Day of the Stranger
Fans of Weird West films (such as Billy the Kid Versus Dracula  and Curse of the Undead ) and psychedelic westerns (for example, High Plains Drifter ) should find plenty to enjoy in ultralow-budget U.K. outing Day of the Stranger. Advertised as “the only British guerilla-shot acid western ever made,” this film from writer/director Thomas Lee Rutter (Bella in the Wych Elm short ; The Forbidden Four ) delivers a haunting, surreal vision that begins as a boisterous, brutal take on western tropes before going into full-on phantasmagorical territory. Bounty hunter Caine Farrowood (Dale Sheppard) is under the employ of sadistic outlaw Loomweather (Gary Shail of The Bride  and Shock Treatment ) when things go south after a job and he finds himself on the edge of death. He then awakens to find himself at home with his pregnant wife Christina (Maryam Forouhandeh), who disapproves of his work. He soon heads out on a hunt accompanied by a Loomweather cronie named McGonagal (Richard Rowbotham, director of the short film Lonnie Knutsengripper: Man, Myth and Movies), who tells Farrowood of an encounter with a man of seemingly supernatural powers (Gary Baxter of Cleaver: Rise of the Killer Clown  and Serial Kaller  as The Stranger). When Loomweather himself encounters The Stranger, he goes on a psychedelic trip that challenges his mind and soul. Rutter directs, films, and edits the mind-blowing freak-out in the second half of the film marvelously, assisted by some terrific sound design, as well as a cool score from Craigus Barry and the Stained Glass Whispers. The visuals and aural accompaniment are something to behold in these sequences, and are reason enough to seek out Day of the Stranger. Part rugged cowboy gore-’em-up and part supernatural journey, this film is a treat.
Prolific U.K. independent film director Sam Mason-Bell (Lonely Hearts  and Welcome to Hell ) are two recent films that he has codirected) also penned the screenplay for his latest feature Millennial Killer, a savage attack on modern generation gap issues with a bit of political commentary on display, as well. Alice Mulholland (Lonely Hearts) stars as Naomi, a young woman who hopes to move in to a nice starter home with her reluctant boyfriend. Their estate agent (Simon Berry of Lonely Hearts and Welcome to Hell) — realtor or real estate agent for U.S. readers — shows them around a property they seem keen on . . . that is, until they see what awaits them in the master bedroom. Mulholland gives a disquieting performance as the estate agent’s favorite capture, and Berry is quite disturbing as the titular agent, barely able to conceal the vitriol toward his young clients that courses through his veins until he unleashes his wrath in the master bedroom. The impressive practical effects include plenty of bloodletting, and torture tools aplenty are used. Putting a British spin on some of the themes explored in last year’s Tone-Deaf, but with a much lower budget, much higher body count, and much darker tones to its humor, Millennial Killer is a highly unsettling slice of cinema.
One Must Fall
To label writer/director Antonio Pantoja’s debut feature One Must Fall a horror comedy is somewhat misrepresenting the film, because it has a highly comical first act and part of the second act, but when the nasty, vicious, viscous horror kicks in, there is nothing funny about it. Set in the 1986 Louisville, Kentucky area, the film centers on single mom Sarah (Julie Streble of Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories ) who is fired by her highly shady boss Brad (J.P. Lebangood, chewing up any scenery in sight in a way that must be seen to be believed) after she denies his sexual advances at the office. Her gay longtime friend Anton (Andrew Yackel of Swamp Thing ) accompanies her out the door the hard way and suggests a temporary gig cleaning up murder crime scenes. When the duo, their socially awkward new boss Dorian (John Wells of Piranha Sharks ), and their fellow crew members show up for work at an abandoned warehouse where a serial killer left the bodies of victims, it is soon evident that the murderer (Barry Piacente of No Sin Unpunished  in a chilling performance) is still lurking about — and more than eager to add to his body count. The difference between the film’s comic set pieces and its gruesome, sadistic horror sequences is quite jarring, but Pantoja pulls it all together with aplomb. Streble is outstanding and she has the opportunity to show her admirable skills in comedic, dramatic (quite touching, at times), and scream-queen sequences. The supporting cast members are solid, as well. One Must Fall is definitely not one for the squeamish, and gorehounds will find plenty of skin-crawling special effects on display, with some of the kills drawn out. The film’s well-fleshed-out characters, funny comic sequences, and jaw-dropping ending make it an independent effort well worth putting on your radar.
Day of the Stranger, Millennial Killer, and One Must Fall screened at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival, which ran January 10th–19th at Park Inn by Raddison Palace, Southend-on-Sea, U.K.