Directed by: Jon Keeyes
Run time: 92 minutes
The Lowdown: We’ve all seen them, those too-clever psychological thrillers where someone is either trapped in a dream-like state or they are actually in purgatory, trying to make sense of their lives.
From the treacly (What Dreams May Come), the erotic and pulpy (After.Life) and even the tween (Before I Fall), most genre films in this category lack the oomph needed to truly galvanize an audience and transplant viewers into their own hypnotic trance where nothing seems real.
Doom Room, the latest from writer-director Jon Keeyes, easily surpasses all its predecessors by displaying and maintaining a breathtaking vision and never wavering in its confidence that the story unfolding is worth your valuable time, and more.
Now, look, I am not so naïve as to think that everyone will love Doom Room or that it will resonate with other viewers the same way it did with me, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the majority of genre films being pumped out right now. It has ambition to burn, which is refreshing in the best possible way.
Truth be told, this is Keeyes’ second release in the past two months, following December 2018’s The Harrowing, which BVB did not fall in love with or find particularly engrossing, so you know we aren’t just blowing smoke to generate page views.
Doom Room opens on Jane Doe (Johanna Stanton), following a disturbing dream. She’s in a meticulously decorated room punctuated by BDSM art, skulls and skeletons and even a clock with spinning hands.
As she bangs on the door, she’s suddenly visited by others who simply materialize in the room. A woman with no eyes. A couple, Wife (Debbie Rochon) and Husband (Matthew Tompkins), dressed for a fetish party. A young Alice in Wonderland-like innocent (Hayden Tweedie).
And that’s just the beginning.
At first, Keeyes’ set-up is a bit disconcerting. I actually wrote in my notes – Is this going to be 90 minutes of just this room? – but once you realize that the room is but a construct and that imagination knows no walls, Doom Room really starts to take hold.
Through flashbacks, subtle hints and quite possibly the best soundscape of any movie I’ve seen in recent memory (seriously, watch Doom Room as loud as possible; it’s an intoxicating and jarring mixture of silence and sudden crescendos), you learn more and more about Jane Doe and the people haunting her in this space.
Rochon and Tompkins make for a fantastic pairing, and they get a wonderful showcase during an exquisite fetish performance that exposes Jane Doe’s predilection for dark erotica.
Another standout character is Leviticus (James Simmons), a recurring religious/judge-like figure who berates her with some of the most amazingly vulgar clap-backs imaginable, including You need to hush yourself, wanton whore, The bigger the better, aye strumpet? and You can tell she’s had more cock than a barnyard full of roosters.
Once Jane Doe does finally remember what happened to her, the revelation is both shocking and horrifyingly on-point with what’s happening currently across the world.
Some viewers may recognize the film -- I had no idea Doom Room was originally released in 2013 as Nightmare Box -- and there's ample coverage available online, although I would disagree with the bulk of criticism that focuses solely on the film’s ending, which finally answers the riddle of exactly where Jane Doe is and has been throughout the film. I personally dug it, a lot. I appreciated the imagery, I thought it was smart thematically, and I didn’t have any immediate sensation of ‘been there, seen that’ as other critics have complained.
Taken as a whole, Doom Room is a fantastic allegory that pops and spreads its wings well beyond its constrictive setting. We loved it, and I’m betting a lot of other fans will too.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Oh yes, but none hotter than Debbie Rochon.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Minimal.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Apparently, gothic fetish clubs are dangerous and bad, m’kay?
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Howling III: The Marsupials (Shout! Factory, 98 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Holy crap.
First, it should be noted that The Howling, one of the two best werewolf movies ever made, which was released in 1981 (the same year as An American Werewolf in London), remains a personal favorite and a high-water mark in the history of lycanthrope cinema.
That said, the subsequent seven sequels, which stretch from 1985 to 2011, individually, as well as collectively, failed to meet the same standard of excellence in both story and special effects.
But, boy howdy, did some of those sequels, most notably The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and The Howling III: The Marsupials, provide some amazing material that instantly vaulted them into the rank of bona fide cult classics.
And, while The Marsupials lacked Sybil Danning having werewolf were-lust sex with a large group, the second sequel, released in 1987, is rich with bizarre imagery, B-movie chutzpah and some seriously twisted practical effects.
The film opens by casting a wide net, documenting werewolf attacks in both Russia and Australia. It introduces a subset of the U.S. federal government that tracks such activity. And it delivers Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) into the B-movie Hall of Fame as an indigenous woman living with a werewolf cult/pack out in the wild.
Tired of being a sex slave to the pack’s menacing, bald leader, Jerboa escapes and hitchhikes a ride with a priest.
“You should not try to run away from home,” the priest tells her.
“I don’t like home,” Jerboa explains.
“Because my stepfather tried to rape me, and he’s a werewolf.”
Jerboa eventually makes it to Sydney, Australia, where she camps out on a park bench before catching the eye of an assistant director, Donny (Leigh Biolos), who tells her she would be perfect for the horror film he’s working on, Shape Shifters: Part 8.
In addition, matriarchal female werewolves from her pack also are fast in pursuit, dressed as nuns, so they can easily blend into society.
Donny introduces Jerboa to Jack Citron (Frank Thring), the director of Shape Shifters, who has the following riotous exchange with her:
Do you really want to be an actress?
I like a woman with brains. I think I smell a talent here.
Citron explains that his goal is to mirror Andy Warhol’s influence that everything, no matter how absurd, can become high art. To that end, he tells her, in her first scene, Jerboa will be gang-raped by four monsters.
Seriously – if you love bad movies, Howling III is like a one-way ticket to nirvana. The film includes so many meta moments that your head literally swims.
Donny brings Jerboa to set to observe a transformation sequence in the film within a film, It Came from Uranus, that is the centerpiece of Shape Shifters: Part 8. The woeful practical effects gamely try to recreate Rick Baker’s work from An American Werewolf…, and spectacularly fail.
Jerboa leans into Donny while watching. “It doesn’t happen like that,” she whispers.
“How does it happen?” he asks, while the effects sequence being filmed suddenly transforms a key character into a furry sawfish with a giant snout.
“I’ll show you later.”
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., two government agents are arguing about the existence of real werewolves.
“What I need is tangible evidence,” the one spook says.
“What you need is a smoking gun,” his colleague replies.
“What I need is a werewolf holding a smoking gun!”
The films zips back to Sydney where a wrap-party is being held for the completed Shape Shifters: Part 8. Jerboa is at the party, but the strobe lights from the dance floor cause her to begin transforming into her primordial self. She flees, only to be hit by a car outside. She’s rushed to a hospital, and guess what, her blood work is unlike anything the doctors have ever seen. First, they think she’s an alien. Then they discover she has a marsupial pouch just above her vagina.
Meanwhile, back at the wrap party, the trio of werewolf nuns invade and eat everybody.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, one of the U.S. government spooks has arrived, and he tells Donny that Jerboa is pregnant.
Meanwhile, Jerboa has a crazy dream where an alien baby head pops out of her marsupial pouch. Then the werewolf nuns arrive, kill everyone on the hospital floor and kidnap Jerboa.
Back and forth, like some crazy fever dream, The Marsupials careens, fueled by its own unstoppable B-movie ambitions.
They don’t make movies like this much anymore, films that you almost feel obligated to host a viewing party and screen for as many unsuspecting friends as possible, and that’s a damn shame.
Thankfully, Shout! Factory recognizes the inherent goodness in such bad films, and as long as its Scream Factory imprint keeps pumping out these classics, I feel confident that the studio’s target audience will respond with a hearty howl of appreciation.
Crimson Peak: Limited Edition (Arrow Video, 118 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): It might seem odd for a major home-media distributor, known for dusting off long-forgotten B-movie titles from the 1970’s and 80’s, to suddenly offer a limited collector’s edition of a film that’s barely four years old.
But the reality is that this particular title, Crimson Peak, released October 16, 2015, was so immediately and inexplicably derided and jeered that I fully understand Arrow Video’s rationale in spurring along an opportunity for fans of Guillermo del Toro to take a second look.
And, truth be told, BVB counts as part of the film-going majority who shunned Crimson Peak during its initial theatrical run and subsequent home-media release. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep watching the film on Blu-Ray because I had foolishly bought into the criticism that del Toro had somehow forgotten and/or absconded every director’s tenet that he previously championed in his earlier work.
And, I can tell you, watching Crimson Peak with fresh eyes makes for a truly electrifying experience. Not only is Crimson Peak one of the best gothic thrillers that Hammer Films never made, but the totality of del Toro’s vision, from the resplendent costumes and set designs to every vaulted ceiling and eerie piece of adorning artwork, is staggering.
For horror fans, the proof of a good ghost story lies in how well said ghosts are represented, and del Toro creates spirits that are both menacing and maddening, but also beautiful in their diaphanous form.
Is this del Toro’s best film ever? Hardly. But it far superior to the assembly line rote of spectral tales that have failed to haunt our multiplexes for many years, and it’s fun in a way that most big-budget costume spectacles rarely are.
Halloween (2018) (Universal, 106 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Who knew that it would take 40 years and a writing-directing team known mostly for satirical comedies to finally – finally – create a worthwhile follow-up to John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. But, make no mistake, the new Halloween is every bit as good as the hype. It’s blunt and brutal, unapologetic and laser-focused, and it works both as a direct sequel and as a bloody meditation on aging, female empowerment and the determination it takes to kick evil square in the nuts. If you haven’t already seen it, what the hell are you waiting for?
The Dark (Dark Sky Films, 95 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Writer-director Justin P. Lange’s The Dark is a blistering and oddly beautiful fairy tale that puts its monsters first and foremost, but never treats them as such.
The film kicks off with a wonderfully creepy cold open. A man stops at a remote gas station where an old codger sits behind the register, passing time. The man picks up a map, searching. The codger takes it and immediately points to a wooded area called Devil’s Den.
That’s where the man wants to go, the codger says. That’s where all men go if they want to be ripped apart, driven mad and devoured. Or, at least, that’s what the scary stories say.
The best thing about scary stories, the codger says, is that he can stay at home while the scary stays out there.
What follows from there is one of the most unique and original tales of friendship to hit screens in some time. It’s bloody as hell when it needs to be, but it’s during the more quiet moments that you realize The Dark is something special.
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion
The Plague of the Zombies
Obsession: Collector’s Edition
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Close Calls (Terror Films, 128 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Close Calls, the pulpy, unapologetic debut from writer-director Richard Stringham is many things – overly ambitious, unexpectedly convoluted and unnecessarily long at two-plus-hours – but it’s never boring.
Close Calls introduces viewers to voluptuous wannabe bad-girl Morgan Mackenzie (Jordan Phipps), who is stuck at home caring for her ill grandmother while her father is out on a date with his smoking-hot gold-digging girlfriend Brynn (Carmen Patterson).
It turns out that Morgan has been mailed a death threat letter, which has her a little on edge. Then she starts receiving weird, menacing phone calls. Morgan dials up a guy friend to come hang out, but he turns out to be a rape-y dick, who later gets lured into a shed in the back yard and forgotten about for most of the film.
Then some random guy named Barry shows up at Morgan’s door during a monsoon, claiming to be a work colleague of her dad’s. Barry isn’t looking for her dad. The pervy pedo immediately tempts Morgan for a drink and then takes his shirt off.
“If any of this is making you uncomfortable, in any way, let me know,” he says, leering at her like a ravenous wolf.
True story: I raised my own hand while sitting on the couch.
Clearly, Morgan has bigger issues than just some stranger sending her death threats. After a nice round of tit for tat, with Morgan trying gamely to turn the tables on this new threat, Barry attacks, knocks her out, ties her up and then wakes her by kissing her all over. That’s about the time he tells her that he’s going to give her an overdose, penetrate her as she’s dying and then suck in her last breath so she becomes his forever.
I’m not going to lie, for all its low-budget trappings, Close Calls does an exceptional job at making viewers feel uncomfortable and awkward.
And, boy howdy, the film ain’t even halfway done.
Before the credits roll, viewers can expect an even skeevier back and forth between Barry and Morgan, several decent kills, a twist revelation and a zombie attack, which is followed by another what-the-eff twist that helps wrap up the story with more questions than answers.
While it doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense, Close Calls crudely carves out its place in drive-in genre cinema with undeniable moxie. And, sometimes, for fans of this particular brand of brazen exploitation-style cult cinema, that’s enough to justify positive word of mouth.
Blood Bound (Film Mode Entertainment, 96 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Witches have become the new zombies, which in turn took the place of vampires, which ruled horror movies for years prior.
Not every “witch” movie is good, just like not every zombie movie finds a new twist to animate cold, dead flesh, but Blood Bound, the latest from writer-director Richard LeMay, at least adds a heaping of lurid imagery and sex-soaked twists to keep you engaged.
Blood Bound opens with a home invasion robbery gone horribly awry. The inept criminals, basically children themselves, are captured breaking in after a buddy reports to the group that the new owners of the house have a literal trunk full of money that he helped carry inside, courtesy of his day job as a mover.
The couple in question, however, are witches, and once they’ve locked down their would-be bandits, LeMay’s film starts moving too fast for its own good.
Suddenly, there’s a ritual being held in the woods. One of the kid criminals, Kerry, a girl, also a virgin, is offered up for sex on an altar with a guy named David.
David’s destiny was to take her innocence, the main dude witch says.
Kerry, however, is none too pleased, especially when David tries to take her out for a “first date” not too long after taking her virginity in the forest. It does not go well, which makes David emo-whine to the main lady witch. “She’s a horrible person!” David complains.
After Kerry chides David for trying to be tender and sweet two days after raping her on top of an altar, David responds with a witch attack, using his powers to contort her body into a pretzel. “I could kill you,” he sneers. “Don’t ever speak to me that way again.”
Clearly, Blood Bound is full of grindhouse aspirations. Such ambitions, however, can’t hide the fact that there’s at least a good 15 minutes of backstory missing. For example, who the hell are these witches and what are their powers?
If it had followed some basic Screenwriting 101 criteria, and done a better job explaining its central characters even a little before launching into the gory witch-y goodness, I might feel completely different about Blood Bound.
Taken as is, though, there’s too many questions keeping the audience at arm’s length, and that disconnect ultimately undermines what could have, should have been a more memorable viewing experience.