Under the Flowers: Circle of Hell

Since the events of Under the Flowers, most of the characters have gotten on with their lives, or at least whatever passes for their lives.  Not all of them are actually alive, in the strict sense of the term.  But for one character, at least, getting on with existing has been getting harder, and in Under the Flowers: Circle of Hell, like Alice, she seems to be having to work harder and harder just to stay in the same place.

Poe (Lauren LaVera) isn’t quite herself these days, and I mean that literally –these days she’s Rose (Amanda Kay Livezey), now much less Goth but also much more confused.  If her soul is ever going to be able to move on, there’s a journey Rose has to complete, a journey both physical and psychological filled with dangers of all kinds.  Worse, it’s a journey she’s attempted before, without success, and she’s running out of chances.  This time she has a guide, Nerissa (Kirsten Lee Hess), which may sound promising but let’s just say that Nerissa doesn’t seem all that invested in Rose’s success.

Movie poster featuring the cast.
Careful, or the circle might pull you in…

But there’s a wild card in play: Charlotte (Catherine Kustra), the Halloween Girl herself, who just might be able to help her friend.  Her best efforts still might not save Rose, however, and will almost certainly hurt Charlotte — at least if the Darkness (Richard T. Wilson) is to be believed.  Even Evil must tell the truth once in a while, right?  In the end, though, it all comes down to Charlotte’s decision and Rose’s willpower as she faces her demons one after another.  And of course Nerissa, whatever she might be up to, is waiting for her chance.

It’s a satisfyingly scary and suspenseful second series from Mad Shelley Films, featuring plenty of familiar guest stars along with the new arrivals as we follow Rose’s dangerous journey.  The two series have a good sense of connection without being too much alike, each possessing its own unique feel while still seeming to exist in the same strange — and not so strange — realms.  Best of all there’s still an enticing air of mystery about the characters which should continue for a while, since every answer seems to lead to five more questions. This is easily one of the best and creepiest web series out there, and I look forward to seeing more from the creators’ twisted minds.

The Watchers

John finally gets a call, but not the one he's been hoping for.

We’ve all had that feeling now and then, that indefinable certainty that someone’s looking at us. Sometimes we’re right about it, sometimes wrong, but in either case the feeling doesn’t last and we go about our day. In The Watchers, though, John (Jeff Moffitt) is having more of a problem with that feeling than usual. Everywhere he turns, he insists there’s someone watching him and it’s bothering him so much he’s making emergency calls to his psychiatrist Dr. Orwell (Timothy J. Cox).

Stress can do strange things sometimes, Dr. Orwell says soothingly, and even aside from the feeling of being stared at John has plenty of that. He’s estranged from his wife Marcie (Nikki Flanagan) and leaves pleading messages on her voicemail that remain unanswered. The pressure is affecting him at work, too, as you might imagine. His boss Philip (Darrin Biss) is very understanding, but that only seems to enrage John, which makes the stress worse.

Then a cryptic note appears inside his apartment, left by a hooded figure John can’t get a good look at. A woman (Kathleen Boddington) he doesn’t know says she’s been waiting for him. When John witnesses a tragedy and tries to report it to a police officer (Robert Nesi) the officer seems to know an awful lot about John, as do many other people he encounters on the street. It seems there’s something to John’s paranoia after all — but it isn’t until his apparently random meeting with an older man (Peter Francis Span) that he begins to grasp the full scope of what’s happening to him.

You can’t help but feel for John — all he really wants is for his wife to return his calls and figure out what’s going on. But as far as the latter goes, it’s a clear case of needing to be careful what you wish for, as the truth will change his world forever. As alone as he feels he does have people willing to help — his boss, the reassuring Dr. Orwell — but he’s determined to go it alone, perhaps out of some misguided need to feel in control. The very last thing he has is control, however, as he loses more and more of himself to these watchers.

I’ll give it four out of five. All the clues are there but the ending still gives a satisfying twist, with some eerie and unsettling moments along the way as we follow John’s bizarre journey of discovery — or perhaps his long fall down the rabbit hole. It’s a realistic look at a regular guy swept up into extreme circumstances and finding out he was never really who he thought he was.

BnB Hell

Willa explores the B&B. Plenty of code violations there.

A disappearance is such a common plot device it’s easy to forget how dreadful the uncertainty must be. Not knowing a loved one’s fate is the worst sort of limbo, and to make things even harder, the police aren’t always going to have the time or resources to take a given disappearance as seriously as those left behind would like. In BnB Hell Willa (Kimberly Woods) has both those problems, plus the fact that it’s her twin, Stacy, who’s disappeared. Since Stacy was the adventurous twin, the police have decided she was on drugs or otherwise just wandered off on her own, leaving Willa to search herself.

She’s traced her sister as far as an online listing for a bed and breakfast called Mommy’s Hollywood Heaven. And indeed, the owner (Carol Stanzione) does insist everyone call her Mommy, at which point I knew there would be trouble. She claims not to remember Stacy even though it was only a month ago she stayed there, but then, Mommy doesn’t quite seem all there. Neither does the creepy neighbor (Mark Hanau). If it was anyone but Stacy missing Willa might have given up, since Willa is far and away one of the most sensible characters I’ve seen in any horror movie.

This particular B&B isn’t the cleanest nor is it in the best repair, but it does have the gorgeous view promised online, featuring such landmarks as the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory. There’s one other guest at the moment, a grad student named Marco (Rudy Dobrev) who is also remarkably not prone to doing silly things. It’s a miracle the writers were able to move the plot along without resorting to a character who opens all the triple-locked doors and reads books bound in human skin.

After an awkward introduction, Marco begins to help Willa with her search, which includes hunting through various memory cards left behind by former guests. They’re from the camera Mommy provides so that people can leave video reviews for her to post online, though most of what our amateur detectives find has very little to do with discussing the amenities of the house. A tantalizing glimpse of Stacy proves that Willa is on the right track, but there are even more shocking images on the cards. Clearly there’s at least one highly dangerous person around, but it also seems that not all the dangers come from human beings.

I was hoping for nothing more than a decent slasher film, but this film went well beyond that. It is a solid and somewhat traditional slasher, but it also capably weaves in supernatural overtones and as mentioned even shockingly allows its main characters to use their common sense. Willa is the opposite of a damsel in distress and there are generally good performances from all the leads, though I did think that the villains could have been more creepy in some scenes. But the ending was as good as the rest, offering some clever twists, and worth four out of five stars. However bad your AirBnB experience may have been, this movie proves it can always get worse.

Rainy Season

The movie poster. It's not kidding, either, they really do pour.

On a warm June day in the 1970’s, a young couple drives along isolated, wooded roads en route to the small town of Willow, Maine, where they’ve rented a house for the summer. It’s a quiet, sleepy sort of place, but that’s what they want, since John Graham (Brian Ashton Smith) is a writer and wants time to work on his craft. It’s less clear how wife Elise (Anne-Marie Kennedy) will occupy herself, however. The premise is somewhat like The Shining — not surprising since both plots sprang from the dark corners of Stephen King’s mind — but in this case there’s neither a large hotel nor a small boy to look after.

But Elise is certainly troubled, and perhaps hopes that this time away from it all will be therapeutic even though the locals are a bit odd. Henry (Kermit Rolison), for example, is sometimes friendly and sometimes a master of the awkward stare. Laura (Jan Mary Nelson), on the other hand, is somewhere between friendly and panicked, telling them it’s the rainy season and urging them to spend the night at a motel instead of the perfectly good house they’ve already paid for. It’s a strange welcome, to say the least, and Elise and John hardly know what to say.

They’re determined to stay in their house, though, and it’s hard to blame them. Certainly it seems like a nice house, if badly lit, but that’s standard for horror movies. The poor kids have barely started to settle in when the movie suddenly starts rushing towards its ending, dragging them headlong with it. It’s a good ending — as wry and laconic as the most grizzled New Englander, but still excellently, quietly creepy. The problem is that the ending was a little too close to the beginning, and it might have worked better as at least a half-hour short instead of twenty minutes.

The good news is that the film is well-acted and has a solid sense of atmosphere. It also doesn’t attempt to show much of the horrors that the characters see, instead letting the unlimited budget of the viewer’s imagination take over, which is always better. Mostly I’m wishing there could be a director’s cut version that might expand a little more on the build of tension, not to mention Elise’s issues and their effect on her marriage. But it was still an enjoyable watch, giving an entertaining glimpse of a little-known King short story that’s almost biblical.