Canadian horror comedy Puppet Killer delivers in both the gore and gags departments. You know what you are in for pretty early on when the lead character, a high school student, is portrayed by a 50-year-old actor, taking the “they look to old to be high schoolers” trope to beyond its normal range. Aleks Paunovic toplines as that student, Jamie, who lost his mother (director Lisa Ovies) to cancer when he was a youngster. His stepmother tried to trash both his VHS horror movie collection that he watched with his mom and his beloved pink hand puppet Simon, and this being a fright flick, you can imagine how that turned out for her. Ten years later, Jamie and a group of his classmate friends plan to return to the cabin where the stepmother was slaughtered, against the wishes of his psychiatrist and reluctant father. Jamie’s girlfriend Jessie (Lisa Durupt) finds Simon hidden away, and after she brings him out, very bad things begin to happen to the hard partying friends. Kevin Mosley, who wrote the screenplay, is an obvious slasher film fan (he also wrote the slasher movie Dead of Night AKA Suspension from 2015), and he includes plenty of send-ups of the genre, as well as several nods to it. The cast members are game and obviously having a blast with their characters — including the scare-fare chestnuts of the horny couple (Gigi Saul Gurerrero and Kyle Cassie) and the fighting but loving brothers (Lee Madjoub and Richard Harmon) — and Simon is an amusing Elmo-like creation who wields a pretty mean series of tools of death for a hand puppet. Ovies balances the horror and the humor well. Some of the kills are played for laughs while others sway more to the gory side. Puppet Killer occasionally goes for the easier broad joke at times, but overall it should appeal to horror movie aficionados looking for a humorous viewing, especially slasher movie fans.
Dead Dicks, also a Canadian offering, pushes the envelope on several themes, including mental health and suicide issues, addressing them sometimes straight-on seriously and sometimes using dark humor. The film isn’t always an easy watch, but it is a highly rewarding one. Richie (Heston Horwin) kills himself at the beginning of the film by suffocating himself with a plastic bag in a jarring, graphic scene, but his younger sister Becca (Jillian Harris) comes to his apartment to find him quite alive — after first finding him dead from hanging himself in a closet. At this point, viewers are as confused as the codependent siblings are, but the cowriting and codirecting team of Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer do a terrific job of slowly unraveling the mysteries of what goes on in Richie’s home as these two characters argue, work together, and take care of and betray one another. Basically a two-hander chamber piece with a couple of other supporting characters and locations, Dead Dicks deals in gritty, tough-love drama, eerie body horror, and surreal happenings in everyday surroundings. Harris and Horwin are both superb in their roles, bringing their desperate, world weary characters to grueling life. Bavota and Springer don’t shy away from the real-life horrors of depression, abandonment, and suicidal thoughts. Their powerful film is a fine example of daring independent current horror cinema. Viewers who were stricken by such films as Perry Blackshear’s They Look Like People (2015) and The Siren (AKA The Rusalka; 2019) and Sophia Takal’s Always Shine (2016) will find plenty to chew on and enjoy in this highly recommended effort.
Puppet Killer and Dead Dicks both screen at Blood in the Snow Film Festival, which runs November 21–26, 2019, at the Royal Cinema in Toronto, Canada.