Feb 25, 2020

24FPS @ Glasgow Film Festival 2020: Blood Machines and Spookies

Blood Machines
Dir: Seth Ickerman
Synthwave hasn’t found a mainstream moment since the Drive soundtrack, but it has carved out quite a niche as an underground scene. Soaked in the influence of the 80s, and particularly of John Carpenter both as a musician and as a filmmaker. The music readily conjures sci-fi imagery even on a first listen and Carpenter Brut and their regular directorial collaborator Seth Ickerman trade heavily on all of those influences in this 50 minute hybrid of mid-length film and music video, which trades on the same imagery they have been employing in their previous videos.

The story, such as it is, finds two men (Anders Heinrichsen and Christian Erickson) in charge of a spaceship, they have just shot down an enemy ship and taken an enemy soldier (Elisa Laskowski) prisoner. Unbeknownst to them, the ship was alive. The ship’s essence becomes a beautiful woman and a galactic chase ensues.

The dialogue isn’t great and the acting (all in English) is a bit ropey, but Ickerman’s imagery - if overly heavy on gratuitous nudity - is striking, folding Carpenter Brut’s recurring motifs in fairly naturally and employing some excellent CGI for what can’t have been a large budget. Ultimately though, the score is the star. If you like synthwave and in particular Carpenter Brut’s brand of the genre, this will work for you, though you do have to wait a little longer than is ideal for the first time the music kicks into high gear.

At 50 minutes, this is overextended, and it’s hard not to wish the writing and acting had been more of a focus, because there’s the kernel of a decent short film here, even apart from the score. As an extended music video though, there’s plenty for fans to enjoy both visually and aurally. The third star below is strictly for those fans.

Dir: Eugenie Joseph, Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner
There are auteurs in the horror and exploitation genres, but you do have to remember that the exploitation part of that equation sometimes applies off screen as much as it does on, and bottom line often takes precedence over a director’s vision. Spookies is definitely one of those cases. It began life as Twisted Souls, about a group of teenagers (played by unknowns, but for Charlotte Alexandra—here Charlotte Seeley—known to arthouse fans for Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales and Catherine Breillat’s controversial debut, A Real Young Girl) who are trapped in a house by a Warlock who wants to use them to raise his bride from the dead. Bolted on to this were new scenes with an entirely different cast and extra creature effects.

Spookies entirely bears out its messy origins. It’s hard to imagine that Twisted Souls would have been any good in itself. What remains of co directors Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran’s work is basically a boring version of the original Evil Dead. Their characters establish little presence, indeed they’re barely even stereotypes, and the acting is middling at best. The story doesn’t hang together in these sections, particularly frustrating is the fact that, for me at least, it never became clear why these kids needed to become victims in order for the Warlock to get his wife back (she’s walking around long before the bulk of the deaths occur). In story and character terms, the extra scenes directed by Eugenie Joseph add little besides running time, always feeling untethered from the rest of the film and making the storytelling even more confusing.

What Spookies does have going for it, in both of its constituent parts, is some enjoyable practical creature effects. Effects team members like Gabe Bartalos and John Dods went on to more notable work, Bartalos recently branching out as a director. The work here displays budgetary limitations, but the design is always excellent, even when it’s clear that articulation was limited (see the Grim Reaper puppet and the spider monster, among others). The effects can’t paper over all the cracks in the film, but they do make it lively enough to be fun if you’ve got a soft spot for slightly ropey 80s horror.

Spookies is what it is: a movie that appears to have been held together with sticky tape and good will. There’s a sense that the cast are having fun and the effects crew in particular are trying hard, the film doesn’t add up to very much, but at 85 minutes it’s worth catching just for the kind of practical effects we seldom see these days.

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