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!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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EVIL Drugs Are Bad, Mmkay? “Beyond Hell” reviewed (Indican Pictures / Digital Screener)


A lowkey party experiments into a new drug called Changa, brought back from South America by one the friends but is no ordinary narcotic. After inhaled, Changa opens a conduit to an infernal dimension oppressively reigned by Belial, a trickster demon seeking to rule the world of man. Channeling his dark energy through the utterly wholesome Maryssa, Belial exploits her innocence to reach her friends and one-by-one their hallucinogenic and horrible deaths give way to releasing their souls to him. Once he obtains enough souls, Belial will be able to freely walk the Earth and damn everyone on the planet into servitude. Its up to Maryssa and her remaining friends to thwart Belial diabolical plans and send him back to Hell.

Is seeing disembodied, outreaching arms and shape-shifting demons covered in broken glass and tentacles to the effect of a gateway drug!? The invasively surreal and drug repercussion-themed “Beyond Hell” is the 2019, pre-apocalyptic. doom and damnation, survival thriller from writer-director Alan Murray in his first feature film production. The Cambridge, Ontario born filmmaker shoots in his home country to entertain and scare audiences with a version of religious text’s prime opposition to God, the Devil, in the form of the heavily prosthetic and dastardly theatrical Belial. “Beyond Hell” is a co-produced by Murray alongside Gavin Downes under the Dark Spirits Films banner with Don Smith, Jacqui Smith, and Christopher Lane serving as the film’s capital investments of executive producers.

“Beyond Hell” plays considerably into the slasher blueprint that aims to off, one-by-one, inept school students, whether they’re the self-stated part of the college body or, in a slight of confusion, sit in on classes and have row lockers like high schoolers, who stumble with defensives against a much darker scheme of soul extracting exploitation and world domination. Murray takes a full-on female primacy with strong heroine-performances by introducing Kearston Johansson and Natalie Jane to set aside their characters’ at-odds, find security in their flaws, and battle it out against an ancient evil. The respective roles in the goody two-shoes Maryssa and wildly eye-cutting Brook’s backgrounds are kept in a palpable line by Johansson and Jane’s drive to roleplay one-upping the other despite a petite background for character support and they’re anchored by Sebastian Deery (“Bad Dose”). The UK-born Deery plays the pursued rake, Jake, in a triangular love interest with Johansson and Jane’s characters. While Deery seemingly attempts to rein back his English accent without much success through his satisfactory presence as a level-headed, good-lookin’ guy, Jake’s acutely transforms into a wily coquet by initially buttering up Maryssa with good intentions and verbally loathe Brook for her derogatory attitude toward Maryssa only to then switch quickly to desiring a distraught Brook when Maryssa winds up in a mental institute for the criminally insane after the gruesome death of one of their friends. The off-putting dynamic pens a promiscuous casualness about these group of friends. Dominique Smith, Sean Rey, Chris Kapeleris, Shahrad Fredotti, Richard Collier, and Gavin Downes as the profaner Belial.

“Beyond Hell” conjures a sassy-mouth, wise-cracking demon, Belial, adorned in a black and white molten-rock shape skin with curved horns and rows of beaded sharp teeth, but the makeup effects, though strong in prosthetic effort, appear extremely rubbery to the point that even Belial’s teeth bend and flap when Gavin Downes tosses out sarcastic quips when ripping the souls from his victims.  This awkward stance of where our eyes and brains struggle to compute what make sense from the worst-of-the-worst of hell bound fiends is where “Beyond Hell” becomes forehead-rubbing frustrating because of how much time and application goes into the overall look of the creature that, in the end, just dips into disbelief.   The gory, but crude practical effects trend into the visual effects territory, going beyond the gates of hell to where Belial himself would be frightened by the sheer shock of shoddiness.  In one frantic scene where Brook attempts to escape Belial’s brimstone breath, decrepit arms breach a stairwell wall to grab her, but the arms, which are all of the same cut and move in the same motion, float like ghosts without ever puncturing through the drywall, or even breaking through that plane of narrative reality for that matter, that’s reminiscent of the horrendous flock of CGI birds, hovering autonomously as survivors try to whack at them in an awful reaction in James Nguyen’s “Birdemic:  Shock and Terror.”  Now, I’m not saying that “Beyond Hell” is as rough as intangible birdies behaving badly as Murray avails in manufacturing a stable low-spirited atmosphere of plague youth in between the real world and the underworld with their innocent lives hanging in the balance in a sordid enterprise off ill-will.

More laic than spiritual, “Beyond Hell” scratches the surface of narrative depth in a modest clash of “Hellraiser” meets “A Nightmare on Elm Street” from the celluloid plunging distributor, Indican Pictures. The 89 minute supernatural thriller has entered the digital platform realm, at least in the U.S., this December. “Beyond Hell” is Rhys Jones’ first director of photography venture filmed in 5K Raw on a RED Dragon that’s uninhibited in the illuminating details. While the shots are mostly natural, clearly capturing the pimples on the young actress’ foreheads, Belial is always casted in a semi-harsh blue tint to hide any part of the latex inflections and imperfections that might expose Downes even more as a man in a monochromic rubber suit. Dan Eisen and Norman Orenstein (“Diary of the Dead”) team-up to compose a single note and pennywise synth blended score that plays into a cleaved pop-glazing and survival horror video game and, can at times, be on the precipice of one of John Carpenter’s Lost Themes without evoking a soul-binding tension. Though the depth isn’t spectacularly precise and the dialogue disperses with echo at times, the range of audible effects is vast in echoing the unsettling cacophonies of a shrilling Hell, making the feature’s soundtrack and score a highlight in the rest of the mediocre quality. I applaud “Beyond Hell’s” ambitious, no holds barred concept, but the indie picture malnourishes a healthy dose of unconfined horror with bastardized acting and a haphazard flank of effects that make this Alan Murray film so bad it’s good to the very cringed tone ending.

 

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Youtubers EVILlog a Malevolent Presence Inside Their Home! “8ight After” reviewed! (PovertyWorks / Digital Screener)

Vlogging husband and wife, Vince and Deanna, digitally showcase their married life to the world from their vacation travels to exotic coastlines to the day-to-day, mundane tasks that includes home renovations.  When they demolition a wall in order to install a French door in the master bedroom, they discover a mysterious box containing a Portate (carrying) cross hidden within the wall.  Every night since then, Godfearing Deanna has felt a profound presence in the house, experiencing supernatural phenomena, such as grabbing at her feet and possessing her body, almost on a nightly basis, especially 8 minutes after 1:00 AM.  The compilation of footage from Vince and Deanna’s vlog cameras around the house capture the seemingly malevolent events, but Vince, being the ever agnostic skeptic, tries to invalidate any paranormal occurrences, passing them off as more feasibilities explanations.  Yet, the bumps in the night continue to place Deanna in inexplicable danger, forcing Vince to reconsider his position on God in order to save his wife.

CCTV horror has been quiet over the last few years, but 2020 has seen a fair share of the stale, declining genre that’s become more repellant than a draw for audiences; yet these new ventures into CCTV horror have splashed into a Lazarus pool, rejuvenating a slither of lifeforce within genre, with limited theatrical and VOD releases into the volatile cinema market.  Vincent Rocca’s written and directed multi-camera spectral thriller, “8ight After,” is a found footage horror-comedy that is an analogue releasing on the heels of moderate success, following the making-of an active shooter thriller, “Mother of Monsters,” and the hellish hotel imprisonment of souls of “Followed,” another apparitional aghast blending CCTV and handheld footage in a vlog style.  Rocca’s sophomore directorial comes nearly a decade and half after his 2006 feature film debut, a comedy entitled “Kisses and Caroms,” and is produced by Rocca’s less-is-more production company, PovertyWorks Productions, that aims to produce funny and profitable films and shorts on a miniscule budget.  In “8ight After’s” case, the production cost totaled a whopping zero being Rocca’s own actual camera footage of and around his home and the use of handheld’s and phone cameras when out and about. I’m also positive he didn’t pay his wife a dime.

“8ight After” fits right into the PovertyWorks’s comedy portion of its business model, especially with Vincent Rocca in the lead role as a practical joker-goofball of a husband (who really has the vocal projection of the late Bill Paxton), leading the charge of the voyeuristically invasive vlogging lifestyle as well as being a religiously laidback soul with an atheist belief set.  In stark contrast to his convictions is his wife Deanna, played by his real wife Deanna Rocca, who brings a knowledge of faith for a subplot of inner family squabbles about their mixed relationship to God.  When I say “8ight After” is invasive, I mean the film is a truism of invasiveness that not only is a near tell all of Vincent’s life as a videophile and Deanna’s vocation as a zoo vet but also fractures into the story their recorded travel escapades from their VinceRocca Youtube channel show, “Life Doesn’t Suck,” that discusses and logs their destination highlights of various locations from around the world.  The energy from their Youtube channel transcends over into the scenes committed to the necklace narrative with a bout between comedy and horror that peers Vince and Deanna’s religious fervors.  Deanna shoulders more of the in character plights with the subtle, but effective, person plagued by a unremitting presence and has to become possessed, sleepwalk, and look menacing toward her husband when the time is right for the all-seeing camera.  

Compiled like a documentary (or mockumentary?) and presented in a meta format by spinning and weaving the Rocca’s exuberant régime of life and love into an undercurrent of hidden terror, “8ight After” has unique cinematic properties, utilizing his reality television fluff techniques and editing, and tackle themes of family upheaval contentious topics like religion and gun control, to wrap “8ight After” complete on a zilch budget that rides the seams of fact and fiction.  For the most part, “8ight After” tenderly progresses organically with little staged affect as the high school sweethearts play to their most innate strength – 20 years of marital bliss – and chips in sparsely the sarcastic wit of Vince Rocca (did I mention he sounds exactly like Bill Paxton?) through a tech-recorded compiled story that’s well built up initially with convincing acting and strange and spooky incidents that, like most found footage films, point to specifics pieces important to the narrative. There are even a couple of homages to great horror classics like “Jaws” and “Exorcist III.” But then in a turn of sudden events, the revealing climax fizzles like the air wheezing quickly out of an inflated balloon.  The finagled ending stinted completing something uniquely branchlet from the found footage genre and something that had solid momentum and steam of an escalating snowball toward the essence of a presence, but became grounded by the acute conclusion to the matter in such a matter-of-fact fashion that it completely killed the mood, tone, and disposition “8ight After” carried in preponderance.

Become wrapped up in the lives of a pair of vloggers and see them suffer the wrath of a stubborn spirit in “8ight After” that was released October 15th on various digital retailers, including Amazon’s Prime Video. The film is unrated and has a runtime of 97 minutes and has an accompanying English language 5.1 surround sound audio mix with optional English subtitles. There were no bonus material included, but you can live vicariously through Vincent and Deanna’s touristy adventures of swimming with manatees, paddle boarding, and visiting breathtaking waterfalls. Also, you can purchase Vincent Rocca’s journal notes put into paperback, of the same title as the movie and also on Amazon, that goes hand-and-hand with the film; it’s also available as an audiobook. “8ight After” tempers with a well braided blend of found footage comedy and horror from a pair of seasoned Youtubers that then suddenly trails off, leaving us holding the baby in trying to make sense of an nonsensical ending.

Watch “8ight After” on Prime Video!

 

Read or listen to the book on Prime Video!


The Apocalypse is Four EVIL Active Shooters and the Hell They Create in “The Dead Ones” reveiwed! (Artsploitation Films / Blu-ray)

Four errant students are ordered to do a summer cleaning of their high school after a terrible tragedy that has left the hallways and classrooms in shambles.  As they meander around the closed school doing more chatting than they are cleaning, a masked and armed group calling themselves The Four Horsemen chain the doors and windows, barring every means of escape, and snake through the school’s layout setting a plan in motion to deliver a macabre message to the campus grounds.  Something just doesn’t feel right when the students try to track down the masqueraders who move around more like specters with an eerie clamor of theatrics that’s becoming more and more eternally harmful the longer they remain inside the school. 

“The Attic Expeditions” and “All Souls Day:  Dia de la Muertos” director, Jeremy Kasten, has a new ghoulish, outcast teen horror on the verge of release with the American made, calamity surrounding “The Dead Ones,” entailing a theme of choice on the wrong side of deviancy when influentially steered by the negative forces of the besieging cruel society.  The script is penned by Zach Chassler on his fourth collaboration with director Kasten, following their efforts on the vampiric allegory for drug use “The Thirst,” “The Wizard of Gore” remake, and “The Theater Bizarre,” a horror anthology, in over a span of a decade’s time.  “The Dead Ones” presents a two-timeline parable with an inciting, yet disturbing, core involving every parents’ worst nightmare and America’s most disgraceful statistic, a high school shooting.  Sick-O-Scope Motion Pictures serves as the listed production company behind the film.

Detention attendees is comprised of four teenage outcasts who are also quasi-friends that seem to know each other well, but are personally rough around the edge, denoting more distinct tensions amongst their insoluble secrets.  In an introduction with the teens, we’re glimpsed into flashes of a nightmare images inside one of the teens’ head as their driven together to the school by their principal, Ms. Persephone, played by “The Thirst’s” Clare Kramer who is just as stunning as her in-story goddess inspired moniker.  Ms. Persephone’s passengers include the “The Dead One’s” core characters with a victim of relative abuse in Alice “Mouse” Morley (Sarah Rose Harper), a bullied nonconformist in Scottie French (Brandon Thane Wilson), an unhinged self-cutter in Emily Davis (Katie Foster), and an aggressive sociopath in Louis Friend (Torey Garza).  Performances are heavily relied upon as the cast of four are called forth by the story’s dual timeline where various plot points from two individual paths are needed to be crucially achieved for the unfolding to be organically ambiguous for it to converge in a blend of reality and, possible, damnation.  “The Dead Ones” round out the cast with Amelia Talbot, Michael James Levy, Shane Tunny, and “Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money’s” Muse Watson whose always a nice addition to any horror character set in an eviscerated and sleazy father figure role.

“The Dead Ones” is a film that’s always in a temporal flux, weaving back and forth between utter chaos of an active shooter situation in the normal light and the near totalitarian order saturated with an infernal hue inside a dislodged environment.  As the band of misfits reflect on their battered existence, one mentions, multiple times, his stint in Juvey while another can envisage the patterns to cut into her flesh, a bread crumb trail of hints and past misgivings lead them down a path of self-awareness, of remembering exactly how they landed into the ruined capillaries of the school in the first place.  Yet, “the Dead Ones” isn’t solely about paying for one’s sins, honing in toward more of a cause and effect choice for redemption, which begs an essential question, that goes slightly under the radar of Kasten’s direction, on whether the two timelines are rather parallel to each other instead of rendering past and present events?  It’s certainly one of those open ending conversations about what perils our souls could be fatefully curtailed under the corporeal spectrum by the choices we make while still living and breathing.  For myself, connecting with Kasten’s carnivalesque and ultra-sleek horror panache has been difficult to digest and become accustom to, especially with my own personal dissatisfaction with the remake of “Wizard the Gore” that starred one of my favorite eccentric actors, Chrispin Glover, but Kasten relishes an unorthodox methodology that goes against the traditional grain of filmmaking and while that usually isn’t the problem for him, or any director, to be discouraged from,  “The Dead Ones” ultimately tips over into the same disheartened gray area for one main reason – the editing.  “The Dead Ones” is edited by Maxx Gillman whose chief credits are on short films and documentaries, marking Kasten’s film Gillman’s debut into feature film market, but as like a good documentary editor, “The Dead Ones” is overtly choppy that cuts up the scenes in an egregious way, thwarting any sense of conveying emotions and shortening them to near nauseating back-and-forth cuts.  With a 73 minute runtime, the potential for lingering on the morose rhetoric or teetering compassion of the teens is lost and could have been stirred into their affixed affliction for a more targeted approach to their limbo circumstances. While timing might be less than desirable, Jeremy Kasten summons judgement for “The Dead Ones” to be convicted of unnerving decorum and executes psychological absolution with the tenderness of a Satan himself.

Surreal with a hard, open-hand slap of realism, the metaphysics of “The Dead Ones” shoots for an otherworldly life sentence as the September 29th release day for the Blu-ray and DVD is on the horizon courtesy of Artsploitation Films in association with Raven Banner. The Blu-ray was reviewed and is presented in high-def, 1080p with a 2.39:1, anamorphic widescreen, aspect ratio. The digitally recorded image is packed with visually popping nightmares under a slightly greenish warm tint while still propelling range into heavy fog, a seamless composite of scene transitions and matted visual effects, and copious amounts of rich shadows and shadowy characters. The overall tone of the “The Dead Ones” has a strong 90’s grunge manifestation with some CCTV black and white moments that would fit rightfully in before the turn of the century teen horror collective. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD master audio maintains clear dialogue pathways and a resounding, almost mechanical, score resembling that of an infernal machine at work. The ambient range and even a good chunk of the dialogue has a softer demeanor that sidesteps to the incessant score that would have rung about in Virgil’s Dante Inferno, as the school auditorium playbill show that’s transparent through the film. There is also optional Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The bonus features include a special effects featurette of the special effects work by the late Elvis Jones, on one of his works with “The Dead Ones,” and his intern Jax Smith, a set tour with production designer Jeffrey Pratt Gordon to showoff his vision of hell, and two commentary tracks alongside the film with commentaries by the director, producer, and crew. Saving a soul damned to hell sounds like an enormous feat of only divinity interaction can accomplish, but Jeremy Kasten finds virtue in sinful acts, imbedding a safety net in the guise of a forked path, and opens an ingress to a putrid perdition for those under more severe scrutiny than just “The Dead Ones.”

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