Nature is Healing. The EVILs of Industry are Destructive. “The Great Movement” reviewed! (Sovreign Films / Digital Screener)



A group of out of work Huanuni miners march into the capital of La Paz to protest forced labor shortages.  Young miners Gallo, Gato, and Elder roam around La Paz to rummage up piecemeal work to live.  When they find work as commodity runners at an outside market, the job is labor intensive, pays very little, and they must sleep outside with other runners and vendors with essentially everything they own on their back.  The job takes a toll on Elder who is suffering a strange illness that cases fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue that hurts his pockets when he can’t run product in a timely manner.  Elder comes under the wing of a mysterious earthy, old woman who thinks Elder is her godson and she enlists the holistic medicine of a clairvoyant herbalist, living off the mountainous land just outside the city, to extract the unnatural elements that plague him.

Every so often, diving into a dramatic piece of filmic art, with hints of nightmarish surrealism to satisfy the horror element (or, in this case, the EVIL), is worth cracking into and peering into dependent the writher’s personal taste and the influencing environment surrounding.  In this instance, Kiro Russo’s “The Great Movement” spoke to the interests of this reviewer for not only the urban growth is death, nature is life social commentary but also my intimate connection to Bolivia because of my second-generation wife whose mother was born and raised in the South American country before migrating to the U.S.  “The Great Movement,” aka “El Gran Movimiento,” is the first native Bolivian film I’ve ever seen and that, too, sparked a curiosity in the Bolivian film industry that was virtually thought of as nonexistent.  Russo writes-and-directs the film produced by an international conglomerate of production companies with Altamar Films (“Killing the Dead”), Bord Cadre Films (“The Untamed”) and the La Paz based Socavón Cine as well as Sovereign Films who also distributes the film.

“The Great Movement” is a continuation of Elder Mamani’s story in this follow-up film from Russo’s 2016 “Dark Skull” where Elder’s moves in with his grandmother after his father’s death.  Living in a mining town, Elder pickups a miner job which leads to unearthed secrets about his father.  Julio César Ticona reprises his role as Elder, marching from the mines to the capital in protest for work only to be stricken by an illness insinuated from his dirty work at the mines.  Only a little of the previous “Dark Skull” story works itself way into the next chapter revolving around Elder’s suffering from various forms of urban reaping toxicity and also a clairvoyant old man living off the adjacent wilderness.  Max Bautista Uchasara, in his performance debut or at least as stated on IMDB, plays…well…Max, the well-loved, if not hard-loved, and dirty-cladded mystic that sees visions of La Paz in ruins.  Elder and Max cross paths because of Elder’s unexplainable sickness, without hardly a word spoken between them, to eradicate his illness and heal the young man’s failing body.  The connection between them is an old urbanite woman Mama Pancha (Francisa Arce de Aro) who thinks Elder is her godson but Elder, taking advantage of her kindness and generosity, doesn’t know this random person and, in the grand scheme of mysticism, Mama Pancha, which translates loosely to Mother Earth, is a symbolic representation of a forgiving planet lending a hand to an ore reaping miner by introducing a natural healer.  “The Great Movement” rounds out with a cast in Gustavo Milán Ticona, Israel Hurtado, Armando Ochoa, and Richard Aguilera. 

Through Russo’s use of cityscape and natural soundscape compositions, the sound design injects a creeping presence, enveloping the characters either insidiously or soothingly in their respective surroundings. The overwhelming arsenal of concrete jungle noise pollution becomes the harsh soundtrack that contributes to Elder’s environmentally unfriendly downfall. Every car horn, every construction machinery, every hustle and bustle of foot traffic is a spike through the head as Russo wants to make sure you can feel the audible image. In contrast, Max experiences virtually little noise, aside from streams, wind, and the rustle of greenery, in his detachment from clustered society when roaming the mountainous wilderness. Max’s elder ways grant him inexplicable aptitude that allows him to essentially speak to nature, live amongst the trees, and use the land for beneficial properties without waste and destruction. This encourages Pancha Mama, aka Mother Earth impression, to ask Max to heal her godson, aka an Earth child. This is Kiro Russo’s linchpin theme for “The Great Movement” that showcases a distinct dissonance between urbanization and nature. Being a nationality outsider going into Bolivia, that distinction is immensely obvious seeing firsthand the lack of organization, resources, and care for the city I travelled to that has been turned into a comprehensively polluted, dry dust-riddled, population on top of a population where one has trouble simply inhaling a breath of fresh air and struggling with the annoyance of a bloody nose. Now, I’m not singling out or epitomizing this one area of Bolivia I journeyed to as the worst of the worst, much of the same can be said about New York City sans the dust, but once you escape the city limits and step into Bolivia’s lush jungle, the air is noticeably cleaner with an almost healing effect on the body – no more bloody nose! My experiences greatly make visible and nail in Russo’s message as we accompany Elder through his deterioration, hearing about inhaling dust as a miner, drinking nothing but strong alcohol, and being worked literally to death with backbreaking labor. Modern medicine can’t locate or explain his symptoms, diagnosing Elder with psychological manifestation of physical problems. Russo’s “The Great Movement” is powerful and invokes soul-searching about reconnecting and healing with Mother Nature.

An insomniac nightmare that’s haunting in Russo’s solemn vision and full of delirium, “The Great Movement” is an arduous detox from the overdevelopment’s intoxicating prospect. Sovreign Films will release Kiro Russo’s 85-minute disenchanting and revival tale in UK cinemas on April 15th, 2022. With the limitations of a digital screener, I am unable to entirely comment on the audio and video quality, but the film is shot in the faint speckle of super 16mm and is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio to get the full spectrum of the cinematographer Pablo Paniagua shot Bolivia from the market busy streets to the monolithic stone and mountain structures on delineated outskirts of the capital. Paniagua employs the vibrancy of daylight and the scarcity of night light for tenebrous effect already poorly rendered by the 16mm grain. Miguel Llanques’s score is often overshadowed by the conspicuous soundscape, but the impromptu synth-flash mob dream sequence broke up the feverish trajectory at midpoint with catchy beat and dance seemingly out of nowhere. There are no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “The Great Movement” is just as raw with the foreboding circumstances in the rest the world civilization as it is with Bolivia in Kiro Russo’s film that shepherds the overlooked denizens in need for growth back to a natural world of healing.

EVIL Masked as a Religion. “Bryan Loves You” reviewed! (MVD / Blu-ray)

All New Blu-ray release of “Bryan Loves You” on Amazon.com

Something weird is spreading across a small Arizona town.  A chapter of a new religion has influenced most of the community into believing in Bryan, a pure and pious young boy from long ago who was brutally slain by the devil.  Jonathan, a local psychotherapist receives a camera from his uncle, also a health professional, with a self-recording that warns Jonathan that Bryan zealots are a dangerous, violent cult.  Deciding to document the situation himself, Jonathan repurposes the camera to clandestinely record the widespread Bryan gatherings and even infiltrate their church where they speak in tongues and wear the scarred mask of Bryan.  As Jonathan goes deeper into the uncomfortable insanities of Bryan’s world, the more Bryan followers takes an interest in reconditioning Jonathan. 

“Bryan Loves You’s” grainy SOV pseudo-documentary lacquer not only captures the icy blank stares, the unabating drone chanting, and the brainwashed coup of an insidious cult assimilating small town America, but the Seth Landau written and directed film also homogenously captures, all too presently well, that sense of ambivalent and conspiracy dread that knots apprehension uncomfortably in the pit of the stomach.  The 2008 released “Bryan Loves You” has the story set in 1993 Arizona made out to be a historical home video and CCTV recorded account of the analyzed and dissected suppressed footage coming to light for the first time incomplete with censored last nights and specific addresses to make the pseudo-doc appear more genuine and shocking.  Filmed in and around the suburbs of Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona, “Bryan Loves You” is a found footage subgenre production self-produced by Mike Mahoney and Seth Landau, under the filmmaker’s Landau Motion Pictures, and marks the debut feature film of Landau’s humble career that started roughly around 2003 as a production assistant on “Arrested Development.”

For the average popcorn movie goer, “Bryan Loves You” is about obscure as they come with a no-name director and a cast with relatively no-name actors with the exception of one that might have a chance of recognition by the common Joe Schmo.  Old heads may recognize George Wendt, one of the barflies from the sitcom “Cheers” and the Saturday Night Live sketch of Super Fans, in his brief and strange scene as a patient holding a doll that speaks to him about people who talk about him.  For chin-deep genre fans, Wendt is about the biggest A-lister you can have in an indie film and what’s unusual about “Bryan Loves You” is the stacked list of iconic made-by-horror names that make up the cast list.  It’s impressive.  Landau’s connection to the late great master of horror Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator”) opened the door to George Wendt, who starred in Gordon’s “King of the Ants,” and, likely, led to the onboarding fan favorites such as Brinke Stevens (“The Slumber Party Massacre”), Tiffany Shepis (“Tromeo and Juliet”), Lloyd Kaufmann (“The Toxic Avenger”), Daniel Roebuck (“The Devil’s Rejects”), Chuck Williams (“Demon Wind”), and Tony Todd (“Candyman”).  Now, with these many names, none of them have starring roles and few have reoccurring scenes, but they are headlined to draw attraction for “Bryan Loves You.”  Honestly, the performances are hardly worth nothing.  Steves and Kaufmann have little dialogue and are shot at weird angles that makes them hardly recognizable.  Best scenes go to Tony Todd as a hesitantly disturbed and full of fear narrator standing in an empty board room and talking directly into the camera about what we, the audience, are about to witness, even directing viewers to turn away or to be ushered out of the theater (did this get a theatrical release?) if the content becomes too shocking to behold.  Seth Landau stars as the principal lead Jonathan who can’t be taken seriously as a psychoanalyst as there is no depth to the character in those regards.  Plus, as someone who’s supposed to uphold ethical standards, Jonathan breaks quite a few HIPPA regulations and breaks into houses with a camera, filming Bryan acolytes without their consent.  “Bryan Loves You” rounds out the cast with Tori King, Candy Stanton (“Exit to Hell”), Shane Stevens (“The Graves”), Jilon VanOver (“Bad Blood”), Tom Noga (“Anonymous Killers”), Jesse Ramiawi, Jacqui Allen (“Blue Lake Butcher”) and Daniel Schweiger (“Die-ner”)

Seth Landau’s found footage cult film is a rough cut of rudimentary psychological suspense restrained by its limiting low-ceiling budget.  The acutely hard cut editing and wonky framing is enormously puzzling within the narrative’s supposed single camera source documentary structure that suddenly diffuses into being a splice between Jonathan’s camera, which he loses halfway through the story, and a bunch of randomly placed CCTV footage across all of Arizona, in which some scenes are randomly placed in the desert where no structures are seemingly present to house a camera.  Who gathered and edited all this multi-video footage together?  Or does that play into the mystery, no matter how illogical, of adding to “Bryan Loves You’” unsettling allure?  What Landau does accomplish compares closely to what directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick were able to profoundly achieve with their unexpected breakout found footage blockbuster, “The Blair Witch Project.”  Now, I’m not saying “Bryan Loves You” had the audience gasping power as the “The Blair Witch Project” but the air in the story still feels very uncomfortably still, like in holding your breath, because something sinister is closing in and that type of disturbing presence, coupled with the erratic demonic behavior boiled to the surface if love for the almighty Bryan is absent, is all too relatable in today’s political climate.

Though “Bryan Loves You,” MVD Visual really loves Bryan right back with a high-definition Blu-ray release, remastered and upscaled from the original master source, a digital recorded standard definition, with an approved up-conversion of 172,800 pixels to over 2 million pixels per frame to achieve full HD.  For SOV, the handheld cam footage turns out more detailed than expected with suitable tinctures that are often less vivid in the found footage genre; however, there are still varying levels of quality from lower quality posterization to better than mid-grade delineation.  Though stated as presented in a widescreen 1:78:1 aspect ratio on the MVD Marquee Collection back cover, the actual ratio is a pillarbox 1:33:1 without straying from that display. The English language dual channel stereo track also has varying fidelity levels using the inconsistency of a built-in handheld mic but the good bones behind the range and depth retain the natural auditory proportionate. A few augmented audio tracks are snuck in for effect, such as the preacher’s demon-speak and the school PA system. English subtitles are optional. With a new Blu-ray release comes all new special features with a few short film-length interviews between filmmaker Seth Landau and George Wendt (44:50 minutes), Tiffany Shepis (50:49 minutes), Daniel Roebuck (59:35 minutes), and Brinke Stevens (31:46 minutes) touching upon more than just “Bryan Loves You” but also various career moments and other media cultural topics. Also featured are two commentaries: a 2008 commentary with Landau, select cast and crew, and JoBlo critic James Oster and a new 2022 commentary with only Landau. Plus, a brand new 2022 theatrical trailer. “Bryan Loves You” draws parallels to the 1993 Waco, Texas cult led by David Koresh of the Davidian sect preaching fire and brimstone, but writer-director-product Seth Landau adds his own supernatural concoction in a trade-in of doom and gloom for mindless devotion and diabolism that turns folks into followers and flesh-hungry fiends at times. Maybe not the prime cut of the cult genre but does stand out even if you don’t really love “Bryan.”

All New Blu-ray release of “Bryan Loves You” on Amazon.com

Mindy Robinson Takes on EVIL Strippers in “Brides of Satan” reviewed! (Dark Side Releasing / Blu-ray)



“Brides of Satan” available at Amazon.com!  DVD and Blu-ray!

Engaged happy couple Mary and Charlie want to dip their toes into debauchery before tying the knot.  When they patron a dive strip club, looking to unwind a nervous Charlie down a notch with a sultry, on-stage lap dance, the club is suddenly seized by three well-armed Satanist strippers looking for quick cash and a virtuous sacrifice to conjure a demon.  Kidnapped for the dark ceremony, Mary and Charlie find themselves in their grip with Charlie being murdered to complete half the ritual, but Mary is able to escape when a rival gang claims rights over the territory that sidetracks the Satanists summons.  Mourning over her fiancé’s death, Mary is taken under the wing of a junkyard sensei who trains her to fight and to be fearless against all those in her path for vengeance. 

From horror enthusiast Joe Bizarro comes the filmmaker’s first written and directed feature film, the pastiche grindhouse revenge-thriller “Brides of Satan.”  Bizarro, who co-produced “Another Plan from Outer Space,” the Lance Pollard offshoot homage to the Ed Wood Jr.’s iconic science fiction-horror “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” co-writes his 2021 exploitation with “Take Shelter” cinematographer and first time screenwriter Noel Maitland penned to be a wild-and-strange ride through the various territories of genre landscapes.  Film in and around the greater Los Angeles area, “Brides of Satan” stitches the perceived strange and unusual charisma of L.A.’s alt-scene offerings around a familiar framework with a few arbitrary bits of bizarre.  Along with Bizarro and Maitland is fellow executive financier Lance Pollard, who we mentioned had previous dealings with Bizarro, and the jacks of all trades Victor Formosa (“Iron Sky:  The Coming Race”) along with William Wulff, Celeste Octavia, Lisa Mason Lee, and Mike Ansbach serving as producers on the Joe Bizarro Studios labeled production. 

Right off the bat, the montage introduction of the tri-gang strippers, played by Alice McMunn, Joanna Angel, and Rachel Rampage, with sizzling eroticism and skin, seductively gazing into the camera and pole dancing captured in slow motion immediately sets the tone for the rest of the story. Laden from their colorfully neon-dyed hairstyles to their fishnet-led leathery platform heels with body ink, their focal opening is a bit of Joe Bizarro in a nutshell as well as an eclectic look into a cast comprised of goth, burlesque, body-mod, and fetish aficionados.  I was also hoping for a cameo from adult actress Joanna Angel’s husband Aaron ‘The Small hands’ Thompson, but alas, no such luck.  Though McMunn, Angel, and Rampage get the juices flowing and motivate the narrative into a plot point of character deconstruction, reconstruction, and revenge, neither of them are the top bill for lead role.  That responsibility falls solely on the “Evil Bong” franchise – wait, there’s an “Evil Bong” franchise? – actress Mindy Robinson that, through a (Joe) bizarro world, adds an interesting element of casting for the outspoken Republican commentator who happens to also be the girlfriend of former mixed martial artist and “Expendables” actor Randy Couture.  Robinson amiably plays a loving fiancé Mary to an equally amiably, yet unresolved, Charlie (Michael Reed, “The Disco Exorcist”). Eventually, Mary’s woman scorned vengeance becomes a juggernaut of kickass, learning geriatric kung-fu from a junkyard hobo, but Robinson disingenuously leaves her fluffy and bubbly self into a character who’s supposed to be this badass that beats half-naked Satan acolytes in one blow and can vanquish netherworld demons in the bat off an eyelash. Much of the film is Robinson promenading provocative and oddball locales, meeting more provocative and oddball characters, to track down her fiancé’s murderer in a forfeiture of commanding the scenes with scene-stealing presence. Though she bests an array of stud-cladded, garage punk baddies armed with arm drills, nail bats, and switchblades, their brief moments on screen leave more of an impact than the principal protagonist and much like the gang of three strippers, in which two-thirds of them cease to exist after approx. 15 minutes into the film, they’re built up as more prominent players in this psychos-ville showdown yet fizzle to literally just a passing moment in the narrative, giving way to a film full of nothing but near essentially cameos from Anatasia Elfman (“Shevenge”), Ellie Church (“Frankenstein Created Bikers”), Sarah French (“Art of the Dead”), and Damien D. Smith (“The Purge”). There are also true cameos from “Blood of the Tribades” filmmakers Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein, professional burlesquer Olivia Bellafontaine, and Madelyne Cruelly from the pirate punk band Yours Cruelly.

“Brides of Satan’s” gimmick is to live up to representing the yield of grindhouse cinema and for the most part, Joe Bizarro cultivates a passable resemblance by borrowing from the constructs and the ideals that came from them of the golden age of independent cinema decades between the 60’s and early 90’s and reworked them into his own passion project. “Brides of Satan” is undoubtedly derivative in most of designer elements, but I did find Bizarro’s concept of uniting the alternative network and B-movie troupers into a singular movement to be refreshing in it’s something you don’t regularly see or experience too often out of the shadows and living in the daylight. As disparaging as it may sound, the sensation becomes that carnival sideshow effect where the societal outcasted abnormalities entrance and pluck at your curiosity strings much to the same effect that ostentatious or surreal horror and sci-fi movies are a way to escape the harshness of one’s own bleak day-to-day reality. However, Bizarro didn’t quite achieve the paragon of his idea not because of his cast, who are mostly stupendously talented in their own rites, but rather more with a watery script barely sustaining flavor to its revenging aspects and supernatural rifts, the imbalance amongst characters, and a dialogue so intrusively oversaturated with hackneyed one-liners that the next words out of their mouths are predictable ones. That tiredness, that sparkless originality, that familiar taste again and again is what ultimately quells “Brides of Satan’s” fetching title and it’s weighted of promise.

Rowdy and burning with streaks of fluorescent colors, “Brides of Satan” is a come Hell and high-water tribute for exploitation film lovers and the Joe Bizarro debut is now on high-definition Blu-ray home video from Dark Side Releasing.  Presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio on a BD25, Bizarro and Maitland, whose technical trade in director of photographer is implemented here, opt for a tenebrously smoky and shadowy obscured grindhouse-noir that innately secretes tactile details but do offer that sense of mystique danger and a carnivalesque veneer at times, using lighting techniques to accomplish the desired look.  The English language Dolby Digital stereo has lossless quality from a 384kps bitrate that, despite its dual channel limitations, outputs decent robust tracks.  Dialogue is crisp and clear, ambient background noise and ransacking has ample range and depth, and the original soundtrack from Ausie Jamie Coghill (Jimmy C) of The Jimmy C Band offers a lounge-grunge-like Rock and Roll score hitting all the right notes apt to the narrative.  The opening monologue from Rick Galiher doing his best Vincent Price vocals.  If you closed your eyes and just listened to the tracks, you can distinctly hear every tone and note in everything from a wonderfully broad audible spectrum. The special features include an audio commentary with the director Joe Bizarro, a handful of deleted scenes and bloopers, a photo gallery of stills and alternate posters (which there are a ton of), and a short skit entitled “Rad Roommates,” a pseudo-sitcom produced by Bizarro about a man and his monstrous hairball of a lowlife roommate.  If you’re lazy and don’t feel like navigating through the menu options to the special features, wait until after the feature’s credits roll through as the special features will follow, beginning with “Rad Roommates.” The Dark Lord takes a bemusing backseat that drives “Brides of Satan” more toward solely being a revenge thriller with few incomplete spidering out subplots that belly up by its own creator. 

“Brides of Satan” available at Amazon.com!  DVD and Blu-ray!

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.

The Devil’s Tongue is a Powerful, Influencing EVIL. “The Dark and The Wicked” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)



Siblings Louise and Michael Straker return home to their farmland house when their terminally ill father becomes bedridden.  A long time alone and isolated before her children arrived, Virginia provided suitable care for their father up until the voices started.  Lurking in between the shadows around the rural home, a menacing presence wedges itself into an already splintered family spirit as the harbinger of death coming for their father’s soul.  The influence of voices and grim visions tatter Louise and Michael resolve, testing their unconditional love for family and moral obligations, but evil can be very persuasive the closer their father comes to his end. 

The battle grounds of losing oneself during the verge of loss has commonly been a recurrent topic amongst indie films.  For filmmaker Bryan Bertino, the concept feels deeply personal.  “The Strangers” and “Monster” writer-director’s latest discomforting horror film, “The Dark and the Wicked,” uses Devil speak in mass, detrimental volumes as an allegoric device for the internal deconstruction of family, capitalizing for his tale the use of his family’s rural Texas farm house written as a threatening locale of isolation and the tenebrous unknown.  “The Dark and the Wicked’s” paganistic undertones heavily perceive a dissipating family structure’s disconnect from not only God but from the community who has been all but absent from coming to the fictional Straker family aid.  The 2020 released film is produced by Bertino’s production company, Unbroken Pictures, alongside Shotgun Shack Pictures (“Hurt”), Traveling Picture Show Company (“The Blackcoat’s Daughter’), and in association with Inwood Road Films.

To play characters accustomed to the rural lands of the Texas outskirts, “The Dark and the Wicked” required a range submerged with leisurely movements, a Lonestar draw, and to, of course, look good in plaid and Wrangler jeans.  The cast that emerged was nothing short of spectacularly precise in fabricating the lives of remote lives rural Texans, opening with a Texas-born Julie Oliver-Touchstone (“Bounded by Evil”) sewing dresses in the barn, tending the farm’s goats, and chopping produced in her white nightgown as who will be the catalytic mother, Virginia Straker, that passes not only the 24-hour hospice care to her children but also all the beneath the light misery that drives her terrified.  The girth of the story revolves around, Louise, “The Umbrella Academy’s” Marin Ireland, and Michael, Michael Abbot Jr. from the upcoming “Hell House,” as sister and brother who return back home upon the news of their bedridden father (Michael Zagst).  At this point in the story, where we meet Louise and Michael for the first time, a shrouded background puts a delectable side dish of mystery into making them initially interesting, but over the course of the 96 minute runtime, the enigma dissolves around why Louise no longer works from the Postal Service and what’s stringently being shied away from the thick layered division between the siblings from being close to one another.  The impending standoffish goes unspoken, never comes to a head between them as like the unfolding of “The Strangers” where Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman unravel and expose their marital struggles with the invisible wall between them before, and even in the midst of, being terrorized.  There’s something there that isn’t being part of the exposition or coming back around when the Devil comes really calling for their father’s doomed soul.  Instead, Ireland and Abbot simply assimilate well enough into their falling into farm life dynamics as the sister who must shoulder the responsibility of hospice care and the brother overseeing what could be considered man’s work of handling the duties of raising livestock.   We also get some messed up supporting second fiddlers to execute Satan’s handywork with performances Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki (“Conjurer”), Mindy Raymond (“Bigfoot Wars”), and “The Walking Dead’s” Xander Berkeley channeling his best Julian Beck’s Kane performance as a sinister Priest making a house call.

Bryan Bertino has a stillness about his films. Their creepily quiet, stirred in a somber stew of macabre, and utterly deranged in a nihilist coating. What appeals to me about “The Dark and the Wicked,” as well as “The Strangers,” is Bertino’s gift to deliver powerful fatalist realism. His stories couple earthly family drama with otherworldly malevolence stemmed from the deeper affects of prolonged relationship breakdowns that literally assigns a demonizing blame on the supernatural for people’s own crumbling failings. Another aspect is the godless presence wholeheartedly felt throughout from the Straker’s loud and proud proclamation of atheism to the lack of religious artifacts. Michael nearly tosses the priest out of his keester just for making checking and noting his mother’s recent unbeknownst connection to God to which Michael took great offense. This leads into the Straker’s lack of community connection as they seemingly are adverse or are agonized by those who wish to help and those who rather seem them burn under the guise of the malice presence. Goats are thematically prevalent to the story, especially when the shadowy Wicked hides amongst the herd, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Goats are often associated with Pagan beliefs, such as with the deity Baphomet, and the evils marked upon them by cultures all around the world and by having the Straker farm be a goat farm is more than just coincidence. “The Dark and the Wicked” brings chaos and confusion much like any circumstances where one or both parents die and all the burdens, all the consequences, and all the pure emotional baggage that comes with death is passed to the children whether the Devil is involved or not. When broken down rudimentary that decline of hope and overwhelming grief can cause a great amount of destruction for any family and even extend to friends with suicide being heavily portrayed in the film. Bertino masterfully touches upon every collateral damage output leaving no one spared from death’s, the Devil’s, hopeless hold on them.

Filled with frightening imagery, plenty of toe-curling suspense, and a loud silence of utter despondency, “The Dark and the Wicked” is a must own for any horror fan and, luckily for you, Acorn Media International just released the Bryan Bertino film on Blu-ray in the UK in alliance with horror’s favorite streaming service, Shudder. Listed as region 2, but more accurately a region B in Blu-ray format, the PAL encoded release is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. If there was one word to describe the comprehensive picture that word would be dark. Bertino maintains an eclipsing cinematography through hard lighting, matted lifeless colors, and a reduction tint to give it that extra gloomy blackness. Cinematographer Tristan Nyby’s first collaboration with Bertino is also the first debut into the genre field and Nyby comes out on top with an ability to show just enough, whether through shallow focus or obscured wide shots to always keep the depth and range of the unknown factor alive and frightening. In regards to the Blu-ray quality, “The Dark and the Wicked” has little to offer in details not because of the lack there of but because much of the film is shot in the dark, a fine midnight black with little-to-no wish or noise, and dim lighting . Facial details do appear slightly soft as you can’t make out the blemishes or even skin pores, but the intentional flat coloring steers much of that away from the senses. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound is a boost of jumpscare ambient effects. The range and depth finely pitch the position of well-timed scares, especially when the strung together bottles, glasses, and cans rattle in a discordance. Dialogue has lossy muster that makes discerning characters’, especially Michael or his mother, Virginia’s, Southern draw. English subtitles are optional. Special features include only a Fantasia Q&A with actors Merin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr that dive into their characters quite a bit and into Bertino’s morose mindset. Bleak and genuinely personal on a whole other level, “The Dark and the Wicked” is quintessential truth when talking about the Bryan Bertino Americana horror film and, believe you me, expect more devilish descriptors that’ll shock you.