Monday, October 17, 2011

"Into the Lion's Den" premiers at Reel Affirmations 20; a gay "road horror" thriller that fits an effective genre well

Ever since “Psycho”, road movies have become a vehicle for a particular kind of horror.  A likeable character, or group of friends, goes looking for adventure and sometimes “love” and gets more than it bargains for (or at least not what they expect). In a good horror thriller like this, you see it coming, and you want to yank the characters right out of the screen before they meet inevitable doom or demise.

Reel Affirmations 20, on Sunday Oct. 16, gave the world premiere of the new thriller, “Into the Lion’s Den”, directed by Dan Lantz, written by Philip Malaczewski  (and Philip Mawoshowski?)  Three friends – Michael (Ronnie Kroell), Johnny (Jesse Archer) and Ted (Kristen Alexzander Griffith) have become “bored” with West Hollywood and make the cross country trip to New York.  “Come east”, indeed.  In the Amish country of Pennsylvania, Johnny gets a text (probably spurred by cell GPS location) “inviting” the trio to stop by a dive called the Lion’s Den.  After they settle in a flea-bag motel and Michael takes his protease meds (an important clue), they head for the place, and find, well, it’s not exactly the gay bar they had hoped.  Really, in rural Pennsylvania?  You won’t find a Town DC or a Studio One.

The film was shot outside of Philadelphia, according to others’ notes (as in the Blade). But there was one scene that looked like the Strasburg railroad, a tourist attraction, just south of Lancaster a bit (east of where the mountains start).  I’ve ridden it before.  The Choo-Choo Barn (not to be confused with Roadside America) is nearby.  The film shows Amish buggies with a bit of irreverence. I know a lot of Pennsylvania pretty well; “America starts here.”

As for what happens to the characters, well, you have to think about the villains: a skinhead, and a viper lady sporting a bow and arrow (“she” is the main villain). Downstairs there is a chamber of horrors.  We can start with the electroshock treatments, but there is far “worse”.  In the ensuing carnage, something will happen that does indeed answer right-wing arguments against gays, spurred by the relatively sudden appearance of AIDS, put out in the 1980s by the likes of Paul Cameron and others.  Let’s say people can get what they deserve, based on their own actions.

I won’t give too many more specifics here.  But the film bears comparison to others in the genre, straight and gay. There was an obvious reference to Anthony Perkins in the 1960 classic at one point; and the setup reminds us of Lionsgate’s “Hostel” franchise.  But the really interesting comparison is to Carter Smith’s horror masterpiece, “Bugcrush”, a 37 minute short (2006) set in Maine, reviewed here  January 29, 2008. In comparison with that film, the central characters here elicited less identification from me, and the “horror” scenes actually came on too suddenly, without real “prep”.  In “Bugcrush”, there is a real bond of “affection” (or pseudo-love) between the characters before it gets “dangerous”.  That aspect, making “Bugcursh” an erotic film, was lacking here.  

The film opens and closes with a black-and-white sequence showing a white rose that reminded me of the German film “The White Ribbon” (not to be confused with “The White Rose”, better known in the  US as the remake “Sophie Scholl: The Last Days” (review July 1, 2009)).

The film (Lion's Den) will be released by Breaking Glass Pictures on video soon.  I hope there is a theatrical release.  As I write this review, Kevin Smith is discussing his road horror film "Red State" on ABC's "The View"; I've not seen it (yet), but it deals with travelers encountering a fundamentalist sect; and Smith is saying that it costs $20 million for a movie to get main theatrical chain distribution.  Not real encouraging!

Another film for comparison could be "Albino Farm" (reviewed here Aug. 11). Another one is "Timber Falls" (2007) from A-Mark, by Tony Giglio where the villains want a baby out of a traveler.

Ronnie Kroell had appeared at the panel discussion Wednesday night.  Most of the cast as writer and director were present for a Q&A (below).  Philp Malaczeski  (above) was present for the discussion, and later at the after-party at the Tonic at 23rd and G. It was Quigley’s drug store and grille in the 1960s, when I went to GWU and graduated (1966).   I remember a day, before a chemistry hour exam at Corcoran Hall a few buildings away (across from Lisner), going into the place for a burger and was greeted with “nothing from the grille; she’s cleaning!”  

The Pennsylvania  "Amish country" pictures are mine, mostly from 2006. Remember the Nickel Mines tragedy?

Here's a YouTube video of an interview with Breaking Glass Pictures CEO Richard Wolff on indie film:

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