ATLFF Review: SIREN Gets Weird and Makes It Work

Posted on: Apr 15th, 2016 By:

SirenSIREN (2016); Dir. Gregg Bishop; Starring Hannah Fierman, Chase Williamson; Justin Welborn; IMDB link here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

I’ll admit that SIREN didn’t encourage my expectations. Screening at the end of a long week of films, SIREN felt like a pitch from a carnival barker: “Did you like V/H/S (2012), that found-footage horror anthology? No, not really? Well, what about “Amateur Night,” arguably its most popular segment? You know, the one where some bros pick up a strange young woman for hotel porn, but get a rampaging monster ripping through their innards instead? Yeah? All right, well SIREN takes that premise but expands the world. This thing’s got a menagerie of fantasy monsters, a supernatural brothel, a southern-fried monster wrangler, and a fresh batch of victims with a fresh batch of innards. Step right up!”

Taking the original’s simple karmic reversal set-up and turning it into a NIGHTBREED-esque freakshow does not feel like a great idea. “Amateur Night” director David Bruckner had been swapped out for Gregg Bishop from the weaker V/H/S VIRAL (2014), and seeing the logo of Chiller—the notoriously cheap horror network—had me sinking into my chair and settling in for a long night. But, little by little, SIREN won me over, and horror junkies who discover the film are going to find an unexpectedly inspired bit of monster mayhem.

V/H/S Amateur Night.

V/H/S Amateur Night.

The script swaps out the assholes from the original segment for a (slightly) more sympathetic bunch. Jonah (Chase Williamson) is about to get married, and his standard issue buddies—the Asshole Brother, the Saintly Best Friend, and the Funny Guy—drive him out into the swamps for a bachelor party because, of course, that’s where the wildest stuff happens. The gang gets conned into visiting a wild house run by Nyx (Justin Welborn), who tracks and traps critters from legend, including a lady that munches on memories and a naked nymph (Hannah Fierman, reprising her role from the original) he keeps locked up in the back. In “Amateur Night,” the nature of this particular creature was unclear, but in this film she’s officially a siren, complete with a singing voice that lures men to their deaths, and which drives Jonah to do something incredibly stupid (he even says out loud, “I’m about to do something incredibly stupid,” so we know). He releases her from her prison, and the carnage begins.

The rest of the plot revolves around the bachelor party attempting to escape from the beast while Nyx and his posse try to reclaim their “property”. It should be noted that Nyx is one flamboyant sunofagun. Welborn realizes what kind of movie he’s making, chewing enough scenery to fill all the spittoons in his character’s brothel. Somehow it works, especially paired with the nearly mute, doe-eyed performance of Fierman who vacillates between innocence and savagery and back again without warning, raging all over the screen like an unchecked id.

But what I found myself enjoying the most is Bishop’s eagerness to make SIREN more than a boilerplate midnight monster movie, looking for ways to elevate the action in clever ways. When the guys take shrooms, for example, his depiction of the trip they’re on is surprisingly realistic and gives the brothel the funky intro it deserves. A later action sequence benefits from focusing on Jonah—hiding and ears plugged to avoid hearing the creature’s song—so that we only see bodies flying around the edges of the screen, and we only hear the muffled thuds of gunshots and the murky pitch of screams.

SIREN isn’t a new classic, and in many ways it feels like a step backwards from the original short film, abandoning most of the elements that made “Amateur Night” work. But by sticking with Fierman and spinning a wacky backwoods mythology around her beastie, the film manages to stand on its own, and Bishop’s clever staging wrings a lot of extra mileage from what could have been boring, standard horror set pieces. In that respect, I guess the carnival barker got it right. SIREN is a freak show, but sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun to see weirdness for weirdness’s sake.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Weekend Update, Aug 5-7, 2011

Posted on: Aug 5th, 2011 By:

Friday, August 5

All-time great wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett will be at the Plaza Theatre to meet and greet, sign his recent book and introduce 7:30 p.m. screenings of MEMPHIS HEAT: THE TRUE STORY OF MEMPHIS WRASSLIN’ tonight, Saturday and Sunday. The new documentary tells the wild and wooly tale of mid-South wrestling, from the ‘50s carnival days of Sputnik Monroe and Billy Wicks to the raucous ‘70s and ‘80s with the rise of Jerry Lawler, Jimmy Hart and promoter Jarrett. Can’t make the 7:30 p.m. screening? It’s also on at 9:30 p.m. all three nights. Read an interview with Jarret by ATLRetro friend and Wrestling with Pop Culture blogger Jonathan Williams in this week’s Creative Loafing here.

Dracula's lovely brides take more than a few bites out of Jonathan Harker (Chris Love) in DRACULA:THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages.

Last February Atlantans had the marvelous macabre opportunity to get a sneak peek at HAUS VON DRACUL, the first act of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, conceived by and starring Rob Thompson; performed by local talents such as Chris Love as Jonathan Harker and the Little Five Points Rockstar Orchestra; and featuring make-up and sets by Shane Morte of Silver Scream Spookshow fame. To refresh your memory, read ATLRetro’s feature on Love here and our review of the production at 7 Stages here. For just $15, you can support some of Atlanta’s top alternative talent in prepping this show for its world premiere next April, as well as scream to some one-of-a-kind performances tonight during Black Metal Burlesque: A Hell Raising Fundraiser at 7 Stages. A pre-party starts at 9 a.m., with show at 10 a.m. featuring performers from the show, the Little Five PointsRock Orchestra, The Chameleon Queen, body suspension by Loki Shane DeFrieceMacabre Puppets‘ Chris Brown (Scarlett’s Web) as Rotzo the Clown, and much more from body-painting to a raffle. For a scary sneak preview, check out our interview with Kool Kat of the Week actor/stuntman Justin Welborn here.

New York’s Felix and the Cats swing down to Fat Matt’s. Canadian rocker Bryan Adams takes audiences back to the ’80s in his Bare Bones Tour to Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater in Peachtree City. Rock further back to the ’70s with Revival: An Allman Brothers Experience with Lefty Williams and Benji Shanks at Vinyl at Center Stage. Catch an IMAX movie and listen to cool jazz and sexy soul by vocalist Sarah Belladae at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX.

Saturday August 6

Catch an opening reception for August and Everything After: A URBNPOP art show, a solo art show featuring the wonderfully quirky pop culture-inspired works of artist Chris Hamer at Rev Coffee (1680-B Spring Road, Smyrna, 30080) from 8 to 10 p.m. Read ATLRetro’s Kool Kat profile of Chris here.

Travel back to the late ’70s/early ’80s at Deja vu Discotheque – The Dance Party of the Decade, a reunion party for The Limelight, Atlanta’s Studio 54, at Center Stage tonight. In addition to grooving to favorite dance music of the era by original Limelight DJs, attendees will be treated to a recreation of the club’s spectacular Moving Lightshow and many other over-the-top experiences reminiscent of the legendary venue. Read our sneak preview with memories of the original Limelight from Scott Cloud and KP Hendry here. Doors open for VIPs at 8 p.m, general admission at 9 p.m., and a silent auction benefits the Starlight Children’s Foundation of Georgia. Tickets are available here.

Billie Holliday sings the blues in STRANGE FRUIT.

Explore the dark side of the South via the soundtrack of the haunting Billie Holliday song in STRANGE FRUIT, a documentary directed by Joel Katz that weaves together jazz geneaology, biography, performance footage and the history of lynching, in the latest entry in the High Museum of Art‘s Radcliffe Bailey Film SeriesTheophis “Thee” Smith, associate professor of religion at Emory, will lead a discussion following the 8 p.m. screening at the Woodruff Arts Center.

Ghost Riders Car Club headlines a very special Retro honky tonk evening at Star Bar with Anna Kramer & the Lost CauseAndy Vaughn & the Driveline, and New Orleans’ Dirty Bourbon River Show. If you missed ATLRetro’s Kool Kat interview with GRCC’s Spike Fullerton, here’s a link. It’s a trilogy of rockin’ country ’70s-inspired fun when Gasoline BrosLo Country and AM Gold invade VinylSteely Dan is at Classic Chastain. Maretta’s Dry White Toast plays funk rock at Fat Matt’s Rib ShackFelix & the Cats swing over to Northside Tavern. And of course, DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno late into the wee hours.

Sunday August 7

Interstate plays blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl. One of the best alternative bands with its roots in the ’80s, The Goo Goo Dolls, play with Michelle Branch at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. And ’70s rockets Steely Dan are at Classic Chastain. And don’t forget Jerry Jarrett and MEMPHIS HEAT at The Plaza! See Friday for details.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Raising Hell with Justin Welborn at Friday’s BLACK METAL BURLESQUE Fundraiser for DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages

Posted on: Aug 4th, 2011 By:

Last February, composer/musician Rob Thompson and The Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra drove a stake into our preconceptions of rock opera as a dead-and-buried art form and put the bite back into vampire lore at 7 Stages with HAUS VON DRACUL, PART 1. If you’ve been stuck in your coffin and missed hearing about it, check out ATLRetro’s interview with actor Chris Love, who injected hard rockin’ passion into the often-staid role of Jonathan Harker, and our review here.

Now Rob and the rest of that crazed and creative team are hard at work on the terrifying second act of what’s now titled DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA which will have its premiere run at 7 Stages from April 19-May 13, 2012. However, as anyone in the arts knows, even a labor of creative love needs some cold hard cash to make it to the stage. So raise the curtain on BLACK METAL BURLESQUE, a one-of-a-kind fundraiser this Friday at 7 Stages featuring not just cast members and the Little 5 Points Rockstar but other notorious local talent such as The Chameleon Queen, Loki Shane DeFriece (Prentice Suspensions), Macabre Puppets’ Chris Brown (Dad’s Garage’s SCARLETT’S WEB), , set designer/make-up artist Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow), and many more. Tickets are just $15 and the show is at 10 p.m., but a pre-show party kicks off at 9 p.m. and continues after the show.

Dracula's lovely brides take more than a few bites out of Jonathan Harker (Chris Love) in last February's performance of HAUS VON DRACUL at 7 Stages.

For a sneak preview of this sexy, surreal and sinister evening, we turned to actor and stunt artist Justin Welborn, one of the mad masterminds behind the fearsome festivities and no stranger to the world of horror. In addition to performing at most of Atlanta’s theaters, he directed Sensurround Stagings’ production of Clive Barker’s THE HISTORY

Justin Welborn in THE SIGNAL. Magnolia Pictures, 2007.

OF THE DEVIL, is a founding member of Black Knight Stunts, and starred in the independent horror movie THE SIGNAL, which screened at Sundance in 2007. More scary screen credits include THE FINAL DESTINATION (2009), DANCE OF THE DEAD (2008), and THE CRAZIES (2010). Oh, and Justin does yoga, drinks Jamesons and his favorite movie is COOL HAND LUKE (1967).

How did you get involved in DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA and what’s your role?

I am assisting Del Hamilton (Artistic Director of 7 Stages) with the direction and artistic production design of DRACULA. It’s strange how I got started with this whole three ring circus, i,e. The Little 5 Points Rock Star Orchestra. I’ve worked with, for and at 7 Stages for many years, and I’d seen the Rock Star guys and gals do their Iron Maiden show and their Pink Floyd Tribute, and always had an amazing time. I knew they had done JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and HAIR, and so when Heidi Howard (Education Director/Production Manager, 7 Stages) asked me to come in and help coordinate the stunt work and violence in their 666 CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEVIL show, I was more than excited to help. I found the whole Devil crew to be very eager, slightly disorganized and maybe a little drunk. I loved it. And the show’s finale was like nothing I’d ever seen at an Atlanta theater in 12 years! Just mad!

The Krampus float in last year's L5P Halloween Parade.

I came in again the next year for A KRAMPUS CHRISTMAS and ended up spending more time directing for real, rather than just stunts. The more I gave, the more they gave back. We began to figure out how this theater world and their music world could mesh and synthesize into something new and fun for everyone. So when I was asked to help with DRACULA, I jumped at the chance for another go! I didn’t know what I’d be doing for sure, but right from the start, I began directing and troubleshooting in a kind of cooperative effort to make the best show possible. I wasn’t in charge, but at a certain point I was given—by unspoken agreement more or less—great license to help create and direct the show. I was really quite honored at how much trust they put into me.

The first act, titled HAUS VON DRACUL, premiered at 7 Stages last February. Is the second act’s script and music completed or at what stage is at now?
The second act is still in development but is coming along swimmingly. Rob Thompson, the creative mind before and behind our vampire opera, has been working on this project for almost two years, and as I understand it, is approaching a completed score. I think we’re still trying to figure out what we want to do with the end. We are using Bram Stoker’s book as our cornerstone, but translating that into music and a stunning visual stage show takes some real ingenuity.

Considering it’s a rock musical about a vampire, Black Metal Burlesque sounds like the perfect theme for a fundraiser. Any story behind how the idea came about?
Rob told me one night at Java Lords that he wanted to do a fundraiser based on Venom’s BLACK METAL album that would include burlesque girls and live suspension acts. Then he described a few possible numbers. So I took what he said, weighed some options and the favors I had left in town, and decided if not now, when? I wanted to keep the DRACULA buzz rolling, and help support a theater I believe in. Plus the excitement from the group only intensifies every time we up our game and really keep challenging ourselves with what we can do artistically when we work together. It’s very exciting to see these artists working toward a common goal with people they normally wouldn’t get a chance to perform around.

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