Sunday, February 23, 2014

Movie and Event Review - Haunted House on Sorority Row

            Most of us will never get the chance to attend a full-blown Hollywood movie premier.  The best chance we have is winning a contest of some type and even then you can guarantee that the majority of us would feel as out of place as a Justin Bieber fan at a Megadeth concert.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t have the chance to experience a kick ass movie premier.  In Edgewood, Ohio, one of these events took place on Saturday, February 22, and both the event and the movie itself were amazing in a way that only Henrique Couto can deliver.

            One thing you can be sure of is that even if you do have the chance to attend the premier of a major studio movie, you will not likely be invited to dinner with the director and cast prior to the show.  Henrique Couto invited all of his fans to join him at Marion’s Pizza prior to the movie and showed his guests a great time.  There was no separation of stars and fans as we all sat down to enjoy some excellent Dayton area pizza and talk with each other about our general love of horror movies and independent horror especially.  Henrique even managed to get in a bite to eat between making sure that he worked his way around the entire restaurant so that he would have a chance to thank everyone for coming and talk to people.  Afterwards, we all headed over to the theatre.

            Expectations were high as about 150 fans awaited the start of the movie.  One fan summed up the feelings well.  Duane West shared with me that after seeing previews and reading up on the general information that was available for the movie, he was extremely excited.  “I could not wait to see it because there is just so much thrill, suspense, paranormal horror, and slasher all rolled in to one.  I personally have never seen a film set up that way.  To me, it’s a new film all of its own to have a blended mix of all this together.”  Fans were not the only ones eager to see the final result of such a talented group of independent film professionals.

            Many of the cast and crew were eagerly awaiting seeing the movie in its final, polished form.  Each had their own reasons and specific areas which they were eager to see.  Marylee Osborne, actress and line producer on the film was most eager to see all the effects come together.  “I’m really excited to see the makeup and the special effects in the movie because they are absolutely brilliant and I think that’s what’s going to make the movie.” 
Some of the cast were just anxious in general.  “I am excited,” lead actress, Joni Duran, shared with me prior to the movie.  “I don’t want to say nervous, I am just super excited.  Bouncing off the walls.  Hyper.”

            Once we got into the theatre, Henrique Couto introduced the film and then the much anticipated moment came.  I think it is safe to say that the fans were not disappointed!  At this point, I will not be giving my usual break down and rating of the movie.  Having only seen the film once, I will just give my overall impressions and the things that struck me the most.  I promise a more thorough review once the DVD has been released.

            In my opinion, this movie currently stands as Couto’s masterpiece.  The atmosphere of the film was phenomenal.  Couto creates a very creepy and suspenseful setting revealing just enough at the right times to keep us on the edge of our seat.  Marylee was right when she praised the makeup and special effects, because neither seemed to be something out of a typical independent film.  Both were very impressive and professional done.  The story flowed well and once it grabbed you, it never let go.

It is possible that part of the success of the story was Couto’s decision to collaborate with another writer for the first time in his film making career.  He could not have found a better choice than the writer of Haunted House on Sorority Row, John Oak Dalton.  Dalton shared some insight into why this movie came across as such as great story with such a unique feel.  My touchpoints are kind of 70’s horror movies and Henrique’s are kind of 80’s horror movies, and I think that when you put our sensibilities together, it’s kind of different.”  This movie shows that different does not equal bad.  When asked about the experience of working with a director who is used to writing his own material, Dalton recounted a very positive experience.  “I think I realize that Henrique has a unique vision and you are delivering someone else’s baby.  It’s not your baby.  So you have to tune in to the things, his sensibilities.  Plus, I saw Babysitter Massacre.  I had known him as a high school kid, but seeing him as an adult, I mean he was really talented and that made me want to work with him a little bit more.  And knowing the people that he had around him that it was going to be an interesting experience.  I think just kind of getting to know him and know his sensibilities and being able to deliver something that he would want.  Although, I think it has my voice, but it has his production sensibilities.“  Not only was Dalton right about Couto’s production sensibilities, he was right about the people around the director as well.

Simply put, the acting in this film was amazing.  What is possibly the most impressive about the cast is how some of the actors really showed their talent and range by playing characters that were very unlike previous roles.  if you look at Babysitter Massacre, Erin Ryan plays a lead who is very confident and sure of herself while Joni Duran played a co-lead that was very meek and mild.   In Haunted House on Sorority Row it almost seemed like the two switched roles and both did an amazing job at the part, demonstrating what great range they have as actresses.  Ryan’s character is nervous and lacks self-confidence.  You don’t doubt for a moment that this character is not handling well what is being thrown at her.  Joni Duran, on the other hand, plays a no-nonsense, take charge lead.  Joni herself said that she immediately recognized and embraced the differences in the roles.  “This character is completely opposite who I was in Babysitter Massacre,” Duran told me before the show.  “I’m really kind of excited to see that side of me and it was fun to project that side of me.  She is very assertive, so it’s a completely different kind of animal.”  Duran, Rayn, and the rest of the cast do not disappoint for a moment in the performances.

            After the show was over, the crowd stuck around and spoke with cast and crew.  All of those involved, were very friendly and approachable and seemed happy to sign autographs and talk with their fans.  Their reactions from the crowd following the movie were generally positive.  One fan stated, “It had everything you could ever want.  It had chicks, horror flicks, and some creepy unique suspense parts!”    Another fan shared that this was his first time seeing a Henrique Couto movie, but that he would definitely be back for the next one.  Couto seemed very pleased with the showing and the end product itself.  After the theatre lobby had cleared, he took a moment to share with me how he was feeling after such a successful evening.

            I’m feeling really good, but I feel like I finally earned the right to be tired.  Now I can say, I want to sleep.  And I will and I will have very little guilt.  But of course I say that knowing that we roll cameras next week on the first few scenes of Awkward Thanksgiving.  In fact, a week from today, we are filming some scenes.  So I am going to rest until the great, late hours of 11:00 AM tomorrow and then I will be back at it.  I couldn’t be happier.  I’m happiest about the people who work with me.  I’ve had this experience over and over of being able to show movies and watching the crowd react, but to have Eric Widing be my editor, and he worked so hard as well, and then get to see the fruits of his labor on the screen.  To have John Oak Dalton here who wrote the screenplay with me and have him be able to see it on the big screen, those things were actually almost as good as the audience for me because I like working with talented people and I like encouraging them.  I feel like I’m getting older when I say that because, although John’s not a pup, but I’m proud of that.  I guess it’s like I had more of a sense of pride in my project this time around if that makes any sense.”

                I think the fans will agree that Henrique’s sense of pride is in his project is well deserved and that the pride he has in his work shines through across the big screen.

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