EVIL Strikes at the Stroke of “Midnight” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Severin)

Teenager Nancy searches for forgiveness through reestablishing her faith in God after being dumped by her sexually active boyfriend.  When her alcoholic, police officer stepfather learns of the relationship’s abrupt ending, he moves in quickly to take advantage of Nancy while under the heavy influence of the bottle.  Escaping his grasp, she flles home and hitchhikes a ride with two men travelling South on a getaway from Pennsylvania to sunny Fort Lauderdale, but when facing trouble with small town local law enforcement after attempting to steal groceries, the three find themselves right in the middle of a Satanic cult’s sacrificial ritual that requires the killing of three women for eternal life, one a night at midnight for three days.  Held in a dog cage, Nancy anxiously awaits her turn at the bloodletting alter surrounded by the cloaked-cladded cult and their decomposing mother’s corpse  Praying to God to save her soul, little does Nancy know that her stepfather has tracked down her whereabouts, leading to a bloody showdown of one cop pitted against a family of satanic psychopaths. 

Based of his 1980 novel of the same title, “Midnight” is known to be John Russo’s heart-and-soul project that ended up suffering one mishap after another in the two years of its production and post-production until it’s final release in 1982.  Also known as “Backwoods Massacre,” the “Night of the Living Dead” co-writer Russo helms the low-budget occult slasher out from his usual stomping grounds in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  “Midnight” showcases a story themed with a depraved sense of race intolerance for African Americans and all varieties of religious convictions to be innately false in an atheistic Russo viewpoint amongst a glorified surface level of enrapturing inhumane violence seasoned by brainwashing.  This West Pennsylvanian born and bred grindhouse exploitation found producers in  Sam Sherman and Daniel Q. Kennis of “Blazing Stewardesses” and “Blood of Ghastly Horror”) along with Donald Redinger under the now defunct Independent-International Picture Corp.

In a sea of smaller fish of Pittsburgh actors in “Midnight’s” casting tow is a larger and rougher around the gills grouper embodied by the singular Lawrence Tierney (“Reservoir Dogs,” “The Prowler”) in the Officer Bert Johnson role. Tierney’s no stranger to the horror genre, flaunting his thick New York tough guy accent that typically typecasts the veteran actor into authoritative roles. In being no exception, “Midnight” has Tierney playing a sleazy, alcoholic, police officer who winds up more-or-less unearthing sense in his old age and utilizing his skills for good to fully satisfy his character’s arc, but Tierney alone is wonderful to behold and easy to be disgusted by as he solicits his underage teenage stepdaughter with a perverted proposition. That stepdaughter, Nancy (Melanie Verlin), is the face of “Midnight’s” protagonist whose attempting to get back on track with God after a sinful bedroom relationship with an ex-boyfriend, but her plans are slighted by a brood of young Satanists keen on keeping their now long deceased mother’s irreligious convictions intact. David Marchick, George Romero regular Ted Amplas (“Day of the Dead” 1978, “Martin”), Robin Walsh, and the face of “Midnight” on many of the posters, Greg Besnack, size up as the Satanic terrible and merciless foursome. The cast fills out with Charles Johnson, John Hall, Bob Johnson, Lachele Carl, Jackie Nicoll, Doris Hackney, and Ellie Wyler.

After the success of a collaborated run with George Romero on a handful of projects, John Russo ultimately branches off to do his own creative output after their production company, Latent Image, brought on newcomers’ and the shared ideas on the direction of their company didn’t sit well with Russo – an irk that Russo still harps upon to this day, according to the special features’ new interview from the latest Severin Film’s release.  Yet, I digress into the review of “Midnight” that has feral narrative with an irregular plotted blueprint of teenager exploitation, racial injustice, and backwoods barbarians.  Somehow, Russo’s able to juggle his jotted down on a budget scrambler with a threadbare satanic family baseline that unsettlingly feels snagged in a randomizing generator spitting out scenes to see if they cohesively connect into the next.  Nancy’s traversing into the thicket of terror story cuts into and undermines more of the sibling’s unholy ritual, which the title “Midnight” becomes an important piece to the ceremony, with a subplot of the teen running away from a handsy stepfather and into the Mystery Machine modeled van-driving hands of a pair of cavalier friends on a road trip and then find themselves in an endgame of rotten luck with bad company.  The whole lead up to the two groups running into each other is suddenly dropped like a bad habit, forgoing much of the racial tensions, the youthful subverts, and even the attempt at pedophilia when the main, overarching theme of cult mayhem and religion inadequacies come to the forefront.  “Midnight” inarguably a gargantuan piece of good ole American hicksville victimization with some underappreciated manic performances by John Amplas and Greg Besnak, but there’s difficulty in shaking “Midnight’s” stark story division that leaves much to be desired.

“Midnight” is the particular video nasty that’s surpassing all of it’s other formatted counterparts with a Severin Film’s 4K scanned Blu-ray of the full uncut negative.  The 1080p Full High Definition, region free BD50 is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a respectable color correction, but the correction sees unstable moments regressing near the cuts revealing the lifeless yellow tinge of unmastered quality. A right amount of grain, a great amount of detail, and hardly any damage to the thought-lost uncut negative proves Severin found buried treasure of the John Russo shocker. Two audio options grace the release with an English language DTS-HD 5.1 surround and an English 2.0 Stereo. While the 5.1 offers a more robust audio option of funneling individual tracks through their respective channels, I wouldn’t necessarily say “Midnight” has an overwhelming yield for audiophiles. Soundtrack comes across just enough to know it’s there, the dialogue is clean and unimpeded, but what unfolds out of clarity is the wonky foley ambience that just render solemn scenes silly. Severin offers up a new interviews under “Midnight’s” mediocre cult status with director John Russo – Making Midnight – as top bill in a lengthy discussion about his long career, his acquaintances including George Romero, and, of course, his recollections about “Midnight.” Other interviews include producer Samuel Sherman – Producing Midnight, actor John Amplas – The Midnight Killer, and special makeup effects artist Tom Savini – Small Favors – who barely remembers working very little on this film by providing pre-fabricated headshots and sliced throat prosthetics. An isolated score selection with audio interview with Mike Mazzei, an alternate title card for “Backwoods Massacre,” the trailer, and radio spot round out the bonus content inside the blackout snapcase. Prolific as John Russo may be in horror literature, filmmaking, and in legendary regards with his work alongside Romero, “Midnight” reflects poorly on his cinematic vocation and while many problems plagued production and post-production, Russo somehow managed to root out a passable working cut of crazed satanic panic.

“MIDNIGHT” available on Blu-ray from Severin!

Daughters Don’t Cause This Much EVIL! “Son” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)



After escaping the imprisonment of an abusive ordeal with her father’s cult, the next eight years have been easy for Laurel living with the joy of her son who was born as a result of her abuse.  When her son contracts a mystery ailment that causes open sore rashes and bloody vomit, the doctors are baffled when the surely fatal, undetermined disease makes a rapid retreat and the boy recovers seemingly miraculously.  Days later, the boy again falls more ill and, this time, Laura suspects her previous life in the cult to be behind his suffering.  With clandestine acolytes making the presence known, Laura flees with her son as the two motel jump across the Midwest with no only two detectives on her tail but also the cult looking to reclaim her son with a terrifying and gruesome new gift. 

Back into the creepy kid subgenre field we go with another multiplex single mother and son relationship American-thriller, simply titled “Son,” from Irish-American writer and director of “The Canal,” Ivan Kavanagh.  Spun from the yarn of familiarities that are stitched together with the overprotective mother trope battling the forces of beleaguering evil reigning down on her child, as seen in such films with Jacob Chase’s “Come Play” and Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook,” Kavanagh deviates from the abstract lines of the mental illness undercurrent that reshapes and plagues centric characters into horrific, supernatural episodes of isolation, grief, and loneliness personified by often terrorizing entities lurking in the dark.  “Son” is an American production formed by intercontinental production companies with the UK’s Elastic Films (“Cub,” “What We Become”) spearheaded by producer Louis Tisné, Dublin based Park Films co-operated by Kavanagh along with AnneMarie Naughton and Ana Habajec, and René Bastian and Linda Moran’s Belladonna Productions (“Funny Games,” “Stake Land”). “Son” is an exclusive release of Shudder and RLJE International.

Added to the long history of assorted turmoiled single mothers versus the things that go bump in the night is currently a big name in horror at the moment with being principally casted in the latest three recognized sequels of the “Halloween” franchise.  Andi Matichak steps into the wretched past but ever so optimistic shoes of Kindergarten teacher Laura whose introduced in a prologue of heavy rain and the blood pumping cacophony of an intense chase.  Pregnant and haggardly dirty and barefooted, Laura is being followed by menacing, unknown men before she pulls off to safety just in time to give birth to a child she verbally proclaims no desire for but reluctantly accepts as her own after a bloody, front seat natural delivery, a moment that not only conveys Laura’s compassion but also her strength. Fast forward, Laura and son David (Luke David Blumm, “The King of Staten Island”) living daily normal lives with school, neighbors, and the ins and outs of parenting.  Blumm gives a good run on distress and duress as the titular character that has contracted an illness rapidly reconstructing his mortal soul.  “Killer Joe” and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe’s” Emil Hirsch enacts a sympathetic detective taking an interest in Laura’s case, but Hirsch is mostly silent and stiff, almost like he’s part of the background furniture, for the entirety of the character arc, bringing down, as a counteractive device, much of “Son’s” speedball narrative.  Rounding out “Son’s” cast is Blaine Maye, Cranston Johnson, Kristine Nielsen, Erin Bradley Danger, Adam Stephenson, and David Kallaway.

“Son” is surprisingly gory involving intestinal viscera and severed body parts with child actor Luke David Blumm at the center of all the carnage and the story is heartbreakingly sober when a mother, a rape victim, has to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.  Kavanagh subtly massages the thematic quandary of how a rape resulted child can be a perspective schism.  On one hand, the born without sin child stems the mother’s womb, ready to be loved and cared for by instinct to protect our own, whereas the other side, of that coin, more ingrained into the human psyche than we like to admit, is the child is a constant reminder of the past, a figurative reincarnation of a hurtful monster who the victim has to lay eyes on every day for the rest of their life.  Kavanagh instills into Laura that blurred line of trauma while imprisoned by the cult and she couldn’t clearly recollect whether her father or someone, or something, else is David’s biological father.  However, Kavanagh’s script houses too many illogical potholes to warrant foolproof approval, some more egregious than others.  For example, at one point Laura removes her severely ill son from the hospital without authorization because she believes cult members are after him to at which then she arrives back home to gather clothes and supplies to skedaddle out of town.  Yet, there were no police officers or cult members in route or staged at the home which should have been the first place anyone looking for Laura, as Emil Hirsch’s character states over the phone to Laura, would be staked out.  Secondly, the local detectives are able to cross state lines into Mississippi, Kansas, and Alabama without so much as batting an eye lash, presumably stepping over local authority.  Lastly, If evidence of a cult, especially a pedophile cult as one of the detectives suggests, is rearing its ugly head again and coming after a previous victim and her son, the federal government would be much more involved than local PD.  “Son” holds fast in keeping it’s cast close to the chest albeit some severe logical issues.  With that being said, Kavanagh knows how invoke dread and horror with his bleak narrative and stylistic techniques.  Good at horror, poor at story is what Ivan Kavanagh’s “Son” boils down to, leaving behind a lingering middle of the road afterthought in it’s wanton wake.

“Son’s” the past catches up with us all story perpetually never becomes tiresome, hitting every stage precisely with intention and full of scares to garner big, soul-freezing reactions. The iciness of “Son” will leave goosebumps, raise hairs, and shiver spines and you can watch it all now on a UK Blu-ray from Acorn Media International. Presented fully hi-def in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio, the region 2 Blu-ray is PAL encoded and has a runtime of 98 minutes with UK rating for strong gore, violence, language, sexual threat, and child abuse references. When looking over the picture quality, there’s not much to note other than some scenes appear softer than others in a more a director’s style approach to the content of the scene. Much of the blood is inky black with a nice mirror glaze shine, as Paul Hollywood would say, inside from the solemn color-toned to the natural lighting of daytime scenes. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix has a robust and fiery soundtrack in Aza Hand’s quite aggressive sophomore composing score. Dialogue is clean and clear without any break in the chain or obstruction as the audio tracks are balanced appropriately through all five channels. Special features include a spliced together snippets from interviews with the cast and crew along with deleted scenes more directly involved exploring Laura’s cult-captive background. To say you would do anything for your child is a complete understatement in Ivan Kavanagh’s “Son,” a top shelf singer full of venom , but as a whole, better stories are out there.

For One Exhausted Truck Driver, EVIL is on the Move! “Goodbye Honey” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

Dawn has been driving for over 30 hours straight schlepping a customer’s belongings from point A to point B. Unable to keep her eyes from closing, she pulls over and parks in an empty lot of a state park. Before Dawn could close her eyes, a mysterious and frightened woman approaches her asking for help, informing Dawn that she has been held captive for months. Treating with suspicious eyes, not fully trusting this young woman’s thinly laid out accusation, the exhausted truck driver is eager to protect her truck from would-be thieves and vandals, but decides to assist though her phone is broken and her truck keys are lost, leaving the two women stranded in the middle of nowhere with a radical abduction story and the captor is not too far behind. What seemed to be a quiet night of deserved rest and relaxation for a truck driver who just drove straight-through without much as taking a break is about to unfold an eye-opening, harrowing ordeal that puts the two women in for the long haul.

Would you trust a harried and jonesing-looking straight knocking on your day cab door of your straight moving truck in the very early AM hours of the night? This iffy scenario plunges audience into that exact pressure point of Max Strand’s feature film directorial debut of “Goodbye Honey.” The 2020 abduction-thriller is also written by Strand and co-written alongside Todd Rawiszer, collaborating for a second time since 2011 for their cannibalistic-comedy, the family kills together, eats people together, “The Labbinacs.” Generally most abduction thrillers takes the viewpoint of the captive, but for “Goodbye Honey,” Strand and Rawiszer take the perspective of an outsider with unlucky happenstance and makes persevere over their own hang-ups in the dealt lousy hand called life. “Goodbye Honey” is produced by Joshua Michaels from the Examined Dots Pictures, a subsidiary of the video media company, Examined Dots Media, and is the first feature length film production from the company.



The point of view from the trucker sparks a clean slate inception of events as Dawn is oblivious to the entire occurrence that has scared and scarred this young woman whose animal instincts have kicked in and is working against her advantage with Dawn as desperate spurs her to act instead of thinking logically about what to do.  Pamela Jayne Morgan (“The Manor”) headlines “Goodbye Honey” in her first breakout role of 2020 stepping into not only an impromptu lifesaving moment but also into the steel toed shoes of a trucker’s life behind the wheel that features sleeping in her cab, eating lunch in her cab, and being driven into the ground by a demanding, world’s most dangerous, profession.  The only uncouth trucker habit Morgan does not do in her cab is urinate into a bottle.  Oh wait, she does bottle potty!  However, the circumstances surrounding that moment is not because of her profession and only adds to the many layers, including her tragic background and lost ambitions, that makes Dawn a complex character working the mental gears to do what she can to survive and save a life in terror’s grip.  And just like Dawn, we’re weary to believe the fantastic accusations coming out of Juliette Alice Gobin’s lip-quivering mouth who sizes up to the very still with fright the shaken and traumatized abductee in Phoebe as she narrowly escapes her captor, played by Paul C. Kelly (“Devils Prey”).  Gobin debuts her talents in horror with flawless strokes that paints Phoebe more of a misunderstood threat than a distressed victim of kidnapping.  Morgan and Gobin’s hot and cold dynamic perfectly rouses doubts as nothing, at first, is entirely clear.  “Goodbye Honey” has an indie size cast, but the performances are robust with layered intensity from the principle roles to the momentary characters played by Peyton Michelle Edwards, Rafe Soule, Jake Laurence, and Keara Benton.

There’s always been this uniquely bizarre fascination of which story angle an abduction thriller should play from and in “Goodbye Honey’s”, the story doesn’t follow a linear narrative of the abductee but backtracks with anecdotal flashbacks as Phoebe divulges the events leading to her snatching and how’s she’s been isolated in a small room for months to her only hope and savior, an emotionally downtrodden and physically fatigued Dawn.  While not entirely new, as we’ve seen a structure similar in John Oak Dalton’s “The Girl in the Crawl Space” that relives the victim’s held captive experience through mental flashbacks and therapy sessions, “Goodbye Honey,” bills far superior dread unlike the 2018 film, which suffers from monotonous exposition and topical offshoots.  Strand plops us in the unravelling thicket of action with gripping what-ifs potentially lurking in the midnight shadows surrounding Dawn’s painted white beacon of hope on wheels.  Character curveballs also hit empathetically hard with twist and turns coming out of the ears of all the narrative pawns and not just confined to the black and white abduction that brings them together. As much as Phoebe needs Dawn’s help to escape the clutches of her captor, Dawn also needed Phoebe’s accidental life purpose healing that fills the void in Dawn’s life left by the passing of her husband and reaffirms her passion for helping people no matter her personal circumstances.  Oddly enough, I found Kelly’s captor lacked substance to the story other than the characteristic ploy of revenge that agitates the action as his endgame for Phoebe isn’t exactly clear other than spouting, “she needs to pay.”  The serendipitous connection between Dawn, Phoebe, and the abductor has designer destiny stitched into the natural fabric of life in an almost comical happenstance of events, but makes for good entertainment nonetheless knowing that there is a circle of connectivity, a sense of purpose, and a reason to fight back in “Goodbye Honey’s” pressure cooking recipe.   

On May 11th, “Goodbye Honey” was released on digital HD and on cable VOD in North America from Freestyle Digital HD after a successful stint of festival wins including Best Thriller Feature, Best Actress (Pamela Jane Morgan), and Best Supporting Actor (Rafe Soule) at the Garden State Film Festival, Best Lead Performance (Juliette Alice Gobin) at the Nightmares Film Festival, and Best Actress (Morgan) at NOLA Horror Film Festival. Todd Rawiszer didn’t just co-write the film he also shot the film, his first feature film credit at a cinematographer. Inside 96 minutes and with a narrative taking place over a single night, Rawiszer casts a variety of hard lit shadows with glimmers of intermittent portable lights and neon reds kept tight with medium to closeup shots and rarely venturing out beyond that range with clarity as much of the wide shots or long shots are obscured, in a haze, or blurry to the eye as Rawiszer never wants you to know what’s exactly out that far. A pair neat editing montages by Jay Yachetta, with the meal plate and door slamming alongside Phoebe going mad with stir crazy is some of the best work I’ve seen a long time that can trigger an epileptic episode and still be insanely cool in the cruelty. Top those montages with an aggressive sound design and you’re head will surely pop off with unsettling jubilation. No bonus scenes during or after the credits are included. Regardless of budget or the stigma of low budget pictures, nothing but good vibes and good things to say generally about Max Strand’s “Goodbye Honey,” a startling trembler of persistence to outlive a night of terror that stars two stellar leading ladies at the heart of the film’s success.

Rent or Own GoodBye Honey on Amazon Prime!