As a rule, short films are better than features. I believe I know why. Short films are as long as they need to be but features usually ought to be a different length. Sometimes this means they really need to be a miniseries. But usually, they are padded out for the purpose of distribution.
So I often come upon short films that are very good. But it’s rare to come upon something as brilliant as SLUT (2014). Everything works in it. The acting is first-rate. The sets look as worn down as they were during my own childhood. The lighting is subtle and sets an unsettling mood. Each shot is beautiful. The pacing is perfect. And it tells a compelling story with rich thematic elements.
SLUT is also like a horror film etude. It includes many classic tropes but usually done with more artistry than normal. They are also done knowingly with a wink to connoisseurs. When Maddy is reaching desperately for the lipstick tube, it’s as if the director is breaking in, “I know, right?”
Where Are They Now?
It says much about our world that none of the principals who worked on this film have really broken through. Most have struggled along in an industry that cares a lot more about money than art.
Not that it is all bad. Editor Michael Block has become a successful assistant editor, which might well lead to more. Production designer Yihong Ding has taken a similar path in her career. And director Chloe Okuno has just been tapped to direct a film version of Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person.” But this is 5 years after SLUT.
One of the great joys of psychotronic film is the way that one gem leads to another. That was the case with my recent discovery of Michael Kallio.
At least once a year, I put on My Name Is Bruce (2008). It’s one of those films that always makes me smile when I’m feeling down. Mark Verheiden’s screenplay is so funny and knowing and Bruce Campbell is fearless playing his idiot alter-ego.
One of the many wonderful characters in it is the director of a low-budget horror film Campbell is starring in called “Cave Alien II.” In one of the featurettes on the DVD is a documentary about the making of “Cavealien 2.” The director, Mike Gg, is interviewed and he insists that it is pronounced “cav-ALL-eon.”
I decided that I had to find out who the actor, Michael Kallio, was. And I learned that he’s written, directed, and produced about 50 films — most of them short. And lucky for us, Kallio has put many of them on YouTube.
Short Films of Michael Kallio
His short films tend to be pretty funny. The first one I saw was Ash vs Evil Dead: Auntie Linda’s Bake Off:
It is not just a loving homage to the series, it fully captures its essence. As fun as Ash vs Evil Dead was, there wasn’t much to it that isn’t in Auntie Linda’s. And Kallio certainly understands the Raimi style.
The Texas Chainsaw Manicure
Another homage is The Texas Chainsaw Manicure. It’s very silly with at least three strong laughs. And it makes a good argument for proper tipping.
(According to Kallio, there is a short film by Bill Mosley — Bill Moseley? — with the same name. I found part of it online. It is about Leatherface as a topiary artist. It is certainly as silly as Kallio’s opus.)
Curse of the Monkey
Another good one is Curse of the Monkey. It is one of many that Kallio shot when he was much younger but only recently finished. But it’s clear what’s there now is what he always intended. It’s got a great silent comedy sensibility with lots of modern references. I love the break in the gorilla suit. And the fight scenes are both realistic and funny.
Michael Kallio Feature Films
Based on this, I looked for Kallio’s feature films. It turned out to be harder than it needed to be because of Amazon’s “profit over usability” search function. But I did succeed!
Hatred of a Minute
I found Kallio’s first feature film, Hatred of a Minute. There’s an irony with loving low-budget films: they usually cost a lot more to get on disc — when they can be had at all. So while I can usually get the latest superhero film for a buck, this one was $19.95. But I wasn’t disappointed.
Unlike the short films I saw, Hatred of a Minute is pretty serious. That isn’t to say that it isn’t filled with sly little jokes. But they come out much more on the second viewing.
The film tells the story of a man’s descent into serial murder along with lots of flashbacks to his childhood. After seeing his step-father physically abuse his mother, he comes to see murdering women as an act of mercy. There’s also a minor B plot that is a police procedural.
But what really makes the film work is its structure. The frame of the story is Eric (played by Michael Kallio) and his drive with a bound woman in the back of his car. Within this, we see Eric as he is just a young man haunted by his past to a full-blown psychopath. As part of this, we have spectacular scenes that go on inside his head. These are thrilling by any measure. They use the full palette of tricks available to writer, director, photographer, and editor.
Despite the film being low-budget, the acting is first-rate. I assume they are mostly people who do industrial work because they don’t have a lot listed on IMDb. The principals are Tim Lovelace (Legion of the Night), Tracee Newberry, and co-writer Lisa Jesswein. Of particular note is Gunnar Hansen (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) as Eric’s abusive step-father.
When I first searched for Koreatown, I didn’t find it. It was only when I was searching for “Michael Kallio” that I found it. It isn’t helped that Amazon has no image for it. But it is at least largely due to my own scattered nature.
It tells the story of a former cop who has just been released from prison after 15 years. He was not innocent but nonetheless set up by a pimp who also killed his girlfriend and kidnapped his daughter. The cop spends the film looking for his daughter — along with vengeance against the pimp.
This sounds simple enough and it does have a Frank Miller graphic novel feel to it. But it is also very much a Kallio story. The lead character is not very effective. He bumbles his way through the first two acts getting people killed and getting himself beaten up and humiliated a number of times. He only survives because the pimp wants to finish him off himself.
Koreatown is highly episodic. This may be intentional or the result of the film being created over many years. Regardless, it gives the film more of that comic book flavor. No one really cares about the beginning of the film as long as we make it to the badass finale. And we do!
It also features a couple of laugh-out-loud sequences. The most notable is when a young man tries to rob the main character. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I’m eager to see more of Kallio’s work. Back in the early 2000s, he made two other features: Survive! and Memory Lapse. I haven’t found out anything about the latter other than IMDb’s description, “A drug dealer with too many morals tries to bail out of the ‘business’ but, is sucked back in when a black-out leads to the corpse of his dead girl friend, and he’s to blame.” That sounds like it could be somewhat like Koreatown.
Survive! seems to have been released on VHS — but I have been looking for it for over a year and have never found it for sale at any price. Kallio has, however, released a trailer for it. It seems that he wrote the story but that the dialog is improvised. It looks fun:
More recently, Kallio has been producing a lot of stuff for television. That makes a certain amount of sense given those last three features were shot on DV. (Hatred of a Minute was shot on 16mm film.)
More Michael Kallio
These days, he seems to be doing rather well in Hollywood — including making a number of oddities such as Untitled Radioactive Chicken Heads Documentary. He also seems to be doing stuff along the lines of Larry Blamire (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra) featuring Orton Z Creswell, a Criswell parody:
Although finished, I’m not sure the film has been released. And there’s much more including three episodes of Paranormal, Burbank, about two nerdy ghost hunters. And there are documentaries like Heart of Dorkness, which is part of the extras on My Name Is Bruce.
The truth is that Michael Kallio does a lot of stuff. And he hasn’t seen nearly the attention that he deserves.
Image of Michael Kallio based on his image on his twitter account under Fair Use.
I just discovered a wonderful short film, Call Girl (2014). This is very exciting for me because I’m only 5 years out on this one; normally, I’m 10 years behind. And really, it isn’t even five years because it was only three and a half years ago that director Jill Gevargizian posted it on YouTube.
The film starts by proclaiming that it is from “Sixx Tape Productions.” And then the narrative starts with a close-up of Laurence R Harvey. So I immediately have visions of this being something of Tom Six that I can’t bear to watch. I paused the video and did a little research. It turns out that Sixx is just Gevargizian’s moniker.
So I tentatively clicked play but with my hand on the mouse should anything scatological appear. Thankfully, it did not.
In fact, Call Girl is a surprising and funny little horror film. Have a look. The narrative is only a bit more than four minutes long:
Watched it? Good.
There are so many things I love about this film! The biggest is probably that it makes the viewer a voyeur. In fact, it makes the viewer into a homicidal psychopath, based on what we know from the dialog.
The streaming interruptions add a wonderful tension to the action. At the same time, it is so realistic that watching it on YouTube is not the best venue. It’s hard — even after repeated viewings — not to perceive the first interruption as the fault of your own connection. But this is hardly the fault of the filmmakers.
I’m also struck by how Harvey’s character has a child’s level of excitement — both before and after the deed.
Contrast this with the professionalism of the character played by Tristan Risk (Frankenstein Created Bikers). It’s a wonderful touch that she is “new at this.”
Finally, the vague ending is marvelous. My first take was that the prostitute would not have attacked had she not been attacked. But that seems to be undercut by what we see on the screen. After all, she doesn’t just kill Harvey; she feasts on him (in the most glorious moment in the film). And prostitution seems like a good way to get victims for a vampire.
I’m still confused about the last bit of dialog. She seems to say, “Do you want that? Do you?!” The screen goes black and then there is a beep — a text has come through. And we hear her say, “Good. See you soon.”
There are various ways to interpret this. What the text contained is not clear. But the threat is chilling.
Regardless of the ending, I’ll be checking out more work by Jill Gevargizian in the coming months.
Most people think of psychotronic film as lowbrow. I don’t. I’m a film snob. And I love psychotronic film because it is generally the most authentic kind of film. There really isn’t much difference between psychotronic and art film. The difference is usually one of attitude (as well as budget). And the attitude of psychotronic filmmakers is generally better. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I love “art” films. (Note that I comparedDeath Bed: The Bed That Eats to Cries and Whispers.)
Finally: The Other Side of the Wind
For the last decade, I’ve had only one primary goal in live: to live long enough to see Orson Welles’ last film, The Other Side of the Wind. Indeed, I was not that big a Welles fan until I saw a couple of clips from the film back in the mid-1990s. It shocked me that an artist — late in his life — could create something so unique.
This is not a review. I’ve only seen the film once (at this writing — I’ve seen it a dozen times now) — and this is a film that needs to be seen multiple times. But even on this first viewing, it was captivating from the first frame.
Most people writing about it are turning it into some kind of psychological portrait of Welles. Maybe it is. Maybe every work of art is that for the artist. But what I took away from the film was its amazing visual palette. And the way Welles justifies this is by making the film about a party where Jake Hannaford (John Huston) is trying to get funds to finish his latest films. Thus, many reporters are there with tape recorders and 16 mm and Super8 cameras.
As a result, we get scenes shot with more than a half-dozen cameras — all of differing quality. Probably even more important, all these canny journalists are creeping around, getting incredibly intimate moments on film — the most heartbreaking are between Hannaford and his protégé Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich). This was shot at a time when Bogdanovich really did feel that Welles had betrayed him and the performance is as raw as you will see.
The film-within-the-film is a pretty cliched European art film. According to Wikipedia, it is something of a parody of Michelangelo Antonioni. But whoever wrote that can’t have seen any of his films. It reminds me a lot more of Alejandro Jodorowsky, but that’s a great insult to him. Hannaford’s film seems to have been a general parody of bad art films. It even includes a balloon of a penis that is deflated when the star of the film (Oja Kodar) pricks it. I’m sure that Welles and Kodar (who co-wrote these scenes) must have laughed mightily when they came up with that!
What confuses me is the end. From my reading over the years, I understood that the film ended with Hannaford driving his car into the movie screen and dying. Maybe they didn’t have enough coverage — both Welles and Houston are long dead. But maybe I’m just misinterpreting the ending. Hannaford’s last scene is almost heaven-like — or indicating that he is on his way to heaven.
More to Appreciate
As I indicated, I’m going to have to give this film a lot more thought. But on a first viewing, it’s clear that it is up with Welles’ greatest cinematic works: Othello, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, and F for Fake. If you like challenging (or just interesting) films, you must see The Other Side of the Wind.
The image for The Other Side of the Wind is taken from Wikipedia and used under Fair Use.