Movie Review ~ Founders Day

The Facts:

Synopsis: A murder mystery surfaces in the midst of a heated mayoral election in a quaint New England town.
Stars: Naomi Grace, Olivia Nikkanen, Devin Druid, Emilia McCarthy, Amy Hargreaves, Catherine Curtin, William Russ, Erik Bloomquist, Tyler James White, Adam Weppler, Kate Edmonds, Jayce Bartok
Director: Erik Bloomquist
Rated: R
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Though they’ve been a bit uneven, the greatest gift the reboot of the Scream series has given us is the return of the whodunit slasher film. While they’ve never truly gone away, changing tastes, audience fatigue, and declining budgets have relegated the once thriving guilty pleasure genre to the periphery, with only a choice few breaking through in the past decade. That’s a far cry from the stretch in the early 2000s when you could expect at least one a month in theaters and double that coming direct to video.

A movie like Founders Day would likely have been a title that dropped into your mom-and-pop video shop with little fanfare but quickly became a hot commodity. When I worked at a video store, under-the-radar fun like this developed good word of mouth, often turning into a one-copy option we couldn’t keep on the shelf. While it won’t win any awards for pace, performance, or polish, there’s always something interesting around the corner in Founders Day.

It’s getting to the end of a contentious mayoral election in the sleepy town of Fairwood, and both candidates are neck and neck in the polls. On one side, current Mayor Blair Gladwell (Amy Hargreaves) is focused on winning at all costs while preparing for the annual Founders Day festivities. Conversely, challenger Harold Faulkner (Jayce Bartok) intends to present the picture-perfect family, even though his home life is anything but. When Faulkner’s daughter (Olivia Nikkanen) becomes the first victim of an efficient masked killer, everyone becomes a suspect as each murder uncovers new secrets in the once idyllic town. 

Written by brothers Erik (who also directs and has a small role as Gladwell’s aide) and Carson Bloomquist, it’s clear the siblings spent a lot of time growing up in the horror aisle of their video store. No trope is left un-trooped, and no cliché is left unclinched. It is almost a miracle how it manages to steer clear of being a spoof or overly self-aware. Yet, it takes itself seriously (maybe too seriously), making it consistently enjoyable if a bit labored in its execution. It’s hard to predict who will make it to the end credits and even more challenging to decide on exactly who might be behind it all – just when you’ve selected your suspect, they are brutally offed.

The film could lose about 15 minutes (along with several characters and their murders) and remain a fresh addition to the horror genre…but that’s just me wanting my slasher cake and eating it, too. There’s an enormous cast to contend with, so there is naturally some major slicing and dicing to be done, this gives us an opportunity to see some good character actors like Catherine Curtin (Werewolves Within), William Russ, and Devin Druid (The Pale Door) run for their lives. I can’t forget Naomi Grace, who makes for a dependable lead. Even as it begins to strain at the bonds of its runtime, the brothers Bloomquist have delivered a slasher throwback with Founders Day that will keep you guessing. 

Founders Day had its world premiere at Popcorn Frights Film Festival on August 18 and its international premiere at FrightFest on August 28. Look for its wide release soon!

Movie Review ~ The Pale Door


Available in theaters, on Demand and Digital August 21, 2020

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a train robbery goes bad, two brothers leading a gang of cowboys must survive the night in a ghost town inhabited by a coven of witches.

Stars: Devin Druid, Zachary Knighton, Melora Walters, Bill Sage, Pat Healy, Stan Shaw, Natasha Bassett, Noah Segan, Tina Parker

Director: Aaron B. Koontz

Rated: NR

Running Length:

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When I was young, the phrase “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” always kind of creeped me out and definitely made me think twice anytime I got near a pig or a handbag.  What’s more, it never totally made sense to me until I had some real world uses for it that it would apply to.  Once, I had a birthday cake made and when I went to pick it up I found that it was decorated wrong.  When I pointed it out, the baker said they’d be happy to scrape off the decoration and put something new on top – but “ you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  The cake was a bust but a friend came through in a pinch with a replacement.

In movies, every now and then you get a silk purse of a synopsis but a sow’s ear of a film.  Such is the case with the indie horror Western The Pale Door.  Here was one that had me all in based solely on the tagline that mentioned witches and cowboys…um, sold!  The poster looked ominously freaky, it had some interesting character actors involved and I was reasonably comforted that based on the previous credits of some of the filmmakers there was serious potential.  All signs pointed to the kind of selection that would have me clamoring into a theater had it been available at a film festival as a midnight selection.

Nope.  Sow’s ear.

The story goes like this.  Years ago two brothers were orphaned on a dark night but eventually went in different directions, taking separate paths forward in life.  One brother, Duncan (Zachary Knighton), becomes an outlaw, a member of a gang of ne’er-do-wells that get by thieving from town to town.  His kid brother Jacob (Devin Druid) opts for a more respectable life working for a local saloon and keeping his money safe and sound, planning for the day when he can secure his future.  When Duncan reappears and announces his intent to rob a train filled with gold, Jacob suddenly takes an interest in his older brother’s business and joins him and his crew for a fateful heist that doesn’t bring them to quite the bounty they had anticipated.

Instead of the train carrying money, they find it’s transporting a woman (Natasha Bassett, Hail, Caesar!) in a locked and guarded box who, when eventually freed, wants to repay their kindness by inviting them back to the brothel run by her friends that’s nearby and overseen by the mysterious Maria (Melora Walters, The Master).  Starved for food, drink, and something more carnal, the posse is all too happy to accept the company of the lovely ladies of the evening…who have a nasty habit of turning into ghastly beasts when the doors are locked for the night.  The rough and rowdy robbers must survive the darkness and protect Jacob, who the blood-hungry creates have their sights set on thanks to his pure and innocent spirit.

Giving the credit where it’s certainly the most due, the screenplay from Keith Lansdale, Cameron Burns, and director Aaron B. Koontz is quite clever at times and ranks high in the imagination factor.  It’s not going into the Smithsonian for it’s witty dialogue or complex construct but there’s been thought put in on how to get from Point A to Point B and that’s enough to keep the lights on for at least the first half of the movie.  Though it’s clearly cherry-picking the good stuff off of earlier adjacent movies like From Dusk Till Dawn and Near Dark, on paper at least it has the ring of a feature that would have worked quite well.

So…what’s the sow’s ear part you’re referring to, you say?  Well…it’s one of the cheapest looking movies I’ve seen in all of 2020 and maybe in the last several years.  A fine script is one thing but it can’t save filmmaking that is bargain basement throughout.  Costumes look like they were plucked directly (or stolen outright) from an Old Time Western Photo Shop, sets are straight-up in some touristy Wild West town that was shuttered for filming, and the hysterical props that are used are filled with jarring displays like Wanted posters you’d see printed on booths at an amusement park.  On top of all of that, the actual look of the movie gives the impression of a training video for a horseback riding camp.  The old TV show Hey Dude created a more convincing Western vibe.

Performances certainly don’t help things along either.  While Druid is a respectable, if mealy-mouthed, lead, he tends to disappear as the movie progresses…vanishing almost completely behind bigger performances just as he’s supposed to come to the forefront.  That’s partly Koontz’s fault for allowing some of the supporting players (which from the looks of past credits appear to be friends) to overact to an astonishing degree.  As the lone female bandit, Tina Parker does an amusing about-face from her tightly wound role in the excellent To the Stars released earlier this summer but Pat Healy (The Innkeepers) and especially Noah Segan (Knives Out) have the munchies for the scenery throughout.  Only Walters seems to gather what she’s gotten herself into and decides to go all out…and more’s the better for it.

A disappointment through and through, this is one door that need not be opened or even gazed upon with curiosity.  What a bummer this one was, mostly because I had some true high hopes for it.  It just goes to show that a tagline alone cannot (and should not) be the only thing that entices you into a film.  The script for this one might not be quite the silk purse that we discussed earlier but it’s at least a high-density cotton that stands up to inspection if you squint a bit.  The Pale Door itself needs a padlock, though.