A Cop, a Paranormal Investigator, and a Priest Walk Into an EVIL Extermination Plan! “Belzebuth” reviewed!



The joy of a new baby is cut short for Detective Ritter who bares the tragedy of his little boy viciously killed in a massacre of nursey infants by a psychotic nurse before taking her own life.  Five years later, and losing not only his child but also his wife to severe depression, a disheveled Ritter is called in to investigate a mass murder involving a 12 year old boy slaughtering young children in a preschool classroom.  To him, the two events don’t spark similarities, but to a paranormal investigating Catholic priest, Ritter’s tragedy and the events in the classroom are linked by the unorthodox priest’s examination.  All the evidence points to an excommunicated Catholic priest practicing demonology that sends the two men down a path of unholy darkness in a series of murderous catastrophes influenced by the rebirth of the Messiah.

When the first scenes from “Belzebuth” open with a maternity ward nurse stabbing with vigorous force every single infant child in their crib with a scalpel, you know nothing wholesome is sacred and everyone is fair game in what is to be a grim story of infinite barbarity and darkness.  “Belzebuth” falls in the line of fire of Mexico City born writer-director Emilio Portes with an augmented, dark humored social commentary loaded with evil entities and grimace-laden gore.  The “Meet the Head of Juan Pérez” filmmaker cowrites “Belzebuth’s” irrational rational for the unfortunate real world trend of mass murders and touches upon, sensationally, the evolution of Catholicism extremities to battle evil in the world with first time feature length film screenwriter Luis Carlos Fuentes.   The Mexico/American film is produced by Rodrigo Herranz, Michelle Couttolenc, and Jaime Basksht, with Ana Hernandez as executive producer and Pastorela Peliculas in cooperation with patriotic promotion from the Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia, aka IMCINE, serving as the production companies.

If you Google Mexican actors, the power of artificial intelligence and ignorant manual input couldn’t separate Mexico form any other Latin American country as the powerhouse search engine provided me results like Danny Trejo, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lopez, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz.  Now, while I respect each and every one of these performers who provide a variety of lush character and emotional erudition to each of their roles, not one of them is born in Mexico.  Some that listed do not even share the same heritage.  But do you know what the most astonishing, most outrageous, and most shameful aspect of my search was this?  The Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico born Joaquín Cosio was not among the top 50 results.  From captivating television with Guillermo del Toro small screen adaptation of vampiric apocalypse of “The Strain” and the intense drug-fueled drama of “Narcos: Mexico” to his Hollywood presence in the star-studded, James Gunn directed “Suicide Squad” to his humbler beginnings that includes Bond, James Bond, in “Quantum of Solace,” Cosio’s a strong and versatile candidate for intense thrillers and “Belzebuth” is right in the actor’s wheelhouse as a downhearted Detective Rigger with a short fuse.  As a supernatural skeptic, Ritter’s forced into confronting his past demons with the demons of the present by tracking down rogue priest Vasilio Canetti (Tobin Bell, “Saw” franchise) with the help of Father Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington, “Sinister 2”) of the Paranormal Forensic Department, which sounds kind of silly because Franco’s squad is an extension of the Church.  Bell brings his delightful deadpan bedside manner as the excommunicated priest in guerilla warfare with a determined, demonic evil trying to massacre as many children as possible to find the reincarnated Messiah in what would be the Third Coming as the Second had come and failed during the Crusades.  Bell is the yin to Cosio’s yang until circumstances rear-end last ditch efforts and all Hell breaks loose in a drug smugglers’ tunnel.  Aida López, José Sefami, Yunuen Pardo, and Liam Villa round out the cast.

If possession-fueled carnage and the antiheroic archetype weaponizing demonology for good tickles all the right places, “Belzebuth” can be the feather tickler of dreams.  Fans of Clive Barker’s “Lord of Illusions,” Peter Hyams’ “End of Days,” and the graphic novel “Constantine” can indulge into Portes’ explicit nihilism and lack of public conviction in religion in the director’s allegoric telling of something really big and really satanical happening right under people’s noses while a small motely crew of conversant peons try to stop a wall of Deviltry.  Portes also consistently touches upon Mexico’s unsystematic corruption, even among Ritter and other protect and serve officers, and the once firm-handed political system of the Institute Revolutionary Party (PRI) as potential cause for all the suffering enacted demon-rooted abscessations.  The mentioning of drug cartels pop up frequently, too, symbolizing the seemingly random acts of violence are just never just random acts, but an perpetrated hit on a human target much like the cartels’ unsavory methods to either take out competition, eliminate obstacles, or to silence whistleblowers.  Portes does a phenomenal job using his film as an allegory in making a political statement but lacks balance in favoring gore over profile with some characters who rather feel written in just for the sake of a broader English audience.  Father Ivan Franco is such character with interesting combinational vocations as a paranormal investigator and a holy man of the cloth.  Yet Franco, who wields a gun and has supercool video and audio recording specs, spearheads a larger suborganization shielded away from the public eye and, unfortunately, the viewer eye that never feels like a cog in the entire “Belzebuth” machine.  Franco and his team of spook-sleuths, who, by the way, vanish completely from his side early into the investigation, supposedly follow and investigate peculiar tragedies connected to misaligned presences leaving spiritual residue on the real world plane, but how his team comes about connecting the dots exclusively to just the first two tragedies, five years separated, is a bit of stretch and a letdown in fabricated continuity and weight behind Franco’s existence to be involved.  Pockets of plot holes pop up here and there on other facets but generally speaking, “Belzebuth” works black magically as a spiritually and culturally vivisecting detective thriller.

The Shudder original 2017 release, “Belzebuth,” scares up onto an UK Blu-ray release from Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded, single layer BD25 presents the film in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with a runtime of 109 minutes.  Ramon Orozco’s cinematography flashes with a gorgeous red and blue color palate that fits the iniquitous tone and adds an ethereal, hazy backlighting to only enhance the tone to more sinister levels.  Acorn’s Blu-ray sharpens Orozco’s already byzantine schemes that enriches the details in the skin as well as a the sacred relic artifact-cladded locations that become claustrophobic and entombing.  Even Juan Martínez Espín visual special effects casts a solid effort of barely a smooth surface computer generated phoniness, especially in one crucifying scene of psychological torment.  You’ll know it when you see it.  “Belzebuth’s” powerful Dolby Surround 7.1 audio track is an assault on the eardrums of the best kind with a husky, industrial melodic soundtrack and hefty sound design with accompanying diverse range and proper depth that could be described as literally placing every creak, stab, and cackling laugh sound right into the darkest corners of your ears.    An unfortunate surprise about the Acorn release is that there are no special features aside from the animated menu that is essentially chaotic “Belzebuth’s” trailer plastered with menu options.  Possession films tend to stale at a dime of dozen, but Emilio Portes’s freshly terrifying “Belzebuth” entertains and scares to the very last morsel.

When You’re Jilted and You Contemptuously Summon an EVIL Succubus! “Lillith” reviewed (Terror Films / Digital Screener)



Jenna’s been dating Brad for 5 years and when she catches him red-handed with another woman, learning that he’s been with multiple women over the span of their relationship, blood boiling revenge seems like the only course of action.  Jenna’s wiccan friend, Emma, has a radical strategy to summon a succubus to sleep with Brad and give him heartbreaking Satanic STDs.  Warned about the dangers of black magic that could backfire 3 times the affliction upon them, Jenna and Emma go through the summoning ritual, calling forth the sex-crazed succubus named Lillith.  Quickly making short work of Brad, tearing him open like a gift on Christmas day, the friend soon realize they’ve unleashed an unstoppable, man-eating killing machine and they have no idea how to stop her. 

In Jewish theology, the she-demon Lilith has been weaves into popular culture and literature time after time again with tweaks, alterations, and revamps to capitalize on the first wife of Adam’s infamous name in various outlets.  Amongst being one of the first female demons, the figure, in name only, has been broaden across numerous religious texts and  pop culture mediums from vampires, to a wild beast, and to a source of lustful dreams.  For Lee Esposito, Lillith sticks to the demoness basics, luring gullible and randy men to sex and death as a ritual beckoned succubus, in the 2019 horror-comedy, merely titled “Lillith.”   The indie picture cautions revenge as a hasty, reckless option that tows disastrous, deadly consequences.  Based off Esposito’s 2016 7-minute concept short of the same name, the 93 minute feature length film levels up the concept’s sound department crew member, Luke Stannard, to cowriter and was the genesis of Esposito’s New Jersey-based production company, Ritterhaus Productions, with executive producers Joey Esposito and Mike Arpala footing the bill. 

To pull off a slimmer version of “Jennifer’s Body,” “Lillith’s” cast had to be indispensably funny and well-versed with their characters.  For the most part, the cast stick the landing, running away with their character ticks that fully engulf the colorful performances and making them certifiably memorable.  Savannah Whitten most notably showcases her amusement playing the titular character decked out as an alternative-cladded woman with promiscuous purpose.   Whitten also doesn’t look too shabby in full body lime green attire that requires the actress to don a protruding head prosthetic, bulky mouthpiece, and vibrant yellow contacts as the Lillith shifts, in edited scene transitions, back and forth from alt-girl to full blown succubus.  The snazzy redhead, NYC based actress is opposite Nell Kessler and Robin Carolyn Parent in their respective roles, who spell besties as demon summoning chaos, Jenna and Emma.  Kessler and Parent equally have fun in being the vindictively scorned, jilted lover and her eccentric best friend who just wants to see if she can conjure up evil for the hell of it.  The female-led cast deliver timely, funny bits of dialogue individual wrapped like their very own personal skits, but then the attitudes change and the range stretches more meaningful when circumstances become dire and that’s when the cast of ladies really do shine as actors.  “Lillith” wouldn’t be as half as successful if it wasn’t aslo for the supporting cast, even in the small roles, to add a smooth ebb and flow of macabre comedy with Langston Fishburne (yes, that iconic surname is related to Laurence Fishburne), Taylor Turner, Lily Telford, and Michael Finnigan.

“Lillith” very much appeals to the feminist esteemed without beating you over the head with the crusading theme.  Cornerstones like a succubus snacking on sexually-charged males, Emma’s astute quips and enthusiasms about the historical and religious rises and victories over men while also in an unabashed lesbian relationship, and the vagina being held as a live or die power source of extraordinary consequences all reflect feminized filmmaking, but then Esposito, who is a man and identifies as a male, makes a sharp criticism that isn’t exclusive to feminism but can be said about most subjects if slipped into an oversaturated abundance.  What if the actions of feminism goes too far?   What if drilling an ideology beyond the point of no return causes more corrosive damage than actual good?  That’s what Esposito’s “Lillith” explores inside the “uh-oh, we made a mistake and must fix it” latter acts with great attention to how a woman’s genitals becomes key to saving all of mankind.   The irony is unbelievably hilarious, smart, and provocative, whether intentional or not.  What kills most of “Lillith’s” boutique vibe is the fluidity of the A/V technical quality that often approaches homemade movie levels of inconsistent sound design.  I’m frequently adjusting up and down the volume and trying to discern dialogue out of stronger ambience and noise the boom captures in an unfortunate leaky blockade of decent script dialogue. 

July saw the release of Lee Esposito’s “Lillith” rip through the hormonal student body pool with a laid back and snarky she-demon from Hell on Demand and Digital courtesy of indie genre distributor, Terror Films.  “Lillith” is shot over the course of 33 consecutive days from New Jersey to New York with director of photography Vincent Caffarello behind the camera and though making any sort of judgement on the A/V aspects for a streaming link might as well be akin to chucking my words right into the trash, I do firmly believe a considerable amount of budget went into casting solid actors and eye-catching makeup work as sound design guerilla notches into Lillith’s smoother interior like a throwing small river rocks at a pristine car. Maybe the shooting equipment lacked high definition properties or maybe post-production could have cleaned up Caffarello’s basic standard efforted shots but, either way, the DP’s stationary and steady cam of mediums and closeups, with occasional slight POV or over the shoulder, gather enough information about what’s happening in the scene in a still interesting perspective. With any digital screener, special feature content is at a zilch and there are also no bonus scenes during or after the credits; however, let “Lillith” speak for itself without the glamour of extra goodies. There’s hell to pay but paying hell with lives is what the sultry death-dealer “Lillith” does best between the sheets…just watch out for her teeth, gentlemen.

“Lillith” is right now included with Prime Video!  

The EVIL Peruvian Whistle of Death! “Face of the Devil” reviewed (MVD Visual / DVD)



Deep inside the Amazon jungle of Peru, seven friends getaway from university life by staying at a remote riverside resort.  No cell service.  No nearby towns.  The resort shelters an idyllic retreat for those looking to escape the mundane routine of the real world, but the jungle is also home to an indigenous evil entity, some may even label it the Devil.  Better known among the locals as el tunche, the trickster spirit prays on innocence and the naïve, psychologically tormenting with a foreboding whistle indicating it’s nearby presence.   With no help in sight and nowhere to hide, the jungle comes alive with an ear-piercing whistle that seeks to swallow the seven vacationers to their doom. 

To some extent, horror lives and dies by permanency of myth and legends, cultivating inspiration from ancient, as well as new, mythical beasts and spirits and spin them into entertainment macrocosm or, perhaps, even to just simply to share the rarity of knowledge and heritage surrounding the tales.  If in American mountaintop forests bigfoot roams inconspicuously around populated areas, breeding enigma and scaring children around campfire stories, then in South American, el tunche does much of the same instillations for the Peruvians who inhabit their legendary fiend, preying on delinquent youths, in the dense jungle.  Outside of Peru or maybe even South America, el tunche is not globally known, but for one Peruvian film from 2014, local lore becomes broaden beyond confining borders and creeps right into our home video media players.  Director Frank Pérez-Garland helms the maligning mythos with “La Care del Diablo,” aka “Face of the Devil,” from a Vanessa Saba screenplay set in the ominous jungles of Peru plagued by a wandering and whistling evil spirit searching for those lost among the tall trees and foliage.  Peruvian based Star Films and La Soga Producciones spearheads the production located on set of an ecolodge in the uncommercialized area of Tarapoto just North of Lima and serving as producers are Gustavo Sanchez (“The Green Inferno”) and Varun Kumar Kapur. 

“Face of the Devil” is a hyper localized narrative that’s fully contained inside the jungles of Peru as well as a casting all Peruvian actors with zero other nationalities appropriating roles for a mythological tall tale extension that rightfully needs to be expressed by native filmmakers.  As such, you won’t recognize a face amongst the cast unless you’re eyeballs deep into South American cinema.   The film opens with a dream sequence of a young girl staring at her towering mother’s weird, unholy behavior that ends with her mother, played by writer Saba, quickly reaching out for child and abruptly awakens from the dream is Lucero (Vania Accinelli).  Lucero’s nightmares become an important reoccurrence, like an omen, that doesn’t seem to upset the college freshman despite the nightly fright, but other aspects upset her father to the point where he yells at her for wanting to go on a trip with her friends, signifying a quick trip into unspoken complications sanctioning Lucero’s mother death that worries the same fate may also fall upon his daughter.  Before we know it, a reluctantly agreed to Lucero is river boating with her six friends:  couple Mateo (Nicolás Galindo) and Fabiola (Maria Fernanda Valera), Camila (Alexa Centurion), Paola (Carla Arriola), Pablo (Guillermo Castañeda), and new boyfriend Gabriel (Sergio Gjurinovic).  The friends are seemingly full of life, love, and fun but the dynamic turns only slightly complex with love triangles that only go as far as being the butt of the weekend’s jokes.  The characters do very little in the story, splashing around in what seems to be an unreasonable number of ecolodge pools for most of the time while playing spin the bottle, truth or dare, skinny dip, or just make fun of each other because, as a trope bylaw, that is what college-age kids do to spark tensions and cause divisions, and I find the characters and their portrayers to be uninspired to do or be more that invokes the frisky wrath of el tunche.  Javier Valdez and Ismael Contrearas bookend the cast of characters as two polarizing stances on dealing with otherworldly spirits by either being cautions and frightened as Valdez is with Lucero’s papa or embrace the spirits for self-purpose as it is with Contreras who plays the resort owner. 

“Face of the Devil” has all the properties of an European-fried and campy-peppered supernatural kill tally, drawing elements from the jungle cannibal subgenre sans the cannibals and the teen slashers sans the slasher.   Instead, el tunche is an all but forgotten myth lost over time through the generations until “Face of the Devil” calls to mind the cautionary dangers of cultural wise tales for naïve and disrespectful youth who wind up on the deadly end of el tunche’s mean streak.  Saba’s script incorporates more than just your average urban legend come to life tale with a Diablo-sized pretext to why el tunche all of the sudden decides to besiege upon this particular group of vacationers.  Per the legend, el tunche gobbles up those lost in the jungle thicket, but Saba and Pérez-Garland’s religious context direction, including the motifs of the trinity cross and bodily possession, has the good-natured Lucero, infected by her mother’s randomized demonical occurrence, be the proximity key to el tunche’s unleashing.  Good versus evil also becomes strongly painted in the latter half of the narrative and is affixed to the lore’s distinctive construct.  The further Lucero is led from a path of spotless geniality, from her overprotective father, the more she experiences nightmares and the closer she is coming face-to-face with the malevolent forest entity feeding off her tarnished past.  Sadly, “Face of the Devil” weans off from nurturing el tunche into a singular idea with the entity depicted as, but limited to, an invisible presence, a black oil spill in the water, a pulsating yellow glow, or as Anna Gonsalves says in “Predator,” the jungle came alive and took them.  Even the current DVD release represents el tunche as a Lovecraftian-like creature with tentacles coiling out of the jungle river water and enclosing around a bikini-cladded sex symbol with a tattooed vagina – provocative!  Yet, inaccurate.  There are no tentacles and no woman with vagina ink.  “Face of the Devil” struggles with character motivations, sending boyfriends off into the woods without tools or guidance to find help, leaving the story to fend for itself solely on a slap-dashed gory ending that’s a little too late in salvaging the ferocity of one of Peru’s most mythical phantasmas. 

Like aforementioned, the DVD cover is a tad misleading, enticing with sex and tentacles topped with DEVIL in a big red font.  Now, you can go in eyes wide open with your own copy of “Face of the Devil” distributed by MVD Visual in collaboration with Jinga Films and Danse Macabre.  The single layer, single sided, region free DVD5 is 77 minutes presented in a widescreen 1.78”1 aspect ratio. Reason behind discerning the storage format to be a DVD5 is evident in the compression issues that clutters the picture with artifacts, leaving highly noticeable splotches to shake details to the core. There’s also the use of the vapid gray tint insipidly squashing any color and life from the lush green jungle Pérez-Garland finds himself extremely lucky shooting inside. Watching “Face of the Devil” felt cinematography akin to an episode of “The Handsmaid Tale” or “The Walking Dead” where a bland overlay masks more than just brightness and beauty of natural hues and light. The Spanish audio mixes have two lossy options – a 5.1 surround and a 2.0 stereo. Switching between the two, the 5.1 obviously has a little more robust soundtrack during the cacophony of jungle augury. Snakes hissing, bat clicks, the comprehensive soundbites of other animals in audio vibrational flight combined with the intense whistle, like a diluted train whistle, has ambient staying power to be the most effective element to el tunche’s death harbinger presence. Dialogue is less robust but prevalent and the English subtitles synch well without error. As far as special features, nothing beyond that of the static menu and there are also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The opening title card credit sequence is about as artistic as the film allows itself to be only to then dwindling into pedestrian territory. Set in the Peruvian jungle deemed to be a major waste of location perfection as much of “Face of the Devil” buoys chiefly poolside with the cheap Dollar Store adhesive tape barely coupling a connection between local legend and the Devil in this wet behind the ears teenager-in-danger yarn.

“Face of the Devil” available on DVD at Amazon.com

Curse EVIL Curses! “Baphomet” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Cleopatra Entertainment)



Jacob Richardson, a Napa Valley landowner, and his wife are jubilantly excited about becoming grandparents with the eager arrival of their daughter’s child.  Still months before the actual delivery date, their daughter vacations with him while her husband works a few more days in Malibu before joining her but gruesomely dies in an apparent shark attack.  His sudden death isn’t just a stroke of horrible luck, but a devil worshipping cult’s curse bestowed upon the unsuspecting family after the rightfully stubborn Richardson refuses to sell his vast property to a shady businessman the day before.  One-by-one members of his family fall victim to a series of accidental and unexpected tragedies that leave his daughter, having dreamt the cult responsible for the black cloud that has been afflicting her family, desperate to try anything, even if that means making contact with a benevolent white witch to resurrect her shark bait dead husband.  The cult still wants their land and for the Richardson family, only Jacob, his daughter, her resurrected husband, and the white witch stand against an army of Satanists besieging upon the family home to awake a slumbering dark force. 

You know you’re watching a Cleopatra Entertainment distributed release when the plot revolves around a Satanic or demonic annihilator, as such with “The 27 Club,” “The Black Room,” “Devil’s Domain,” “Devil’s Revenge,” and maybe even a tiny bit from Glenn Danzig’s strange comic book adapted anthological tapestry, “Verotika.”  Matthan Harris’s 2021 released “Baphomet” walks along the same lines with the titled gnostic and pagan deity made infamous by the worshipped practices of The Knights of Templar acolytes.  “Baphomet” is “The Inflicted” director’s sophomore feature in which he’s written to remain in the horror ranks as an aggressive occult summoning of an evil presence to walk the Earth.  Shot in various California and Texas locations, the moneybag company behind “The Velicpastor” and “Don’t Fuck In the Woods,” Cyfuno Films L.L.C., collaborates supportively Matthan Harris’s formed Incisive Pictures production company to deliver a trackless, unmapped, and unholy “Baphomet” to the home video market with Harris producing alongside executive producers Grant Gilmore, John Lepper, and Cyfuno Films’ Adam and Chase Whitton.

We’re initially introduced to Giovanni Lombardo Radice sermonizing as the paganized pastor and cult leader Henrik Brandr before they slice open a naked woman wrists and drink her blood from a single chalice.  Right from the get-go, “Baphomet” hits us with the 80’s circa Italian star power of the “Cannibal Ferox” and “StageFright” actor.  The blood trickles down from there once we’re introduced to the Richardson family, headed by the patriarchal Jacob Richardson in “Mother’s Boys” Colin Ward.  Ward’s a convincing father figure, rugged and surly in showing off his rough and tough cowboy swagger, yet also sensitively compassionate in a broad range of acting experience.   However, that’s about as far as Jacob Richardson impresses as the character levels out, sulking over the loss of his son-in-law Mark Neville (Matthan Harris), wife Elena (Ivy Opdyke) and daughter’s unborn baby after his force to be reckoned with verbal encounter with one of the cult leaders offering him a lump sum of moolah for his land; instead, Richardson’s daughter, Rebecca Neville (Rebecca Weaver) takes a family first lead by engine searching and watching video tutorials on the nature of black and white witches.  After easily tracking down and skyping with witch expert played by Dani Filth, lead vocalist of metal band Cradle of Filth, a obsessed Rebecca becomes hellbent on resurrecting her Great White shark masticated husband, Mark, with the help of good witch Marybeth (Charlotte Bjornbk, “Cannibal Corpse Killers”) and this is where things go awry for the narrative.  Only a self-absorbed director would kill himself off extravagantly in character, saw fit to be resurrected for the sole purpose of love, and then become the ultimate hero of the story that leaves his wife and father-in-law in glory’s dust trail. “Baphomet” supporting roles from Gerardo Davila (“Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”), Stephen Brodie (“Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich”), and Nick Perry as the cult-sought demon.

Filled with blood sacrifices, family curses, killer sharks, and a pitiless grey demon, certain viewpoints embody that very black magic archetype of the historical devil dealings engrained into “Baphomet, but what specifically the Harris brings to the obscure budget horror smorgasbord is a platter of tasteless derivativity and bland storytelling, flavored with peppered gore granules and a pinch of pop culture icons. “The film opens engagingly enough with spilling the blood of a fully naked woman so everyone can play pass the cup of virgin blood in order to appease their dark lord and then we’re firmly segued into the happiness of the Richardson family until Jacob Richardson declines a money offer for his land. Spilling blood into the ocean and leaving dead, crucified birds on the porch enacts a deadly curse that sends sharks and snakes into a murderous rage. Up to this point, Harris has control of the story with some decent editing work and effective bitesize prosthetics to actually descend hell’s wrath upon an ingenious family. I could even look past the wild and impetuous decision to resurrect the dead boyfriend after his fatal encounter with a Great White, but when the third act’s last stand against cult comes knocking at the door, the script chokes on a grotesque amount of happenstance and exposition. For example, when the sheriff and deputies arrive at the Richardson house on Jacob Richardson’s whim that the cult might be outside their doorstep, one of his deputies randomly pulls out of a bag of large scale dynamite his cousin uses on at a jobsite, thinking the ACME-sized TNT would come in handy. Mark also decides to blow his undead cover, exposing himself to the officers in a screw-it moment of “yeah, I don’t care.” Soon after, a “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II” battle ensues between the deluging cult and the defending Richardsons/Officers and many main characters parish during the skirmish fruitlessly and effortlessly to the point where they might as well have been non-essential to the story supporting parts. Also – the lack of considerable screen time of Baphomet and the demon child lays waste to a perfectly good title, in my humble opinion.

Perhaps one of the few Cleopatra Entertainment, a subsidiary banner of Cleopatra Records, to not be accompanied with a soundtrack compact disc with the Blu-ray, distributed by MVD Visual. The single disc BD-25 release is perhaps one of the few trimmer releases from Cleopatra Entertainment and is presented in HD 1080p in a widescreen 2.37:1 aspect ratio. Generally speaking, the music mogul company has continuously be consistent on their video and audio Blu-ray releases. The details are rather defined looking and sharp with blacks, and there are many black scenes, noticeably inky without that dim lit tinge of gray. Some of the underwater sequences and the video chat calls with Dani Filth are murky and at a lower rate than due to Filth filming his scenes literally from the UK on a video call for most of film. Two English language audio options are available – a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix and a Stereo 2.0. Flipping back and forth between the two option, the devil is in the file track details but both mixes sound frightfully the same down to the climatic explosions. Bravo on the depth and range that captures rightfully the echoes of high vaulted ceilings and the positioning of characters. Dialogue is clearly present and mostly natural with aside from Gerardo Davila, the Sheriff in the film, in what discerns to be a soundstage track layover of his dialogue. When he speaks, Gerardo doesn’t seem to be sharing the same dialogue space with his costars in an unnatural vocal delivery of his role. While there is no soundtrack disc to rock to, the hefty bonus material is a shocker with deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, a music video ‘Shellshock” from Tank featuring Dani Filth, behind the scenes pictures, Dani Filth backstage interview, Jason Millet’s storyboards, and a teaser trailer. Tickled me unimpressed by Matthan Harris’ “Baphomet” that hinges on uninspired cult creed. For me, special effects wins top prize and a giant handful of bonus material is the only thing that arises out of “Baphomet” from the wells of damnation.

“Baphomet” is on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

EVIL is in the Waiting Room. “Host” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)

Six friends, locked down due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, hold a séance with a medium over a video chat platform.  With some skeptical of the astral plane practice and connivingly mock the ritual without aware of the consequences, they unwittingly call forth a false spirit under the guise of their seemingly harmless mockery.  In short, a malevolent demon crosses over their spiritual internet connection plane, attaching itself to their domicile surroundings.  Unable to break the connection to the spirit world, surviving a night that was supposed to shoulder quarantine boredom with excitement and booze has beleaguered the friends with a night of undisclosed deadly terror.

When online game night during quarantine life goes horribly wrong in Rob Savage’s “Host.”  The UK bred survival tech-horror is the sophomore feature length film from Savage who co-wrote the cast sundered script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, who has previously collaborated with Savage on the director’s short films, “Salt” and “Dawn of the Deaf.”  “Host” plays into being a film of the moment, shot entirely over the pandemic lockdown with unconventional production direction conducted through video chat platforms with each actor pent-up performing in their own personal abode and being subjected to wear multiple crew hats to avoid spreading COVID-19 from face-to-face interactions.  Despite the severe limited enforced by the threat of infection and the local governmental mandates, the film received hefty financial backing from horror’s most prolific streaming service Shudder after director Rob Savage pulls off a video chat prank with colleagues and friends of him checking out a mysterious sound in his antic and seamlessly interlacing a jump scare clip from Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s “REC” that scared the bejesus out of the unsuspecting participants to his prank.  “Host” is a production of Shadowhouse Films. 

“Host” stars five real life friends, aspiring actresses in the London area looking for work that has become frighteningly scarce in the pandemic’s wake, and they’re joined by a sixth, the outlier male to join the virtual hangout session.  To add authenticity to the circumstances, each actress has their parent-given (or stage-made?) names incorporated into the film, heightening the illusion of a friend being ripped apart by a demonic entity, especially if a sly Rob Savage redacts much of the script to keep his actors in the dark in certain scenes to garner real reactions.  Haley Bishop, who has worked previously with Savage on “Dawn of the Dead,” spearheads the nighttime gathering for a little séance fun, to stave boredom with her closest friends, with prearranged invitations to Jemma Moore (“Doom:  Annihiliation”), Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, and Edward Linard, who is the only one of the six not to use his actual name and goes by Teddy.  Each character provides a slight unique viewpoint that integrates into the story nicely, such as Jemme’s jokester and cavalier attitude, Caroline’s bracing for the supernatural consequences, Radina’s distracted relationship troubles, and Teddy’s wild and carefree persona.  “Host” rounds out with minor co-stars enveloped into the séance chaos, including Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Jinny Lofthouse, and “Double Date’s” James Swanton as the malevolent spirit.

Cyber and social media horror has no leverage to be groundbreaking horror anymore as a handful of these subgenre jaunts slip into our visual feeds every year in the last decade and “Host,” on the surface, might perpetuate the long line of outputted tech horror in an overcrowded market.  However, “Host” has a beauty about it that doesn’t reach into capitalistic territories like the ill-conceived “Corona Zombies” from Full Moon or the Michael Bay-produced “Songbird” about sustaining love in the time of dystopian pandemic and, instead, redefines how tech horror not only uses innovated methods in creating movies during lockdown but how the knuckle white and teeth chattering terror is perceived in the reinvention of the ominous presence that has found its way through the fiber optic cables and into our cyber lives not in the context of a social media obsessed society but in a quarantine-forced one that brings a whole unique set of isolation fears and complications.  While the characters try to form a much desired human interaction the best way that they can through internet video chats, they’re also connected by the spiritual circle that has engulfed the apart, but together, connection, sparking a palpable atmosphere of mass fear together.  Audiences will be pulled into this fear being visually privy to Haley desktop screen, that’s not quite tipping into the found footage field, as she helms control of the video chat that quickly spirals into a Zoom-screen of death as one-by-one each friend succumbs to the unwittily summoned demon.  Rob Savage has reformed the tech horror genre much like George Romero had revamped the zombie on not so much a social commentary level, but vitalizing new life into it, making “Host” a game-changer in horror. 

While I wasn’t lucky enough to review Second Sight Film’s Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset of Rob Savage’s “Host,” dropping today, February 22nd in the United Kingdom, housed in a rigid slipcase with illustrated artwork from Thomas Walker with an original story outline booklet, new essays from Ella Kemp and Rich Johnson, and 6 collectible art cards inside, I was graciously provided a BD-R that included the film as well as the bonus content.  The region B, PAL encoded, just under an hour runtime film, clocking at 57 minutes, is nearly shot entirely on Zoom that melds in the position of negative space inside tightly confined camera optics and plays right into the hands of dark spots that the optics can’t entirely define, leaving the space void in a blanket of inky black.  From video to audio, the sound design meshes the natural auditory blights that would conventionally spoil audio tracks for the sound department, but Savage and Calum Sample found the mic static or the distorted or near cancelation of sound during a high pitched screams added elements of grounded fear rooted by technology to where people can relate to when having their own video chat technical difficulties during meetings or such while also playing into the theme with funny face filters, augmented backgrounds, and the bells and whistles of the platform. Second Sight’s slew of special features for this limited edition boxset includes exclusive commentaries with director Rob Savage, producer Douglas Cox, and the cast, cast interviews about their individual takes on the film, a behind-the-scenes feature, Rob Savage’s group prank video that sowed the seed for the film, the same prank done on a single individual, Kate, Rob Savage’s short films – “Dawn of the Deaf” and “Salt,” the actual Séance held by the cast, crew, and a real life medium, a British Film Institute Q&A with the director, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd, Douglas Cox, Haley Bishop, Brenna Rangott, and Caroline Ward, and an evolution of horror interview with cast and crew. The best horror movie of 2020 now has the best release of 2021 from Second Sight Films; “Host” logons to be the heart clutching video call from hell.

Own “Host” on Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset from Second Sight Films by clicking the poster!