Mobsters Can’t Stomach EVIL in “Witness Infection” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

Two rival mafia families are moved mistakenly into the same small California city as part of a Witness Protection Agency relocation.  In order to avoid an all-out territory war between the two sides, who are already busting at the seams of confrontation, the two families devise an arranged marriage of peace between one kingpin’s beautiful daughter and another’s withdrawn from the family business son, Carlo, who rather work as a dog groomer with his friend Gina, but when a new sausage food truck starts selling out of their popular menu items with tainted ground meat, the overstuffed and gastrointestinal suffering customers turn into blood hungry zombies running rampant on the streets.  After Carlo and his friends nearly escape the clutches of an angry mob boss after refusing his daughter’s hand in marriage, his troubles didn’t end there as they must now trek through the zombie-infested town and battle hordes of the undead to save his own flesh and blood before they down a family size portion of contaminated Italian sausages and meatballs. 

Mafia families and the undead go together, right?  The two factions clash in a Guido versus zombie horror-comedy “Witness Infection” from a script by Nickelodeon-animation voice actor, Carlos Alazraqui, who had entertained many mid-thirty-something-year-olds in voicing Rocko from “Rocko’s Modern Life” and comedy writer Jill-Michele Melean of the “Zombie Marriage Counseling” shorts and “MADtv”.  At the helm is director Andy Palmer who, in the past, directed generically titled B-horror flicks with familiar names and faces, such as Courtney Gains (“Children of the Corn”), Danielle Harris (“Halloween 4 & 5” franchise), Robert Englund (“Nightmare on Elm Street”), and Clint Howard (“Evilspeak”).  For the pun-driven “Witness Infection,” Palmer finds much of his muses elsewhere in the form of voice actors exposing themselves (in a non-perverted way, you sickos!) for a mezza morta borgata!  Voice talent, ranging from “The Boondocks,” to the “Extreme Ghostbusters,” to the original “Inspector Gadget,” run in unison with an over-the-top bambino in the zombie cache, arranging a small time hit of laughs and gasses with some respectable gore moments submerged in the bloody sauce.  Produced by Alazraqui, Melean, and Warner Davis, co-owner of Petri Entertainment with Andy Palmer that serves as production company alongside Mob Goo Productions. 

Robert Belushi, yes, that iconic and distinct surname is the one and the same of his father Jim Belushi, stars as Carlo, a disinterested mob family son who wants nothing to do with organized crime and wants everything to do with living a normal, loving life.  The narrative plays into Carlo being protected by his mob boss father by shielding him from the unsavory and cutthroat dealings of mafia life, but when his father can no longer protect his dog grooming son, Carlo is thrust into an arranged marriage with the daughter of a rival family.  Belushi isn’t his father and doesn’t have the wily charm that can snap into macho in an instant; instead, the “Devil’s Due” actor enacts a softer side in a story crowded full of uncouth wise guys. Carlo is also a man caught between two worlds as a man who would do anything for family, but also standing up for his convictions and Belushi connects with Carlo’s tug-a-war discord. Jill-Michele Melean writes herself a character in Gina, Carlo’s pet grooming colleague studying to be a veterinarian. Gina’s the insinuated love interest championing Carlo’s fateful decision. Melean mixes chummily stepping into the love interest role who then characteristically goes into a tailspin arc to be in one instance frightened by a severed deer head but then okay with bashing the head’s in of undead acquaintances in the next. Together, the chemistry between Belushi and Melean felt flat with a more of a friendship zone interplay. Granted, “Witness Infection” doesn’t flaunt a range of emotional drives to feed off of in a clearly spaced three act story of assertion in not participating in an arranged marriage, a bar stronghold attack, and a race back home to save his family from deadly digestion and concluding with what’s finally a big spark between Gina and Carlo in their, what once, platonic relationship. Casting also stars an unforgettable comedian lineup beginning with this actress’s voice you know, but who you’ve rarely in Tara Strong (“Extreme Ghostbusters”), the versatile Maurice LaMarche (“Inspector Gadget”), the multitalented Carlos Alazraqui (“Rocko’s Modern Life”), one part comedian and one part break dancer Bret Ernst (“Cobra Kai”), and rounding out with Vince Donvito, Erinn Hayes, and Monique Coleman as the foxy anti-token, anti-trope black woman who won’t be just another unnecessary death in another horror movie.

What first popped out at me is “Witness Infection” using severe flatulence as a goofy symptom of turning into a boil-laden and baggy-eyed zombie.  An immediate turn off by the fart and poop gags after eating the tainted sausage that pays a disparaging homage to Jersey’s cultural culinary cuts of meat has the viewing pleasure be huffed at at the thought of getting through yet another zombie film using passing gas to get a comedic rise.  Luckily, and to my surprise, the initial buildup of the outbreak happens all at once, like a switch being turned on, and then the conventional chaos of zombie madness ensues and farting is left in the wind.  However, “Witness Infection” only garners a few chortles in a flat and tired banter and slapstick comedy.   Much can be said the same about the rest of the story that has Carlo, Gina, and cousin Vince go through what feels like a redundant motions of survival action against a mass creature attack, such as an assault on a bar stronghold where they encounter a blaxploitation vixen, Rose, in a fully-fledged satirical scene that barely cups the intended result with an unnecessarily pitstop with heavy exposition that brings no motivation to the characters.  Not all fails to impress as the clash with the undead dependably aggressive, especially when James Ojala’s special effects poke through with an eye-catching overly violent money shot.  Ojala, who has worked on “Dead Birds” and “Thor,” delivers a really impressive head-ripping decapitation scene involving a toilet seat and lots of blood.  The only downside to the scene is that most of it hit the cutting room floor, leaving only a milliseconds of material to be left in awe.  Though the zombies snarl asynchronously loud with the action and sound like one of the Tiger King’s famished big cats, the makeup is economically slicked on but does the job nonetheless. 

Strong, eclectic performances and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gore keeps Andy Palmer’s “Witness Infection” as a bat-swinging, deer-eating, head-smashing horror-comedy not to miss, capisce!  Freestyle Digital Media distributes the film come March 30th on Video-on-Demand and on Digital HD platforms, such as iTunes and Google Play, with a runtime of 82 minutes.  A Panasonic EVA 1 camera was used to shoot the film under the cinematic eye of Filip Vandewal’s stabilizing safe mode approach by not being too adventurous with the camera work, but there are some nicely framed scenes that pull together the actors during confrontational and down to the earth moments with a prime example being Carlo and his father running through the stern discussion, for the first time, of arranged marriage with a rival crime boss’s daughter who is dating his brother but because his brother is sterile, he can’t have children, ergo an heir to the mafia family.  Along with the solid acting from Belushi and despite some continuity mistakes in the scene, the backdoor being open and also being closed then back to open again, the blunt pleasantries that captures firm love between the two of them is sincerely present.  As far as bonus scenes go, there were zero bonus scenes during and after the credits.  “Witness Infection” chips away at the zombie genre’s plodding wall with a pin hammer dink by stirring in Mafioso drama and diabolical flashes of gore.   

The Greatest Trick EVIL Ever Pulled Was Convincing Couples the Perfect Marriage Ever Existed. “Happily” reviewed! (Saban Films / Digital Screener)

Tom and Janet have been married for 14 years.  By that amount of time elapsed, marriage has moved past the honeymoon stage and settled into routine with the spark having dulled and sex life becoming nearly, if not totally, stale, but for Tom and Janet, their libidos are the equivalent to hormone-driven teenagers.  Their marriage has happily sustained over the years, never veering off course, but when a couples’ retreat invitation is rescinded by their friends because of the envied desire for each other and a mysterious man arrives at their door step next day offering a syringe injection that will cure them into a normal married couple, Tom and Janet believe they’re a part of a sick joke by one of their so-called friends, leading to a dead body, a brief case of unknown substance, and a re-invitation to the couples’ retreat where they must figure out who is and who isn’t of the four other couples are on team Tom and Janet.  Yet, the trip founded on the idea booze and relaxation turns into a disclosure of lies, secrets, and deadly disconnections. 

What’s the secret to a long lasting marriage?  Good sex, obviously.  But can an ostensibly impenetrable marriage be flawless?  That’s one of the themes writer-director BenDavid Grabinski toys with in his inaugural feature film directorial of “Happily” that disparages the unsullied union of Tom and Janet by a quartet of couples, who are also Tom and Janet’s closest friends, who aim to stick it to the happy couple because of their own marriage and life failures.  Grabinksi, creator and writer of revamped “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” television series, incorporates that element of grim tale mystery for allegorical effect into the psychology of envious, mal intent friends projecting their negativity on Tom and Janet’s positivity and love.  “Happily” is a production of the Arizona based Common Wall Media, an indie record and film production labeled owned and operated by Chuckie Duff, and, perhaps, the reason “Happily” has a killer soundtrack that includes Tim Capello “I Still Believe.”  Jack Black (“Tropic Thunder,” “Goosebumps”) also produces the film under his Electric Dynamite Productions, Inc. banner in collaboration with Indy Entertainment (“Nightmare Cinema”). 

I find extreme difficulty seeing Joel McHale in anything remotely with a serious tone for someone who grew up with the comedian during his 12 season days of E!’s spinoff of Talk Soup titled simply, The Soup.  McHale’s range as a funny man is beyond being paramount with great comic timing and able to deliver an unlimited amounts of laughs in just his mere expressions and that has translated well into his filmic career from comedies such as “Ted” to “The Happytime Murders” and even well into his more earnest and darker roles in “Deliver Us From Evil” and, his most recent release which is “Home Alone” for a more mature audiences, “Becky.”  In “Happily,” McHale plays Tom, a loving husband to wife Janet who can’t keep their hands off each other and never fight for more than half a day in what’s staunchly considered a perfectly sickening marriage by their closest friends.  One thing I’ve learned from watching Joel McHale in this role is not only can he bear the weight evenly of an emotional thriller, but the guy is jacked!  Opposite McHale is “Penny Dreadful:  City of Angels” star Kerry Bishé, matching the sexual and profound tone as the wife, Janet. Bishé takes on Janet’s ever benevolent wifedom, elevating it to a whole new level as the working spouse, ready to gratify Tom by any means possible and in any compromising position possible, who’s also served hand and foot by the same man who knows how to reciprocate at the right moment. Bishé’s a favorable compliment to McHale as a power couple daring the odds together on the same page until losing they’re way because, simply, they’re inevitably human. Tom and Janet square off against four other couples under suspicion of a suspected prank-gone-wrong after meeting with a mysterious man played by “Office Space’s” Stephen Root. Could the pranksters be the flamboyantly affluent, but unaffectionate Karen and Val (Natalie Zea of “The Following” and Paul Scheer of “Piranha 3DD”)? Could it be the uptight lesbian couple Carla and Maude (Shannon Woodward of “Westworld” and Kirby Howell-Baptiste of the upcoming “Cruella”)? Or is it the carefree Patricia and her inhospitable husband Donald (Natalie Morales of “The Santa Clara Diet” and “Mastermind’s” John Daly)? Maybe its the anger unmanaging Richard and his newfound fiancé Gretel (Breckin Meyer of “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” and Charlyne Yi of ” Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich”)?

Grabinski forcibly shoves the happily in “Happily’s” Tom and Janet’s marriage down our throats with a diabolical lustful half-exposition, half-hanky-panky action before title sequence intro into their infinity spicy life. The couple screw like two teenage rabbits hopped up on an aphrodisiac more than a typical mundane couple of 14-years should ever seen in their union’s lifetime, but, then, Grabinski throws in the proverbial monkey wrench into the gears. The question comes up, and lingers throughout, whether Tom and Janet are inherently broken, a defect in their existential creation, and that begins to snowball down the hill of insidious thoughts as the protagonists have their idyllic marriage tainted by the hair brain idea of a stranger, carrying two syringes of an insta-fix made up of unknown, illuminating material, who beguiles them with bureaucratic niceties to lie his way into their home and tells them he works for a higher power. Is this mysterious man God? Perhaps, the Devil? Grabinski smartly keeps that little detail under wraps and, for the first half of the film, stays a mystery upon itself. In time, each couple begins to unravel cankerous secrets, all of which have been targeted at Tom and Janet for their perfection and that’s perhaps where “Happily” struggles a bit as a story as Grabinski has a rolodex of past events being flipped through a plethora of interaction exposition, leaving morsels to try and puzzle the uneasiness of the morose couples’ retreat together. The long and short of the story is that the audience will need more morsels to chew on, get the creative juices flowing, to understand character motivations because, in the end, “Happily” is one big couples therapy session of divulging secrets to wash away, more or less, soul-deteriorating sin.

Before all hope is lost between two people, an intervention is warranted, even if it’s a divine one in BenDavid Grabinski’s dark comedy “Happily” heading our way to theaters, digital, and on demand come Friday, March 19th from Saban Films. The R-rated film runs for 96 minutes is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio that gets to showcase more of Adam Bricker’s luridly dreamy style. The “Starry Eyes” cinematographer instills a firm taste of precise, primary coloring tinting that evokes the intensity of the scene rather than pitching an outlined overlay on top of his soft lighting. The red “Predator”-esque vision through CCTV lens is a nice touch of also breaking up the more natural lit scenes for that ominous approach. Since “Happily” is coming to theaters, there is obviously no bonus material, but stick around for scenes during the credits and after credits. Lies, betrayals, murder, and the uncanny are soaked into “Happily’s” absorbent fibers as one of this years best dark comedies that hones in on ascertaining that nothing is perfect but the perfection that you make together.

Love. A Complicated EVIL. “Me You Madness” reviewed! (STX Entertainment / Digital Screener)

Catherine Black, a materialistic and narcissistic hedge fund businesswoman, prides herself on expensive fashion, a healthy appetite for wealth, and a keen appreciation for 80’s music.  There’s also one little other aspect of Catherine’s life that excites her immensely, she’s a total sociopathic serial killer and cannibal who gets off on inviting the detrimental to society to her Malibu home for the slaughter.  When petty thief Tyler thinks he’s pulling a fast one over the megalomaniac by casing her lavish home full of luxurious jewelry, cars, and décor, he’s actually walked into a trap set by murderess.  Toying with her prey before springing her trap, a typically emotionally detached and cold Catherine begins to feel something for not only Tyler’s ruggedly handsome looks but also for his down to Earth knowledge of the world around him, but upon his discovery of her freezer full of preserved dismembered body parts, a love and hate cat-and-mouse game ensues as Catherine and Tyler battle it out between either their individual survival or to pursue the sensation of madly falling for each other. 

A hyperbolic whirlwind in how opposites attract to the new wave tune of an 80’s soundtrack with a glitzy siding of the modern macabre, “You Me Madness” visually defines the coined idiom to be crazy in love.   The debut dark comedy of 2016’s remake of “Cabin Fever” and “The Midnight Man’s” actress, Louise Linton, introduces the Scotland native not only as a director, but also as a screenwriter, penning “You Me Madness’s” unflinching admiration to homage music, films, and their clichés and incorporate them into a fiercely funny comedy that sows unusual seeds of love.  Shot primarily on location in Malibu, set atop of a promontory in and around the sleek modern Ed Niles’ glass-and-steel architecture of the marvelous Henman House, that lists with a hefty price tag of nearly ten million dollars in today’s housing market, and has been the backdrop as Johnny Rico’s family home in Paul Veerhoven’s 1997 authoritarian war on the bugs, “Starship Troopers.”  Linton’s Stormchaser Films serves as the production company with financial backing from Christopher Rush Harrington (“Dead of Winter”), Jijo Reed (“Deadly Famous”), and Christelle Zeinoun.

If I didn’t know any better, I would say “Me You Madness” is the riley, subconscious projection of Louise Linton who not only directs and writes the film but also leaps into to the star role as the self-absorbed Catherine Black.  It is my opinion that Linton’s desire to be a filmmaker stems from her love of moves, especially from the 1970s and 1980s, from the slew of references deliberately spoken throughout to either bring attention about and to avoid the overused tropes all together or a story structure style to galvanize the, sometimes historically ridiculous, long lineage of serial franchises like with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when Catherine wields a chainsaw and stops to quickly turn toward the camera to harp about the series longevity.  But, in any case, Linton is wonderful as the powerful corporate sociopath saturated in elegance and is near impervious in breaking her principles about stylish perceptions whether be her designer made outfits during kill mode or keeping red wine, and blood, of her Italian-purchased sofa…or is it a couch?  Linton is opposite the sweet, yet skillfully crafty, innocence radiated from Ed Westwick as conman Tyler Jones.  The British born actor steps into an entirely lighthearted, yet dark, role that’s undoubtedly different from his previous cache of disconsolate films of “Children of Men” or “S. Darko,” the sequel to “Donnie Darko,” with stories of gut-wrenching dread and a general sense of uneasiness throughout.  Despite having a black-comedy tone, “You Me Madness” evokes Westwick to gleam with hopeless love for a smart and beautiful woman undeterred by her then wanting to then needing to kill him because he knows too much about he in spite of her feelings for him.  As you see, the coupling dynamic in this Catherine Black and Tyler Jones show is tremendously complex and both actors are able to reach that level of radical commitment of killer zany passion but only to a limited extent.  Linton terribly overshadows Westwick’s dry, almost deadpan, manner that leaves Tyler feeling unworthy of pursuit because here you have this beautifully intelligent and aggressively possessive woman with Linton’s grand presence coming to life on screen over everyone, and everything, in the film and in strolls a rather silent and express soft Westwick that doesn’t quite fit the bill. 

What I found to be thoughtful and carefully worked was Catherine Black’s image from the male perspective.  Like I said, Catherine is a power-hungry, manipulative, and material-driven narcissist but also beautiful, elegant, and well-versed at stratagem, but this larger-than-life character isn’t demeaning to women as a whole nor is she degraded by the, essentially, the one man in this story with her.  Most rape-revenge or women with a cause narratives inflict a barrage of choice nasty descriptors, such as cunt or bitch, toward the heroine or anti-heroine because she’s battling back against the man or men who’ve wronged her or a loved one. Linton further moves away from the odious layers of destruction lamina by stylishly beefing up the neon effervesce exterior and glam lifestyles of the rich and famous hyperextended upon with a love of an 80’s music soundtrack complete with 80’s arbitrary dancing with Ed Westwick jumping, kicking, swaying, and hypersexualizing dance moves around the Black’s house to the omnipresent soundtrack that includes bands Yello, New Order, The Pointer Sisters, A-Ha, The OJ’s, and Thompson Twins just to name a few. Linton also adds a meta touch where the main characters can turn and narrate directly at the audience to narrate their thoughts.  The unlikely of couples Tyler and Catherine have a relationship that’s being sewn together during their deadly love skirmish right before our eyes as the Catherine led audiences with a narrative disclosure of her confined world seeps into Tyler’s unguarded bubble to the point where he can now turn to the camera and speak to the audience that forms a stronger bond between them.  Yet, “Me You Madness” doesn’t quite have that perfectly coursed transition from enemies to lovers with a story that starts to become lost in itself from being built up strongly by Linton establishing, overtly, Catherine Black’s dark lifestyle choices and the kill scenario plot on this street smart thief to then watering down Catherine’s intense resolute that peters into a shoulder shrug of giving up and in to Tyler after a ferociously hellbent to cut his throat and Hannibal Lector him for dinner.

“Me You Madness” starts off hungry like a wolf film that gets physical with a smooth criminal but turns into a total eclipse of the heart that’s addicted to love and is never gonna give you up!  “Me You Madness” hits video on demand services Valentine’s weekend, releasing February 12th, distributed by STX Entertainment (“Hardcore Henry,” “The Boy”). The 97 minute duration is a celebration of enriched love more powerful than money, fancy things, and diabolical desires while also contributing playful banter and dazzling with the overkill of a voluptuary femme fatale. Ray Peschke’s cinematography grasps the “Miami Vice” vibe. Peschke’s can be on both sides of the coin with a sterilizing bright white of elegance to then flip around into a drug-fueled, kind of smoky robust color variant scene chosen carefully from a broad palette to accentuate the mood. Obviously, going full neon is important too and with Catherine’s dark room spin class, you get that rich fluorescent coloring when all riders are adorned in wearable glowsticks and a neon light illuminates their light colored clothing. Since “Me You Madness” is a brand new film opening right into the video on demand market, there were no bonus materials with the feature nor were there any extra scenes mid-or-after credits. Often wordy to be an adjunct of pop culture name-dropping, “Me You Madness” still renders as a beautifully shot, sybaritic-inclined film that slightly misses the intended mark of connection and love, but does take us out of our dreams and down the lane of playful nostalgia and frivolous fun.


Watch “Me You Madness” on Prime Video! Click the poster to watch!

Time Travel to Stop EVIL via Astral Projection: Part II! “Mandao Returns” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

With his powerful ability to astral project, along with the help of a motley entourage of friends and family, Jay Mandao saved multiple lives, some who are close to him, from his blood thirsty ex-girlfriend on Halloween night.  Two months later, days before Christmas, and now living in the scheming medium Cousin Andy’s townhome after his unrelated cousin Jackson set fire to his apartment, Mandao and Jackson float through life, sleeping in Cousin Andy’s living room and barely off the royalties of Mandoa’s father breakfast cereal line.   Dreams of his father, Raymond Mandoa, urging him to stop astral projecting as dark entities will discover him are reluctantly ignored when Cousin Andy connives a get-rich-quick opportunity to contact the recently deceased Aura Garcia, a well-known B-movie actress having died a few nights ago after a drug overdose, but as soon as the spiritual and time planes are disturbed, sinister plans of murder, from the living and the dead, deck the halls with a blood red Christmas.  

Mandao is back!  Or rather returns in a new scouring the astral plane misadventure entitled “Mandao Returns.”  When we last reviewed the Scott Dunn 2019 comedy-horror sleeper hit, “Mandao of the Dead,” an open ending left us salivating with a possible sequel under, what we know now to be a working title, “Mandao of the Damned” that promised exploring the nonphysical and paranormal realm’s mysteries and secrets that threatened Jay Mandao’s whole grain boxed-in existence, at least according to Mandao’s father, Raymond with a foreboding sign of inexplicable things to come.  The Kickstarter.com, crowdfunded modern cult favorite raised more than $26,000, doubling the first film’s budget, from approx. 250+ generous likeminded supporters within two weeks time that brought back four core characters essential to “Mandao of the Dead’s” grim, but lighthearted success to battle half-cocked the supernatural forces of evil.  Instead of a blood drinking cultist, a by-midnight death ceremony concretes stardom and greatness, but not if Jay Mandao has something to say about it.  “Mandao Returns” is a production of Scott Dunn’s Dunnit Films and distributed by Indie Rights.

Returning, obviously as stated in the title, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who incessantly annoy yet deep down care for him on a daily level is the hapless Jay Mandao, the titular hero played by writer, director, and story creator, Scott Dunn, along with Dunn’s wife, Gina Gomez Dunn, who steps back into a co-producer role for the sequel as well as stepping back into the shrewdly wild shoes of Fer, a close but no cigar Mandao love interest continuing to become mixed up in Mandao’s spiritual shenanigans while being a private driver for the Uber-equivalent Bum Rides.  Though blood is thicker than water, Mandao’s cousin-by-marriage Jackson oozes with dense innocence as Sean McBride reprises the daft role to another perfect tune of witless naivety.  Together, Mandao and Jackson arouse a likeable dynamic duo that becomes the keystone to both films’ success because without McBride’s timely childlike disposition, Mandao would just be a snippy and angsty loner and without Dunn’s subtly serious tone, Jackson would overrun the comedy-horror with one-sided gullibility.  With any sequel aiming to top its predecessor, the buddy comedy needed to be bigger and by adding the fourth returning character, Cousin Andy, as an important ingredient to the mix, Sean Liang adds a grounding hoodwinking conspirator that thrusts Mandao and Jackson into action on the astral plane field when the no-good antagonist, Aura Garcia, played by newcomer Jenny Lorenzo, becomes scorned in the spiritual world and takes heinous vengeance that not only involves Mandao, Cousin Andy, Jackson, and Fer, but also Garcia’s talent manager, Ted (Jim O’Doherty), in a sacrificial ritual gone terribly wrong. 

“Mandao Returns” is a smartly written script from creator Scott Dunn whose able to mold fallibly fascinating characters into unlikely heroes juxtaposed against a monumental occurrence much greater than themselves with the vast possibilities in the spacetime continuum.  Of course, the cinema flair to decorate the otherworldly dimensions with accessible ease and gloomy aesthetics faces speculation of existential questions of mindpower and life after death and the challenges the mechanics of the theory of metaphysics, but all that abstract mumbo-jumbo is pushed aside in order to make the “Mandao” films entertaining and for a good reason because when the script has colorful characters and a working narrative, “Mandao Returns” allows audiences to turn off rationality for approx. 71 minutes to enjoy a modestly produced Sci-fi comedy-thriller with a cast accurately in sync with each other’s methods.  The one thing I will say about “Mandao Returns” that I found to be a sore spot, despite still immensely enjoying, is that the story echoes eerily to “Mandao of the Dead.”  With a slight tweak to Mandao’s astral projection powers and trading in a different breed of villain, from point A to point B, from dynamics to outcome, everything seemed nearly identical to “Mandao of the Dead’s” narrative, delivering nothing distinctively new to the table to elevate the character’s fate and circumstances into unique, un-before-seen horizons.  Dunn comes close to challenging and upgrading the prior narrative by hinting something lurking within the spirit world was on the verge of closing in on Jay Mandao if he continues blindly using astral projection by the forewarning words of his father, Raymond Mandao, but slips out of that digressional stream to pit Mandao versus greenhorn cult acolytes looking for glam and glory by way of the gory and that, done in the Dunnit Films’ essence, is okay too.

As a quirky, out-of-body sci-fi thriller experience, “Mandao Returns” succeeds in succeeding as the sequel that brings the thrills and the laughter of far-fetched heroes ready to tear into the fabric of time to stop evil once again. The film comes to you from distributor Indie Rights and is available now streaming only on Amazon Prime so get your pandemic pants on aka comfy, stretchy pants, grab some movie style popcorn, and recline back to watch “Mandao Returns.” Experience the vibrant and wraithy-visioned glow cinematography of A.J. Young, returning from “Mandao of the Dead” as well as Dunn’s first film “Schlep” and another camping trip horror film, “Camp 139.” Young stays true to the films atmospherics with hard lighting a variety of hues and creating a story through the presence of shadows, working movie magic creating an opulent visual experience when really only working with about 25 grand. There were no bonus features nor extended credit scenes with this digital screener. One day, I’d like to see Scott Dunn and his Dunnit Films team work with a good chunk of budget cash and push the limits beyond the simplicities of the “Mandao” films, but until then, “Mandao Returns’ is disseminated with a whimsical awareness and fervent macabre that’s intent to please.

Watch “Mandao Returns” on Prime Video. Click the Poster!

The EVIL Experiments of Dr. Frankenstein’s Great, Great Grandson in “The Hideous Bog Monster” reviewed! (Cheezy Movies / Digital Screener)

Fouke, Arkansas is a small town about to have big problems when a maximum security hospital maniac escapes and now roams loose in the woods.  Disguising himself as the infamous hairy bog creature of local lore, the lunatic embarks on a killing spree, massacring the local game hunters, and collecting their dead corpses for the unholy experiments of Dr. Frankenstein, the fourth generation heretic from a long lineage of conducting evil scientific practices.  Together, the lunatic and Dr. Frankenstein plan to use a stolen ancient Vatican book, not meant for the eyes of man, for his sadistic work of defilement, but a supernatural warrior, an elite team of Vatican assassins, and the local yokels seek to join forces to stop evil at all cost. 

Backwoods horror has never been more backwards when trying to absorb James Baack’s escaped lunatic killing, Satanic cult worshipping, slasher-esque aping, demon slaying, rootin’-tootin’ “The Hideous Bog Monster” released in the most backwards, backlogged, backache year of the global pandemic of 2020.  By now, you’re probably thinking you’ve never seen so many backs in one sentence in all your life, but James Baack, who wrote and directed the 2020 film, is no stranger repeating himself at the helm of homemade schlock and title pulpy horror as the filmmaker has made a career behind the 70’s-inspired horror entitles, such as “Dracula’s Orgy of the Damned” and “Werewolf Massacre at Hell’s Gate.”  “The Hideous Bog Monster” is a production of Baack’s Chicago-area centric The Great Lakes Artists Group, using the Arkansas folklore of the Fouke Monster of Boggy Creek as a foundational backdrop for more sinister practices, shot in nowhere near Arkansas, but all over tarnation in Illinois.

Movies similar to “The Hideous Bog Monster” usually involve a tightknit troupe of cast members that have performed in some way, shape, or form in previous James Baack productions in a kindred melting pot of close friends and family members.  Tina Boivin is one of those actresses who has had a role in every James Baack film to date.  This time, Boivin braided her red hair and hiked up her booty shorts resembles a redneck version of Dave Thomas’s Wendy in Sally Bell, a foul-mouth, uncouth, hayseed maiden caught in the mix of all hell breaking loose in and around Boggy Creek.  Sally Bell is joined by her equally unsophisticated friend, Flunky (James Baack), and the elite Vatican hitwomen, The Sisters of St. Tommy Gun, to do the Lord’s work with disparate to the story planetary names in Sister Saturn (Bianca Baack), Sister Venus (Jenna Aboukamar), Sister Jupiter (Tanya Raz), and Sister Mars (Suzy Streske).  As what seems like a climatic clash of a good versus evil showdown, the action is sorely subdued to little excitement, exhilaration, and enthusiasm to the spirited adversaries who are eager to destroy, but barely use the zapping powers, automatic rifles, submachine guns, and hand-to-hand combat blades they’ve been so graciously armed with and, instead, Baack weaponizes only the wit of Sally Bell to verbally assault otherworldly demons. Hasn’t the filmmakers heard of sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Depth is also lacking behind the eyes of every one-time use characters, especially in Herbie Savages’ deranged killer dressed up in a Spirit Halloween bought gorilla outfit to exude his insanity and obsession with the Bog Creek monster. The remaining cast rounds out with Andrew Baack, Wendy Pierson, Kandace McVickar, Steve Galayda (also producer), Nicholas Baack, Evan Pierson, Tom Ziellienski, and Pete Alessi as Dr. Frankenstein.

“The Hideous Bog Monster” follows no rhyme or reason story structure that ultimately feels, at every possible angle, very arbitrary coming to ahead. Paced like a slug riding a sloth dragging it’s long-nailed feet through the strong winds of category five hurricane, a resembling randomizing character generator also creates pop up characters adding to the enigmatic puzzle dish of cryptic and longwinded exposition and then disappear in the blink of an eye in a fueling the flame to only be quickly extinguished in a heap of plot-choking smoke moment. Between pillaring principle leads are the Witch, Lumpy, the Apprentice, and even Dr. Frankenstein, who exceed the amount of allotted strain in following these half-built story arcs, causing a major slow down of the story progression. Partnered with run amuck scenarios that have little-to-no links of connective tissue also dampens the likelihood of seeing “The Hideous Bog Monster” from beginning to end without feeling either confused on just about everything thrown at the audience, hoodwinked by the decently illustrated poster art, or exhausted to the point of surrender in keeping up with James Baack’s four-letter word spouting clunker. Much like many urban legend spun horror films, the Fouke Monster has had about the same amount of butchered luck down the cinematic avenues as Big Foot and there have been better films, such as “The Legend of Boggy Creek” in 1972 to “The Legacy of Boggy Creek” in 2009, inspired by the nefariously elusive swamp creature since the mid-70’s after it’s so-called sighting in Fouke Arkansas.

Another small town is on a trope-laden path to terror as “The Hideous Bog Monster” set to be unleashed upon us all in 2021 on DVD courtesy of Cheezy Movies (aka Trionic Entertainment). The region free, 110 minute runtime release will be presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, and will be not rated. While I can’t comment on the DVD’s audio or visual components due to the digital screener provided, the SOV-esque of “The Hideous Bog Monster” shimmies barely into the said style made popular in the low-budget 80’s and 90’s horror scene, capturing crudely the video recordings of creative horror filmmaker and despite poor output quality, regardless of a digital screener or not, but Baack was able to garnish some respectable eerie shots like the opening of the film of a young boy wondering through a desolate trailer park on a foggy day. What happened to the young boy after being chased by the phony bog monster? Nobody knows and nobody explains what happens, what’s going on, or where’s things are going as gaps continuously riddle holes in James Baack evil has come back to small town America in a slap-happy slap-comedy horror squeezed dry of terror, but pumped full of unfunny hillbilly rhetoric.Another small town is on a trope-laden path to terror as “The Hideous Bog Monster” is set to be unleashed upon us all in 2021 on DVD courtesy of Cheezy Movies (aka Trionic Entertainment). The region free, 110 minute runtime release will be presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, and will be not rated. While I can’t comment on the DVD’s audio or visual components due to the digital screener provided, the SOV-esque of “The Hideous Bog Monster” shimmies barely into the said style made popular in the low-budget 80’s and 90’s horror scene, capturing crudely the video recordings of creative horror filmmaker and despite poor output quality, regardless of a digital screener or not, but Baack was able to garnish some respectable eerie shots like the opening of the film of a young boy wondering through a desolate trailer park on a foggy day. What happened to the young boy after being chased by the phony bog monster? Nobody knows and nobody explains what happens, what’s going on, or where’s things are going as gaps continuously riddle holes in James Baack evil has come back to small town America in a slap-happy slap-comedy horror squeezed dry of terror, but pumped full of unfunny hillbilly rhetoric.


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