Reviews in Extreme Brief: Surviving Chicago’s Cinepocalypse

For eight days in early November of 2017, Chicago’s historic Music Box Theater hosted the Cinepocalypse genre film festival, a mutated rebranding of what was once known as the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival. (This is thankfully not due to any pending sexual allegations involving the Evil Dead star.) An aggressively programmed schedule screened repertory (Suspiria, Near Dark, The Ambulance, Maximum goddamn Overdrive) and yet-to-be-released films alike to the captive audiences of viscera enthusiasts. TV-VCR was on-hand throughout in order to provide concise, unfairly-terse assessments for the bulk of the new offerings. In order of appearance:

A slick—but ultimately hollow—modern (i.e. social media-focused) update to Heathers by way of Scream, Tragedy Girls sacrifices satiric bite in favor of mainstream appeal. Grade: C

A confident, scattered entry in the Bigfoot horror subgenre, the special effects veterans behind Primal Rage make the most of its ramshackle DIY production. Grade: C+

Sort of a British Greasy Strangler (more provocation than comedy), the transgressive Attack of the Adult Babies coasts along on its own insistently demented, shit-obsessed charm—and a welcome appearance from Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)’s rotund Laurence R. Harvey. Grade: C+

Downrange is held back by some bonehead performances, but it’s otherwise a nicely stripped-down—and very dark—survival thriller about an indiscriminate sniper. Grade: B-

A loving documentary tribute to a one-of-a-kind moviemaking icon, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen is a thoroughly entertaining puff piece lacking a real agenda. Grade: B-

A tardy, unabashed xerox of any number of more successful Tarantino copycats (Go, for example), sleazy crime comedy (and Cinepocalypse Best Film Award Winner) Lowlife is not nearly as cute and clever as it thinks it is. Grade: D

For a film put together by friends on free weekends in Germany, Cinepocalypse Audience Award Winner Snowflake is an inventive, uneven, no-budget meta noir-comedy that looks way better than it should. Grade: B

Motorrad is a plodding nonstarter Brazilian import that’s as barren as the deserts its characters endlessly motorcycle across, no matter how much it strives to homage George Miller. Grade: D+

Undeniably solid filmmaking from Paco Plaza (the [•REC] series) can’t elevate Veronica, the umpteenth permutation of children being jump-scared by a supernatural being haunting their own home. Grade: C

Baskin director Can Evrenol improves on the formula of his creepy-as-fuck 2015 feature with gleeful nods to Lovecraftian terror and the New French Extremity in the surreal Housewife. Grade B+

Despite an old pro cast (Barbara Crampton, A.J. Bowen, Chase Williamson, etc.) and old school practical gore, the baffling cabin-in-the-woods flick Applecart can’t quite connect on its huge disruptive narrative swings. Grade: C+

Just barely more accomplished than something The Asylum (Nazis at the Center of the Earth, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming) would release, It Came From the Desert is an entirely weird, anachronistic, cheapo Starship TroopersEight Legged Freaks mashup that’s for some reason based on a Cinemaware PC game from 1989. Grade: C-

A sequel to one of the dumber boilerplate alien invasion actioners in recent history, Beyond Skyline is woefully mistaken in thinking Frank Grillo, kung fu, and kaiju bullshit will improve matters. Grade: D

  • HalSolo

    Bummer – I was intrigued by Tragedy Girls and Applecart but feel like I’ll need to trust you all on this. That said, never heard of Housewife, totally stoked on it!
    As for Beyond Skyline, adding Frank Grillo, kung fu (and IKO UWAIS?!?!?!) and kaiju bullshit SHOULD improve any low budget sci-fi sequel, so that’s a MAJOR fail.

    • Kevin Knipstein

      Yeah, Tragedy Girls and Applecart were high on my list for the festival, but they ultimately couldn’t live up to expectations. I highly recommend Housewife. And Snowflake.

      • Matt Van Halen

        I second KK’s calls to Housewife. I saw it at Sitges and it was truly great. Lots of terrible acting, but by the end, it didn’t even matter.