This article was last modified on July 29, 2018.

Fantasia, Part Four: July 24 – July 27

PLEDGE — Played July 24th — Directed by Daniel Robbins, USA

A group of weird, unwanted freshmen are offered a chance to pledge what they believe is an exclusive fraternity.

Often times, we give a lot of credit to filmmakers who do the unexpected, who try to be original. And, of course, we should. But there is something to be said about the familiar. Think of FRIDAY THE 13TH, which made it through the first eight(!) films in the franchise by repeating the same formula over and over and over. And, you know, they are beloved by millions.

PLEDGE is not a slasher film, but it does use our expectations in ways that make us feel comfortable. A trip of nerds are rejected by a series of fraternities, and then suddenly accepted by a “cool” fraternity with attractive women that are actually interested in them? Surely, this cannot be real. And, of course, it is not. Up to this point, the “twist” is exactly what everyone expects.

But the beauty is how we play with expectations, how we make the old new again. What makes this fraternity different? What of the hazing? It starts bad, gets worse… and then what? And here is where it will succeed or fail. For me, it was a success, and with a quick pace and short running time, it easily holds a person’s interest. A cult favorite or classic it is not, but PLEDGE will be enjoyed by millions. Score: A-

HEAVY TRIP — Played July 26th — Directed by Juuso Laatio, Finland

Turo (Johannes Holopainen) is trying to overcome his fears by leading the most unknown heavy metal band in Finland, Impaled Rektum, to the hottest metal festival of Norway.

No surprise here: the blend of heavy metal and humor works well, as we have seen with TODD AND THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL and DEATHGASM (among others), and the Finnish sense of humor seen here was previously well presented by RARE EXPORTS. This is a worthy companion to either of those, and not just because of the RISKY BUSINESS homage. When you think foreign film, you probably don’t think Finland. But maybe we should.

The sheer brilliance and comedy in the writing is astounding, and the actors are able to pull it off with a straight face. One has to particularly love how they manage to get a band promo photo and the extreme lengths they go to get their goals accomplished.

If anything bad has to be said about the film, it is that there is some “animal cruelty” with wolves and reindeer. But the animals involved are clearly fake and I find it hard to believe anyone could be offended by the treatment of these props. I mean, this is a movie where people are getting vomited on. No need to say anything more – this is just a pure film from beginning to end. Score: A+

HURT – Played July 26th – Directed by Sonny Mallhi, Canada

Plot: Rose (Emily van Raay) moves into a house in the woods close to her sister after her boyfriend gets deployed and things don’t go right when Halloween night arrives.

Writer-director Sonny Mallhi has previously given us ANGUISH and FAMILY BLOOD, but it’s interesting to note he was a producer on some big name projects before that, including THE STRANGERS and the Keanu Reeves time travel romance THE LAKE HOUSE. Which, for the record, I think was an amazing film regardless of what anyone says.

HURT has an awesome switch at the 10-minute mark. Without giving it away, this “twist” needs to be praise because for a while I was under the assumption I had started watching the wrong movie or that someone had written the wrong description of the plot. But no, everything works out exactly as it should.

The film deals with the trauma of war and post-traumatic stress in a realistic way that few films do. Now, of course, being a horror film it has to go to extremes a little bit and get darker in places than may be necessary. But even tackling the subject at all deserves praise. Many, many films glorify war and combat, but very few actually mention what happens to the men (and women) who survive. Sometimes the war never ends. What was the last great film in this vein? BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY?

The movie incorporates the built-in scares of a theme park (sort of like HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES in that respect, but better executed here). This is clever, and adds tension and jump scares in ways that make sense without seeming gratuitous. All in all, the tone is right and the film is well-executed. Perhaps not conventional, but certainly not short on talent. Score: B+

THE SAINT BERNARD SYNDICATE — Played July 26th – Directed by Mads Brugger, Denmark

An odd-couple comedy about the pitfalls of striking out into the economic frontier; it charts two hapless Danes’ scheme to sell Saint Bernards to China’s middle class.

This is not a “laugh out loud” odd couple movie, but more subtle in how it turns on the idea of a man tricking his old schoolmate into investing, and quickly learning (to his dismay) that the schoolmate is a better salesman. The situations are uncomfortable and awkward, which makes a certain kind of humor… but to call it a comedy is almost going too far.

What jumped out was the unfortunate timing on a Stephen Hawking joke. Though, for those who like inappropriate jokes, this might actually play really well. And in a few years will no longer be noteworthy at all, unfortunately.

Will this end up being the sort of film that gains a following, like other quirky comedies? Perhaps. But it seems to be one that will be enjoyed once and slowly forgotten, unfortunately. Score: B-

RONDO — Played July 27th – Directed by Drew Barnhardt, USA

A kinky sex proposition devolves into a chain of murder, sex, and revenge. And more murder.

Putting any of this film into words is almost doing it a disservice. Beyond “holy crap” or similar gasps of disbelief, can we really sum up what happens in this film and how it was executed? Not really. You are first drawn in by the poster, which reeks of 70s sleaze. And, if that is your expectation, you will not be disappointed. If anything, you will be overwhelmed.

RONDO is above and beyond your typical exploitation film (if anything of that “genre” can be called typical). Some scenes will make you feel dirty, maybe even repulsed. Some are exciting. Some are humorous, both in awkward ways and on occasion even the laugh-out-loud variety. I once described Ryan Nicholson’s GUTTERBALLS as “brutally violent, oversexed and over the top”. These same words could be described to RONDO without hesitation. Two completely different films, mind you, but they share this aesthetic.

Special acclaim must be given to the ladies of the film, because they are put in quite the vulnerable position and to accept such roles is brave, to say the least. Iva Nora, near as can be told, was discovered on a foot fetish website of all places. She displays far more than her feet, and such a debut role could make or break her. Brenna Otts is something like a classier version of Sasha Grey; she plays the femme fatale / heroine flawlessly and anyone who sees this film is sure to put her at the top of their casting list.

If you have any reservations about excessive violence, revenge, gratuitous nudity, etc. then this is not a film for you. But if these things do not scare you away, prepare to remain on the edge of your seat, jaw agape for 90 minutes. Because HOLY CRAP. Score: A+

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