Dr. Chris Carpenter aims to assemble a team of grad students to search for lost idol artifacts from one of the last, and deadliest, known South American native tribes who were thought to be exterminated by a military force. Despite her severe objections, her ex-husband and anthropologist, Dr. Josh Carpenter, is hired by the university department head to lead the expedition to the infamous Palace Hotel, a proclaimed millionaire’s playground overtook by the jungle after the natives beheaded guests and staffed. Unequipped and ill-prepared, the team journey to the most remote parts of South America, winging the entire trip with their haphazard ambitions, and seek means of transportation any way possible even if that means flying in a cramped plane with an alcoholic pilot. Upon their arrival at the Palace Hotel, hotel manager Madam Trudea and her odd bellhop Obie welcome them to the incredulously pristine resort grounds where one-by-one the team ends up dead with their heads chopped clean off and shrunken to fulfill an vengeful oath of retribution.
twenty-seven years. twenty-seven long years since director James Bryan’s film “Jungle Trap” saw the light of viewership day. “The Executioner, Part II” and “Don’t Go Into the Woods” director interlaced his cult filmography with also notable adult features that starred recognizable talent with Ron Jeremy, Peter North, Kitten Natividad, and Kristara Barrington helmed under a pair of monikers Emil Hightower and Morris Deal that Bryan used to separate his classes of work. Unfortunately, Bryan’s colorful career came to a complete and sudden halt right before the decade turn into the 1990’s until Bleeding Skull! Video unearthed haunted hotel in the deep jungle film “Jungle Trap.” Filmed in 1990, Bryan and his co-writer/female lead, Renee Harmon, use the latest and greatest technology of the time, tape. “Jungle Trap’s” shot-on-video, aka VHS, appeal is an exuberance of maddening creativity only bested by the “Troll 2” style bad acting.
Co-writer Renee Harmon stars as Dr. Chris Carpenter, marking the sixth collaboration between Harmon and Bryan along with “Run Coyote Run,” “Hell Riders,” “The Executioner, Part II,” “Lady Street Fighter, and “Boogievision.” Harmon’s relationship to her character, Chris Carpenter, mimics that of Eva Gabor if she had somehow wound up in the thick Jungle instead of that farm on Green Acres. “Night of Terror’s” Frank Neuhaus had more appropriately succumb to the distressed anthropological victim accustomed with this horror and Neuhaus opposite of Harmon, performance wise, is night and day making their former relationship hard to fathom. If there’s one character that was genuinely creepy in “Jungle Trap,” Jan Vanderberg’s bell hopping Obie wins the prize. THe elderly Vanderberg has spry movements, wide-wild eyes, and a sinister smile that mingles around in the grey area of friend or foe. The remaining cast, including Heidi Ahn, Tim de Haas, Valerie Smith, Rhonda Collier, Glen Serebian, Bill Luce, and Bette Bena, share the same remarkably and overly dramatic bad performances that make “Jungle Trap” hard to skip.
I’m sure the picture is starting to materialize. “Jungle Trap” is nowhere near a good movie. However, vast improvements to render the “Jungle Trap” enjoyable, as well as to scrape by finishing the Bryan project, was courteously contributed by Bleeding Skull! Video’s kickstarter initiative. The company has a history of gathering unreleased film’s loose ends, tying them together, and creating a fetching film; in this case, “Jungle Trap” didn’t have a score, wasn’t edited, and was shelved for decades. Now, “Jungle Trap” isn’t a mystery in the public eye, has a semicoherent storyline with an edited in arbitrary opening, and, thanks to the synth-heavy Euro-trashy sounds of Taken by Savages, a gloriously catchy soundtrack has been laid down. The entire package puts more girth and more value into Bryan’s shamefully quaint horror.
Bleeding Skull! Video presents “Jungle Trap” on DVD, VHS, and VOD for the first time! Since provided with a streaming copy, critiquing the audio and video won’t be solid, but the shot-on-video image keeps the obsolete VHS quality attributes with tracking lines galore, blurry-soft quality, and a slew of inconsistent coloring that works under the maestros of Joey Ziemba and Annie Choi, high ranking members of Bleeding Skull! Video, synthesizing a score under the Taken by Savages moniker! There were no extras with the streaming screener, but the 72 minutes feature includes with the VHS and DVD a fold-out poster, making-of documentary, and Bleeding Skull! Video trailers. “Jungle Trap” is a mondo masterpiece, a terrific terrible, with a heart of gold (skull) and a kickass soundtrack from a colorfully careered director who now has this blast from a past as his legacy film.
Maisy and her socially reclusive brother, Bo, venture on a mountain getaway trip with Maisy’s former college friends. With Bo documenting with a handheld video camera as part of his way in comforting his anxiety, he captures the dynamic of how each of Maisy’s friends have changed over years, especially with Asher and his recently High School graduated girlfriend, Pam. After breaking down on the side of the road, falling behind the rest of the caravan, they encounter a strange man with an axe, harshly warning them to not continue up the mountain pass. Shrugging of the warning and returning to their now working vehicle, the group resumes their drive, but makes a wrong turn and becomes lost in the mountains’ thicket of the Sierra Nevada. They decide to setup camp for the night and continue their way back the next morning, but the discovery an ominous, skull-riddled altar in the woods unleashes a frightening presence that won’t allow them to leave. As tensions rise and night falls, Bo keeps his camera running as a soul inhabiting evil has fallen upon them that seeks to destroy them one-by-one.
“Altar” is the 2016 found footage horror from writer-director Matthew Sconce. Sconce is actually able to harness a fraction of the mysticism and presence that made the found footage genre a thing back in 1999 with the ground breaking flick “The Blair Witch Project” and does a well enough job implementing it into his very own version of an allusive satanic cult ghoul, but with more specials effects and screen time. Despite being titled “Altar,” the story barely wraps itself around the titular object with only a handful of brief scenes, one of the scenes being the thinly-connected introduction that intensely catches the attention, while mostly focusing on the friends’ road trip chatter, breathtaking scenic gasps, and becoming lost on the mountain without much peril in-between. Even the creature, whom makes the scene approximately the last 10 minutes, has more of a presence than the altar itself.
The plot follows around Maisy Marks and her Aspergers labeled brother, Bo Marks, played by Stefanie Estes and Jesse Parr who pull off the socially awkward brother and the cutesy overprotective sister well enough to pass muster. Maisy’s other “beau” is Ravi, played by Deep Rai, and along for the ride as well is muscle head Asher, Tim Parrish, and his ditzy, teenage girlfriend, Pam, played by Jessica Strand. Rounding off the group is Chelsea, a communications graduate who could only find work as a bartender who seems to be stuck in life, and she’s catered to by Brittany Falardeau. Michael Wainwright, Tina Johnson, Master Dave Johnson, and Catherine Wilcox make up the rest of the cast. As a whole, the acting wasn’t terrible even if the script was conventionally kitschy and with a group of young actors, I’m fairly encouraged to see more of their work.
However, acting is only a third of the battle when critiquing a film and “Altar” has falters more in it’s own story and script that’s peppered with cliche after cliche. The scenes leading up to the mayhem constantly hyped that something bad is going to happen; Bo finds an online article of two newlyweds missing for six months (part of the introduction), characters kept comparing their scenarios like horror films, or a daunting man, named Ripper, sternly warns them with a very large axe in his hand. Moments like these try to build tension, but when overtly and grossly laid out for views, sustaining the substance behind them is lost and waters down the effect toward campy foreshadowing. Special effects weren’t overly cinematic nor where they similar to video nasties and kept simple, much like “The Blair Witch Project, with a little more padding to them. The Evil Spirit, as it’s credited in the film and portrayed by Nicole Osborne, is a black and white nightmare that’s effective on camera; slightly cheesy with a hint of gooeyness, but edited in nice and sporadically for those eye-clenching jump scares.
Production company Movie Hero Studios partners with Distribber for a VOD nationwide release of Matthew Sconce’s “Altar,” including platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, PlayStation Network, and on Hulu. A DVD-R screener was provided and so commenting on video and audio quality will not be critiqued and there were no extras on the reviewed disc. “Altar” is, disappointingly, just another found footage casualty with hasty slivers of hope of not falling into the muck that has become an over-tapped genre. What Sconce has done with “Altar” makes the film enjoyable enough for a single viewing with little-to-no repeat value as everything lays out in the open and the only subtly in the entire film is the altar itself.
Four dark and terrifying tapes tell tales of a petrifying horror through the camera lens of various found footage assets. Whether between the bleak, grim nature of disturbed mankind or the ominous, otherworldliness of menacing creatures, each story’s ultimate objective is to expose what lies behind the scenes, to shine a light upon what lives shrouded in shadows, and to unearth what lurks in the mind’s subconscious. At first glance, the dark tapes might seem uncorrelated, but at closer examination, the tapes share a deep rooted evil that connects every afflicted recorded event and makes one think twice about their perception on reality.
“The Dark Tapes” are a formidable found footage anthology that resembles a familiar “V/H/S” layout under the meticulously constructed eyes of co-directors Michael McQuown and special effects guru Vincent Guastini (Child’s Play 3). Scripted by the anthology creator, Michael McQuown, “The Dark Tapes'” four interlocking episodes will leave inside you a paralyzing case of nyctophobia as the genre-spliced anthology has no shortage of bone-chilling creepiness; in fact, “The Dark Tapes” epitomizes the very term and with an alternate universe mixture of ghastly ghouls, ghosts, and grisliness, the extremely exhausted found footage genre might have discovered some new, and much needed, life before being on the brink of a near death extinction in this quaint independent production from Michael McQuown.
The three internal tapes, directed by McQuown, are entitled, and in this order, “The Hunters and The Hunted,” “Cam Girls,” and “Amanda’s Revenge” with Vincent Guastini’s external wrap around segment, “How to Catch a Demon,” being broken into four parts between each tape and each tape should be viewed in complete and utter darkness to achieve maximum level of pants-pissing fright. Your overworked heart will skip with long deadly pauses in between, your lungs that keep you breathing will cease to provide breath, and your mind will warp to unfavorably play tricks on your eyes from an unrivaled nightmare witnessed on “The Dark Tapes.” The full body-stopping, comatose-inducing effect can’t be accomplished without the collaborating cast that includes Brittany Underwood, Tess Munro, Stephen Zimpel, Meredith Thomas, David Roundtree, “Sushia Girl’s” Cortney Palm, Anna Rose Moore, Shawn Lockie, Jo Galloway, and Michael Cotter to just name a few.
Much is right about Michael McQuown’s “The Dark Tapes.” Always welcoming practical effects are better than most indie ran features, especially in the anthology category, and the effects can best some lower-end Hollywood productions inside eye-glueing, on the edge of your seat narrative designs that are smart, gripping, and definitely heart-stopping scary, but to be somewhat of a devil’s advocate, the acting was overall a bit stiff across the plane with an awkward uneasiness in the vary of lackluster performances and overzealous deliveries that petered scenes from reaching full potentials. Production wise, “The Dark Tapes” impress inside the sets of bland reoccurring locations, but coincide them with a vast amount of timely, well placed special effects that quickly mutate the stark locations and the uninteresting backdrops turn into vivid portraits of hell.
The Thunder Road Incorporated produced, “The Dark Tapes,” has been slated for a worldwide video on demand distribution release come this mid-April after a theatrical stint this past March courtesy of the Epic Pictures Group. VOD platforms include Google Play, Vudu, iNDemand (Comcast- Xfinity, Time Warner, Cox, Bright House & more), Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity (Verizon Fios, Charter, Sudden Link, Media Com &more), Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV & Vimeo. Unfortunately, I was provided with an online screener of the festival favorite and can’t necessarily comment on the video or audio qualities nor any bonus features that might be available on a home entertainment release, but I can firmly state that, visually, “The Dark Tapes” is the Haribo of horror eye-candy with the different flavors of thrilling genres in a pint-sized package and while a little tame with the cherry red graphic content, director Michael McQuown seizes the opportunity to instill an open faucet of fear rather than tease with gore and sleaze with sex. If I had to recommend a horror anthology for 2017, “The Dark Tapes” would be on the very short list.
Fun-loving couple, Jen and Farhang, seem like your average young twosome. Underneath the common surface, they plot a sinister murder of a random stranger. Toying with hardware store supplies and dissecting the knowledge of the human anatomy, Jen and Farhang are well prepped to tackle the abduction, the murder, and the disposal of a human being, but when Jen’s obsessive nature can’t hold back her desire to kill any longer, the couple’s relationship will be harshly tested when a hesitant Farhang is unexpectedly confronted with Jen’s opportunity to kill a kind-hearted dinner guest and decides to pull out from their ghastly thought out preparations that results turning a potential grim bonding experience to a deadly relationship fallout.
“Capture Kill Release” is the 2016 Canadian film from co-directors Nick McAnulty and Brian Altan Stewart. McAnulty also penned the script. The handheld POV thriller has a story that places Jen and Farhang’s union in a familiar, yet deceiving manner, coupling routine relationship quibbles and desires with an unorthodox principles shared amongst them. While acting upon their romantic affair in the archetypes that include one-sided back rubs, jointly frustrating shopping adventures, and an infinite amount of trivial bickering, the dynamic between them feels no different from ours with their interaction with each other in their isolated internal pact being very relatable for audiences with partners or had the experiences with former partners. Enormous, thick tension sets the foundation for “Capture Kill Release” that continuously mounds an already pressurized and emotionally compromised partnership, strained to the brink of chaos that’s hard to dig out from under.
McAnulty and Stewart cast unknown Jennifer Fraser as Jen, much of the cast keep their namesakes with their respective characters, and Fraser, placing aside her remarkable beauty, inarguably locks in Jen’s sociopathic charm. Jen’s manic personality, jumping from conversation piece to conversation piece without smooth transitions and unable to focus without the determination to kill on the mind, contrasts sharply with the more reserved and constant Farhang, a role awarded to Farhang Ghajar who has worked on the directors’ prior film, “Uncle Brian.” Farhang’s conservativeness bares an ugly unconfident image that Jen wholeheartedly exploits, nearly forcing Farhang to go along, or play along, with Jen’s disturbed fantasy. Farhang Ghajar simply plants his character in a shot without much a change between appearance or delivery whereas Fraser frequents and embraces more everyday changes, including even minor ones like her hairstyles that seem to change every scene. Polar opposites, homeless guy Gary and ‘Rich guy’ jerk, round out the significant characters with actors Jon Gates and upcoming “Exorcism of the Dead” star, Rich Piatkowski.
In retrospect, “Capture Kill Release” feels rather depressing. The angst that’s imploding from within the Jen and Farhang bubble touches upon the everyday relationship attributes where couples fight or couples unite in not so extreme measures. Jen shows no empathy or sympathy for anybody with the exception of Farhang, a grappling, fleeting emotion to cling on someone who loves you for you. To further the depression, the recent hike in POV films beats into us the obsession with vanity. The camera, no matter the capacity, is a vain concept and McAnulty and Steward’s thriller spares no expense of arrogance when Jen can’t put down the camera, no matter how much Farhang pleads and persuades her, but If I were an amateur plotter toward killing an absolute stranger, I wouldn’t be a complete novice and record my handy work. This is where McAnulty builds in an unspoken caveat that Jen has a passion for filmmaking, dreaming big of directing, one day, her own feature, a notion that’s explored more during her rooting of her mother’s stored VHS collection from Jen’s childhood. The filmmaking approach to Jen’s obsession loosely bounds the implement of the handheld and feels forced like a last minute decision, especially when genuine home videos of Jennifer Fraser are cut into the story that’s out of place.
Midnight Releasing has released “Capture Release Kill” as a high definition online streaming video feature. I was supplied with a screener and can’t comment on quality or bonus features, but the co-directed film is available on these formats: iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, XBox, FlixFling and more. Even with the brief moments in gore, the blood runs extra thick with sickeningly realistic and shocking scenes of butchery. Gory found footage, such as “The House with 100 Eyes” or the more viscerally vigorous “The Butcher,” have been gaining momentum in their popularity with the handheld camera bringing a little authenticity to grisly murders that are on the other side of the spectrum of being a very anti-Hollywood concept that less sensationalized, but devilishly effective, on a budget. Throw in a handful of motivated and talented actors, such as Jennifer Fraser and Farhang Ghajar, in this semi-exploitation gore-thriller and you can strike gold with “Capture Kill Release” that’ll please even the harshest of found footage or handheld camera critics.