After bearing witness the brutal suicide of her father, Mary undergoes family counselling as a result of being the cause of her father’s death with repetitive public accusations of molestation. The ill-equipped counselor suggests medical evaluation from a professional who beseeches the assistance of The Catholic Church when the determination concludes that Mary is suffering from severe Satanic possession. Directives from high positions in the Church service in waves three priests to perform the delicate exorcism; all of whom have conducted an exorcism under difficult and soul-exhausting situations. The irresolute and embattled priests field the call, blindly walking into Mary’s slithery persuasive possession state of soul-tormenting and death. The priests will tirelessly seek to have the beleaguered Mary exorcised of the nasty demon from within and have her tattered body come back to Jesus…or perhaps be personally delivered to the Devil.
Finally! American Guinea Pig: “The Song of Solomon” has been on my highly anticipated review material list for a very, very long time. Written, produced, and helmed by the founder and president of Unearthed Films himself, Stephen Biro has been more than widely known for years to promote and glorify gore in the shock-provoking films underneath his banner; a practice that has made his company a stable in the realm of horror aficionados. “The Song of Solomon” keeps the blood flowing….splattering, squirting, spurting, spilling, in fact! Whereas many of the Unearthed Films productions and distributions have a granular or avant garde stories, Biro, despite the confined and limited locations, pens an engrossing narrative with evocative, haunting, and surreal characters surged into a powerful and ageless tale that sordidly spanks “The Exorcist” like an irrefutably forgotten and spoiled rotten step-child. “The Song of Solomon” is that good and soars to the top in being one of this reviewer’s favorite Unearthed Films’ titles.
Jessica Cameron should just be handed a ton of awards for her performance as the possessed Mary. Cameron’s creative creepiness is unsurpassable and just oozes out of the character, zapping an icy chill down each disk of the spine whenever she uses the playful sing-songy voice of a snake’s fork tongue. As a whole, Cameron singlehandedly comes off overwhelming haunting and delivers a personality made up of nightmare material; a phenomenal performance that rivals, if not outright tops, Linda Blair’s Regan. There are moments when you think the 2003 “Truth or Dare” director and actress had post-production enhanced vocals to make Mary persuasive, enticing, and demonic, but only a slight vocal overlay on top is the only thin icing on the already devilish cake. It’s not as if Cameron didn’t have any competition on screen, either. Scott Gabbey, David E. McMahon (“Followers”), Angelcorpse’s Gene Palubicki (“American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock”), and Jim Van Bebber (“The Manson Family”) compliment the versus’ righteous, if not also flawed, challenger with immense passion for their respective roles of grief-stricken priests, plucked carefully by top Church officials to handle the exorcism. Maureen Pelamati, Josh Townsend, and Scott Alan Warner (“3-Headed Shark Attack”) co-star.
Production value must reign above the conventional indie fare and special effects owns much of that real estate. The man behind the special effects on such films as “Mohawk” and “Lung II,” Marcus Koch, has teamed up with “Bereavement” and “Murder-Set-Pieces'” Jerami Cruise to assemble some of best, yet refreshingly basic, gore effects seen recently. Regurgitation of internal organs, the compound splintering of bones, and even a Columbian necktie are the prime examples of what to expect from the unlimited imagination of the Koch and Cruise collaboration. Locations are simple and tight, leaving not much room for exploration of options for practical effects, but each scene is well thought out, choreographed, and designed for gruesome upshot that keeps true to Unearthed Films brand of filmmaking. Toss all that into a sack along with fellow colleague Gene Palubicki’s malevolently cacophony soundtrack and the outcome is a well-rounded horror film with extreme unapologetic values worth the time of day and night.
“The Song of Solomon,” an Unearthed Films production, lands onto Blu-ray distributed courtesy of MVD Visual. The 86 minute runtime film is presented in a High Definition 1080p widescreen format, 1.90:1 aspect ratio, on a single layer BD-50 disc. If you want gore, you got it with this particularly warm hued transfer really puts the devil in the details with grisly effects that could be hard to stomach. The English LCPM Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track caters with nice fidelity. Dialogue is clearly present amongst the Palubicki score and the ghastly ambience augments the visual viscosity of the gore. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Stephen Biro and Jessica Camera, another commentary with Biro and effects gurus Marcus Koch and Jerami Cruise, interviews with Jessica Cameron, Stephen Biro, Marcus Koch, Gene Palubiki, David McMahon, and director of photography Chris Helleke, a behind the scenes look, outtakes, and a photo gallery. Comparing Stephen Biro’s “The Song of Solomon” to William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” is like comparing apples to oranges as both films relish and thrive in their own atmospheres. However, “The Song of Solomon” stands firm as a powerful competitor that offers up a ravishingly foul and metaphysical entry into the genre realm of demonic possessions casted with raw talent.
In the fight against pure evil, the Catholic church trains champions to battle against the forces of hell and all that is unholy. Father Jacob Vassey is one of those very champions. The man of the cloth who wields dual 9mm handguns and has a penchant for penancing through the act of self-righteous wrongdoing in the name of Church and of God. When an treacherously evil Archbishop summons a shadow builder to undo all of God’s creation on Earth, Father Vassey pursues the demon to the small town of Grand River in search for a hunted pure soul; the demon tracks down young Chris Hatcher whose been through a sign of God’s passion, the stigmata, and is the key to demon’s ultimate goal. Once the shadow builder has collected enough souls and has laid sacrifice to the boy, the demon will reverse the creation of God, humanity will cease to exist, and the world would be ripe for restructuring at the whim of one of hell’s most demented minions. Humanity’s last hope lies with Father Vassey, a local sheriff, Chris’s veterinarian aunt, and the town loon to bring forth light toward the prospect of a dark and gloomy apocalypse.
“Shadowbuilder” is the 1998 apocalyptic horror film from director Jamie Dixon, steering his sole major production from a high octane and progressive anecdotal script by “Iron Eagle IV” screenwriter Michael Stokes and produced by Imperial Entertainment, who delivered some great films like “The Bikini Carwash Company” and The Bikini Carwash Company II.” Based off the short story in the “Under the Sunset” collection by Bram Stoker (author of “Dracula”), “Shadowbuilder” expands, develops, and morbidly seduces around Stoker’s tale that doesn’t necessary implement a Universal Studio’s “The Mummy” like tale progression and design, telling of a weak, yet venomous creature feeding on souls or people in order to regain world destruction strength. Stokes script goes right into the action with Vassey’s hunt for the beguiled Archbishop and the way Vassey is introduced is absolute 1990’s gold: a priest armed with two handguns with laser sights. Studios don’t make films like this anymore! Rivals as one of those films that has a doppleganger, like “Deep Impact” and “Armaggeddon” that coincidentally came out the same year as “Shadowbuilder. “End of Days” is that doppleganger film as the two share unholy similarities of a citizen of hell on a mission to sacrifice a human for above ground dominance.
No actor could pull off properly the gun-toting and shrewd role of a haunted and troubled priest that is Father Jacob Vassey. No actor except Michael Rooker (“Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer” and “The Walking Dead”). Rooker’s gravel pit voice is inarguably his best trademark trait that nails extra tension into the substantially bleak and world-ending situation; a tone that carries enormous weight and Rooker’s natural vocal gift, along with his lip snarling, square chin and piss-offstare, earns the actor to be the well armed and dangerous man of the cloth. “Bruiser’s” Leslie Hope joins Rooker as the Veterinarian aunt and the film’s love interest, but not of Father Vassey. Instead, the love interest belongs to the local town sheriff, Sam Logan, played by Shawn Thompson. Hope and Thompson’s on-screen chemistry can’t seem to puncture through as it’s defined as back burner material, overshadow by Vassey’s unwavering pursuit of the demon and the frantic search for the boy, Kevin Zegers (“Dawn of the Dead” remake), through the muck of the shadow builder’s poisoning of the town upstanding morality and ethics. Rounding out the cast is Andrew Jackson as the shadow builder, Hardee T. Lindeham (“Survival of the Dead”), Catherine Bruhier, and genre vet Tony Todd (“Candyman”).
“Shadowbuilder” is by far a perfect horror film. Dixon, new to directing, dives into the infancy stages of CGI and, for the most part, the turnout pans out with the effects despite being slight crude around the edges. Stokes script puts story development right into the fast lane and doesn’t let off the gas so if you walk out of the room for a coke and return, you’ll miss something pivotal. The design works well to keep up the pace for a story that has a lot to tell and to not give the viewers a chance to piecemeal pick apart a teetering concept. One aspect that really tilts toward the negative is actually Tony Todd’s performance as the town crazy, a one-eyed Rastafarian named Evert Covey who is completely aware of the demon’s presence, but goes unexplained. Todd sells crazy, and sells it really well, but the lack of exposition into purpose plunders the character into outside the lines oblivion that begs the question, why is this character here? A guess would place Covey as a means to keep the lights running as he’s some sort of convivial, jerry-rigging mechanic.
MVD Visuals Rewind Collection label sports a special edition Blu-ray of Bram Stoker’s “Shadowbuilder.” The 1080p resolution is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Despite the the 1080p resolution that aims to bring a little more detail to the fold, the coloring on the transfer is quite faded with considerable noise that’s hard to ignore, but while the noise is underfoot it doesn’t necessarily cripple “Shadowbuilder’s” ominous and foreboding vehicle. The CGI looks better than expected being an early model from the millennial transition into more prominiment animation in the turn of the century. The English uncompressed 2.0 PCM sound track passes muster, leaving dialogue rightfully forefront and substantial ambience as support. Bonus features include a nifty poster insert, a visual effects tour, and a making of featurette with interviews that include with the director Jamie Dixon, screenwriter Michael Stokes, the demon himself, Andrew Jackson, and Tony Todd. Kevin Zegers has his own featurette, a commentary director Jamie Dixon, and the theatrical trailer alongside MVD trailers for other Rewind Collection films. Michael Rooker, Tony Todd, and a demon. A winning combination reamed with apocalyptic mayhem, destruction, and undiluted carnage and up on a pedestal with on the eclectic MVD Rewind Collection.
In a time of Kings and nobility, a traveling beggar roams the open landscape. However, this man is no ordinary vagrant, but is the leisurely wary Devil reincarnated into the flesh, walking amongst mankind with one goal in mind: seeking pleasure by any means necessary. From pillaging to cheating and lust to murder, the haughty Devil has embarked on an oppressive journey as Mr. Leonardo, encountering all walks of life and swindling them of their morality and of their wealth. He’s joined by a young and poor servant boy, Tomas, as a traveling companion, schooling the God fearing lad in man’s corruptible virtues and exploiting their naïve or sinful nature. Though being a powerful immortal in true form, as man, the Devil can succumb to sickness, injury, and even death, but still maintains certain metaphysical abilities to provide an edge over those he bamboozles. In his mischievous encounters on Earth, Leonardo comes to realize that man might just be more immoral as the Devil himself when the Devil, in human form, can’t inflict as much havoc as the unscrupulous attributes of a profane mankind.
“The Devil Reincarnate” is worth it’s weight in ducats for all the Paul Naschy fans. Also known as “El Caminante,” not a literal translation with an interpretation as The Walker, the Paul Naschy starred, co-written, and directed film, under his birth namesake of Jacinto Molina, is a staggering approach toward the exhibition of humanity at it’s complete and utter worst in a cloaked slither of an Naschy anecdote that even the Devil couldn’t top man’s relentless and unremitting cruelty. Naschy’s pessimistic views, much which I’ve always agreed with, illuminate all that was, is, and will be wrong with human race and despite how barbaric and nasty his character, Leonardo, might be portrayed, Naschy manages to be essentially one of the only directors to make the Devil an anti-hero of sorts.
Paul Naschy is Spain’s most recognizable horror icon, recreating many of the iconic monsters and macabre films in his native land. Leonardo is a different sort of character for Naschy, one that doesn’t hide behind a mask or makeup, revealing a full-blown Naschy assortment of just him. As himself in Leonardo, he’s plays a terrible, down-right rotten bastardo who even belittles himself as a simpleton to lie and steal from wealthy aristocracy. Leonardo is smooth, skillful, charming, intriguing, and brutish much like I would imagine Paul Naschy would be in real life. Alongside Naschy, David Rocha portrays Leonardo’s servant companion, Tomas, and Rocha provides a youthful exuberance that translate to onscreen, giving Leonardo companionship, aid, and also assists in being the Devil’s experimental subject to see how long and how much the Devil can instill the dastardly advice and actions into the young man. “The Devil Incarnate’s” concupiscence fully enflames with some of Spain’s more provocative actresses such as Eva León (“Bahía blanca”), Adriana Vega (“The Night of the Executioner”), Blanca Estrada (“Horror of the Zombies”), and “Night of the Werewolf’s” Silvia Aguilar, whose bare rear-end is splayed on many of the film’s iconic posters and the limited edition Mondo Macabro Blu-ray cover with an upside down cross etched into her left butt cheek.
Honestly, “The Devil Incarnate” is exemplary of near perfection. Through the journeyman storyline, the performances maintain the highest caliber inside the realm of horror-comedy with Naschy at the helm, steering the multi-façade Leonardo with charisma, magnetism, and callous barbarity. Supporting cast complete Leonardo’s monstrous persona with pinpoint precision by shifting actors and actresses into diverse walks of life who then churn out comical, chilling, and overall controversial performances that spill into horror subgenre territories, like Nunsploitation for example. The powerful theme is an unfortunate, yet timeless blemish on human culture and society. Cheat, steal, and murder are the core elements conveyed by the filmmaker to suggest that the Devil doesn’t need to take form to stir up mayhem, but that there’s a little bit of the Devil inside us all to complete his bidding in a war against God. Story references the renowned biblical tale of Adam and Eve and the Devil’s temptation that ultimately curses the human race, bestowing upon them with original sin. There’s plenty of sin motifs to go around along with phallic notions through the Devil’s own wandering agenda that’s intertwined with leagues of potential disobedient individuals and shamed religious turncoats to paint a gloomy landscape of man’s most horrid shortcomings.
Mondo Macabro and CAV Releasing presents the unrated, non-limited edition of Paul Naschy’s “The Devil Reincarnate” onto a region free, 1080p, BD25 Blu-ray home video with a brand new 4k transfer from the film’s negative and displayed in a widescreen, 1.66:1 aspect ratio. For a negative from 1979, the transfer aims to please with hardly little-to-no damage or other deterioration flaws, no awkward cropping, and no tinkered enhancements detected. Coloring is flattering despite the hint yellowish tint. Some of the darker scenes lose sharp definition do to poor lighting, but there are breathtaking landscapes, especially when Naschy is strung up on the cross, with a vivid, natural aesthetic to the release. The Spanish Dolby Digital LPCM mono, at 24fps, with optional English subtitles packs quite a wallop with robust scuffles, clanking of swords, and a clear rendering of Ángel Arteaga’s zany and harrowing compositions. The extras include an introduction from Paul Naschy, exclusive interviews with costar David Rocha and Naschy’s sons, Sergio and Bruno Molina, a tour of Paul Naschy’s study and home, and exclusive audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of various horror historical directors and moments in cinema. There’s no contest. “The Devil Incarnate” is, without a single seedling of doubt, the best film of Paul Naschy’s extensive body of work and it’s a film that reinstates an immense amount of melancholy into the soul when regression is setting in that human beings never have been and never will be better than the Devil himself.
Hot off the Quinn Brenner case, parapsychologist Elise Rainier receives a phone call from Ted Garza regarding paranormal activity at his house in Four Keys, New Mexico. The location happens to be the childhood home of Elise, where her father viciously abused Elise to stop her supernatural gifts and also where her mother was brutally murdered by a fearsome and hatred-energized demon known as KeyFace. Reluctant to return where memories revel in persistent and continuous nightmares, Elise and her two eager assistances, Tucker and Specs, take the case to aid the Garza’s request for a cleanse and to conclude the haunting and scarring chapter in Elise’s life, but the demon yearns power by luring Elise back to where it all began. With the help of her brother and two nieces, Elise’s family and friends aim to be a force against pure and undiluted evil hidden in the further.
Full disclosure….Insidious: Chapters 2 and 3 is not in my well versed cache of watched movies. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmospheric hit that is James Wan’s 2011 “Insidious” film starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and the incredible Lin Shaye, but since that time, neither of the sequels have wandered into my unsystematic path. Except now. “Insidious: The Last Key” is the latest installment to the “Insidious” franchise and universe that’s directed by Adam Robitel, screenwriter of “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” and written by franchise writer Leigh Whannell. In the grand scheme of chronological viewing, catching “The Last Key” first won’t divert and confuse too much from those on a methodical storyline timeline. Robitel’s chapter is a sequel to the prequel, “Insidious: Chapter 3,” and aside from an Easter egg here and there, there’s little reference and nothing substantial bonding to the next two films that are in sequential order.
Lin Shaye returns to reprise her role as parapsychologist Elise Rainier for the fourth time, picking up her character’s telepathic shtick like it was yesterday. Shaye’s one of acting talents that just flourishes like wild fire no matter what the type of role or movie she’s in or even affiliated with. Her ability to adapt and to get down and dirty with her characters proves why we love her thespian range from bust-a-gut comedies like “There’s Something About Mary” to indie horrors like “Dead End.” The now 74-year-old actress is more red hot now than ever as Elise Rainier whose even more popularized by her co-stars, writer, Leigh Whannell and and Angus Sampson as Specs and Tucker, whom like Shaye have reprised their roles for a fourth time. The comedic duo lighten up the dark toned premise, offering up dad jokes and snickering hairdos to offset to jump scares and gnarly KeyFace. Spencer Locke (“Resident Evil: Extinction”), Caitlin Gerard (“Smiley”), and the original 1971 Willard, Bruce Davison, play the supporting cast of Rainiers long lost, reunited family members caught in the middle of her quest for conclusion. Rounding out the cast is Kirk Acevedo (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), Tessa Ferrer, Josh Stewart (“The Collector”), and contortionist, and Doug Jones’ Spanish rival, Javier Botet as KeyFace.
“Insidious: The Last Key” works on many positive levels: has a solid premise with Elise burning to finish the nightmare she had unleashed many years ago, subplots involving Ted Garza’s role and Elise’s abusive father, a dysfunctional family relationship between all the Rainiers, and some serious eye-popping scares throughout. The further also opens up more and becomes a vast area for exploration into all the creatures, ghosts, and demons that lurk in the otherworldly dimension, setting up future sequels and/or spinoffs. What doesn’t work as well is the rather anemic and lackluster climatic finale that took KeyFace from an extremely high frightfully monstrous pedastal, continuously building up the character to be the most powerful antagonist Elise has yet to encounter, and have the rug pulled right from under it’s horrid feet by squandering it formidability, flattening it with the single uppercut swing of a… lantern.
Adam Robitel’s “Insidious: The Last Key” finds a home on a Blu-ray plus Digital HD combo release by Sony Pictures and Universal Home Entertainment. The release is presented in high definition 1080p with a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image quality just tops out with overly spooky cool blue hue that’s gloomy, dark, and ominous, all the attributes perfect for a supernatural thriller, while managing to sharply define the details on the actors and their surroundings. The English 5.1 DTS-HD track stings where jump scares are prevalent and appropriate. Dialogue has clarity with mild ambiance supporting the localized and conventional horror audible moments while brawny LFE bursts on-screen in a bombardment of scare tactics whenever KeyFace suddenly shows face. Bonus features include an alternate ending (complete with cheesy one-liner from Lin Shaye), eight deleted scenes, a look into the “Insidious” universe, going into The Further, Lin Shaye becoming parapsychologist Elise Rainier, and a segment entitled “Meet the New Demon – Unlocking the Keys” to KeyFace. Perhaps not the epitome of the franchise, but “Insidious: The Last Key” absolutely fits into the franchise’s ever expanding universe and unlocks more of the spine-tingling backstory to one of horror’s contemporary and unremitting heroines ready to confront evil.
In the wake of losing their father and husband, Leah and her mother struggle to cope and are at their wits ends with each other. Leah, an impressionable and angst-filled teen, embraces the occult lifestyle after her father’s untimely death despite her mother’s distaste for it. Leah’s mother also battles the everyday familiar feelings of her constant surroundings that remind her of her dear husband and the sensations compel her to move her and Leah more than an hour away, away from Leah’s only friends including a boy she’s become fond of, but the constant and languishing heated disagreements invoke Leah to act impulsively, gathering her ritual articles, and while in the woods, naively summon a witch, named Pyewacket, to kill her mother. Regretting her actions almost immediately and fearful of what’s to come, Leah is cautiously ever attentive to her surroundings as each passing night a presence makes itself known and is eager to not only harm Leah’s mother, but also intends to rise it’s wickedness toward Leah.
“Pyewacket” is a 2017 Canadian horror-thriller from writer-director Adam MacDonald. The Montreal born MacDonald constructs an impressive and suspense-riddled sophomore film that offers a beautifully bleak atmosphere while touching upon layered themes that are relatable to anyone who grew up with an overbearing parent. “Pyewacket” succeeds as a stark melodrama of a hurting mother and daughter who are looking for some kind of pain relief and a fresh start. MacDonald takes it to the next level, churning out a cautionary tale, by implementing the theme of being careful for what you wish for because you just might get it. Oh, and there’s spine-tingling moments involving a ghoulish witch with an appetite for deception and have you squinting yours eyes in fearful anticipation of when she’ll strike.
Another Canadian, the Vancouver born Nicole Muñoz stars as the disquieted Leah. Muñoz dark assets heighten her disdain and resentment she evokes out from her character toward her mother, played by the former “The Walking Dead’s” Laurie Holden. Tall and blond with a more verbose attitude in putting her feelings outward, one would have difficulties placing Muñoz and the “Silent Hill” star as daughter and mother on screen. Holden manages to be the glue that keeps the story moving as Leah rarely has much to the say and is only reactive instead of proactive about her situation, making the two actresses dynamically challenging that purposefully sparks uneasiness in every scene. Leah’s friends serve as her lifelines to the world outside her new country home that her mother has unfairly displaced her to. Her best friend Janice, the Toronto born Chloe Rose, whose alternative appearance and nonchalant, cocky persona encourages her to be Leah’s confidant. Rose seemingly enjoys the role that offers vibrantly colorful stripes of hair with lots of gothic makeup that comes complete with leather and plaid outerwear. I was a little disappointed with Leah’s love interest that was Aaron, shoed by the tall and thin Eric Osborne. Aaron really wasn’t showcased much though MacDonald’s script attempts at hinting more to the character, but unfortunately for Osborne, Aaron falls the ranks of a back burner boyfriend trope.
What might be the undoing of “Pyewacket” is simply the timeliness. Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” and André Øvredal’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” completely overshadow the JoBro Production & Film Finance (which is kind of funny because the same production company also did some funding for “The Witch” so in essence, “Pyewacket” is “The Witch’s” little cousin) with two already fantastic tales of non-broom riding and mind tampering witches that share the same intense ferocity of pure hatred and dark magic on a much bigger and grander scale when considering production value that relies on a viewer relatable story. A story involving a mother-daughter warfare is inarguably human to us all, but in competition with that, MacDonald seems to embrace that side of the story with slight favoritism as the director is light with a slow burn of the catalytic turn of events that evokes the titular character despite it being the most gripping portion of the film; instead, the focus is more honed in on Leah’s experience that intimately distances her from each of those that are closest to her: Janice, Aaron, her mother. Left in the wind is much of the witch’s background and how the witch becomes familiar to Leah which goes relatively unknown. And, also, not to forget to mention that the witch, or familiar spirit, is screened through shadows, long shots, and quick takes so to get a shape or a image around the appearance, all I can suggest is that Pyewacket resembles Samara from “The Ring” with stringy, filthy hair, slender figure, and moves around like a spider. Aside from a popular teeny-bop occult novelist, Rowan Dove played by “Bitten’s” James McGowan, the only facts touched upon about “Pyewacket” are that the spirit is extremely malevolent and can deceive the perception of people and events.
From Signature Entertainment, the DVD and Digital release of Adam MacDonald’s “Pyewacket” hits retail shelves April 23rd and digital retail shelves even earlier on April 16th. Since a digital screener was provided for this review, an in-depth critique of the video, audio, and bonus material will not be covered. Though clutching to the money-bagged coattails of bigger, better witch films from the last three years, “Pyewacket” is still a mighty story with complex characters complete with sheer dread from an obscure and grievously sorcery crone pure with black heart that will definitely elicit shortness of breath and rapid heart palpitations if watched alone in the dark.