Jason Horton – Passionate Film Director

I recently had a short email exchange with director Jason Horton and it’s cool that he’s the type of guy who will email just to let me know of a new movie he’s worked on. He didn’t ask for anything. He just wanted to give me an opportunity to watch his latest film.

That’s the thing about Jason. He is passionate about film, yet he doesn’t seem to let that define him. Rather than a filmmaker, hes a regular guy who happens to love and have a talent for film and story.

Our brief exchange turned into a short interview on a few topics I’ve wanted to ask him about. What’s really telling is how low key he is when I ask him about diversity. There’s no grand scheme. No soliloquies about the importance of his work. Just a guy who embraces multi-culturalism with true respect.

Jason’s latest work is a thriller called Deceitful. He also created the campy Monsters in the Woods. My favorite Horton film is The Trap. It really shows his talent as a writer who creates nuanced and believable characters. It truly is a great find among the dregs of Amazon VOD.

Check out the discussion and trailer for Decitful below.

Teasing vs Showing – Your sex scenes seemed to tease more than show. Was that intentional? Is there a philosophy behind that?

On a lower budget productions, I’m not really comfortable asking actors to go too far in regards to sex scenes. When you have more money, you can implement both legal and practical safe guards that protect both the actor and the production. That said, I decided to use the restrictions I had to enrich the movie. So, yeah, I chose to tease. In the end, the implication can be much more powerful than the actual act.

Normal-looking actors/actresses – Your actors and actresses are all attractive, but still look like people you might see on the street.

In all my flicks, I try to stay grounded. Even if the material is fantasical, I try to keep the cast and tone real.

Symbolism in the movie – angels, sex, flash scenes, etc….

There’s some Angel/Devil stuff going on. Also some materialism commentary.

What’s it like for a white guy casting black characters?

It’s really no different than any other kind of casting. I’ve always, even in my early work, cast multi-culturally and in the past few years, I’ve worked on a lot of “Urban” flicks, so the casting on this was pretty natural.

As a writer, what’s the difference between writing black characters who just have black skin and those who are culturally black — you could call this the difference between token characters and authentic characters.

I think it’s just a matter of treating the characters with respect and not just scratching the surface or playing the stereotype.

The Muse Movie – Indie Film At It’s Best

The Muse Movie – At what cost for your hearts desire?

Poster for the movie The MuseHave you ever tasted success only to fall short? Maybe as a salesperson who had a couple months of closing deals and great prospecting? You knew the right words to say. You never stumbled and you were always moving forward. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to lose weight. You've tried every diet, and once, just once, it worked. You got so close to your goal. So close…. Then, you slowly gained it all back. Ever since, you've struggled, trying to replicate what worked before to no avail. Any artists out there? You've had a streak where lines and curves and colors shot through your hands onto the canvas. Vibrant creations almost sprung to life with little effort on your part. Then, it faded away.

What would you do to get it back? What price would you pay? What if a genie rose from the lamp, offering it back for the small price of your sanity? Oh it might be tempting, but most of us would say no. Decisions like that are easy when the cost is high and the consequences are clear.

Now suppose that genie never gave you a choice? Instead, he granted your heart’s desire and slowly extracted payment. Now the option isn’t so clear, is it? Good people do bad things with sufficient reward and when opportunity is presented in very small, incremental steps.

Why the hypothetical? Because that scenario lies at the heart of The Muse. Starring Isaac Simons and directed by Rufus Chafee, The Muse is a psychological thriller where one-hit-wonder Addison Taylor struggles to find his next song, the one to put him on top. He's talented and has flirted with the big time, but he just can't find that next hit. Enter Jimmy, Addison's agent played by Paul Blumenfeld. He sends Addison to a secluded lake-side cabin to get away for a while and concentrate on writing music without the distractions of being Addison Taylor in the city. At the cabin, Addison hits a great streak. Brilliant new music effortlessly flows through him, but at what price and from what origin? Are the new songs coming from Addison's own inspiration and crazed mind or is something more sinister at work? I'm not telling. In fact, even after watching the movie twice, I'm not quite sure.

Did you know the lake house Addison stayed at is on Granite Lake in Keen, NH? The city scenes in the movie were shot in Arlington, MA.

the muse movie addison on the lake

Questions, questions, questions

Not many movies stick with me, forcing me to ponder deep questions, but The Muse did. Even as I write this, I can't help but wonder if the movie tells a ghost story, a story of madness or something else. Audiences don't want everything hand-fed to them, and Rufus does an excellent job of providing just enough to hook us without explaining every last detail. He seems to understand the power of questions in storytelling. Five people might watch this movie and walk away with five different explanations about what happened. That's wonderful storytelling that even some of the masters don't achieve.

Have a little class

The Muse is not the movie I expected. Sometimes indie films come with certain expectations. We all know the terms low-budget, b-movie, exploitation, etc…. While this movie was made on a small budget, none of the other descriptors apply. In The Muse, Rufus created a classy thriller that stayed away from the cheap and easy to provide subtlety and intrigue. If you're looking for blood and gore over great storytelling, this isn't the movie for you. Shock and titillation just aren't tools Rufus employed. Don't get me wrong, I like shock and titillation as much as the next guy, but never at the expense of good storytelling. Even the choice to use a classically-trained pianist as Isaac's Muse shows the type of movie Rufus wanted to make. While she easily could have been a trashy groupie-type character, she was portrayed as a classy, ethereal figure who is above humanity like Liv Tyler's Arwen in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The muse movie love scene with Addison and the muse

Why it works

I want to make sure I accurately describe The Muse as I don't believe calling it a psychological thriller does the story justice. If I had to choose a genre, that would be it, but the thriller part of the movie isn't what makes it tick. Is there plenty of suspense? Sure. Is protagonist Addison off his rocker? Maybe, but that's not the key. What really makes The Muse enjoyable is the mystery, or what I like to call "the but". The moment Addison Taylor steps on the lakeside property we feel a sense of foreboding. Nothing has happened, but we're already worried for him. He's basically okay, but…. He's gaining success, but…. He found his muse, but…. It's these buts that create a sense of unease throughout the film. We never jump out of our seat, yet we never feel comfortable either.

Go see The Muse

The Muse is an intelligent film with fantastic storytelling created by a passionate director and cast. It will stick with you like few other recent movies.

You can see The Muse at Twistflix.com.

The muse movie Addison with the muse

Three Fantastic Horror Shorts

Horror shorts

Nothing starts a Saturday morning off right like finding a few good horror shorts. Well, I could think of a few things, but this is a family-friendly place. Here at Story In blog, storytelling trades as a priceless commodity, and while these three shorts are very different from each other, they all share a common trait – great storytelling. So grab a drink, sit back and enjoy some fantastic films.

Something poignant: Crestfallen

Careful. Nudity ahead.

When Lo has her life come crashing down on top of her, she makes the impulsive decision to end her own life. Now with her health hanging in the balance, she questions her decision. With every drop of blood rippling in to a new memory, will the bad ones take her life, or will the good ones overpower them?

So much to love about this film that tells a complete story in six minutes. Strong imagery and an outstanding job of acting through facial expressions and body language by Deneen Melody make this a visually striking film. But, its the musical score that pushes Crestfallen from good to great. With perfect pacing, Harry Manfredini chooses just the right moments to pull our heartstrings back and forth from hope to dread. In Crestfallen, writer Russ Penning delivers a poignant story guaranteed to make you cringe.

I couldn’t find any information on Russ Penning. If anyone has a web page or Twitter handle for him, please let me know.

Something horrific: No Way Out

Directed by Kristoffer Aaron Morgan Written by Eric Vespe Starring AJ Bowen Isolated in a place where twisted creatures torment him from the dark, a man desperately tries to find an escape.

Revulsion and dread all wrapped in a squishy package of giant spiders, monsters and gore. For an added bonus, No Way Out throws in some awesome sound effects that ratchet up the unease even when closing your eyes to escape the horror. Watch as actor A.J. Bowen transitions from runner, to fighter, to madman all in the space of nine minutes.

**Special note. One thing that often ruins independent films for me is screaming. Few actors and actresses scream well, and even fewer when actual words are called for. You know, the “What’s going on!” type of thing. A.J. nails it in this film, building rather than destroying tension.

Something charming: I Love Sarah Jane

Jimbo is 13 and can think of only one girl – Sarah Jane. And no matter what stands in his way-bullies, violence, chaos, or zombies-nothing will stop him from finding a way into her world.

Remember that moment when you first fell in love? What was it that jabbed your heart? Was it a look? An action? Lets just say Jimbo is living the ultimate zombie geek’s dream in I Love Sarah Jane

Independent Film: Trap by Jason Horton

Trap by Jason Horton

I recently found a hidden gem in the movie Trap by Jason Horton. It’s an independent film about two men who kidnap a girl for ransom. Things go awry when one of the men falls for her.

I was surprised by the quality acting in the movie. Allen Perada, Alonzo F. Jones and Ashton Blanchard were all cast perfectly. They fit their respective roles and delivered performances that enhanced the film.

Focusing on three main characters, Horton allows us to get to know them well. And while the theme in Trap is about being trapped by life’s circumstances, I thought the subtext concerning complex relationships provided ample opportunity for a deeper exploration of those things in life that aren’t ideal but we we learn to cope with anyway. That’s the beauty of this movie, and its handled with real deftness and subtlety. It’s as if the plot was created as a vehicle for delving into topics many of us don’t like to talk about.

Anyway, you can buy or rent Trap on Amazon VOD. It’s well worth the $1.99 and 90 minutes you’ll spend. If you see it, let me know what you think.

What are your favorite hidden gems? Lesser-known or independent films that deliver more than just a plot. Have you found anything recently? Let us know.

Awesome Movie Review: Found

Found Poster - Internet size

What lies beneath the surface? That’s the question truly good horror must ask. And when it answers, there better be a payoff worth waiting for. Forget the gore and drama. Forget the great acting by young Gavin Brown. What makes Found such a good movie is the constant reminder that inside us all lies the capacity for great evil and great courage. Good stories, horror or otherwise, never forget that lesson.

The first time I watched Found, I was a bit disappointed. What started as a coming of age story, turned into a gore fest that was quite unexpected. As I’m not a fan of over-the-top violence and gore — I prefer psychological horror to slashers or serial killers — a scene in the middle of the movie distracted me from the overall story. At that time, I watched while checking Facebook, Twitter and important email, and didn’t catch all of the themes and subtext in the movie.

Glad I forgot to write a review then and decided to watch it again since it had been weeks since I first saw it. This time I paid attention throughout, catching themes about what “respectable” people hide. Prejudice, violence, contempt and arrogance. Within the context of that theme and the overall transformation of Marty from bullied weakling to bad ass, the more disturbing parts of the movie fit much better. Don’t get me wrong, some scenes are a bit overdone for my tastes, but I’m not your typical horror fan. Trust me, gore fans will not be disappointed.

The thing is, the gore in this movie was unnecessary, because at the heart of Found lies a great story told through a child’s eyes. Nothing was more chilling than Marty in scary or merely uncomfortable situations. Whether we think Marty is in danger, or he’s having a conversation with a well-meaning, but naive pastor, we experience the appropriate emotions from a twelve-year-old’s point of view. I found myself rooting for Marty, and chastising those around him.

Besides Gavin’s acting, Ethan Philbeck was fantastic as Marty’s older brother. In particular, Ethan had a knack for showing anger and love, often at the same time, using facial expression and body language. Phyllis Munro and Louie Lawless were more than credible as parents of the two boys. Outside of them, performances were generally adequate or better.

Special notices should go to writer Todd Rigney for crafting outstanding dialog and a complete story. Too many low-budget, horror movies focus on special effects and camera tricks at the expense of storytelling. Not so with Found. This story would be just as powerful with or without significant special effects. I’d love to see the screenplay turned into a novel.

Let’s recap, shall we? Great story, fantastic acting, and excessive gore. Sounds like a movie festival fans will love!

So, what lies beneath, deep within Marty? Does he have the capacity for great evil? I’m not tellin’. Watch Found to find out. You’ll be glad you did.

Exit Humanity Review: A Missed Opportunity

Exit Humanity Zombies

Exit Humanit: The Promise

As someone who loves stories, I find it particularly painful when movies with the potential for greatness fizzle out as missed opportunities. The trailer for Exit Humanity showed a new perspective on the zombie genre, with powerful scenes and interesting characters. I hadn’t been this excited about a new movie in a long time.

Exit Humanity: The Delivery

Like so many prom nights and first dates, experience often doesn’t match expectations. Where the trailer was dark and dramatic, the film was slow and plodding, with little happening before the last third. Instead of good dialog, the writer chose to tell most of the story through narration. Not a good choice, even with Brian Cox telling the story.

The first half of the film focuses on main-character Edward Young’s search for his missing son. His wife had died – we know this because he told us in an offhand comment during the narration. Alone in the wilderness, with little ammunition or food, Edward and his trusty mount must face the zombie horde or abandon his son.

What a wonderful opportunity for building tension and dramatic impact. Unfortunately, we don’t get that. Instead, we get a bunch of meaningless encounters and no real sense of danger. Even the scene when Edward reunites with his son lacks emotional punch. The best drama Exit Humanity delivers is through actor Mark Gibson’s incoherent screaming, which would be effective if he hadn’t used so much of it early in the film. By the time anything important happen, Gibson’s wailing has already grown tired and ineffective.

Exit Humanity commits a host of sins, but none are worse than setting and costume choices. The film takes place in the Post-Civil-War south, where Edward first comes home from battle looking more like a computer programmer than a soldier. His clothes are clean – as are most everyone’s in the movie. His hair looks good, and he’s wearing a black leather jacket. He just looks out of place, and it’s not only Edward. Other characters either didn’t look the part or they weren’t dressed appropriately. Even with a great story, it would be difficult to get past these flaws.

In the end, it’s mind boggling that a film with a $300,000 budget and support from Brian Cox couldn’t do better. Didn’t anyone look at Edward Young on the first day of filming? Didn’t they see that the costumes looked more appropriate for a Halloween party than a feature film? Couldn’t anyone tell them in post-production that we just don’t care about Edward’s wife or son, because we never got to know them?

John Geddes started with a great concept, and understands the mechanics of storytelling. The right plot points are in the right places. He foreshadows, and makes good use of imagery. I look forward to seeing what he does in the future if he learns from Exit Humanity. Will he grow as a filmmaker? Only time will tell. For now, I’d say skip this movie. If you’re looking for something different with zombies, try Marvin Kren’s dramatic Rammbock or Tommy Wirkola’s witty Dead Snow.

As a missed opportunity, Exit Humanity is a movie to miss.

Three More Fantastic Horror Shorts

A queue of watch-later videos greeted me this morning. What better time to find some good horror shorts. I saw about ten or fifteen short horror films to find these three.

Now it’s time to scare the shorts off of you… No, that’s not right. Scare you with shorts…. Wait, even if you don’t wear shorts, I still want to scare you. Let’s try this again… It’s time to scare those of you with or without shorts, knowing that those with shorts might be scared out of them so they’ll join the without-shorts group. Er… Umm… Just watch the videos.

In Chambers

This one comes from the directors of the excellent-looking Thale. A women wakes up in a random chamber, not knowing why she’s there. Men in black coats take people when their number is up. What do the numbers mean? What happens when the men take you? Don’t ask me. Watch the movie to find out. This is a professionally-made movie. High quality effects, acting, camera-work and sound.

Can I Call You

Ah, the blind date. Where the adventurous find love, or maybe boredom, or maybe something else. This is another professionally-made film that makes you laugh and provides a bit of suspense.

Roses

A professional hit-man, a desperate woman. Not everything is as it seems. Quite gruesome and not for the easily-disturbed, this is an excellent new take on the torture-porn story.

Great Stories: Rose White Film Review

Rose White: Lilly and Rosalyn

Great stories make us feel

What makes great stories so compelling is their ability to make us feel. In a world where many of our relationships are sterile and shallow, stories force us to fear, to hope, and to wonder. They free us to imagine and dream. Rose White is such a story.

Loosely based on Snow White and Rose Red by the Brothers Grimm, Rose White tells a modern story of two sisters striving for survival in poor circumstances. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll keep the description to that.

Storytelling Tools

What I really like about the movie is how director Daniel Kuhlman utilizes music, violence, gore and camera work to enhance an already-great story. Nothing ever appears gratuitous. Every image moves the story forward. All the music attenuates emotional response. The short bits of violence and gore add power. In other words, Kuhl employs the tools of his trade in the context of the overall story. He is a director, but first he is a storyteller. With the recent trend towards 80s-style special effects and weak plots, Rose White’s creativity and subtlety delivers far-greater punch than many of Hollywood’s latest offerings.

Rose White: Bear Watches

Acting in low-budget films is usually suspect. And while Rose White offers a few sub-par performances — Unfortunately, Kuhlman’s directing prowess doesn’t carry over to his acting skills — leading characters Erin Breen and Deneen Melody shine on screen as polar opposite personalities. Breen, the tough, responsible sister comes across as believable. Melody’s role contains few speaking parts, but is crucial to the feel of the movie. Her ability to convey emotions like mania and fear through body-language alone lifts Rose White from good to great. Without her excellent performance, Breen’s effort would be wasted. Together, the duo delivers something greater than a $60,000 budget normally provides.

The verdict

Rose White isn’t without faults. Sound quality is poor at times, and some of the actors just don’t bring any personality to their parts. But these problems are minor compared to the fantastic story and quality acting by Breen and Melody. I suspect some of the sound issues could be fixed with more post-processing.

I really enjoyed Rose White. Few feature-length movies carry the emotional impact of this thirty-minute short. If you’re looking for an evocative film that demands an emotional connection, Rose White is the movie for you.

Netflix Horror Find: Absentia

absentia

There’s just something about low-budget horror done well. We don’t expect superb acting or amazing special effects in movies that cost thousands instead of millions to make. But, we do expect good storytelling and an understanding that you can’t do everything without that blockbuster budget. My latest Netflix horror find shows that low-budget does not have to equal low quality.

Absentia tells the story of Tricia — who’s husband went missing seven years ago — and her prodigal sister Callie. Tricia’s husband is presumed dead, and not happy about Tricia’s recent pregnancy. When he starts appearing in ghostly form, we’re left to wonder whether Tricia is nuts. I won’t go into much more, lest I spoil the plot. Suffice to say, that you never fully understand everything that’s happening, and that’s a good thing.

What I really like about this film is how director Mike Flanagan didn’t go beyond his means. Low-budget movies that suck usually attempt a grander existence then they ought to. Not so with Absentia. Instead of relying on flash, the movie focuses on sound storytelling and suspense, leaving as much to the imagination as what is shown on screen. Flanagan utilizes efficient scenes, where every detail is important. This allowed him to tell a complete story in ninety minutes. How great would it be if other directors looked to shorten their movies instead of lengthening them with fluff.

The film work in Absentia is superb. At times, Flanagan uses a shaky camera, but just enough to heighten the tension. He took a run-down, suburban area and made it beautiful. It’s difficult to describe, but you’ll see what I mean when you watch the movie.

If you haven’t seen Absentia yet, put it in your queue. It’s available on instant play, V.O.D and DVD. Just understand that this isn’t a blockbuster movie. Oscar nominations are unlikely. But, if you’re looking for great storytelling mixed with mostly-competent acting, this is your movie. Enjoy.

Horror Fest FearCon V Coming In October

Horror Fest FearCon V

Did you know we have a horror convention here in Phoenix? On October 13, 2012 Phoenix FearCon V will present a day of horror at Ultrastar Cinemas.

Feature film

At this point, FearCon has one feature film planned. Up-and-coming director Alax Chandon’s Inbred headlines the evening. I watched the trailer, and this one is emotional, disturbing and gory. Not for the faint of heart. In other words, perfect for a horror con.

happenings

Guests at FearCon V include the princess of scream Tiffany Shepis, Kaos Funeral Cars, The Dr. Diabolic Show, and America’s favorite zombie housewives Stella and Liz.

But, we don’t go to cons just for the guests. It’s the action we’re interested in. No shorts are announced yet, but I’m sure we’ll have plenty of horror to watch. Along with the films, here are the other planned activities:

  • Zombie runway fashion show
  • Zombie panel discussion with experts
  • Special FX makeup demos with Gillian Payne
  • Horror author book signings
  • Costume and scream contests
  • Vendors
  • Awards ceremony
  • Concert

Details are still a bit hazy. We’ll keep you posted as new info is released. For now, just be happy that horror is alive and well in Phoenix.

Volunteers

FearCon V needs volunteers and financial contributors. Please help out any way you can. I am volunteering on event day and beforehand.