The City (2009), Escape (2010), & Denizen (2010)

Welcome to the long-overdue second installment of the Indie Horror Round-Up.  This one is a mixed bag ranging from the “cheesily” fun to the dreadfully unwatchable.  Let’s get to it.

The City (2009):

The City is a true indie horror flick.  It’s written, directed, produced, and edited by James Vogel (who also did the art direction, the set decoration, was the production manager, in charge of the costume and wardrobe department, and served as the location manager and script supervisor).  I also bet he would bring in sandwiches to the cast and crew thereby making him the caterer too <wink>.  This is Vogel’s directorial debut and I must say that I’m impressed.  He gives us a well directed film with above average-looking production values.  There are some script problems (more on this in a second), but this is a solid film from someone I’ll be keeping my eye on for future projects.

The story centers on Scott (Ezra Stead, also serves as co-writer and does some stunts), a student in film school who is writing his thesis in scriptwriting.  He presents his script to his prof who tells him its crap and that he needs more life experience in order to make the script more believable.  So Scott hooks up with T.K. (Greg Hernandez; also a co-writer and stuntman in the film), a sociopath who is more than happy to give Scott all the experience he wants in kidnapping, torturing, and killing innocent people.  Scott’s prof ends up loving the rewritten script and tells him he’ll easily be able to sell it.  Scott and T.K. end up becoming partners and continue their murderous spree in order to provide Scott with inspiration.

Director James Vogel (standing) always gets the best out of his actors (with Ezra Stead seated).

The film, which runs 70 minutes, follows these two around on their crime and murder spree.  Besides the good production values, you’ll immediately notice the solid acting here.  Greg Hernandez provides the best performance as the fucked up T.K.  After a while you forget you’re watching a movie; Hernandez is very natural.  Stead does at times suffer from a little overacting but overall puts in a solid performance.

My biggest problems with The City, as mentioned above, are with the script.  I didn’t buy Scott’s sudden turn from a shy, introverted writer to suddenly becoming a sociopath who stabs, beats the s**t out of, shoots, and then drinks the blood of his victim.  It was too large of a character leap.  And even at 70 minutes this does drag at points.  I attribute this to there being really only the one storyline (there’s no subplots or even secondary characters here).  What also hurts the film a little is the too-early character development of Scott.  Scott undergoes a major character change early on in the film whereas I would have liked to have seen the transformation occur more slowly over the course of the film.  All these “negatives” with the film are marginal to the effect of the overall film.  Vogel has given us a well directed and well edited first feature.  I can’t wait to see what his next project is!!

T.K. & one of his many victims!!

Director:  James Vogel (and writer and 100 other titles)

Plot:  3 out of 5 stars

Gore:  3 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains


Escape (2010):

Cast of Escape.

This one will be quick.  Unless you enjoy watching a girl tied up to a chair and get her hair shaved off over the course of 51 minutes, then I don’t think this one’s for you.  Seriously, we watch a tied up girl getting her actual hair shaved off for over 50 minutes.  The description of this film (which is directed, edited, and produced by Kat Surth) on says this is a “psychological bizarre tale that follows Rebecca on a journey through murder and possibly her own death.”  Nothing like this happened in the film.  Its a chick tied to a chair and getting her hair shaved off.  Period.  I’m thinking this was a fetish flick … I don’t know for certain; I’m just saying.  Skip this one.

Director:  Kat Surth

Plot:  0 out of 5 stars

Gore:  0 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains


Denizen (2010):

Most plots of indie horror features follow the torture-porn or slasher format.  I think it’s done out of necessity; these indie productions have very modest budgets and with those story lines they can keep the cast numbers low and use a max of 1-2 locations to shoot.  Yeah; its a money thing.  But once in a while we get a really ambitious indie project like Denizen, which is written, directed, produced, and edited by J.A. Steel (she also did the fight choreography, the stunts, and was the underwater camera operator).  Denizen shakes off the slasher plot-line in favor of the “creature feature” story and has a cast of 39 actors.  That’s a fucking lot for an indie feature (Steel even uses military vehicles and a lot of props).  But the question is, does she pull it off?

The story is about a creature stalking and killing people in a lakeside town.  As the murders get more frequent, the town’s scientist (do all towns have scientists??), Dallas Murphy (Jody Mullins) calls on an old friend of his, Sierra Deacon (J.A. Steel) to help stop the creature.  The rest of the film, which clocks in at 83 minutes, has the group uncovering the origin of the creature and how they’re all connected to it.  The group also has to deal with a rogue Army and their covering up of the creature.  Honestly it’s all a little confusing.  The plot has to do with super soldiers, the fountain of youth, spontaneous human combustion, and the earth’s energy grid.  But I will tell ya its pretty fun watching it all unfold.  Have ya ever seen Mystery Science Theater 3000?  No?  Well stop reading this and get on Netflix and get some episodes.  For those of you not living under a rock; Denizen would make a PERFECT MST3K episode!!  The creature looks like a shaggy Wookie; the dialogue is hilarious; the story is all over the place; and there are screw ups that were missed in the final edit (i.e., one character wears an eye patch, but in one scene he’s talking to Steel’s character and his eye patch is up around his forehead like a headband.  Both his eyes are clearly visible).

Don’t get me wrong; these really aren’t complaints.  I had a really fun time with this film.  This is the epitome of a campy flick.  What keeps it from being a “shitty” film is the acting; we get pretty solid performances from the entire cast.  There are times when we get some overacting, but nothing that detracts from the overall experience.  And how can ya not love dialogue like this:

[after filling another character with about 50 bullet holes …]

The General:  Make this look like an accident.

Soldier:  An accident?  He’s got bullet holes all over him.

The General:  Yes an accident … put him in a wood chipper or something.

Star & director of Denizen, J.A. Steel.

Love it.  Nothing here is meant to be taken seriously and Steel keeps the plot moving at a really nice pace.  As Steel wrote to me in an email, “Hope you enjoy this Pizza and Beer slice of B-Movie cheese.”  She knows she made a campy, fun, “leave you brain at the door” flick.  And it works.  This won’t be for everyone; the production values aren’t too great and the sound is at times terrible (one scene had two characters talking outside but they couldn’t be heard over a police siren in the background).  But if you’re looking for some fun cinematic cheese done “indie-style” then you’ll enjoy this one.  This is perfect to watch with a group of people and a lot of beer.

Director:  J.A. Steel (& writer)

Plot:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  3 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

Stay Bloody!!!

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14 Responses to The City (2009), Escape (2010), & Denizen (2010)

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  4. check out HellPhone Cool movie !

  5. gotta get my horror on !! 🙂

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  13. goregirl says:

    Denizen sounds like fun and it is always good to see a horror film directed by a woman…there aren’t nearly enough!

    • I’m with ya GoreGirl!! I’d love to see more horror films from the “female perspective” …. not necessarily “anti-male”, just the female perspective. There’s not a whole lot of ’em out there!!