Eyes Wild Shut #002 — The Cropsey Incident (2017), Flakka 666 (2021) & Dark Sister (2018)

In the second instalment in his new ongoing series, Dave dives into the bottomless library of low-budget distributor Wild Eye Releasing, and draws attention to some little-known curiosities that are free to stream via Tubi.

“Julian Grant’s film might be a candidate for the back-handed compliment of ‘so bad it’s good’, but don’t cower in the face of criticism: just file it under bad.”

Words swiped from my review of Electra (1996) in mine and Matty’s forthcoming tome Schlock & Awe – and two decades later, they could easily be applied to the British director’s most recent feature, THE CROPSEY INCIDENT (2017).

Electra was Grant’s debut film, after an apprenticeship spent producing a handful of pictures by Canadian journeyman Damian Lee. A bewildering Steve Guttenberg / Sean Bean combo followed in the shape of the rightfully maligned Airborne (1998), which subsequently led to Grant retreating into a decade of minor television work and self-financed shorts.

The Cropsey Incident boasts some promising key art, and a storyline that hints at a new twist on the well-worn woods-based found footage spectacle, while harnessing a little of the urban legend tropes that have etched this campfire tale into folklore. The Burning (1981) and Madman (1982) did Cropsey best: after the quartet of balaclava-wearing activists here head into the forest for a vigilante-style manhunt, it’s unlikely they’ll be remembered next week, never mind in forty years. If you mine for compliments, there’s praise to be allocated for H.A.T.E’s (Humans Against Tyrants Everywhere) equality-driven backdrop and an interesting political angle, but it’s too frequently undone by this raucous foursome and the aural nightmare of a relentless techno throb. Headed by the fiery Nina (Rinska Cassasco), who inexplicably shouts her way through the entire picture, her accompanying dweebs seem far too subservient for any kind of revenge mission. Grant, meanwhile, seems intent on asserting the relevance of The Cropsey Incident by pitching it as a live stream where the viewer can decide on the troupe’s actions in real-time. It doesn’t work. It feels messy and cluttered – especially with a barrage of on-screen captions and title cards that serve only as an irritant. Some sombre Blair Witch Project (1999) style authenticity would have done wonders for the movie’s tone, but instead it’s the equivalent of a bad disco remix that you might hear on the B-side of a misfiring single by NSYNC.

It’s fair to say that Luis Antonio Rodriguez is unlikely to be the natural successor to the throne(s) of fellow countrymen like Guillermo Del Toro or Alfonso Cuaron, but there are (just) enough signs in FLAKKA 666 (2021) to hint that this Mexican filmmaker is capable of progressing onto more pleasing fare than this patchy effort.

Partnering up with regular collaborator and screenwriter Israel Rios, the picture revolves around a new drug called flakka. Designed by the notorious Mexican cartels, the narcotic is blighted by the soul of an evil demon which, in turn, inhabits the body of each individual user and causes them to twist into ravenous, flesh-eating zombies.

If we all had a pound for every low-budget zombie movie we’ve watched… Then we could probably make our very own low-budget zombie movie. Flakka 666 begins within the graffiti-lined walls of a concrete shell where chief medicator Brujo (Ivan Valdez) is wielding a wooden stick and stirring a cauldron that’s oozing with dry ice. “Every addict will feel they’ve been touched by the devil,” he promises. Gradually the effects of these red packets of doom seep into the underbelly of society, and when a cop is killed at the hands of an infected user, the battle to get this drug off the streets intensifies.

With flesh-chewing abandon, limb-ripping eagerness, and a severed penis gag that delivers a guttural wretch, Flakka 666 is not without its moments. Its weakness lies in the narrative, with its fleeting running time seeming like a series of barely connected vignettes. Storylines begin yet rarely come full circle, with the death of Detective Vega’s (Melissa L. Vega) transgender sister (Nikki Aparicio) being but one of the genuinely interesting story strands that swiftly runs out of steam. It’s clear that Rodriguez can operate a camera with finesse and a certain degree of style, but until it’s met with a pared-down screenplay and a clear sense of structure, it will be an ability that remains half-baked.

Playing Manchester’s GrimmFest back in the autumn of 2014 under its original title ‘Sororal’, it had been a frustratingly anonymous few years for Sam Barrett’s impressive film. Denied a physical media release despite its festival familiarity, it wasn’t until four years later, thanks to a radical artwork overhaul and a change of title to DARK SISTER (2018) by its new distributor Wild Eye Releasing, that this antipodean oddity could get some well-deserved love.

“The best giallo films offer an attitude and a wild imagination that I found very appealing,” mused Barrett to Cult Projections in November 2013, and it’s obvious that the beloved Italian genre helped to position this feature firmly in the realm of the neo-giallo. Influenced primarily by Mario Bava – not least ‘The Telephone’ sequence in Black Sabbath (1963) – the Perth-born Barrett establishes a world where Cassie (Amanda Woodhams), a troubled artist, experiences recurring visions of murder and uses her art as a means to escape.

It’s a trippy ride, but one that’s made enjoyable by the texture of the surroundings. Cassie wanders her paint-flaking bohemian three-floor apartment with a fag in hand as cinematographer Ivan Davidov brushes each reel with a European palette, periodically drenching the screen in a vivid red tint. Technically there’s little to fault, with the slightly excessive running time (110 minutes!) exuding style, chic and a level of class that so many imitators fail to reach. Harbouring a similar feel to Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013), its languid pace will be repellent for some, while its largely impenetrable narrative may confound far more often than it delights. However, it’s so artistically adept that you should quite happily lose yourself in its beauty and be quite content to have had the opportunity to do so.

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