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Since the third week of October viewings featured 21 films, it seems prudent to break the list up into two chunks. This was a pretty varied week, all in all, featuring not only some of my favorite films of the season but also some of my least favorite. In that spirit, then, I present the first ten films screened during the week of October 15th through the 21st: the second half will follow shortly.

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Darkweb

Astoundingly bad film that’s sort of a brain-dead take on Eli Roth’s Hostel, albeit one that hews a little closer to the original Most Dangerous Game source material. There’s really nothing to recommend here, unless you happen to be a fan of bad filmmaking (the performances and dialogue almost reach Ed Wood levels of absurdism) or want to see poor Danny Glover completely humiliate himself in one of the worst star-level cameos I’ve ever seen in a cheap-ass genre film: his character spends the entirety of the film yelling, gestulating wildly and shouting “Fuck!” from a TV monitor. I think I can speak for us all when I say that he’s way too old for this shit.

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The Last Heist

Thoroughly entertaining, if rather run-of-the-mill, action-thriller about a bunch of crooks who break into a mob-owned bank and run afoul of a dour serial killer (Henry Rollins, in a fantastically realized performance) who’s just trying to get home with his suitcase full of eyeball trophies: can’t we all relate? I was a huge fan of director Mike Mendez’s Big Ass Spider but this one didn’t get me as fired-up, although it’s still the furthest thing possible from a bad film: full of great performances, well-staged action sequences and just enough gore to edge the needle into the “horror” side, you could do a lot worse than this.

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The Channel

Simply terrible, zero-budget nonsense that seems designed purely to prove the theory that Christian horror films kind of suck. This tale about a teen who flirts with the dark side (via those terrible “rave dance parties” and Ecstacy pills, of course), gets into a car accident and brings back the spirit of a dead girl is just flat-out awful, no sugar-coating possible. Full of so many cliches, amateur performances and poor filmmaking (the color timing, for one, is just wretched) that it’s impossible to ever become invested in the trite storyline, this bears the distinction of having a distinctly Christian angle but that’s pretty much its only distinctive feature.

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Swiss Army Man

An easy candidate for one of my favorite films of the entire year, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Swiss Army Man might sound unpleasant on paper (a suicidal castaway comes upon a dead body and uses it in a multitude of ways to survive) but is simply magical, in execution. Rarely have I encountered a film that hits such heady highs between ridiculous slapstick comedy (think Weekend at Bernie’s but much weirder), devastating drama and soaring joy: it’s like riding an emotional rollercoaster, with each new loop and development charging through you at maximum velocity. Essentially a two-person show (for the most part), everything would collapse if the performances weren’t top notch: good thing that Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe bring two of the year’s very best to the table. While Dano is simply superb, able to bring equal measures of awkward sweetness and genuine darkness to Hank, Radcliffe is nothing short of revelatory as Manny, the corpse. Relegated to playing dead for the entire film, Radcliffe still manages to make Manny a completely alive, vibrant character: his gradual awakening to the world is truly beautiful, something that seems a little hard to comprehend in between the non-stop farting and boner-compassing.

Saying too much about this absolutely delightful piece of filmmaking (the craft of which, by the way, is equally stunning) would be to ruin shee delight and I’ll never be a party to that: suffice to say that Swiss Army Man is one of those truly beautiful films that could actually change your life, if you let it, and we’ll leave it at that. The Daniels (as they’re collectively known) have instantly landed on my “future must-sees” list.

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Flight 7500

The Grudge director Takashi Shimizu’s latest, Flight 7500, comes with an intriguing premise: a captive audience of travelers on a red-eye flight must figure out what mysterious force is killing them, one by one, as their luxurious tomb hurtles turbulently through dark skies. It’s a pretty interesting, creepy idea, which makes the tedious result even more disappointing: despite being competently made, there’s no spark here, whatsoever, and the film’s numerous plot holes constantly threaten to swallow audience interest whole. The film’s big twist also serves to handily deflate any tension that came before, making the whole thing even more silly, upon closer reflection. Not terrible…just terribly dull.

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The Good Neighbor

More drama than horror, in execution, Kasra Farahani’s The Good Neighbor edged its way onto this year’s screenings by virtue of its premise: a pair of pretentious teen shitheads (ably portrayed by Logan Miller and Keir Gilchrist) decide to fuck with a cantakerous, old neighbor (ably portrayed by James Caan) and convince him that his house is haunted, in order to gauge his response. As expected, his response is not what the two guys expect and tragedy ensues. Despite solid performances and execution, this ended up being a bit trite and heavy-handed, by the end, a fact not aided by the film’s frequent courtroom cut-aways. It’s always nice to see Caan in anything, especially at this stage of his career, but this is just okay, no matter how you slice it.

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The Devil’s Dolls

A prime example of an indie film’s reach exceeding its abilities, The Devil’s Dolls (nee Worry Dolls) has a fantastic plot but rather unexceptional execution and decidedly iffy acting. A notorious serial killer is gunned down by a heroic cop, who takes the dead guy’s possessions, including a box full of ‘worry dolls,’ as evidence. The cop’s young daughter gets ahold of the dolls and turns them into necklaces, which she sells. Problem is, each of the dolls is actually cursed and causes the owner to commit terrible acts. Our hero cop must now race around the town, desperately trying to stop a vicious killer who’s already long dead and gone, as his innocent daughter becomes more and more possessed. No matter how you look at it, that’s a logline with a tremendous amount of potential, all too little of which makes it to the screen. The kills are graphic and energetic, which will be a plus for the gorehounds, but the performances range from decent to vein-popping. In a hit-or-miss year, The Devil’s Dolls definitely wasn’t one of the worst but it would be a helluva stretch to call it one of the best: file this right in the middle and be done with it.

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Field Freak

Much better than I initially feared but still pretty far from my cup of tea, Stephen Folker’s Field Freak is one seriously silly film. This tale about a writer who moves his family to the country only to encounter insane root beer vendors, crazed beaver exterminators and the titular Sasquatian monster is always manic and over-the-top but that seems to be by design. As someone who loathes self-aware dreck like Sharknado, I’m far from an expert on this type of film but Field Freak, at the least, was a fairly painless watch. If campy isn’t your thing, however, this will probably wear out its welcome rather quickly.

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B.C. Butcher

As someone who grew up on Troma films, I’ll still freely admit that seeing their logo before a film always gives me pause: will this be one of the outrageously offensive, amazing ones or one of the cheapjack, shitty ones? Without a doubt, B.C. Butcher is Team Shitty, all the way. Painfully amateurish and proud of it, this is nothing more than an opportunity for folks to make a film, pure and simple. When your “movie” features Kato Kaelin as a curiously metro-sexual caveman with an odd obsession with his own ass and I still can’t be bothered to even care, well…what can ya say? The most this warrants is a shrug and a “You got me again, guys…good one.” Extra negative points for the impossibly tedious nightmare sequences, which really hit a new high (low?) in Troma’s search for the most obnoxious film-viewing experiences possible.

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When Black Birds Fly

Proof positive that you never, ever judge a book by its cover, When Black Birds Fly might be rough, technically, but it packs more wallop and imagination than most “professional” films. Written, directed and animated solely by mad genius Jimmy Screamerclauz, this is a little difficult to describe but I’ll give it the ol’ college try. Imagine a version of Hellraiser, influenced by The Wizard of Oz, that also doubles as a Biblical allegory for the story of Adam and Eve, animated in the glitchy, occasionally unwatchable style of first-generation computer game cut-scenes. Still confused? Sorry, kids, but that’s the best I got: this howlingly insane film is an experience, in every sense of the word, one of those things that you strap yourself into and just hold on for dear life.

Despite being physically nauseated by the style, at first (absolutely no lie), I actually warmed to the film quite a bit, once I got used to it. Still, this is extremely strong stuff, the kind of material that would be absolutely unthinkable in a live-action film (think extreme Japanese manga, as a reference), full of revolting violence and truly bizarre sex. Perhaps the closest one can get to staring right into the hideous maw of insanity and still emerge, relatively unscathed. Color me thoroughly impressed and more than a little unsettled and freaked out. There really isn’t anything else like this in the entire world, for better or worse.

Keep your eyeballs peeled for Part Two, coming soon!

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