On a dark and stormy night after a school football game, a teacher and three students take shelter at a cottage adjacent to a cemetery. If the cottage wasn’t creepy enough, the sole occupant owner surpassed the bar. She calls herself Miss Leslie, a middle aged woman with an ill-fated story of her friend and mother’s fiery demise from long past and a quirky penchant for making life-size female dolls that set inside an illuminating shrine. Though they feel uneasy about the creepy surroundings, the visitors stay and get cozy, especially with each other, but Miss Leslie has ulterior, deranged motives. Her dolls are not just lifelike, they once were vibrant lives of women Miss Leslie sorely wanted to inhabit their feminine confines of youth and beauty from over the years, but now they are an undecomposable shells, encase in Miss Leslie’s special doll making brew to timelessly capture their lovely physiques. They are also beautiful, yet painful reminders of her failed attempts to transfer her essence into their adolescent bodies.
Every so often you come across a film with a gigantically absurd hard shell cover with the gooey insides of eye-rolling cheesiness and you just have to ask yourself, how in the world did something like this ever come to fruition!? Yet, somehow, someway, these productions of an oddball variety always have an intense allure about them and end up being just one of the coolest rarities to grace the glazed-over irises. Joseph Prieto’s “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is the epitome of this very phenomena. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is an exploitation, nearly softcore porn, horror with a deranged killers with severe mental issues that range from communication with dead to, what can be now construed as antiquated, complications of gender identity. One of the last directed films from Prieto, who also helmed “Shanty Tramp” and “Savages from Hell,” also penned the screenplay alongside longtime collaborator and producer Ralph Remy Jr. The script reads like an insatiable bedside thriller novel, an object of complete obsession through the entirety and well long after being completed; “Miss Leslie’s Dolls’” has a rich gothic lining, a strong sexual appetite, and a timely LGTB subject that involves debate on mental illness or inherited gender orientation.
Not many actors performed in drag. Sure, there was Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like It Hot” and there was even Anthony Perkins from “Psycho,” who some might go as far as saying that “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” might draw inspiration from with the whole mother fixation, but only a small faction of fans, especially in the genre, might know Salvador Ugarte. The Cuban born Ugarte has great poise as a woman imprisoned in a man’s body. Miss Leslie just isn’t a deranged killer in drag; the character has deep rooted issues stemming out of not only being a woman embodied incorrectly, but also seeded by an engulfing obsession with capturing beauty to obtain it for herself, an addition from a result of a permanent scarring left behind by Miss Leslie’s homicidal rampage in the character’s history. Ugarte has the mannerisms and the gait down so unerringly that’s the performance is downright creepy, but there was one aspect of womanhood that Ugarte’s masculinity couldn’t mask: his voice. The actor is horrendously dubbed, adding charm to the bizarre concept. Ugarte’s joined by “Little Laura and Big John’s” Terri Juston, Marchelle Bichette (“The Gruesome Twosome”), Kitty Lewis, and Charles Pitts of “Supervixens.”
Contrary to the above, “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” has some drawback. Though the characters might be entertaining and interesting, especially with the Bourbon obsessed and hot for teacher Roy and his terrible gangster accent or the fact that Ms. Alma Frost is a smoking hot, twenty-something year old prude teacher to her pupils who are practically the same age as her, they’re washed over with an aloof mentality, consequently looking past or just blatantly oblivious to Miss Leslie’s obvious male features, her inauspicious ramblings, and the fact she has a shrine of creepy and realistic dolls of women that fill the room with the smell like rot and death. Perhaps too busy running through the cemetery at night in skimpy bedroom garments. Yes, this does happen. On top of that, Miss Leslie harness of occult powers goes relatively unexplored, yet very much utilized as an important portion of the film near the last act. Despite being passively mentioned and rather undercut from more than most of the film, Miss Leslie’s occult mischief is plucked right from left field to further the enigmatic aurora of Prieto’s mystical exploitation.
Network proudly presents “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” on an UK 1080p Hi-Definition, region free Blu-ray home video, remastered from the original film elements once thought to be have been forever lost. The newly scanned transfer came from a surviving print and presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The restoration included detailed grain management, the automated and manual removal of dirt and damage, and the correction of major color instability, warp, and density fluctuations. (In full disclosure, Network sent me a DVD-R screener and that is what the following critique is based off of) Though in some frames there flares up some instability, from my perspective, the first act and half really came out well with the vivid, yet natural, coloring. However, once inside Miss Leslie’s basement, woozy blotchy moments of Leslie fiddling around makes the particular scene a bit off putting. The stereo mono track is fair for the 1973 film that has it’s share of distortions and editing pop faux pas, but the dialogue is fiercely prominent, despite the inherent awfully laid dub track, and equally well balanced with ambient tracks. There were no bonus material on the release. Transvestitism horror is quite a rare experience that always has a lasting impression, cerebrally popping visuals of grim visions commingling with the blood, the viscera, and the other supplementary violence. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” deserved this Blu-ray release and Network did right by Prieto’s obscure grindhouse feature that will sear into your skull.
In the fight against pure evil, the Catholic church trains champions to battle against the forces of hell and all that is unholy. Father Jacob Vassey is one of those very champions. The man of the cloth who wields dual 9mm handguns and has a penchant for penancing through the act of self-righteous wrongdoing in the name of Church and of God. When an treacherously evil Archbishop summons a shadow builder to undo all of God’s creation on Earth, Father Vassey pursues the demon to the small town of Grand River in search for a hunted pure soul; the demon tracks down young Chris Hatcher whose been through a sign of God’s passion, the stigmata, and is the key to demon’s ultimate goal. Once the shadow builder has collected enough souls and has laid sacrifice to the boy, the demon will reverse the creation of God, humanity will cease to exist, and the world would be ripe for restructuring at the whim of one of hell’s most demented minions. Humanity’s last hope lies with Father Vassey, a local sheriff, Chris’s veterinarian aunt, and the town loon to bring forth light toward the prospect of a dark and gloomy apocalypse.
“Shadowbuilder” is the 1998 apocalyptic horror film from director Jamie Dixon, steering his sole major production from a high octane and progressive anecdotal script by “Iron Eagle IV” screenwriter Michael Stokes and produced by Imperial Entertainment, who delivered some great films like “The Bikini Carwash Company” and The Bikini Carwash Company II.” Based off the short story in the “Under the Sunset” collection by Bram Stoker (author of “Dracula”), “Shadowbuilder” expands, develops, and morbidly seduces around Stoker’s tale that doesn’t necessary implement a Universal Studio’s “The Mummy” like tale progression and design, telling of a weak, yet venomous creature feeding on souls or people in order to regain world destruction strength. Stokes script goes right into the action with Vassey’s hunt for the beguiled Archbishop and the way Vassey is introduced is absolute 1990’s gold: a priest armed with two handguns with laser sights. Studios don’t make films like this anymore! Rivals as one of those films that has a doppleganger, like “Deep Impact” and “Armaggeddon” that coincidentally came out the same year as “Shadowbuilder. “End of Days” is that doppleganger film as the two share unholy similarities of a citizen of hell on a mission to sacrifice a human for above ground dominance.
No actor could pull off properly the gun-toting and shrewd role of a haunted and troubled priest that is Father Jacob Vassey. No actor except Michael Rooker (“Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer” and “The Walking Dead”). Rooker’s gravel pit voice is inarguably his best trademark trait that nails extra tension into the substantially bleak and world-ending situation; a tone that carries enormous weight and Rooker’s natural vocal gift, along with his lip snarling, square chin and piss-offstare, earns the actor to be the well armed and dangerous man of the cloth. “Bruiser’s” Leslie Hope joins Rooker as the Veterinarian aunt and the film’s love interest, but not of Father Vassey. Instead, the love interest belongs to the local town sheriff, Sam Logan, played by Shawn Thompson. Hope and Thompson’s on-screen chemistry can’t seem to puncture through as it’s defined as back burner material, overshadow by Vassey’s unwavering pursuit of the demon and the frantic search for the boy, Kevin Zegers (“Dawn of the Dead” remake), through the muck of the shadow builder’s poisoning of the town upstanding morality and ethics. Rounding out the cast is Andrew Jackson as the shadow builder, Hardee T. Lindeham (“Survival of the Dead”), Catherine Bruhier, and genre vet Tony Todd (“Candyman”).
“Shadowbuilder” is by far a perfect horror film. Dixon, new to directing, dives into the infancy stages of CGI and, for the most part, the turnout pans out with the effects despite being slight crude around the edges. Stokes script puts story development right into the fast lane and doesn’t let off the gas so if you walk out of the room for a coke and return, you’ll miss something pivotal. The design works well to keep up the pace for a story that has a lot to tell and to not give the viewers a chance to piecemeal pick apart a teetering concept. One aspect that really tilts toward the negative is actually Tony Todd’s performance as the town crazy, a one-eyed Rastafarian named Evert Covey who is completely aware of the demon’s presence, but goes unexplained. Todd sells crazy, and sells it really well, but the lack of exposition into purpose plunders the character into outside the lines oblivion that begs the question, why is this character here? A guess would place Covey as a means to keep the lights running as he’s some sort of convivial, jerry-rigging mechanic.
MVD Visuals Rewind Collection label sports a special edition Blu-ray of Bram Stoker’s “Shadowbuilder.” The 1080p resolution is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Despite the the 1080p resolution that aims to bring a little more detail to the fold, the coloring on the transfer is quite faded with considerable noise that’s hard to ignore, but while the noise is underfoot it doesn’t necessarily cripple “Shadowbuilder’s” ominous and foreboding vehicle. The CGI looks better than expected being an early model from the millennial transition into more prominiment animation in the turn of the century. The English uncompressed 2.0 PCM sound track passes muster, leaving dialogue rightfully forefront and substantial ambience as support. Bonus features include a nifty poster insert, a visual effects tour, and a making of featurette with interviews that include with the director Jamie Dixon, screenwriter Michael Stokes, the demon himself, Andrew Jackson, and Tony Todd. Kevin Zegers has his own featurette, a commentary director Jamie Dixon, and the theatrical trailer alongside MVD trailers for other Rewind Collection films. Michael Rooker, Tony Todd, and a demon. A winning combination reamed with apocalyptic mayhem, destruction, and undiluted carnage and up on a pedestal with on the eclectic MVD Rewind Collection.
When the Mt. Jang cave is broken into by a couple of lethal wrongdoers, a ominous presence is released onto the mountainside, a malevolence that can precisely mimic voices of loved ones to lure victims to their ultimate doom. A young family, hanging on to a last bit of unnerving hope, moves into a house on the surrounding area, seeking to reverse the impossible by rejuvenating their semi-catatonic grandmother whom perhaps knows the last whereabouts of their missing boy from five years ago, but what the family encounters on the mountainside is a harmful specter hellbent on using the body of a obsessive and loyal shaman and his innocent, preschooler daughter to obtain more souls for a fearful urban legend, the Jangsan Tiger.
Based off the South Korean folklore involving the Jangsan Tiger, a man-eating beast that lives and hunts on the Jangsan Mountains and can imitate a woman’s screams or the sound of running water to lure people in, “Hide and Seek” director Huh Jung helms “The Mimic,” his sophomore 2017 fantasy thriller that explores a highly entertaining, opt-ed version of the urban legend. Originally titled “Jang-san-beom” in South Korean, Huh also pens the script catered to blend fantasy with delusional, family-destroying hope. Even though hope is more than usually a positive aspect in all dire situations, Huh manipulates hope by molding it as an entrapment, leading friends and family members down a path to a false reality, psychological impairments, and, ultimately, to a melancholic demise.
“The Mimic” stars “A Tale of Two Sisters'” Yum Jung-Ah as a grieving mother, Hee-yeon, looking for answers to the mystery of her son’s disappearance while in the care of her grandmother. Jung-ah tackles a role that’s compiled with emotional affliction, fear, and chimera to which the Seoul born actress challenges herself to depict each complication as one connective element. Park Hyuk-kwon plays her husband, whom is struggling to cope with his wife sadness and inadequacy to let go of the past. Together, Jung-ah and Hyuk-Kwon’s character dynamics strive to unearth deep-rooted, therapeutical hurdles and they accomplish just that with the help of influential costars, especially in the 9-year-old actress Shin Rin-Ah. The sweet, fresh face of Rin-Ah Shin becomes the ultimate deception, a suspected sheep in wolf skin, that this pint-sized bundle of cuteness could be the family’s undoing. The cast rounds out with Heo Jin, Bang Yu-seol, and Lee Jun-hyeok.
Now while “The Mimic,” not to be titularly confused with Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic,” is laced with unsettling camera angles and bottom-popping jump scares, the embodied Jangsan Tiger regrettably places the Huh Jung one notch lower on the proverbial grade scale. The shaman’s body, a rather thick individual, has been possessed by the Jangsan Tiger that’s been depicted covered with stringy white coat, long arms and legs like a sloth, a tiger-like maxilla and jowl on a human-esque face, and with cold, blank eyes. Instead, the Jangsan Tiger remains in human form throughout with subtle changes that reference the tiger; for example, the horizontal white fur on each side of the shaman’s rather gnarly face. Transformation effects just don’t do the antagonist justice and, frankly, should have kept the shaman a wretched shell of himself, spawning through mirror gateways, ever reaching to touch the next soul to digest, but when Hee-yeon and her husband enter the labyrinth Mr. Jang cave system, the shaman is a rabid dog, a ravenous trickster, but not as ferocious as the description might sound.
Arriving on Digital & Blu-ray June 12, Well Go USA Entertainment distributes “The Mimic” onto an unrated, 1080p Blu-ray presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, and the image suffers no compression issues, has a fine palette that more-or-less of a blue or yellow hue, and has a leveled up bitrate. The 100 minute runtime feature has a Korean 5.1 surround sound DTS-HD Master Audio that’s effective with the Jangsan’s imitation lures. The waterfall rain and echoing animal ambient tracks are spot on with range and depth. Optional English subtitles are available and, considering the film’s duration, are considerable accurate and timely, but I did manage to catch one error where “leaves” was typed instead of “lives” where appropriate in the context of the sentence. Extras are slim with a cursory making of featurette and the film’s original trailer. “The Mimic” revels in South Korean lore, even if it’s a variation of, and the menacing atmospheric and audio cues exhibit a precision that’s a testament to director Huh Jung’s psychological spook show filmmaking, but the build up behind the mysterious small girl, the bricked cave, and the alluring voices are quickly summed up with meretricious humanoid value instead of a mystical and enchanting beast.
In the wake of losing their father and husband, Leah and her mother struggle to cope and are at their wits ends with each other. Leah, an impressionable and angst-filled teen, embraces the occult lifestyle after her father’s untimely death despite her mother’s distaste for it. Leah’s mother also battles the everyday familiar feelings of her constant surroundings that remind her of her dear husband and the sensations compel her to move her and Leah more than an hour away, away from Leah’s only friends including a boy she’s become fond of, but the constant and languishing heated disagreements invoke Leah to act impulsively, gathering her ritual articles, and while in the woods, naively summon a witch, named Pyewacket, to kill her mother. Regretting her actions almost immediately and fearful of what’s to come, Leah is cautiously ever attentive to her surroundings as each passing night a presence makes itself known and is eager to not only harm Leah’s mother, but also intends to rise it’s wickedness toward Leah.
“Pyewacket” is a 2017 Canadian horror-thriller from writer-director Adam MacDonald. The Montreal born MacDonald constructs an impressive and suspense-riddled sophomore film that offers a beautifully bleak atmosphere while touching upon layered themes that are relatable to anyone who grew up with an overbearing parent. “Pyewacket” succeeds as a stark melodrama of a hurting mother and daughter who are looking for some kind of pain relief and a fresh start. MacDonald takes it to the next level, churning out a cautionary tale, by implementing the theme of being careful for what you wish for because you just might get it. Oh, and there’s spine-tingling moments involving a ghoulish witch with an appetite for deception and have you squinting yours eyes in fearful anticipation of when she’ll strike.
Another Canadian, the Vancouver born Nicole Muñoz stars as the disquieted Leah. Muñoz dark assets heighten her disdain and resentment she evokes out from her character toward her mother, played by the former “The Walking Dead’s” Laurie Holden. Tall and blond with a more verbose attitude in putting her feelings outward, one would have difficulties placing Muñoz and the “Silent Hill” star as daughter and mother on screen. Holden manages to be the glue that keeps the story moving as Leah rarely has much to the say and is only reactive instead of proactive about her situation, making the two actresses dynamically challenging that purposefully sparks uneasiness in every scene. Leah’s friends serve as her lifelines to the world outside her new country home that her mother has unfairly displaced her to. Her best friend Janice, the Toronto born Chloe Rose, whose alternative appearance and nonchalant, cocky persona encourages her to be Leah’s confidant. Rose seemingly enjoys the role that offers vibrantly colorful stripes of hair with lots of gothic makeup that comes complete with leather and plaid outerwear. I was a little disappointed with Leah’s love interest that was Aaron, shoed by the tall and thin Eric Osborne. Aaron really wasn’t showcased much though MacDonald’s script attempts at hinting more to the character, but unfortunately for Osborne, Aaron falls the ranks of a back burner boyfriend trope.
What might be the undoing of “Pyewacket” is simply the timeliness. Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” and André Øvredal’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” completely overshadow the JoBro Production & Film Finance (which is kind of funny because the same production company also did some funding for “The Witch” so in essence, “Pyewacket” is “The Witch’s” little cousin) with two already fantastic tales of non-broom riding and mind tampering witches that share the same intense ferocity of pure hatred and dark magic on a much bigger and grander scale when considering production value that relies on a viewer relatable story. A story involving a mother-daughter warfare is inarguably human to us all, but in competition with that, MacDonald seems to embrace that side of the story with slight favoritism as the director is light with a slow burn of the catalytic turn of events that evokes the titular character despite it being the most gripping portion of the film; instead, the focus is more honed in on Leah’s experience that intimately distances her from each of those that are closest to her: Janice, Aaron, her mother. Left in the wind is much of the witch’s background and how the witch becomes familiar to Leah which goes relatively unknown. And, also, not to forget to mention that the witch, or familiar spirit, is screened through shadows, long shots, and quick takes so to get a shape or a image around the appearance, all I can suggest is that Pyewacket resembles Samara from “The Ring” with stringy, filthy hair, slender figure, and moves around like a spider. Aside from a popular teeny-bop occult novelist, Rowan Dove played by “Bitten’s” James McGowan, the only facts touched upon about “Pyewacket” are that the spirit is extremely malevolent and can deceive the perception of people and events.
From Signature Entertainment, the DVD and Digital release of Adam MacDonald’s “Pyewacket” hits retail shelves April 23rd and digital retail shelves even earlier on April 16th. Since a digital screener was provided for this review, an in-depth critique of the video, audio, and bonus material will not be covered. Though clutching to the money-bagged coattails of bigger, better witch films from the last three years, “Pyewacket” is still a mighty story with complex characters complete with sheer dread from an obscure and grievously sorcery crone pure with black heart that will definitely elicit shortness of breath and rapid heart palpitations if watched alone in the dark.
Experimental doctor, Anton Lupesky, invents a controversial drug that can free a human soul from its vessel and travel through into the lifeless eyes of a corpse, possessing the body to reanimation. The only side effect is grotesque hallucinations that are so horrible, few survive the experience. After a stint of missing persons and a string of mysterious deaths at the Whitebriar Institution, Lupesky is fired from his position, banned from the medical board, and brought up on criminal charges. His acquittal sparks him to embark on a journey overseas to continue his radical medical experiments, away from regulations and tremendous oversight. The doctor returns six months later for far superior medical innovations in America and begins practicing again in his own basement with the unscrupulous help from a couple of lackey acolytes that leaves Lupesky’s supply of “patients” not in short demand. One reporter keeps investigative tabs of the good doctor as she suspects a connection between him and her father’s death at Whitebriar and when her and her friends starts to snoop around, Lupesky has no choice but to use any means necessary to thwart her investigation, even if that means secretly administrating the drug to her in hopes that her soul can fly with his – if she survives.
Thirty years ago, “The Soutangler” hit the cinema market. A low-budget gruesome mad scientist flick with a penchant for some fantastically grisly practical special effects. The 1987 shocker was directed by Pat Bishow, penned by John Bishow and Lance Laurie, and shot on location on Long Island, New York. The Do-It-Yourself and Lovecraftian macabre does a bit of soul-searching to find resurrection from the video graveyard. Luckily, Bleeding Skull! Video and the AGFA come to the rescue with a chock-full of extras release that digs up the Bishow’s lost creation, dusts it off, cleans it up, pats it on the butt, and sends it back out into the world onto DVD home video. “The Soultangler’s” niche envisioning goes against the grain of traditional filmmaking, bordering experimental, but definitely a must-see for those interested in existentialism horror: the removal of free will to be replaced by another’s.
Pierre Devaux stars in his only credited as the mad Dr. Anton Lupesky that resembles along the lines of a Dr. Herbert West from that little known trilogy of the H.P. Lovecraft inspired “The Re-Animator.” With a wiry frame, stringy shoulder length hair, and government-like issued classes, the very animated Pierre Devaux casts the ideal character whose maniacal and perverse in his medical malpractices. The only one willing to stop the Lupesky’s experiments is investigating journalist Kim Castle of The Daily Chronicle. Castle, played by Jane Kinser, is about as ferocious as her beautiful as an aggressive reporter, unwilling to stop to unearth the truth of her father’s tragic death. Kinser’s not much of an onscreen force to reckon with as she’s quite timid, but she manages to hold her own up against Devaux wild eyed lunacy. Rounding out the cast is Bob Cederberg as a Carl the drugged addict henchman, Louise Millman as a loyal minion to Lupesky, and Tom Ciorciari as Castle’s concerned friend who battles the zombified corpses embodied by Dr. Lupesky.
While a strong appreciation exists from the outstanding attention to detail with the decayed bodies and the explicit violence in the finale that nightmarishly flourish in a heap of ghastliness, the rest of the film is as disjointed as the dismembered bodies in Lupesky’s basement of horrors. Despite being submersed in various talking head scenes that divulge significant backstories between Dr. Lupesky and Kim Castle, the story struggles to keep the straight line focus, swerving erratically between subplots and the main premise. Castle’s horrific dreams of aggressive zombies loosely makes a connection other than prepping Castle’s subconscious when ingesting Lupesky’s soul freeing drug. The story of Dr. Simpson also flounders to the waist side with her and Dr. Lupesky’s love affair, the only women he would even consider getting close to and not slaughter for his own amusement.
“The Soultangler” arrives onto full-bodied, graphically illustrated DVD from the B-movie collaborators Bleeding Skull! Video and the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and distributed by MVDVisual from the original 1″ master tapes. Shot on 16mm, but edited on video, “The Soultangler” has a SOV experience in it’s original aspect ratio of a full frame 1.33:1. Quality varies from the source material, including some tracking and edge flare issues, but overall a solid transfer with a sizable color palette that includes tints, natural skin tones, and visceral dream sequences that show little-to-no sign of diminishing. Stereo mono track does the job despite poor mic placements to get the full girth of dialogue. HypnoLoveWheel’s indie synth/rock soundtrack has more popularity on the B-level than in the mainstream music, but serves “The Soultangler” with broad depth to solidify a wedge between “The Soultangler’s” whimsical charm and the Gothicism that is Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator.” Bonus features include, for the first on any release, the Unseen 62 minute alternate director’s cut, a commentary track with director Pat Bishow, behind the scenes footage, trailers for “The Soultangler” and “Dead of Night Town,” music video for “wow” by HypnoLoveWheel, and liner notes by Bleeding Skull’s Zack Carlson. Conceptually, “The Soultangler’s” premise oozes originality and creativity involving soul transformations through the portal eyes of a dead body and that’s simply brilliant and what today’s horror genre certainly craves. Constructionally, Pat Bishow couldn’t push the momentum to pickup the pace to overripe an engaging story, but the climax, out of left field, unsheathes a bloodbath of ultra-stellar, DIY proportions!