Limón, director Chava Cartas has crafted a celebration of youth, life, love, and film with the charming (if not awkwardly named) feature, MexZombies. In a world full of violent zombie apocalypse movies, this one’s for the teens. 

In a gated community in Mexico, Halloween festivities take an unexpected turn when the quiet suburb is overrun by the shambling undead. Only a small group of kids are aware of the chaos unfolding around them, and the fate of the world falls into their teenage hands. 

MexZombies stars an ensemble cast of talented young’uns. Marcelo Barcelo is comically cheeky as cinephile Cronos, Iñaki Godoy wins hearts as underdog Tavo, Luciana Vale is impressively savvy as sardonic Rex, and Vincent Michael Webb’s repeated self introduction as American tourist Johnny is… surprisingly funny. These kids bring a lot of their own authenticity to their roles, and you can’t blame them for having a blast as they slash their way through a horde of zombie neighbors. And it’s nice to see actual teenagers playing their age! Sorry 20-something year old American actors, but you’re not fooling anyone.

The film deftly weaves typical teen troubles into the zombie-killing action. MexZombies sings the frustrated teenage anthem of “parents just don’t understand” while juggling themes of unrequited love and class disparity. These themes are approached with a level of respectful maturity; they’re young, but their troubles are still valid. Especially when combined with the whole “survive and save everyone” thing. 

The character of Cronos is particularly tangled in this topical web; any dorky movie nerd can identify with his continued dismissal, but he counters it with such impassioned enthusiasm that the film never gets too broody or dark. If Tavo is the heart of the film, Cronos is the guts. 

One thing the film seems to be lacking is any sense of despair. Let’s be clear: this is not a bad thing. It’s oddly refreshing. Are there “we’re at a dark moment and it could get rough” points? Yes. But it somehow stays light on its feet, pushing audience engagement with quick pacing and forward momentum. 

MexZombies definitely wears its Zombieland influences on its sleeve – between the overt references (Cronos dressed as Tallahassee for Halloween) and the slightly less direct (the overuse of slow-motion blood spurts). The appreciation of the zombie film oeuvre is high in this one, from Romero to Thriller to Shaun of the Dead. Overall, the whole film is a smorgasbord of pop culture references, which actually kind of adds to its whole teenager cinephile vibe. 

Zombie movies are a dime a dozen, so you really have to do something bold to stand out. MexZombies may not be brazenly bold, but it is a light, bloody snack. Consider it part of a zombie-watching balanced breakfast. 

MexZombies played as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival‘s 2022 lineup. 

Movie Reviews

TADFF 2022 Review: ‘Here For Blood’ Serves a Knockout Punch

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Here for Blood

If Hulk Hogan’s 1990s family-friendly action comedies have taught us anything, it’s that a burly wrestler is quite possibly the best qualified person to watch your kids. Daniel Turres’ Here For Blood confirms this lesson, but with a whole lot more blood. And cultists! It’s a great time. 

In Here For Blood, college student Phoebe (Joelle Farrow, Level 16) is encouraged to find a substitute for her regular babysitting gig so she has more time to prepare for an upcoming exam. Her friends are pretty persistent, and they have a valid point, so Phoebe turns to her rugged rough-and-tumble boyfriend Tom (Shawn Roberts, Resident Evil: Afterlife) to ask the big favor. He reluctantly agrees, and thus begins a night of mayhem. A group of cultists attack the home and attempt to kidnap Tom’s young ward, Grace (Maya Misaljevic, The Boys), unaware that she’s under the care of a heavily muscled man with a real knack for violence. 

As a horror comedy, a lot of the laughs are in the presentation; it’s less about the script and more about the delivery. Another key to its comedy is in the bloody mess that erupts across the screen. Here For Blood uses ample amounts of blood – buckets of it, in timed spurts – which just adds to the absurdity. 

The practical effects are done by The Butcher Shop FX Studio, and they’re top notch over-the-top gruesome gory goodness. It’s gooey, gnarly, visceral fun. If you like your horror with a heavy dose of campy violence, Here For Blood has just the kind of bare-knuckle punch you’re looking for. 

The cast have just the right amount of fun with it. Roberts as babysitter extraordinaire Tom O’Bannon charms his way through a burly front to create a character that you really grow to care for. Misaljevic as Grace is endearingly precocious, and it’s always a treat to see Canadian legend of stage and screen, Michael Therriault (Chucky). 

In Here For Blood, the stakes are high – the fate of the world, etc etc – but there’s a carefree avoidance of logic that somehow still works out. Who needs a rational explanation when there’s so much fun to be had? 

Director Daniel Turres (Terry’s Car Gets Stolen) shows a real flair for the melodramatic elements that make the film work. At moments – greatly aided by the synthy score from composer Norman Orenstein (The Editor) – the film plays like a cult classic 80s horror. Turres understands the assignment and crafts a plucky retro-inspired blood-soaked horror comedy.

 A surefire crowd-pleaser, Here For Blood is a treat for fans of classic 80s horror, but with a modern flair. The film is full of a passionate love for the horror genre and all the splatter that comes with it.

Here For Blood played as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival‘s 2022 lineup.

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Mischievous Children meet Gory Folklore in Dark Comedy ‘Kratt’

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Kratt review

Horrifying folklore has never been so fun as in the Estonian dark comedy Kratt. Similar in tone to Psycho Goreman, this film is filled with kid’s hijinks and mischief getting wrapped up in Estonian mythological figures in an entertaining way. 

The film centers around two pre-teen kids who have been dropped off at their grandmother’s farm house without their cell phones to show how their parents were raised while their parents go off to a hippie resort. They start bemoaning their lack of internet and their grandmother shows them that instead of being bored, there are lots of chores around the farm that they could be doing to help out. 

Kratt Estonian Horror
Image Courtesy of Red Water Entertainment

She also tells them about a demon called the kratt, which can be ordered to do anything by their maker. They just have to constantly supply them with jobs to complete. After meeting some other local kids in the town, they happen upon a book that explains how to make that very same creature, and of course, they do. Unfortunately, in the process, they accidentally get their grandmother involved and she becomes the kratt. Now the children must figure out how to get their grandma back unscathed while also having fun with the kratt doing their chores. 

This fantasy horror film is goofy and bold. The characters are what bring it together, as they all possess unlikable characteristics with a heart. They’re dumb but lovable, and the humor falls on them but never disrespects them. The children in particular are fun to watch and lead the film confidently. 

Kratt 2022
Image Courtesy of Red Water Entertainment

While it centers on kids, it doesn’t hold back on horror elements. There are few sequences in this film that don’t hold back on the blood. With that said however, this film could still be watched by both adults and kids. It’s an off-kilter contemporary horror film reminiscent of Billy and Mandy’s Grim Adventures. 

Additionally, the action in this film is surprising and quirky. One moment the kids are talking to their Siri stand-in, Vivi, asking for advice only to reveal it is run in a Russian child labor scheme run by their fentanyl-cooking mother. Laughs ensue. 

Kratt
Image Courtesy of Red Water Entertainment

Midway through, the plot does seem to lose some of its momentum as it constantly juggles a few different plotlines at once, some of which are dubiously included. Especially if this film is made for a younger audience in mind, it could be a tighter story focusing on the grandma kratt and children. 

Outside of the story, the film is artfully constructed, with fantastically cluttered sets, and engaging cinematography and editing.

Kids horror Kratt
Image Courtesy of Red Water Entertainment

Directed and written as the debut by Rasmus Merivoo, this film played well at multiple festivals, including Fantasia Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival, Screamfest, Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and more. 

Those who like to have a little fun with their horror and are looking for something that could be family friendly or on the less upsetting side might enjoy this surprising Estonian film. Look for it on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, INDemand and DISH.  Check out the trailer below.

3 eyes out of 5
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Movie Reviews

Rob Zombie’s ‘The Munsters’ Takes One Wrong Turn After Another

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The Munsters

Sigh. Well, I did it. I watched The Munsters, Rob Zombie‘s latest vanity project that takes viewers on a long, long, looooooong ride through the early days of Herman and Lily’s romance.

Now, before I get started, I really went into this film trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. I was ready for a different kind of Munster household. I was ready for bad jokes and strange visuals and all the things that hideous trailer gave us. To be clear, I set this bar very, very low, and somehow Zombie & Co. didn’t manage to clear it.

Here’s the thing, no one and I mean no one is ever going to make a great film out of a terrible script. Meryl Streep cannot act her way out of a bad script. She-Devil anyone? Unfortunately, the writing here felt forced and unwieldy. Zombie seemed to be peeking out from behind a curtain constantly winking at and nudging the audience. There were a couple of instances where a big, red neon arrow pointed out the joke and it still didn’t land.

He just seemed unsure exactly what kind of story he wanted to tell.

The jokes were too heavy. The camp was too light. And the story was a disjointed mess bounding from plot point to plot point with all the finesse of Herman Munster walking through walls.

The Munsters cast

As the film opens, we find Herman’s creator collecting body parts to give his creation life. It just so happens that two famous brothers died on the same day. One was the most celebrated intellect of his time. The other was a low-brow, unfunny comedian. So, when the scientist sends his assistant to get the big-brained brother’s head, guess which one he gets instead?

For better or worse, the scientists decides to unveil his creation on live television. The debut is a flop, but Lily sees Herman and instantly falls in love. From there, well, it just spins out of control. Honestly, it felt like he made about five or six episodes of series and strung them into a film. There are so many stories going on in one film that by the end I didn’t know or care if we’d tied them all up.

Now, as a lifelong fan of the original series, when I first heard Zombie was directing a new movie, I was worried he couldn’t capture the whimsy that made the show so great. On this count, I was wrong. Toward the end of the film, he does manage to produce that feeling.

In plotline number 378, Cassandra Peters aka Elvira Mistress of the Dark–who gives possibly the best performance of the film–showed up as the realtor who ultimately sells the Munsters their home on Mockingbird Lane. This entire section of the film got it right. I never actually laughed, but it did tease a smile or two out of me as the family experienced the inevitable cultural clash between what is “normal” and what is definitely not.

If the director had managed to coalesce that humor and homage throughout the entire film, this would be a very different review.

As far as the rest of the cast is concerned, Daniel Roebuck (Final Destination, John Dies at the End) is quite good as Grampa aka The Count, carefully walking the line between imitation and homage. Jorge Garcia (Lost) also turns in a serviceable performance as Floop, the hunchbacked assistant to Herman’s creator. Tomas Boykin (3 from Hell), meanwhile, gives Lily’s oft-forgotten werewolf brother, Lester, a ton of charisma and style.

Jeff Daniel Phillips and Sheri Moon Zombie in The Munsters

But this is Lily and Herman’s story, right? Tragically, Sheri Moon Zombie and Jeff Daniel Phillips have zero chemistry. Phillips seemed far too interested in landing his jokes and Zombie…do I have to say it at this point? Look, everyone has a gift, but I just don’t think Sheri Moon Zombie’s is acting. At no point did I feel like these two people were in love with each other, and that’s okay because they didn’t seem convinced either.

The worst part about this whole mess is that it had good bones. The audience loves an origin story, and we’ve never really seen much of the pre-children part of Herman and Lily’s life together. That story could have been done well. Lester losing the house to one of The Count’s ex-wives? Comedic gold. Do that. Settling on Mockingbird Lane? We’re here for it.

That’s three episodes of one tv series or maybe two films. Unfortunately, because every Rob Zombie production is a Rob Zombie production from top to bottom, he crammed it all into one movie that runs almost two hours long and had me checking my watch at the 45-minute mark. If he’d had a decent editor anywhere in the process who put their foot down and said, “Rob, you’re going to have to make some more cuts,” this might have been salvaged.

Sadly, that was not the case.

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