EVILs Make Difficulties in Finding God. “Agnes” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Blemished man of the cloth, Father Donaghue, and a neophyte are summoned to perform the holy rite of exorcism on a possibly possessed nun, Sister Agnes.  Disadvantaged and forced by his own scandal, Father Donaghue is ordered by the local Bishop to oversee the matter before they ship him overseas to avoid further disgrace upon the Church, but the skeptical priest, who has performed many exorcisms in the past, has never once believed he was casting out a demon but, rather, relieving a guilty, tormented soul seeking divine forgiveness.  When the priests confront Sister Agnes, the situation is violent, wily, and unlike any possession Father Donaghue has ever seen before.  The incident casts doubt over Sister Agnes’s friend and fellow nun, Sister Mary, who leaves the convent to try and live on her own and find God in the real world her own way, but a little bit of Sister Agnes has seemingly rubbed off onto her. 

You gotta have faith, sang once by pop-rocker and songwriter George Michael (and Fred Durst, if want to go that route) and though Mickey Reece’s “Agnes” doesn’t necessarily croon a rebuttal, the Oklahoma City born filmmaker surely splits hairs with a formidable blockade that advocates the crisis of faith cinematic model with layered horror.  The “Climate of the Hunter” writer-director’s latest quasi-horror-comedy and full-throttle religious drama questions the validities of finding God on a personal level with a divergently cut screenplay co-written with frequent script partner John Selvidge, whose current post-production penned time-warping horror entitled “Wait!” coming next year.   “Agnes” is filmed in the heartland of America inside Reece’s home state of central Oklahoma and is a reteaming of Mickey Reece and producer Jacob Snovel of Perm Machine with Greg Gilreath and Adam Hendricks’ Divide/Conquer (“Black Christmas” 2019 remake, “Freaky”) as the production companies and is first feature presentation for Molly C. Quinn, Matthew M. Welty, and Elan Gale’s QWGmire Productions.

One-third of the head of QWGmire is also the “Agnes” leading lady as Molly C. Quinn, who doesn’t play the titular character, plays Mary, a nun and friend of the possessed plagued Agnes (Hayley McFarland, “The Conjuring”) with a tragic background that ambiguously parallels a similar path to the mother of Jesus, also named Mary for all you non-Christians out there.  Mary is tender, quiet, and self-effacing but determined to pave her own way without the means of charity, especially those of the unsavory-favor nature, and consulting God for answers.  Quinn is perfect to shoulder Mary’s innocent disposition and does carry her naïve meekness throughout up until Mary’s gradual decline toward her faith that turns the sweet and innocent young woman into a pragmatic doubter, spurred by Agnes’ sudden otherworldly turn from devout to impiety that becomes more than what meets the eye.  However, in kicking off Reece’s film, one would have thought the exorcism of Agnes would emphasize more heavily on Father Donaghu (Ben Hall, “Minari”) and soon-to-be priest Benjamin (Jake Hororwitz, “Castle Freak” remake), but despite the involved build up of Father Donahu’s sordid past that conflicts with the Church and his struggles with the exorcism, Reece and Selvidge ultimately do, in what feels like, a pulling of the plug on a storyline that followings in the footsteps of “The Exorcist.”  That is, in my opinion, the downfall of “Agnes’” story in elimination of really interesting character arcs right in their girthy throes, leaving audiences hanging on Father Donaghu, grocer owner/low-end gangster Curly (Chris Sullivan, “This is Us” and “I Trapped the Devil”), ostentatiously swaggering Father Black (Chris Browning, “Let Me In”) and even the titular character Agnes fails to flesh out fully.  Rachel True (“The Craft”), Zandy Hartig, Bruce Davis, Chris Freihofer, Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Suicide Squad’s” Sean Gunn as a standup comedian and Mary’s love interest.

“Agnes” loosely follows a couple of Catholic patroness saints in Agnes and Mary derided in a contrary sense.  Agnes, the virgin martyr in Catholic veneration, opposes the Church in the film with flashbacks of her embracing an indulgent life along with her sexual insults that’s uncouth for the patroness saint of pure little girls.  Mary’s a little more recognizable with a previous, ambiguous account of her child’s death (aka Jesus Christ?).  Plus, there’s the religious imagery, amongst others in the film, of Mary with bleeding eyes as an analogous to the weeping statues. Reece blatantly shows most men and women of the cloth to be unorthodox Orthodox Catholics from Father Donaghu’s troubling allegations to the mocking head priests. Mother Superior throws around her superiority amongst the convent nuns and even the Bishop, who doesn’t ever say a word in his brief scene, appears smug and high and mighty with his stature, letting his assistant communicate (and excommunicate) all the ugly business. Only a non-priest, training to be ordained, in Benjamin is the only innocent, infallible Christian who captures the humble essence of God and the only one who can capable in rejuvenating Mary’s faith. “Agnes” is all about doubting faith whether be by demonic possession, the loss of a child, all forms of corruption, and more, but Mary keeps striving, struggling, and searching for that spiritual lifeline amongst seedy and unscrupulous faithless charlatans slowly poisoning her to be the same. However, the “Agnes” story divides too sharply leaving the acute crisis of faith to be nearly lost in translation and is practically a wandering spectrum of identity that’s roughly craft glued together by Reece.

Some may see the film’s poster and excitedly expect Nunsploitation but the reality of “Agnes” digs at the hypocrisy of people and the endless search for faith. What it’s not is the sexual exploitation or sadomasochism of chaste nuns. Give Mickey Reece’s horror-comedy drama “Agnes” a faithful shot come it’s December 10th theatrical release from Magnet Releasing, a subsidiary of Magnolia Pictures. “Agnes” has a runtime of 93 minutes and presented in a 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Typical of any Mickey Reece film, his melodramatic horror-comedy fits into his oeuvre of talking head cinema so leave expectations of brooding and atmospheric milieus at the door for more realistic, down-to-Earth scenes, which is a bit surprising since the cinematographer behind “Hellraiser: Judgement” and “Children of the Corn: Runaway,” Samuel Calvin, has an eye for unhallowed aesthetics. Calvin does produce some perfectly poised shots with the flock of nuns and the ever slightly deviant angle to sharpen a scene. No bonus features were included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Agnes” floats on a haphazard timeline of dark, melodrama comedy for a desperate need of faith against the immense heartache, the crudely selfish, and the absence of morality all of which incessantly imposes upon the good to assimilate.

Those Little EVIL Buggers Ruin Everything! “Ankle Biters” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Digital Screener)



Injured hockey goon Sean Chase has severe on-ice anger issues but leave from the game curbs his temper for the better after meeting an internally distraught Laura Haywood.  Enamored by the mother of four who enjoys rough sex as much as he does, Sean decides to willingly plunge into marriage by asking Laura for her hand against his friends and family passive advise him of the hefty, multi-kid baggage in Laura’s tow.  To set the romantic mood, Sean takes Laura and her young kids to his family’s lakeside cabin where all the locals know him, personally and professionally, but when the girls discover cell phone footage of Sean and Laura’s bedroom exploits and interpret them as Sean hurting their mother, they devise mischievous retribution on Sean in order to protect mommy. 

From being a bare knuckler enforcer using the rink as his boxing ring to becoming the haplessly smitten and blind to four little girls’ perception of him as the bad guy, the once penalty box denizen Sean Chase is now the penalized good guy in the Canadian dark-comedy “Ankle Biters” from writer-director Bennet De Brabandere.  Also known as “Cherrypicker,” the title used in the film, the film is Brabandere’s first feature length film based off a story by lead actor, Zion Forrest Lee (“Hit It”), who oft puts delicate notes of misperception as the main theme in his tale.  Shot primarily in the harbor village of Ontario’s Tobermory “Ankle Biters” is produced by Michael Flax of Flax Films, director Bennet De Brabandere, long time makeup artist Sean Sansom with credits from “Land of the Dead” and “eXistenZ, and special effects company, Mindwarp Productions’, Francois Dagenais (“Saw” franchise, “Chucky” SyFy series).  The film is presented in part by APL Films.

As if seeking some sort of self-punishment, story originator Zion Forrest Lee takes the form of a punching bag for four overprotective little girls; four real life sisters, in fact, played by Rosalee, Dahlia, Violet (“Bad Santa 2”), and Lily Reid, the latter Reid having played a significant role in Johannes Roberts’ recent “Resident Evil” reboot as young Claire Redfield and will be involved in another Lee and Brabandere collaboration in the upcoming apocalypse thriller, “Salvation.”  As a father of three girls myself, the Reid girls are nothing short of genuine, killing their roles with tweaked difference in each of their individual personalities as cute and morbidly curious children and siblings.  Lee offers up a rather over-the-top approach toward Chase’s Mr. Perfect in a way that doesn’t come across naturally as the performance is stuck somewhere between Phil Hartman in “Jingle All the Way” and Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” (I’m in the Christmas spirit with my films, if you can’t tell) with a suave sexy toward the women who swallow it up and dorky goofball toward kids who don’t understand it. Chase’s legendary hockey status has been interweaved into the community surrounding his family’s lakeside cabin, such as the local cops with Officer Brian (Gareth Moyse), local shopkeepers like Jordy (Jordan Mills), and even other vacationers, a pair of lakeside neighbors in Anthony (Doru Bandol) and Caprice Gaddis (Maria Sant’Angelo) with their blossoming teenage daughter Matia (Matia Jackett, “Crimson Peak”). By far one of the more interesting characters, Matia doesn’t actually progress the story with her flirtatious crush on Chase as she’s used as more of a device to propel the Haywood girls into full-blown psycho-kiddies as Matia bites off more than she can chew on a what should have been a routine babysitting gig. The biggest name in the film is the “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” comic Colin Mochrie in an unfunny role as the town’s police chief. “Ankle Biters” houses many curious characters come and go, adding little to story or not adding enough, with select bit performances from Evert Houston, Michael Copeman, and Jani Lauzon amongst the Canadian cast.

Not one single member the cast had that it factor that sparks allurement, intrigue, laughter, hate, or any other kind of emotion they’re trained to extract from you or intent on to make you feel in certain crucial points in the story. As a dark comedy, “Ankle Biters” lacked, well, comedy with an overreaching and flat satire on the innocence of mistaken circumstances. When the opening credits roll with the Gary Glitter “Rock and Roll” sampling “The Hey Song,” a track used for decades at sporting events, and we’re immediately exposed to a confrontational and bearded hockey player punching the eye out of an opposing team player into the title sequence, investing myself was easy as the synch of melodious Jock Jams and brutality is promised for the horizon; however, quickly skating from the ice is our beloved bloody-knuckled goon gone in a matter of oddly edited and sequenced scenes and is rarely seen again, even in flashbacks, as we’re dumped into post-hockey career, clean shaven, and on the behavior mend of Sean Chase trying to quickly nail down a woman with four kids who obviously dislike him a whole lot. I fail to see the transition, I don’t want to see the transition, and I’m angry “Ankle Biters” ended up in this transition whereas having Chase continue to be the injured, but still a fisticuffing and bearded enforcer, going toe-to-toe with brats would have been much more (Canadian) of an amusing watch. The better side of this genre blending coin is the darkness portion that really elevates during the latter half of the lakeside trip. Dead bodies, baby spiders crawling out of an ear, open wound fractured skull, a knife to the eye are just a few of the effective practical and composite applications from Francois Dagenais’s special effects company, MindWarp Productions, that keeps the story grounded with destroying the human anatomy as well as keeping up with the human fallibly in order to not have the film fall completely on its face with everything else erroneous.

Released back in mid-November, “Ankle Biters” landed onto On Demand platforms and DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. Even though I’m unable to fully cover the audio and video details from any digital screener, I don’t think what was provided was even a finished version of the film that came complete with top left corner running timestamps and some obvious missing special effects, such as the missing prop knife tip when removed from the eye socket and then the tip is back whole on the next shot. No information on the DVD specs was given to me either. Brabandere and Lee do tease with a follow up sequel involving the “Son of Cherrypicker,” named after the lakeside penned “Cherrypicker murders” in the film which, again, was never made a solidifying connection to other than a brief news report ticker on television. If comparing a film close to “Ankle Biters,” Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things” fits that gruesome bill with one gross misstep in front of another that eventually culminates to a shocking and even deadlier kill or be killed ending with a grown man versus four little girls.

Watch “Ankle Biters” On Amazon Prime Video

EVIL Wants a Cuddle in “Benny Loves You” reveiwed! (Epic Pictures / DVD)



35-year old man-child Jack still lives with his parents, still plays with toys, and remains stuck in a dead-end job.  When his parents tragically die in a surprise birthday for him and his professional prospects at an all time low, Jack decides to grow up and improve his life, even if that means throwing away his favorite childhood stuffed teddy bear, Benny.   Being discarded in a blink of an eye resurrects Benny to life, seeking Jack’s affection like the good old days when Jack was a child.  There’s only one problem, Benny doesn’t want to share Jack’s love and the toy’s thirst for blood sends him into playful murderous rage against anyone or anything that comes near him.  Jack has come to terms with Benny’s intentions, even mocking up a new craze toy line inspired by Benny, but as the bodies pile up and a new woman comes into his life, Jack must confront his plushy childhood best friend to save what little of a life he has left. 

What an age us horror fans live in!  Our good guy doll Chucky makes a tremendous comeback these last couple of years with a reboot film and a new television series on SyFy!  Killer dolls are back, baby!  Joining in on the fun is another pintsized maniac with just about as much red coloring on its soft nap as Chucky’s stringy hair on top of his head and, also, sees about the same amount red when wielding a knife with homicidal intentions.  From the United Kingdom comes Karl Holt’s time to grown up or die horror-comedy “Benny Loves You.”  Holt’s a one man show in his debut feature film that he doesn’t just direct, but also is the writer, editor, cinematographer, composer, lead star, and producer of this heart-warming and heart-severing, cute and cuddly, gore show.  The 2019 released riot is an exclusive Dread Central (Dread) presented release of a joint production from Raven Banner and Darkline Entertainment.

Alongside Ken Holt as Jack, the failure to launch mid-30’s man still parent dependent, are a slew of individuals with a variety of personalities suited to Benny’s killer taste in protecting his most beloved human.  From home to the office, Benny slays through the competition in the game of life and death, starting with an indifferent bank representative, played by Greg Barnett (“Hot Property”), looking to foreclose on Jack’s family home.  Yet, Jack has seemingly always been destined for a grisly fate, just not his own, as his parents (Catriona McDonald and Greg Page) die in a “Final Destination” style accident rooted by the very theme of the story – his inability to grow up.  As when Jack and Benny’s new dynamic goes through a 180-degree positive spin on Jack improving his downtrodden life is when more unfortunate souls become ensnared in Benny’s mission.  More of the oppressive office environment, with snide performances from a pug pooch-adoring and stern boss in absolute deadpan by James Parsons and a jerk colleague in the running for a promotion played perfectly tat by George Collie.  Then there’s the love interest in Claire Cartwright (“Souljacker”) as Dawn, a toy tech engineer who finds common interests in Jack and falls for him.   Cartwright exudes pleasure seeking in an overreaching of every man’s fantasy categorized kind of gal.  Holt tries to maintain Dawn’s perfection with her own Benny-esque storyline but that never brings the character down to his level of trouble, leaving Cartwright cornered in being just a slave to Jack’s coyness instead of a sympathetic character.  Cast rounds out with Anthony Styles (“Razors: The Return of Jack the Ripper”) and Darren Benedict (“Aux”) as two oblivious cops who are actually inching closer to the truth as well as David Wayman (“Seven Devils”) as a real estate agent and Lydia Hourihan (“Inmate Zero”) as Jack’s ex-girlfriend.

While Benny may not have the massive sex appeal of a one Brad Dourif or a mega franchise with vary degrees of success, “Benny Loves You” is still a delicious small fry of the toys gone murderously wild horror-comedy subgenre that dapples into a little of everything from gratuitous gore to the heartfelt warm and fuzzies.  The blend of practical and composited computer imagery of Benny’s movements is the work of a mad genius and I’m sure we have Holt to thank for that as well under his many hats in production.  Benny strikes me more differently than the likes of “Child’s Play” or even the anthropomorphic toys of “Puppet Master” with an encompassing amount of personality.  From his cutesy voice box limited to only a handful of says like cuddle me or Ta-Da! to the way he flops around like a possessed rag doll with wide eyes and an ear-to-ear smile, Benny’s an easy villain to love and is easily able to root for when the unlikeable people of Jack’s life suddenly hem in with unforgiving, browbeating mercy, making Benny the cutest and most loveable anti-heroic punisher of the killer toy canon. Holt’s film doesn’t come out flawlessly unscathed, however, where minor issues of lightspeed pacing and choppy editing aims to get through one scene to the next leaving little to sink in when plot points, monkey wrenches, or heart-warmings transpire. Much of the background into Benny’s sudden erect to life goes unexplained but that Devil in the lack of details is better suited for a film about a discarded toy coming to life – “Toy Story” did it and look how successful Disney made that franchise – and while the whole film is fluff filmmaking at is finest, you have to find appreciation in the smallest details, especially with Holt’s forging of horror scenario tropes into embarrassing personal ordeals that don’t even involve the titular killer.

I’m sure “Benny Loves You” has already been through the toyetic process, at least on the indie production circuit, but, in any case, you can definitely own Karl Holt’s wonderfully macabre and instant cult classic on DVD home video from Epic Pictures, a Dread picture label. The not rated, region free release clocks in at 94 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Where Benny shines as a grisly tale of saying goodbye to your childhood stuffed friend, the clarity in the image state is not so defined with a meager detail and sharpness. Scenes with the matted CGI often appear blurry and chunky with Benny very flat in what should be his grand alive and breathing opus. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 lossy audio too inadequate for the scope of content. Holt included a wide range of sounds, and this audio track is bridled to curb in an assortment of a blend of action, horror, and the downright awe of Benny’s cuteness. Dialogue a bit muddled but overall perceptible. So far, audio and visuals are a blinking sign to a rather cheapie DVD presentation and the lack of special features hits the last nail into the mass-produced coffin, reaffirming that the standalone movie home media is all well and alive and that’s okay with me in the case of “Benny Loves Me.” A chip off the old diabolical doll block, “Benny Loves Me” is an out of the blue hit, a real cutup, and the perfect Friday night fright to enjoy with your own personal favorite, stuffed animal buddy.

MUST OWN!  Bring Benny Home on the “Benny Loves You” DVD!

Being Dismissed is EVIL That’s Hard to Choke Down. “Swallow” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / BD-R Screener)

Newly pregnant housewife, Hunter, putters around the house while her workaholic husband enjoys the fruits of success and friendship with colleagues.  When she’s not cleaning the house or preparing a meal for herself, Hunter stares into the oblivion of her isolating environment.  The country girl who really had nothing to her name has fortunately found an opportunity to never be worried about financial insecurities and with every material thing a person could want in their right at her fingertips.  All Hunter has to sacrifice is her control.  Feeling lonely, powerless, and trapped, Hunter discovers swallowing inedible, dangerous objects gives her great joy and something she can control.  As she goes deeper into this obsession and her perfect world begins to crumble, she’s confronted with reexamining her dark past that stems her unusual eating habit.

Sometimes it’s our strange quirks, our self-destruction behaviors, and our subconscious need to be noticed, or in control, or out of the pockets of others that can deliver horrid outcomes that, ironically enough, can be also our incognito liberator.  As such displayed in Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ written and directed introductory feature film, a blend of family melodrama and interior body horror, with “Swallow.”  The 2019 released psychological thriller is difficult to digest, literally, as the protagonist struggles coping with external control issues in a seemingly perfect life, a life that has never quite felt like her own, while also encouraging an alarming new physiological appetite for what is known in the eating disorder circles as Pica.  Set in upstate New York, shot around the idyllic Hudson Valley area, “Swallow” is produced by the award-winning “Nomadland’s” Mollye Asher and “Black Box’s” Mynette Louie, who have a long history in investing into bold and interesting emotional depth tales, and is a production of the France based companies, Charades and Logical Pictures.

Undertaking the daunting task of Pica emulating is Haley Bennett.  “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” and “Hardcore Henry” actress tethers a line to the core basis of her character Hunter who has to gradually chip away portions of her blank exterior of a person subconsciously suffering from similar symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.  Hunter very much believes in the social saturation of wifely duties at an attempt to please her bread-winning husband Ritchie (Austin Stowell, “Colossal”), constantly gathering reassurances and happiness from him.  I also like the play on words with the husband name Ritchie that speaks to his haughty behavior.  Bennett, in great detail, captures Hunter’s disfigured, uncertain happiness and wholehearted attempts to join the ranks of a proud housewife, an area mirrored by silent authority from her mother-in-law Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel, “All the Little Things We Kill”).  As soon as Hunter swallows that very first foreign object, Bennett derives true delight from the bizarre action.  From then on, blistering is away is being a slave to Ritchie’s wealthy ties as that little object, that spherical inkling of hope, gets the marble rolling down the gullet of taking back what’s hers, her life.  Bennett and Stowell finesse their characters’ relationship with a teetertotter of genuine sympathy and ingenuine gratification in what’s a blurry line of compassion or a total fake façade for the allusion of appearances.  The weakest character, for me, is Luay, the Syrian expat who fled the turmoil of homeland war and has become something of a caretaker to Hunter.  Played by Laith Nakli, Luay’s sympathy for Hunter runs deeper than her psychological disorder, and Nakli can dish out awkward, slow burn compassion with the best of them, but that connection between Luay and Hunter misses the timely mark with a blank and acute switching of allegiances gone unspoken and with inaction.  Luna Lauren Velez (“Dexter”), David Rasche (“Cobra”), Babak Tafti, Nichole Kang (“Ten Minutes to Midnight”), Zabryna Guevara, and “American Horror Story’s” Denis O’Hare rounds out the cast.

Hunter’s fixation can be compared to the likes of any other vice and soul-swallowing addiction – gambling , drugs, sex – but the very fact that it’s Pica, and on a certain level of the OCD spectrum, makes Mirabella-Davis’ script somewhat of a curious oddity as the filmmaker builds a story around a dysfunctional family and one’s own personal grasp on destiny.  Though set in modern times, “Swallow” very much has a 1950s-1960s vibe with the dynamic of the working husband and the wife stays home to spruce up the house; there’s even a particular scene of Hunter vacuuming in a 50’s-ish tea length swing dress.  Despite the story’s curious and odd nature and the stuck in time antiquated gender inequality veneer, Mirabella-Davis utilizes these aspects to shape and shed light on the more diabolical of inner detriments with Hunter’s lack of confidence and autonomy stemmed from a difficult to swallow past and a financially affluent relationship that actually disallows personal freedom.  “Swallow” is oppressive in ways as Ritchie and his family and friends attempt to squeeze every ounce of value out of Hunter with value being the unborn child amongst other things.   The psychology of “Swallow” melds past and present together to form Hunter’s dangerous method of taking over the reigns of a life she never steered and Mirabella-Davis crafts an exquisite niche thriller to encourage us to gobble up.

Second Sight Films, a label known for it’s substantial and lavish re-releases, snacks on another high profile film with their profound limited edition Blu-ray of Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ “Swallow.” The single disc, PAL encoded, region B BD-25 is presented in the original aspect ratio of a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Since a BD-R was provided for review purposes, I am unable to comment on the true characteristics and qualities of the audio and video, but do note Katelin Arizmendi’s stunning cinematography that’s full of palpable texture to every minute piece of inedible edibles Hunter puts down her throat and the gorgeous long shots of Hunter being engulfed by the depth with the isolating forest setting that looks to be lurking in the background. The limited edition release hit shelves this past Tuesday, the 22nd, and has a ton of features to check out, including a new audio commentary by director Mirabella-Davis and producers Moilye Asher and Mynette Louie, A Personal Story exclusive interview with the director that’s seriously in-depth and passionate about his work on “Swallow,” Something Bubbling Underneath exclusive interview with producer Moilye Asher, The Process exclusive interview with editor Joe Murphy, Metal and Glass exclusive interview with composer Nathan Halpern, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’s take on “Swallow” A Room of One’s Own, Mirabella-Davis’ short film “Knife Party,” and a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Haley Turnbull along with a soft cover booklet with an introduction by the director and containing essays by Anne Billson, Jordan Crucchiola, and Ella Kemp. Lastly, at the tail of the special features are 6 beautiful collectors’ art cards. “Swallow” is rated UK 18 and runs for 94 minutes. Bennett wins the prize for making “Swallow” a throat-clearing success and bravo to Mirabella-Davis for being brave enough with an unusual story set around an uncommon eating disorder and directing the hell out of it.

Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films Available at Amazon.com

When the Girl of Your Dreams Thinks Like an EVIL Robot! “Deadly Friend” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Shout Factory)



Whiz kid Paul Conway, along with his mother and artificial intelligence robot creation called BB, move to a new house to be close to Poly Tech where the teenage prodigy begins research study on the human brain.  Paul quickly befriends Tom, the local paperboy, and cute neighbor Samantha, aka Sam, that evolves into more than just friendship, but when Sam’s abusive father kills her and BB is blow to smithereens by a cruel, paranoid neighbor over the holiday season, a distraught Paul begs his friend Tom to assist him in a radical resurrection to save Sam by implanting BB’s A.I. chip into Samantha’s brain.  The long shot surgery pays off and Sam is awake and moving around automatonlike, but the thoughts and feelings of Sam and BB blend and the hatred toward their killers feeds into the need of grisly revenge.

Wes Craven.  Every genre fan upon hearing his name goes through an euphoric reliving in seeing one of his films for the first time.  For most that film is “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with Robert Englund starring as the fedora-sporting, dream killer Freddy Krueger  who wears a glove with finger knives.  Krueger has been and still is one of the most iconic and memorable villains ever in horror since Krueger’s from Craven’s nightmare-to-cinema creation in 1984.  Fast forward two years later, Craven hops at the chance to make a studio film with Warner Bros.  A film that’s polar different from “ANOES” with a touching, PG-rated macabre, science fiction coming of age story based off the Diana Henstell novel entitled “Friend” with an adapted script by Bruce Joel Rubin who went on to pen “Ghost” and “Jacob’s Ladder” a few years later.  After test screenings, the studio began to meddle, urging, if not demanding, Craven add horrific violence to the intensity lighter story thus turning “Friend” into “Deadly Friend” with a blender hacked story that failed at the box office during the Halloween season nonetheless.  Pan Arts/Layton serves as the production companies with Warner Bros presenting “Deadly Friend” under the studio’s banner.

At the center of the story are two star-crossed teens in the midst of adolescent flirtation.  Eyes glued to one another, but separated by the cruel whims of a drunken father, are Paul, “The Little House on the Prairie” star Matthew Labyorteaux and Samantha, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” feature star Kristy Swanson.  While not overly smoochy between Paul and Sam, the then teenage youngsters sell the affectionate tension between them with depth in their performances.  Yet, the Swanson’s post-surgery mechanical movements are terribly rudimentary and cheesy, turning the studio warranted violent exploration of youth and morbid Sci-Fi cybernetics story into the laughing stock of the already inanely entertaining killer robotic subgenre.  Without the studio intervened violence and gory edits, I could not envision Craven and Rubin’s touching story between Paul and his desperation creation to cure his broken-hearted affection for both his robot and the girl next door.  By far the best principle role is Tom, played by Michael Sharrett (“Savage Dawn”) who really plays into that Craven and Rubin softer vision with a bit of well-timed comedy.  As a character, Tom’s always falling or fainting in some capacity and deliveries some great one-liners that jazz up the lightheartedness of “Deadly Friend’s” more macabre stance.  Big names and distinguish faces fill rather unexpected cameos, such as “The Goonies” Anne Ramsey as a paranoid recluse who blows away BB in a Halloween mischief gone wrong, as well as Roger Rabbit voice actor Charles Fleisher as BB.  “Deadly Friend” routs out with Anne Twomey (“The Imagemaker”), Richard Marcus (“Tremors”), Lee Paul, and Russ Marin (“The Dark”).

I know Warner Bros. swallowed the original intent of “Friend,” chewed it with the purpose to add crowd-pleasing violence and gore, and spat out an game-changing “Deadly Friend” totally going against the wishes of the cast and crew, but losing that more tender creativity of an undead romance narrative wasn’t put out to pasture in vain.  Infamy and a semi-cult status long after release came out of the hellish mixed-bag of critically panning spitfire and the disownment of the film’s creators.  One particular scene, involving a basketball and an explosion of head goo, is definitely one of the more rememberable and well executed kill scenes of the era.  As a whole, “Deadly Friend” rests in ridiculous peace as many viewers will watch, digest, and come to some kind of self-compromising understanding on Craven’s misadventure and will relinquish to the fact that the film has a place in his repertoire of work.  Yet, dicey editing and pacing issues suggests a heavily edited film and trying to surmise how “Friend” would have been perceived in studio unmolested form is nearly impossible given the already bizarre sci-fi narrative subject matter.  What I found more interesting is Craven essentially sticking it to the studio’s request for violence and gore by rehashing much of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” into “Deadly Friend’s” framework with the intense dream sequences, a giant furnace-boiler room, a severely burned man’s face, and even a few shots of a blond Kristy Swanson garbed in white has a familiar Amanda Weise skin.  Overly compressed and subsequently reworked to appease audiences, “Deadly Friend” is no friend at all on a “Re-Animator” or insert man-in-machine horror parallel dipped into a “Short Circuit” coating that plainly suffers from outside interference resulting in a neutralized effect.   

You’ll never have a friend like “Deadly Friend” now on a collector’s edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory, a subsidiary of Shout Factory!  The rated R film has a runtime of 90 minutes and is presented on a 1080p High-Definition, region A Blu-ray in a widescreen 1.85: aspect ratio from a new 2K scan of the interpositive 35mm film.  Without much criticism, the virtually undamaged transfer refreshes previous releases for high-definition aficionados with a palatable amount of grain and the details are clearly discernable.  Colors looks good too between the natural skin tones and the range in contrasts, providing new life into Philip H. Lathrop’s (“Lolly-Madonna XXX”) two-toned atmospheric cinematography.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track is equally as pleasant with clear and clean soundtrack unobstructed by damage or static.  No issues with the dialogue as well in another testament to Shout Factory’s attention to the audiophile-appreciated fidelity.  Optional English SDH subtitles are available.  Special features include new interviews with Kristy Swanson and writer Bruce Joel Rubin who go into rigorous details about the Studio’s interception as well as working with their cast and crew mates.  There are also new interviews with composer Charles Bernstein and special make up effects artist Lance Anderson.  The theatrical trailer rounds out the special features.  “Deadly Friend’s” tech-horror with a twist is about as deep as the brain of a toaster oven replacing your girlfriend’s father submissive and overly meek brain, but the new Scream Factory collector’s edition is absolute perfection.

Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” now on a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray!