Superpowers Can Be Just as EVIL as They are Good. “The Unhealer” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

“The Unhealer” on Blu-ray home video from Scream Factory!

An old graverobber unearths the supernatural powers of an ancient Native American burial ground that gives him the ability to heal as well as to be resilient against injury with self-restoring powers.  When exploiting the local residents of his newfound “Godly” gift, a botched healing of a bullied teenage Kelly with severe pica disorder transfers the powers to him, curing his disorders and restoring his health while also leaving the old graverobber to die.  With a new lease on life, Kelly pursues his dreams, standing up to his relentless tormenters, and even finding the courage to ask out a girl, but when the powers prove to be addiction beyond control and the bullies never let up on their aggression on him, Kelly uses his newfound gifts to exact a deadly course of revenge. 

“Pet Sematary” meets “Christine” – a Stephen King-esque bully-revenge, supernatural thriller “The Unhealer” from the Argentinean born director Martin Guigui.  The music video and feature film director returns to American horror nearly a decade later after helming the 2011 “Beneath the Darkness,” starring Dennis Quaid, with a thrilling teen angsty script penned by first time screenwriters Kevin E. Moore and J. Shawn Harris that recalls a narrative very familiar to the late 80’s to early 90’s with oppressive high school bullying by the jocks and the turning point revenge by the receiving end pipsqueak.  Originally scripted under the title “Pica Boy,” “The Unhealer” reveals the dangers of severe polarities between one disorder to the next with the humbling fragilities trapped inside one’s own psychological disorder to the over-confidence of feeling invincible due to physical anomalies that result in no pain being suffered, losing one’s empathetic reasoning.  “The Unhealer” is produced by writer J. Shawn Harris and his sibling actress, “Night of the Demons 2” and “Night of the Scarecrow’s” Cristi Harris along with star Natasha Henstridge and “Why?” filmmakers Corbin Timbrook and Galen Walker with Horror Business Films and 7 Ideas serving as production companies.

Headlined with three big and recognizable names inside the genre circles and out, the film stars Lance Henriksen (“Pumpkinhead,” “Aliens”), Natasha Henstridge (“Species,” “Ghost of Mars”) and Adam Beach (“Windtalkers,” “New Mutants”) playing variable degrees in their roles important to “The Unhealer’s” story progression and each performance never overlaps prominent personalities that can sometimes stall out and unbalance a production.   Henriksen plays a long in the tooth snakeoil salesman named Pflueger who exploits the locals with his newfound healing powers and when he’s hired by Kelly’s desperate mother, Natasha Henstridge, the scene becomes a passing of the torch as Pflueger unintentionally transfers his powers to Kelly (Elijah Nelson, “Chain of Death”) that magically heals him of his longtime psychological Pica disorder. Not so much a youthful soul anymore, Henriksen has tall tell signs of showing his age, but the 81-year-old New York City born actor can still sear memorable performances into our psyche with a wisecracking charlatan conman in Pflueger, dressed from head to toe in a shabby white suit and tossing up awkward hand gestures when deriding burial ground protecting Shaman Red Elk, played by long time serial supporting man Branscombe Richmond (“Commando,” “Hard to Kill”). More awkward in his reaction to receiving an unexplainable supernatural gift is Elijah Nelson who goes from deaths door to want to join the Navy Seals in a matter of minutes after the Pflueger plot point passes. The writing doesn’t exactly assist in Kelly’s transition with an acceptance of power without an inkling of trying to comprehend is as Kelly tries to hurt himself and tries to encourage being pounded by bullies as if he already fully understands the immense reality of his abilities. Even his mother, who under the understanding that she has tried everything possible scientific medicine man has to offer to cure her only child, is instantly okay with Kelly’s rushing into the unknown. A nearly unrecognizable Natasha Henstridge from her “Species” franchise days after a thyroid autoimmune disease diagnosis doesn’t stop the late 40’s blond beauty from being just that – a beauty – in an overly protective mother role desired by the local single men from the house visiting doctor to the Adam Beach’s Native American Sheriff Adler. Beach becomes the absent father figure for Kelly and a person who has a foot in both the Native American spiritual world and in the Anglo-Saxon realities and melodramatics. Beach proceeds as the main lead of the third act, following Henriksen and Henstridge to keep a constant, recognizable presence throughout and providing his own stamp as the voice of reason whereas the first two culminated extreme biases toward Kelly. Kayla Carlson, Angeline Appel, Gavin Casalegno, David Gridley, Mike Gray, Thomas Archer, Will Ropp, and one my new personal favorite actors in Chris Browning (“Agnes”) fills out the remaining cast.

Very early on initial reactions toward “The Unhealer” were poor mainly because of the luridly unflattering dialogue and perplexing transitions between scenes that don’t exactly hit the mark matching up character intentions, but the more I watched, the more an optimistic sensation started to arise in me. Starting small in the recesses of my cerebral film database then growing until metastasizing fully into my mind and, eventually, into my nostalgic-detecting ticker is “The Unhealer’s” robust recollection toward how fun bully-revenge-thrillers from two to three decades ago can be with a carbon copy simulation ingrained with a novel narrative surrounding Midwest Native American mysticisms carrying with it that age old “Spiderman” insinuation that with great power, comes great responsibility, but in “The Unhealer’s case, as the tagline suggests, comes great pain. Screenwriters Moore and Harris burden Kelly with a King Midas touch that no matter how hard the character tries to contain his nearly invincible power, outside forces influences and unforeseen happenstances steer Kelly toward self-destructing disaster. Between a group of buffed up and obnoxious high school jocks as unyielding tormenters, Kelly pushed into a self-protecting corner despite a generous passive attitude, especially being run over with car at one point, and the unpredictable and limitless avenues built as substory awry to make “The Unhealer” a joyful hidden gem, the Martin Guigui film on the outside appears to be a cheap, indistinguishable, B-movie, but if you dig deeper, dig until you unearth a medicine man’s ancient dusty bones, and you’ll discover deep seeded veneration, a gripping story, and dark magic carnage.

“The Unhealer” will undoubtedly fly under many viewers’ radars but is a must watch from (Shout!) Scream Factory’s distribution label in a cooperation release with VMI Worldwide (“Orphan Killer”). The full HD, 1080p Blu-ray of the 2020 production is an encoded region A release with unrated certification and a runtime of 93 minutes, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Generally nothing to swing image quality from one spectrum to the next with a RED Weapon Dragon digital shot. Already decent at compression, the RED camera provides a crisp demarcating image in the forefront and capture the textures in a literal closeup with focus precision. “The Unhealer’s” lighting and set dresses cater less to the supernatural phantasmagoria with Massimo Zeri’s realistic Arizona landscapes and suburbia venues that don’t excite the camera with its cold truth realism rather than the mise-en-scene tropes of horror atmospherics. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 also has zip to complain about with high resolution quality with a surprising ample range of effects. Dialogue is prominent and clear as well. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Special features include one-sided individual cast/character behind-the scenes interviews which is basically cut and edited footage of the actors describing their characters in footnote fashion. The gag reel is a better feature that takes the same interview format, intertwines it with music, and lines up the gags with an instrumental soundtrack in one seamless show of goofs and hijinks throughout production. Deleted scenes and extended/alternate scenes, surrounding mostly around Kelly and Dominique’s coy love interest, cap the features. At first glance of the final package, “The Unhealer” looks totally like a rip off inside and out of the cardboard slipcover with a “Star Wars'” lightsaber color scheme and a character illustrated design underneath the title dressed in “Stranger Things” font, but don’t let parroting cover fool you as “The Unhealer’s” dark journey from being the bullied to the bully is an unabated and inescapable catch-22.

“The Unhealer” on Blu-ray home video from Scream Factory!

Chainsaws, Tanks, Booger Flicking! So Much Bloody EVIL! “Premutos: The Fallen Angel” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)



Grab “Premutos:  The Fallen Angel” on 2-Disc Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

Before the fall of the angel Lucifer, Premutos was the very first angel to fall from heaven.  More wicked and desirous for power, Premutos resurrects legions of the undead to conquer mankind on Earth and throughout the centuries, the ruthless former angel of Hell casts his conduit son to build his army of the dead, but has failed again and again to squash the spirit of man into servitude submission, discarding Premutos back to the depths of Hell to try again at another time.  This time being present day Germany when a young man discovers a book that chooses him to be the emissary of death, paving the way for the rebirth of Premutos, but an arms and ammunition’s enthusiast and his party guests must fight to survive and kill every last zombie and underworld creature thrown at them.

After having reviewed his 2010 existential horror “No Reason,” a need to dive into and experience more the splattering Armageddon of Olaf Ittenbach’s gore shows has been gnawing on my fairly acutely demented subconscious and this past week, I was fortunate enough to receive a newly released extended director’s cut of the director’s late nineties, pseudo creed, blood berserker “Premutos:  The Fallen Angel” and get my corneas dirtied by its unholy high body count.  Doom-estically translated from “Premutos – Der gefallene Engel” and more commonly known in the States as “Premutos:  Lord of the Living Dead,” relies very little on the unrefined visual special effects that were going through a massive evolution with computer advancements pre the turn of the millennium.  “Premutos” is a big practical effects enchilada with exploding bodies, gallons upon gallons of blood, and there’s even a real tank painting the walls and everything surrounding the walls red with a detonation of blood and gut splatter!  Kaboom!  Ittenbach mind-to-movie visualization goes from zero to 1,000 in a blink of a plucked-out eye and nothing stops the filmmaker from his warped creativity and comedy that can take the more puritanical few back a few steps and cause a ruckus of disgust.  “Premutos” is produced by Ittenbach, stars Anke Fabré and André Stryi, and cinematographer Michael Müller with IMAS Filmproduktion serving as principal the production company.

“Premutos” begins with an epic epilogue, historizing the horrific mythos alongside equally horrifying visual components of Premuto’s death and destruction attempts to conquer man.  When the history lesson ends a transition begins with Olaf Ittenbach himself as a bumbling mama’s boy Matthias coming across the ancient resurrection incantations of Premutos his gun nut father Walter (Christopher Stacey) unearths in his backyard.  Ittenbach plays a wonderful pitiful thumb sucker in contrast to Stacey, who doesn’t look that much older to Ittenbach, as a rugged, hardnose, hard=working ammosexual.  Before we can bask in what could have been a good diatribe, Matthias goes through a painfully metamorphosis of wrapping barbed wire and impaling steel rods to become Premuto’s death commencing son.  Corpses exhume themselves and attack the living to form an army of the fleshing eating undead and descend upon Walter’s birthday party and his wide-ranging personalities in attendance with the snobbish and loud Tanja (Ella Wellmann), Walter’s oblivious wife Rosina (Heike Münstermann), the drunkard Christian (Fidelis Atuma), Hugo’s ex-love Edith (Anke Fabré), and Edith’s ex-love Hugo (André Stryi) who has gone into a meek shell as he marries Tanya to fill the gap in his heart Edith had left.  The whole dynamic is an ostentatious display of vulgarity, a hyper overextension of behaviors that clash in one room before clashing with another over and beyond presences, beyond being the key word in being those beyond our plane of existence.  A blood gushing fight for survival ensues as the partygoers become trapped and only Walter’s arsenal of weapons can blow away the undead into slimy bits of smithereens. 

The closest movie Ittenbach’s “Premutos” reminds me of, with all the zany and quirky hijinks, insanely high body count, a geyser explosion of pouring down blood, and all the unbelievably bilious hoopla yet, all that nonsensical napalm draws you in like a moth to the sweet-smelling flame, is Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” aka “Braindead.” “Premutos” has that exact same tactless tone and a soaking bloodbath quality with a major stark difference in the comedy style as Ittenbach leans more to a cruder-crass approach with setups involving boogers, penis injuries, and BDSM gags. Somewhere in there I want to say that’s typical German flare, to shock and disgust audiences with eye-adverting and head-turning taboos. The rest of Ittenbach’s is an up-and-down rollercoaster of highs and lows that begins with an expositional illustration, highly detailed and greatly edited, to showcase Premutos’ barbaric backstory up until the title card “Premutos” to where we’re dumped into half-assed cosplay battles still rendering excellent practical effect kills. Ittenbach is supposed to play a man, or rather a man-child, who is the reincarnated wicked herald who begins the end of days for his dark master, Pemutos., but the way Ittenbach structures the aforesaid concept falls upon more experimental means than literal ones and Matthias randomly succumbs to flashbacks of a former life in what looks like medieval times or maybe even early 20th century Europe – hard to tell – where he’s persecuted without reasonable justification until he turns into a large snaggle tooth and demonic monster in his visions. The latter half is where all the action is at with a horde of zombies laying sieged to a ragtag bunch of Germans drinking beer and ridiculing each other. Somewhere in there is also the rekindle of a former love life between Hugo and Edith who have to first regain their lost backbone in a rampage of mowing down the dead by any means possible before the two love-struck lovers rekindle a long-thought-lost relationship. That struggle is Ittenbach’s, about as elegant as he knows how to be, show of an obstacle between the power of love, to put the world facing the destruction of slavery in their path to deliver a blood, sweat, and tears of flesh robust connection of attraction between them that can’t be stopped.

ItsBlogginEvil says check it out, the extended director’s cut of “Premutos: The Fallen Angel” on a 2-disc Blu-ray released by Unearthed Films and distributed from MVD Visual. Coming in at number 6 on the Unearthed Classics banner, “Premutos” is neatly packed and presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio on a region A BD50. Full high definition and 1080p specs apply to the now 24-year-old feature shot on an Arriflex with 16mm stock and the results are immaculate from a pristine transfer. Palpable, yet palatable, amount of grain over top a sustainable image that sees almost zero artefact issues and the tactile textures are greatly fine in the details. Hues don’t exactly pop but display more naturally up until Ittenbach’s gothic and surreal side envelopes him into the swirling of smoke and backlighting to create otherworldly glows and Cenobite-like torments. The release comes with two audio options: a German DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound and a German 2.0 PCM. The 5.1 has excellent fidelity and outputs a work into all channels as the background chattering, especially in the bar scene, gives off the sensation that people are talking behind you. That signal flows every explosion and weapon discharge with strength and prevalence throughout. Dialogue is also strong and prevalent despite much of the gibberish that comes out of the characters’ mouths. English subtitles are available and sync well with accuracy intact but can be fleeting at times and hard to keep up with. The second disc is a compact disc of A.G. Striedl soundtrack which I found to be the most disappointing and lossy aspect in listening to lo-fi grunge and hard rock that provides no boost to chaos on screen. Other special features included on the Blu-ray alone are the original cut of the film with an English dub and original German language, the extended making of “Premutos,” the early years of Olaf Ittenbach, a photo gallery, and trailers all stowed inside a new cardboard slipcover. “Premutos” may be soaking in its meaningless, hellish narrative but it’s an unforgettable slaughter-ride through body, blood, and bone, a genuine practical effects wet dream made into gruesome reality and keeps surprising you at every frame.

Grab “Premutos:  The Fallen Angel” on 2-Disc Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

If EVIL Wanted Your Soul, Would You Choose An Eternal Damnation with the Promise of Having Everything You Ever Wanted, or Would You Simply Decline to Live What’s Left of Your Meager Existence? “Val” reviewed! (Epic Pictures / Blu-ray)

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

When Fin, a criminal on the run after a misfortunate mishap of possibly having killed his boss, breaks into a high-end prostitute’s mansion home in an attempt to escape police pursuit, he finds himself struggling to stay in control when the wound on his head causes him dizziness, vomiting, and a thin thread of consciousness.  His whore hostage helps him evade police capture, conceals her dead client he inadvertently kills, and also dresses up his wounds after he passes out.  Confused by her benevolence, Fin attempts to regain control of his authority over the sexually elegant and smooth talking dressed woman, but as the night progresses and strange, unexplainable occurrences warp his reality, he quickly learns his hostage is more just a simple high class working girl and her house is her domain of deviltry. 

Not to be confused with the extraordinary life of actor Val Kilmer documentary of the same name also released in 2021, “Val” is the that other 2021 released film, an independent horror-comedy from writer-director Aaron Fradkin and co-written with writing partner and fiancé (or maybe wife now at this point), Victoria Fratz.  While one “Val” may be more of a commercial success than the other, Fradkin and Fratz’s “Val” still has equal parts charisma and style with solid performances in a “Bedazzled” like tale where a down on his luck Joe Schmo meets a sultry Netherworld deal maker dangling his very soul delicately in the balance of his existence  Shot in a supposed haunted, Gothically styled mansion located in Ojai, California, “Val” is produced by Jonathan Carkeek, Paul Kim, Jeremy Meyer, Kevin McDevitt, and Caitlin O’Connor with Victoria Fratz serving as executive producer under the couple’s Fradkin and Fratz production banner, Social House Films. 

The titular character Val is short for Valefor, the grand Duke of Hell with a penchant for collecting human souls to adorn as treasure, at least to the trolls scribing world wide web, underworld mythology. A trickster, a showboat, and a psychic-vampire, Valefor is characteristically mirrored to the milli-fiber of wickedness by actress Misha Reeves who’s able to adapt her demonic namesake for a new lease on celluloid life. However, one aspect of Valefor is quite different. Val’s appearance is anything but a monstrosity; instead, Reeves radiates beautiful as a pinup girl complete with stark colored makeup and professionally styled hair in victory rolls and soft curls for a throwback 1940’s impression in a complete about face of Valefor’s traditional animalistic Lion or Donkey head look. There’s also the fact that the cinematic Val bares no wings, no tail, no fur, and no scales as usually illustrated – again, by the dark forces of the internet’s most untanned. Reeves offers up, again, the pinup-esque sex symbol with high thigh stockings, garter, and all the vibrant trimmings that would turn heads and howl catcalls. Reeves is utterly wonderful riding the spectrum of Val’s multi-faceted manipulative personality to the point where feeling bad for Fin (Zachery Mooren, “Darkness Reigns”) becomes awkwardly odd since Fin is the wanted criminal here. Even though Mooren eventually sold the part of a wannabe tough guy, the actor looks more unsure of his performance than his most of the time scantily cladded costar, even with Mooren has dress down into just a kimono as well in a few tension-breaking scenes that didn’t really break the toned stride. Reeves and Mooren start up with ease, picking up where the pair of actors left off in Fradkin and Fratz’s 2018 “Electric Love,” joined by another fellow costar in Erik Griffin as a powerful mob boss with a kink for acting like a dog in one of Val’s masochistic whims. Along the line, other pivotal players associated with Fin and Val come into the mix, including John Kapelos (“The Shape of Water”), Sufe Bradshaw (“Star Trek”), Kyle Howard (“Robo Warriors”), and co-writer Victoria Fratz as Fin’s scheming girlfriend.

The idea of the playful, humanoid demon has always been more of an interesting concept for me personally because speaking frankly between man and demon, the two can be interchangeable.  Demons can con, pervert, steal, and kill under the will of their lordship and master or as a mere rogue still in servitude of doing evil bidding.  Man can accomplish very much the same malevolent behaviors and when you have a demon masquerading among mortals, what’s the difference?  Can one tell the difference? “Val” falls along the fringes of that same category except we’re not talking about any ordinary smooth talker with a devilish smile in human skin.  No.  We’re talking about the immense staying power of Misha Reeves’ slipping into something a little bit more comfortable and still be a force to be reckoned with as the blithefully frisky and seductive Val undercutting her prey’s sanity and soul.  Reeves carries the story up to the end as the titular character, but “Val” does downplay the question of Fin’s choice.  There’s a lack direct peril when the third act came down to brass tax and Fin had to make a decision. Fin was persuaded without a nail-biting ultimatum, a countdown, or a severe threat to him or someone he cares about and the motivation for the hapless lawbreaker to pave his own fate didn’t exact a sense of urgency. In fact, Val offers an unlimited number of perks with little risk and, I believe, we had to assume Fin was smart enough, a common motif throughout the film was Fin is this big, handsome chump, to understand giving up his soul would damn him for eternity. Though visually stimulating with a climax resembling The Last Supper with demons, the damned, and Fin all sitting at a table garnished with severed heads and an inferno hue, the culmination drops hard like a rock squashing that eager element of anticipation.

A bathing beauty of its genre, “Val” contends as a witty Mephistophelian comedy-horror. The demonic good time can now be enjoyed on a region free Blu-ray release from Dread Central’s home video label, Epic Pictures, distributed by MVD Visual. The not rated, 81-minute film is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with not really much to negatively critique on the image quality that’s quite sharp from the compression of a BD50. Keelan Carothers’ hard lit and red-hot neon glow of warm red-light district-like colors inarguably defines the distinct worlds of Fin and Val while flashbacks denote a slightly softer color reduction as a third environment. There’s good camera work here between in camera foreground and background focusing as well as delectable key lighting on certain medium-closeup shots that pact a punch. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track has dialogue clarity palpable enough for Misha Reeves’ sharp tongue and quirky humor. Ambient track slips a little in the depth and can blur character spatial relations but there’s plenty of range for a story that’s pretty much sole-centric. Mike Tran, Eric Mitchen and Robot Disco Puma provide the eclectic, synth-rock soundtrack that overwhelms with a booming LFE that leads to a bit crackling distortion during the decimation of decibels of maximum speaker output if not lowered, which then affects the dialogue. Options subtitles include an English SDH and Spanish. Special features include a making of Val featurette narrated by the filmmaking due Aaron Fradkin and Victoria Fratz, two of the pair’s short films – “The Ballerina” and “Happy Birthday,” and a Q&A from Popcorn Frights. Well, here we are at the end of the review and the question still stands of what path would you choose? Personally, I’d go with the sexy, quick-witted, Duke of Hell for a good time, the soul be damned, and you should go with “Val” too for it’s all well-made, well-acted, and well-told story.

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

Don’t Mind the Glowing, Ominous Hole in the Wall. That’s Just a Gateway to Evil. “Beyond Darkness” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

A witch acolyte of Ameth, an underworld demon, is executed on multiple counts of child murder.  The priest who oversaw the witch’s last rites came in with a doubtful heart and upon researching Ameth through an unholy book, disavowed his own religion only to fall into a near drunken stupor of atheism.  Months later, a new priest and his family move into a home arranged by the archdiocese, but soon after settling into the old house, a series of disturbances point to a closed in wall behind a door that’s uncovered to be a gateway to another plane of existence; an existence where the child killing witch is granted access to seek the souls of the priest’s young children.  Fighting with his own struggles of faith, the ex-Jesuit assists the priest and his family in an attempt to cast out evil once and for all. 

Perhaps common knowledge amongst diehard horror fans, but not so much among the casual curiosities of an oblique coursed moviegoer is the fact that “Beyond Darkness” and Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” share a cinematic series connection.  Well, not one in any official capacity one at least.  Drained from the same bloody vain that unofficially corrals Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2” as a sequel to George Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” retitled in Italy as “Zombi,” the American-made, Italian-orchestrated “Beyond Darkness” too fell upon the slew of Italian title changes sword with a rechristening into the “La Casa” series.  With the success of “The Evil Dead” in the U.S., Raimi’s video nasty was renamed to “La Case” and “Beyond Darkness” became the fifth “sequel” in the series as “La Casa 5.”  Since Italy has no copywrite laws, a light breeze can easily change any filmic title.  Even the director, Clyde Anderson, dons a false pretense as the Americanized alter ego of Italian director Claudio Fragasso.  The “Scalps” and “Troll 2” Fragasso pens “Beyond Darkness” with longtime script confederate Rossella Drudi, under the Sarah Asproon pseudonym.  “Beyond Darkness” is shot in the deep American South of Louisiana under the Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi) founded Filmirage (“Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper,” “Deep Blood”), produced by D’Amato, as the Filmirage Production Group.

While behind the camera is mostly an Italian production team, in front of the camera is a cast of American and English actors with an opening Louisiana penitentiary pre-execution theology debate between Bette the witch, played by Mary Coulson, and Father George, a priest having a crisis of faith, played by one of D’Amato’s regulars in English actor David Brandon (“StageFright,” “The Emperor Caligula:  The Untold Story”).  Coulson’s role may be punitively small as the “Beyond Darkness’” lead witch and predominant face of the core evil, but the actress puts all into the Bette character comprised of a maniacal laugh and a lots of very European skin-tag makeup effects whereas the classically trained David Brandon has an array of lively emotions and facial expressions sized to fit Father George’s clerical shirt and white tab collar when he’s not sloshed with doubt.  Both characters interweave into the life of a new-to-the-area priest, his wife, and two kids who move into an old house, built on unholy ground, to start his new chapter in priesthood.  Days later, as the kids become instantly okay with a giant black swam rocking horse in the middle of their bedroom, the family is terrorized by flying kitchenware, flooded with a bayou mist, and frightened by figures in black, tattered shrouds seeking to steal their children’s souls.  Christopher Reeve’s lookalike Gene LeBrock (“Night of the Beast”) fails at double father duty in his poorly lit excuse of a worried father with his children being lured to the realm of the spirit side and as a grounded in faith Father combating the forces of evil without a solid sense of what to do.  Both parents are equally written off as incompetents who continue to stay in the house despite on the continuous threat of Baba Yaga wannabes knocking at every door in the house.  As the mother, Barbara Bingham felt as if she had a little more skin the game.  Perhaps having just come off the legacy success of a “Friday the 13th” sequel (“Jason Takes Manhatten”) she felt the responsibility of maintaining a more diligent approach toward being a mother coursing through occult’s dire straits.   Michael Paul Stephenson (“Trolls 2) and Theresa Walker excel much better in their roles as the two kids, Martin and Carole, who’ve become the centerpiece of Bette’s maliceful desires. 

“Beyond Darkness” will come across as very familiar amongst both horror fans and fans of movies in general with a story pulling inspiration from films like William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” and Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist.”  Fragasso picks and chooses a blanket of trope elements to rework with great malleably in order to not be a total copy.  However, for those who know anything about low-budget Italian horror, Fragasso’s rousing similarities to major and independent hits should come as no surprise.  Notoriously renowned schlock horror directors Joe D’Amato and Bruno Mattei, amongst a sea of others, use to fabricate out of fame at every opportunity by gobbling up successful films, chewing them up, and spitting out their Italian produced counterparts without a second thought just to cash in on just a fraction of the original narrative’s success.  The way I see it, the method was (and still is) an honorable form of flattery. Yet, flattery doesn’t cure sloppiness and “Beyond Darkness” is about as sloppy as sloppy joes. Plot hole after plot hole stack up on Fragasso’s inability to amalgamate elements in an entirely coherent way. There are underwhelming revelations to anticipating character build ups that fizzle; such as a thick-tension mystery behind the local archdiocese and their involvement to place a good Christian family in a house built on evil land or what precisely convinced Father George of Ameth’s power to sink him into an alcoholic pit of despair? I already mentioned Martin and Carole’s inept parents on not fleeing the house at first sign of poltergeist activity or any activity since then so don’t get me started. The story needs some fine tuning but not after is amiss. The acting is not entirely a humdrum of monotony, Carlo M. Cordio’s eclectic synthesizer riff and haunting keynotes score is on another level akin to a composition pulled right out of a survival horror video game, and Larry J. Fraser, another one of Joe D’Amato’s pseudonyms, has an honesty about his scenes unlike we’ve ever seen before in a D’Amato production as the cinematographer captures the fog luminously and effervescently surrounding and chasing the family from out to in.

“Beyond Darkness” is no “The Evil Dead” but is a solid demon and ghost dog and pony show from 1990. Now, the Claudio Fragasso (or is it, Clyde Anderson?) classic is heading straight to your level room television set with a new 2-disc Blu-ray. The hardcoded Region A is presented in widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio in a full high definition and 1080p resolution. With only a possible color touch up here or there, I would venture to say the transfer used is the most pristine copy with hardly any damage or any age deterioration. The grain looks amply checked and no cropping or edge enhancing at work in an attempt to correct any issues, if any ever existed. Severin offers two audio options: an English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 and an Italian dub of the same spec. With dual channels, there retains an always room for growth inkling and with the film’s broad range in sounds, a difficult to swallow lossy audio pill plays the aftertaste tune of, man, this could have been way better. Yet, the track is solid enough, if not more so, with virtually zilch damage. Dialogue comes across clean and clear, but there tails some minor hissing. Like with many Severin releases, new interviews are the star of the special feature show with one-side, talking head interviews with writer-director Claudio Fragrasso Beyond Possession, co-writer Rossella Drudi The Devil in Mrs. Drudi, and actor David Brandon Sign of the Cross. Though the theatrical trailer rounds out the first disc special features, Severin also includes Carlo M. Cordio’s superb soundtrack as disc number two along with a two-page booklet with an introduction to the ingredients of a horror score and to Cordio himself as well as a listing of all 17 tracks. “Beyond Darkness” is Claudio Fragrasso’s unbridled mutt, a motley of motion picture royalties rolled up into an adulating and piggybacking horror beyond comparison.

“Beyond Darkness” 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray Available on Amazon

EVIL Strikes at the Stroke of “Midnight” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Severin)

Teenager Nancy searches for forgiveness through reestablishing her faith in God after being dumped by her sexually active boyfriend.  When her alcoholic, police officer stepfather learns of the relationship’s abrupt ending, he moves in quickly to take advantage of Nancy while under the heavy influence of the bottle.  Escaping his grasp, she flles home and hitchhikes a ride with two men travelling South on a getaway from Pennsylvania to sunny Fort Lauderdale, but when facing trouble with small town local law enforcement after attempting to steal groceries, the three find themselves right in the middle of a Satanic cult’s sacrificial ritual that requires the killing of three women for eternal life, one a night at midnight for three days.  Held in a dog cage, Nancy anxiously awaits her turn at the bloodletting alter surrounded by the cloaked-cladded cult and their decomposing mother’s corpse  Praying to God to save her soul, little does Nancy know that her stepfather has tracked down her whereabouts, leading to a bloody showdown of one cop pitted against a family of satanic psychopaths. 

Based of his 1980 novel of the same title, “Midnight” is known to be John Russo’s heart-and-soul project that ended up suffering one mishap after another in the two years of its production and post-production until it’s final release in 1982.  Also known as “Backwoods Massacre,” the “Night of the Living Dead” co-writer Russo helms the low-budget occult slasher out from his usual stomping grounds in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  “Midnight” showcases a story themed with a depraved sense of race intolerance for African Americans and all varieties of religious convictions to be innately false in an atheistic Russo viewpoint amongst a glorified surface level of enrapturing inhumane violence seasoned by brainwashing.  This West Pennsylvanian born and bred grindhouse exploitation found producers in  Sam Sherman and Daniel Q. Kennis of “Blazing Stewardesses” and “Blood of Ghastly Horror”) along with Donald Redinger under the now defunct Independent-International Picture Corp.

In a sea of smaller fish of Pittsburgh actors in “Midnight’s” casting tow is a larger and rougher around the gills grouper embodied by the singular Lawrence Tierney (“Reservoir Dogs,” “The Prowler”) in the Officer Bert Johnson role. Tierney’s no stranger to the horror genre, flaunting his thick New York tough guy accent that typically typecasts the veteran actor into authoritative roles. In being no exception, “Midnight” has Tierney playing a sleazy, alcoholic, police officer who winds up more-or-less unearthing sense in his old age and utilizing his skills for good to fully satisfy his character’s arc, but Tierney alone is wonderful to behold and easy to be disgusted by as he solicits his underage teenage stepdaughter with a perverted proposition. That stepdaughter, Nancy (Melanie Verlin), is the face of “Midnight’s” protagonist whose attempting to get back on track with God after a sinful bedroom relationship with an ex-boyfriend, but her plans are slighted by a brood of young Satanists keen on keeping their now long deceased mother’s irreligious convictions intact. David Marchick, George Romero regular Ted Amplas (“Day of the Dead” 1978, “Martin”), Robin Walsh, and the face of “Midnight” on many of the posters, Greg Besnack, size up as the Satanic terrible and merciless foursome. The cast fills out with Charles Johnson, John Hall, Bob Johnson, Lachele Carl, Jackie Nicoll, Doris Hackney, and Ellie Wyler.

After the success of a collaborated run with George Romero on a handful of projects, John Russo ultimately branches off to do his own creative output after their production company, Latent Image, brought on newcomers’ and the shared ideas on the direction of their company didn’t sit well with Russo – an irk that Russo still harps upon to this day, according to the special features’ new interview from the latest Severin Film’s release.  Yet, I digress into the review of “Midnight” that has feral narrative with an irregular plotted blueprint of teenager exploitation, racial injustice, and backwoods barbarians.  Somehow, Russo’s able to juggle his jotted down on a budget scrambler with a threadbare satanic family baseline that unsettlingly feels snagged in a randomizing generator spitting out scenes to see if they cohesively connect into the next.  Nancy’s traversing into the thicket of terror story cuts into and undermines more of the sibling’s unholy ritual, which the title “Midnight” becomes an important piece to the ceremony, with a subplot of the teen running away from a handsy stepfather and into the Mystery Machine modeled van-driving hands of a pair of cavalier friends on a road trip and then find themselves in an endgame of rotten luck with bad company.  The whole lead up to the two groups running into each other is suddenly dropped like a bad habit, forgoing much of the racial tensions, the youthful subverts, and even the attempt at pedophilia when the main, overarching theme of cult mayhem and religion inadequacies come to the forefront.  “Midnight” inarguably a gargantuan piece of good ole American hicksville victimization with some underappreciated manic performances by John Amplas and Greg Besnak, but there’s difficulty in shaking “Midnight’s” stark story division that leaves much to be desired.

“Midnight” is the particular video nasty that’s surpassing all of it’s other formatted counterparts with a Severin Film’s 4K scanned Blu-ray of the full uncut negative.  The 1080p Full High Definition, region free BD50 is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a respectable color correction, but the correction sees unstable moments regressing near the cuts revealing the lifeless yellow tinge of unmastered quality. A right amount of grain, a great amount of detail, and hardly any damage to the thought-lost uncut negative proves Severin found buried treasure of the John Russo shocker. Two audio options grace the release with an English language DTS-HD 5.1 surround and an English 2.0 Stereo. While the 5.1 offers a more robust audio option of funneling individual tracks through their respective channels, I wouldn’t necessarily say “Midnight” has an overwhelming yield for audiophiles. Soundtrack comes across just enough to know it’s there, the dialogue is clean and unimpeded, but what unfolds out of clarity is the wonky foley ambience that just render solemn scenes silly. Severin offers up a new interviews under “Midnight’s” mediocre cult status with director John Russo – Making Midnight – as top bill in a lengthy discussion about his long career, his acquaintances including George Romero, and, of course, his recollections about “Midnight.” Other interviews include producer Samuel Sherman – Producing Midnight, actor John Amplas – The Midnight Killer, and special makeup effects artist Tom Savini – Small Favors – who barely remembers working very little on this film by providing pre-fabricated headshots and sliced throat prosthetics. An isolated score selection with audio interview with Mike Mazzei, an alternate title card for “Backwoods Massacre,” the trailer, and radio spot round out the bonus content inside the blackout snapcase. Prolific as John Russo may be in horror literature, filmmaking, and in legendary regards with his work alongside Romero, “Midnight” reflects poorly on his cinematic vocation and while many problems plagued production and post-production, Russo somehow managed to root out a passable working cut of crazed satanic panic.

“MIDNIGHT” available on Blu-ray from Severin!