Review: The Love Witch (Fantasia 2016)

The Love Witch, showing at the Fantasia Film Festival, is a blatant tribute to the Technicolor films of the 60’s and 70’s, filmed in gorgeous 35mm. The film overcomes its overlong running time (120 minutes) with a great performance by its lead, Samantha Robinson, and excellent color usage and set design.

The plot follows our Love Witch, Elaine, as she attempts to meet and control her warped idea of the perfect man- after a betrayal by her former husband resulted in foul play. We get audio flashbacks showing verbal abuse towards our heroine by her father and Sleeping with the Enemy behavior from her ex husband. So all these bad occurances from the men in her life led her to seek solace and a new religion with a coven of witches. She soon moves to a new town, where her encounters with the male species usually lead to disaster.

As stated earlier, this film is gorgeous. The eye popping colors, the mod costumes all work to great effect. You will absolutely believe you are watching a film from the 60s or 70s. There is little, if anything, to identify the look of the film to the present. Instead we get all the key elements that exploitation films from that era are associated with. Stiff line readings, deliberately bad acting and over the top characters wearing bad suits with bad hairdos. All the great stuff to love about that period. Plus a lot of full frontal nudity from both males and females; although some unwanted, especially in the mass ritual scenes. If you are into a lot of hairy troll looking Sardu dudes showing their junk, you will dig this. The script elements where Elaine explains her desire for true love, and why she feels it is irresponsible of a woman to basically shut down in the relationship after getting a ring, is interesting and a refreshing outlook on male-female interaction for a change. I also liked the idea that the men are doomed due to Elaine basically making them feel too much.

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But at the end of the day this film does overstay its welcome with a way too long running time. There are too many scenes with the coven Elaine is involved in, which really go nowhere and serve no purpose. The Simon, King of the Witches dude, played by Jared Sanford, did nothing for me; although his girlfriend in the film was beautiful. We could have totally done without them in the film and kept the focus totally on Samantha Robinson, who is not only drop dead gorgeous, but gives a fantastic performance. This character should come back in future roles for this type of setting, but in an exploitation quickie- and this film mirrors that perfectly. I recommend you seek this film out for the production value, Samantha Robinson, and its absolute pitch perfect salute to a bygone era of exploitation.

2.5 out of 5 Zombie Heads

Review: Man Underground (Fantasia 2016)

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Sometimes movies don’t need bloodshed, dismembered body parts, explosions or any other visual enhancement. In Man Underground, Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine’s debut full-length feature, the writing/directing duo has encompassed tension, terror and communal chaos via an alien abduction angle. Although shot on a shoe-string budget, this is a non-issue, as adding effects and jazzing it up may distract from the core of its film, the human condition. By blending fantastic writing, superb acting and a haunting score, Man Underground is a successfully interesting and alluring entry in Fantasia 2016.

The story centers on Willem (George Basil), an awkward and reclusive ex-geologist, who had an incident while working for the United States government. Now relocated away from Nevada and in a small town outside of New York City, Willem recruits Flossie (Pamela Fila) and his old partner’s nephew, Todd (Andy Rocco), to create a low-budget movie about his life and the events leading to his paranoid state. The goal for Willem’s film is to spread a message exposing classified secrets about extraterrestrial existence.

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This smart flick uses alien conspiracy as a backdrop for a complex character exposition, delving not only through Willem’s individual concern, but through the relationships he has with Jim, Flossie and the interactions he has with her boyfriend, Francis (Felix Hagen). There is plenty of subtle social commentary throughout Man Underground, especially during an intense scene at a dinner party. The small town versus big city mirco-plot speaks loudly behind the main storyline’s mass amount of themes, including mental isolation, extraterrestrial existence, depression, love, jealousy, friendship, careers and ultimately, retribution.

One of the greatest aspects of Man Underground is the powerful acting from the trio of Basil, Fila and Rocco. They have a unique chemistry that brings forth a multitude of sensation through comedic, horrific and dramatic elements. The cast brings to life the excellent writing, with simple, yet insightful, dialogue that evokes thought and perception. For example, during a simple interaction at a diner between Willem and Flossie, she says “I’m only a waitress.” He replies, “only when you’re here.” There are many other instances where the laughs are belted out or the brain is analyzing scenes through cracks between fingers, as the tension rolls up and down like a sound wave. The phenomenal cohesion between the three augments the power of the overarching ideas, an emphasis which many films lack— especially genre films coming out of Hollywood.

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This indie gem is not for everyone, and many will disregard it for a “boring” movie. I, for one, certainly do not. Borowiec and Marine’s film actually breezed on by, as I was enamored by this unordinary tale of a man’s struggle with no one accepting what his reality is. Enjoying Man Underground all depends on what kind of tea you like, man. If expectations are blood, cheap scares, car chases or any other major effects or action, this may not be your preferred cup. And even though the guts don’t splatter, doesn’t mean this should’t fall under the umbrella of the horror genre.

4 out of 5 Zombie Heads

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