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Reality Horror, The Future of Fear (Nov. 06) by Ricardo Rebelo

Horror fans have developed a very thick skin in regards to violence and gore over the years. By the age of seventeen most horror buffs have already seen “splatter” and gore fests like Cannibal Holocaust, Dead Alive, Day of the Dead and countless others. So where do they go for new frights? The answer may come from a new group of ultra violet reality style films.

Coming almost simultaneously with the dawn of reality television, mixed with the freedom of modern digital technology horror film makers like Fred Vogel, Nick Palumbo, and Eric Stanze have brought new scares to the masses of jaded viewers.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer can be said to be the grandfather of these modern films. The most notable scene is the home invasion where the violence gives the piece a horrific reality. Granted the field of faux snuff had been explored in the 1970’s with pictures like Snuff and extreme violence with Last House on Dead End Street, but most of the films of the 70’s had a cinematic beauty and quality that the modern films with the exception of Murder Set Pieces do not have. This is not meant to disparage these films; their crudeness is part of what makes them so effective.

The first of these films made in the new millennium was Eric Stanze’s Scrapbook. Scrapbook is a voyeuristic exploration of sadism. Leonard (Tommy Biondo) kidnaps Clara (Emily Haack) and forces her to perform sexual and sadistic acts and write about them in a scrapbook. The film, shot on video, is raw and power full. There is plenty of gore to go around but it has a realism that the average horror film does not have. The explicit sex in the film is an act of pure violence without any sensuality. As a viewer you feel as if you are being assaulted by the violence on screen. Even with great technical shortcomings of Scrapbook, one is compelled to see how the story unfolds and hopes the Clara is able to eventually escape her captor. Though Scrapbook is not the best of the bunch it is still worth screening if you have a taste for sadistic fare.

One year later in 2001 an instructor at the Tom Savini School of makeup named Fred Vogel decided that he would make a film that would terrorize the general population called August Underground.|

August Underground has a great fable to it. Vogel, wanted to distribute the film by leaving unlabeled tapes in public places for people to find. Luckily for the public this film was saved to be savored only by true horror aficionados. The entire film is shot in a home movie style and without any true narrative. This is surprisingly the strength of the picture. The voyeuristic quality is far stronger than that of Scrapbook and Vogel uses that to great effect by blending scenes of intense violence and gore with those of mundane everyday events. The first few scenes of a fecal covered maiden with her nipple sheared off causes post traumatic stress in the viewer. I have seen groups of people stream out of a screening after this sequence. Then we go on a road trip with the two protagonists who are nameless the main killer is played by Vogel himself. When we see them going to a railroad museum the effect of the first half of the film hits us, we expect to see brutalization of the patrons but the scene goes on without instance. It is the tension you feel, expecting the worst that is the true horror of August Underground. The make up effects are as real as possible which adds to the intensity of this modern horror classic.

The sequel to August Underground called Mordum continues the onslaught of reality violence. Toe Tag pictures upped the violence and gore for Mordum so it is by no means a pleasure ride for the viewer. Though the original may be a stronger film the sequel adds more scraps from the terror table.

Later this Year Vogel will release his newest release Redsin Tower which will not be in the mold of the two August Underground films. This may be the most important independent horror film release this year. Fred Vogel has pulled out all the stops to combine the raw intensity of August Underground and film quality of Murder Set Pieces. Judging by the trailer Redsin Tower looks like one of the best low budget independent films in years.

Vogel plans to release the third part of the August Underground trilogy in 2007. The film will be called Penance. Vogel promises that the villains of the first two films will get there just due and if that is true fans of the series are headed for a gory hell ride.

In 2004 Fred Vogel and the make-up FX crew of August Underground teamed up with director Nick Palumbo to make Murder Set Pieces.

Murder Set Pieces was shot on film by veteran cinematographer Brendan Flynt (Toxic Avenger 4) and is technically the best looking film of the bunch.

The story involves a photographer (Sven Garret) who lays waste to everything in his path. He rapes tortures kills and bites women he meets. At one point even dispatches a youth in a scene that makes grown men cringe. Palumbo pushes the film to the very edge when Garret sizes up and infant but thankfully reconsiders. Nick Palumbo, the director takes us down the same path of sexuality and sadism as Vogel and Stanze, but with a budget of close to 2 million dollars and the backdrop of Las Vegas Murder set pieces is slicker and sleeker.

Garret’s character eats up the scenery in every scene he is in with his many sets of specialized metal teeth. He is one of the most terrifying serial killers in a horror since Michael Rooker’s portrayal of Henry Lee Lucas. Palumbo rounds out the cast with horror veterans Gunner Hansen and Tony Todd, Hansen as a white supremacist is especially frightening and at his age has an air of horror gravitas that helps to make the mood more intense. Murder Set Pieces has a reputation as a film which has been barred by many festivals. I don’t understand why this is so. True it is graphic and exploitive but it is socially relative and powerful as a modern horror film and an example of the best in modern independent film.

All three films do what very few horror pictures do these days; they constantly test the boundaries of violence and sex. All great horror films of their time tested these boundaries whether it is Frankenstein in the 30’s or Last House on the Left in the 70’s. Unlike most of the films produced in Hollywood the last ten years there is no attempt by these film makers to do homage to the films of the 70’s. These film are new, fresh intense and in your face. They may not be for everyone but if you are a fan of this genre and wish to visit the modern vanguard of fear, try them out.

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