After Death is When Things Get Really EVIL! “One Dark Night” reviewed! (MVD Visual / Blu-ray)

Good girl Julie wants to join a The Sisters, a small high school club ran by three girls, one of who is the ex of Julie’s boyfriend.  Out to prove to herself and to The Sisters she’s willing to go the distance being fun and reckless, Julie subjects herself to The Sisters’ initiations, even the more cruel ones set by her boyfriend’s spiteful ex.  When the last initiation involves staying locked in overnight at a mausoleum, The Sisters will go beyond the limits in trying to scare her out of pledging, but the death of a bio-energy telekinetic practitioner with a cryptic occult past is freshly stowed away in one of the mausoleum’s coffin crypts and in death, he is more powerful and dangerous than when alive.  Trapped, Julie and The Sisters are terrorized by his power as he seeks to transfer his malevolent energy into one their bodily vessels. 

A PG rating back in the pre-1990 was also an abstract concept.  “Clash of the Titans.” “It’s Alive.”  “Jaws. “ “Prophecy” (the one with the spirit bear, not the Christopher Walken film).  These are a handful of titles that were MPAA rated PG approved, but contained nudity, bloody kills, and not to forget to mention some terrifying visuals that’d make anyone piss their pants.  “One Dark Knight” also fits into that category as the 1982 teen horror from “Friday the 13th Part VI:  Jason Lives!” director Tom McLoughlin set his sights toward a R-rating with the mindset that his detailed scenes of decay and rotting corpses and a face blistering the flesh to the skull would surely be slapped with the 17 years or older rating.  Low and behold, the ratings board thought otherwise, surprising McLoughlin and his co-writer Michael Hawes (“Family Reunion”) with a parental guidance rating that my 7 and 4 year old could sit in on without me fearing theater security or, even worse, the mind control hypnosis and repetitive nurturing elements of today’s movies and shows that don’t make a lick of common sense or brandish any artistic heart. McLoughlin’s ‘One Dark Night” has plenty of heart and plenty of floating dead bodies in this Comworld International Pictures production with “Out of the Dark” director Michael Schroeder producing and Thomas P. Johnson as executive producer.

Before hitting the sequel and remake circuit with “Psycho II” and “Body Snatchers,” Meg Tilly broke onto the scene as “One Dark Night’s” leading lady as the amiable Julie whose looking to shake her good girl image. The little sister of “Seed of Chucky” and “Bound” star Jennifer Tilly takes the role by the reins by undulating her fear and determination to do what The Sisters initiate her into completing. The Sisters is comprised of renowned voice actress and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” costar Elizabeth Daily, Leslie Speights, and lead by Robin Evans as Carol, the spiteful and venomous ex-girlfriend of Julie’s now jock boyfriend (and Christopher Reeves lookalike in my opinion) in David Mason Daniels. You know what they say about love triangles they? They always lead to psychopathic, telekinetic psychics reeking havoc in a mortuary. Luckily for Tilly, Speight, Daily, Evans, and Daniels, psychopathic, telekinetic psychics are not real and neither is the person who plays the Karl Rhamarevich aka Raymar character! You see, the opening is the post-death scene of Raymar whose lying dead under a coroner’s white sheet along with six beautiful women stuffed into a corner closet in his oddly tatterdemalion apartment. The next time we see Raymar is in his casket, wide open, wide eyed with blue lightning summoning to animate the dead from the mortuary crypts; yet, Raymar is played by a dummy in the film created by Tom and Ellis Burman (“Star Trek” franchise in various capacity and “Scrooged”) and Bob Williams (“The Terminator”) who mold Raymar after the contours of Christopher Walken – second time Walken has popped up in this review! The more interesting casted parts, whose characters don’t do diddly squat in the film, is Adam West (“Batman”) as Raymar’s daughter (Melissa Newman) level-headed husband and The Predator himself, the late Kevin Peter Hall, in a minor appearance before becoming the man behind that one ugly son of a bitch mandible mask. You also actually get to see how tall Hall was in his prime.

“One Dark Night” flirts with being this strange horror that blends teen suspense and shenanigans with gothic horror with pseudo-science deviltry sushi wrapped into a Euro-horror roll. I kind of love it. I’m one of those horror fans who avoid trailers like the plague and try not to read synopses on the back cover, going into every viewing with complete ignorance, total unbias, and good attitude. I didn’t even know Meg Tilly was in “One Dark Night” for Christ sake! As the 90 minute runtime ticks down, I’m curious to where McLoughlin starts to take this film that doesn’t seem to quite get into the horror portion of Raymar’s show-stopping comeback. McLoughlin and Hawes hype up the love triangle with Carol’s bitter acrimony and Julie’s adolescent need to not be a one-note complexion all the while Steve desperately needs Carol to cease and desist any and all torturous hazing attempts, but there’s still this itty-bitty connection still tethered between the two that also causes Steve to two-time his new, more benevolent, girlfriend. In the end, I can confidently say that Steve is a good dude, a guy who double downs on a girl like Julie who can’t seem to get it through her thick skull that she doesn’t need to prove anything to three dimwits with sheeny club bomber jackets. I can tell you who isn’t a stand up guy – Raymar. Kudos to McLoughlin and his crew for creating one evil son of a bitch villain without there ever being a palpable proverbial man behind the mask to bounce off a projection of fear and contention. The evil Raymar practice was so intensely evil it was beyond our dimensional comprehension and broke the mold of death with the abilities to animating the dead among other things. “One Dark Night’s” slow start leads to a not to be forgotten survival terror against an army of the harnessed dead.

Raymar isn’t the only thing brought back from the dead, but also “One Dark Night” as MVD Visual, under the MVD Rewind Collection, strike a deal with Code Red to utilize their OOP transfer and bonus materials for a new re-release Blu-ray hitting retail shelves this Tuesday, August 24th! The 1080p high definition transfer is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio speckled nicely with natural, pleasant looking reel grain. Like the Code Red special edition release, plenty of details shine through the delicate rendering that can be image wispy at times. Loads of superficial damage – frame scratches, edge flare ups, rough editing cuts, smudges – can’t go unnoticed, but these blemishes don’t hinder much as the scenes are more transitional during the setup to the big mortuary finale. What differs from Code Red’s DTS-HD 2.0 mix is thee English language LPCM 2.0 mono mix that still lightly treads with subdued effect, much like the Code Red release. Dialogue can sound muffled with popping landing just under the surface and bubbling up during dialogue scenes. Still, the audio track stands it’s ground by clearly rendering every dialogue, effect, and soundtrack without question. English subtitles are also available. You want bonus features? You got’em! Interviews with director Tom McLoughlin, actress Elizabeth Daily, actress Nancy Mott, cinematographer Hal Trussell, production designer Craig Stearns, producer Michael Schroeder, and special effects crew member Paul Clemens are all individualized for maximum recollection tidbits and factoids. There’s also audio commentaries by McLoughlin and Schroeder as well as McLoughlin and co-writer Michael Hawes. Plus, we also graced with McLoughlin’s director’s cut, a standard definition, unfinished, work print version in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio that shows the director’s true take on the narrative before producers ultimately decided to go another route…behind his back nonetheless. Behind-the-scenes footage, Paul Clemens photo gallery, and original theatrical trailer round out the disc bonus content while the physical release comes with a retro-take card board slipcover, reversible cover art, and a collectible mini poster inside the case liner. If you’re a fan of Euro-horror, “One Dark Night” embodies the very soul of the Lucio Fulci and Michele Saovi supernatural archetype sewn seamlessly into an inescapable and hopeless dance with the gnarly energies of the stoic dead.

Pre-order “One Dark Night” on Blu-ray at Amazon.com!

Little Book of EVILs. “The Last Thing Mary Saw” reviewed! (Arachnid Films / Digital Screener)



Southold, New York, 1843.  A young, once-proper, daughter, Mary, of a puritanical family sits before an investigator as suspect of the brutal massacre of her family.  Her eyes having been gouged and plucked from her skull, Mary can’t see the musket rifles pointed straight at her as she’s assumed to be practicing dark dealings being the sole survivor.  She must recount the exact details of story that begins with the family’s severe punishments imposed upon her and the house maid whose practically publicized intimate relationship was seen as wicked, sinful, and embarrassing.  Unable to be discouraged by disapproval and cruel corrections, Mary and the maid continue to sneak their forbidden affair but did she and her lover commit the heinous crime or was there more behind the veil involving an infinite evil, bound by a mysterious book, pulling at the marionette strings that has cursed Mary and her bigoted family?

Tackling themes of homosexuality in the 1800s in the time of itchy-trigger-finger heresy pointing and dogmatic ideologies comes the debut horror film of writer-direct Edoardo Vitaletti entitled “The Last Thing Mary Saw.”  The Northeastern Americana thriller is a fermenting tale of a remote extended family, of some wealth and stature, trying to remedy the eldest daughter’s uninhibited rendezvous with an equal in age young house maid by subjecting them both to torturous corrections aka kneeling on uncooked rice while reciting a specific passage regarding sin from scripture.  Vitaletti’s first feature length film is from executive producers Joseph Michael Lagana (“Actress Apocalypse”), Mike Nichols (Eli Roth’s “Fin”), Keryn Redstone, and Scoop Wasserstein and from New York based production companies Arachnid Films and Intrinsic Value Films. 

“The Last Thing Mary Saw” has an intriguing cast as well as a cast, at least I think, everyone should love.  When this Washington, D.C. born actress is not pretending to be a creepy psychotic child, “Orphan’s” Isabelle Fuhrman finds other ways to slip into tightknit family structures.  The now 24-year old Fuhrman plays house maid Eleanor who continues to fight for Mary’s affection despite Mary’s closed minded and religiously persecuting large, all-in-one-house family.  Mary, the titular character played by “Insidious:  The Last Key’s” Stefanie Scott, has stars in her eyes as she’s hot for the maid, but I couldn’t find that deeper connection between Fuhrman and Scott whose characters even further themselves from each other by being more intent on beating the system rather than being romantically and consummately intimate.  It’s almost as if Vitaletti starts beyond the point of building up the relationship, having prefabricated Eleanor and Mary’s love, and is only thirsty for the consequences that follow.  The lovers become embroiled into the family’s personal problem with their daughter’s relationship and at the helm of it all is the matriarch at the hands of Judith Roberts.  The “Dead Silence” and “Orange is the New Black” actress embodies coldly an unyielding crone that eager wants to keep the so-called troublesome maid with the family, even if that means passing her skillset to uncle Eustace (Tommy Black) and his wife and adolescent child (Dawn McGee and  “Starry Eyes’” Shane Coffey).  The crux of the problem starts with the father (Michael Laurence) who brings a book filled of peculiar, teratology-related storiettes that might not be odd today, but were damn near witchcraft in the mid-19th century, and that’s when things begin to spiral bleakly with manipulation and suffering in various ways.  “The Last Thing Mary Saw” rounds out the cast with Carolyn McCormick, P.J. Sosko, Daniel Pearce, Stephen Lee Anderson, and “Scream 4’s” Rory Culkin as credited “The Intruder.” 

What intrigues most about Vitaletti’s script is no character is inherently labeled as a conventional genre trope.  The chapter-storied narrative plays out in three parts with the title paralleling the contents of the mysterious red book as well as the action in each plotted chapter.  What seems orthodox for the film’s set period in punishing those in same-sex relations alluded “The Last Thing Mary saw” to be a tale of sordid, Godless misconceptions and yearning attraction between two young women, but then the catalyst  happens, a supernatural being is revealed, and then the tide turns from the sinister misguided to the sinister malevolent.  Another Vitaletti explores another theme: hate.  Mary hates her own family to the point of setting out revenge upon them; she would do anything to not separated from Eleanor, but yet Eleanor remains in the house, not dismissed, or reassigned to another house.  Hate festers into everything, boils closely at the edge, not just for Mary and Eleanor but for the family who hates secular unions, hate embitters in the grounds security guard after his leg was purposefully crippled for running away, and hate also tears are Rory Culkin’s The Intruder whose monstrous birth has left him with no family or respect amongst his peers so he must take away from others.  Without production designer Charlie Chaspooley and costume designer Sofija Mesicek, there wouldn’t be this resurrection of early 1800s resemblance that’s essential for the story’s period and the acting also smooths out the dialogue of a yonder-forgotten dialect of a lingering British-English set in area of Long Island.  Though I like where the story progresses and how climactically ends, following along with Vitaletti’s script falls nearly deaf on a coherent understanding.  Plot points do come out of nowhere at times that don’t segue neatly enough for comfort and we’re left with a mountain of enigma that somehow ties Mary, the book, and an unconventional Matriarch together into a dysfunctional family affair; yet, the sullen atmosphere makes for good unbenevolent folkloric horror coupled with Vitaletti’s incredible patience the scenes with immense anticipation and dread.

Premiering worldwide at the virtual rendition of the Fantasia Film Festival, “The Last Thing Mary Saw” will be a part of the festival’s first wave of films for attendees. No digital, on demand, or physical release dates have been set for this occult horror drama from first time feature director Edoardo Vitaletti, so you will have something to look forward to in the coming days of new releases! Director of photography, David Kruta, has come along way since the unfinished mess with the discarded survival-slasher “Old 37” by maintaining Vitaletti’s natural rustic scheme of the early 1800s and then toil with the phantasmal occult in one or two scenes with an airy, dreamy, and, if not, an ethereally beauty in it’s parlous context. Situational context is also key when a scene with a long stretch of no dialogue becomes the means to an end and Kruta has to capture culmination of storytelling through the facial emotions and body gestures coordinating in light charade as well as a more hefty depressed language. “The Last Thing Mary Saw” is unpretentious horror done right with a melancholic reflection of a bygone past mixed with obscure occult elements wresting life from already blinded grips consumed by hate and arrogance is pure bread and butter for a director just getting warmed up.

Curse EVIL Curses! “Baphomet” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Cleopatra Entertainment)



Jacob Richardson, a Napa Valley landowner, and his wife are jubilantly excited about becoming grandparents with the eager arrival of their daughter’s child.  Still months before the actual delivery date, their daughter vacations with him while her husband works a few more days in Malibu before joining her but gruesomely dies in an apparent shark attack.  His sudden death isn’t just a stroke of horrible luck, but a devil worshipping cult’s curse bestowed upon the unsuspecting family after the rightfully stubborn Richardson refuses to sell his vast property to a shady businessman the day before.  One-by-one members of his family fall victim to a series of accidental and unexpected tragedies that leave his daughter, having dreamt the cult responsible for the black cloud that has been afflicting her family, desperate to try anything, even if that means making contact with a benevolent white witch to resurrect her shark bait dead husband.  The cult still wants their land and for the Richardson family, only Jacob, his daughter, her resurrected husband, and the white witch stand against an army of Satanists besieging upon the family home to awake a slumbering dark force. 

You know you’re watching a Cleopatra Entertainment distributed release when the plot revolves around a Satanic or demonic annihilator, as such with “The 27 Club,” “The Black Room,” “Devil’s Domain,” “Devil’s Revenge,” and maybe even a tiny bit from Glenn Danzig’s strange comic book adapted anthological tapestry, “Verotika.”  Matthan Harris’s 2021 released “Baphomet” walks along the same lines with the titled gnostic and pagan deity made infamous by the worshipped practices of The Knights of Templar acolytes.  “Baphomet” is “The Inflicted” director’s sophomore feature in which he’s written to remain in the horror ranks as an aggressive occult summoning of an evil presence to walk the Earth.  Shot in various California and Texas locations, the moneybag company behind “The Velicpastor” and “Don’t Fuck In the Woods,” Cyfuno Films L.L.C., collaborates supportively Matthan Harris’s formed Incisive Pictures production company to deliver a trackless, unmapped, and unholy “Baphomet” to the home video market with Harris producing alongside executive producers Grant Gilmore, John Lepper, and Cyfuno Films’ Adam and Chase Whitton.

We’re initially introduced to Giovanni Lombardo Radice sermonizing as the paganized pastor and cult leader Henrik Brandr before they slice open a naked woman wrists and drink her blood from a single chalice.  Right from the get-go, “Baphomet” hits us with the 80’s circa Italian star power of the “Cannibal Ferox” and “StageFright” actor.  The blood trickles down from there once we’re introduced to the Richardson family, headed by the patriarchal Jacob Richardson in “Mother’s Boys” Colin Ward.  Ward’s a convincing father figure, rugged and surly in showing off his rough and tough cowboy swagger, yet also sensitively compassionate in a broad range of acting experience.   However, that’s about as far as Jacob Richardson impresses as the character levels out, sulking over the loss of his son-in-law Mark Neville (Matthan Harris), wife Elena (Ivy Opdyke) and daughter’s unborn baby after his force to be reckoned with verbal encounter with one of the cult leaders offering him a lump sum of moolah for his land; instead, Richardson’s daughter, Rebecca Neville (Rebecca Weaver) takes a family first lead by engine searching and watching video tutorials on the nature of black and white witches.  After easily tracking down and skyping with witch expert played by Dani Filth, lead vocalist of metal band Cradle of Filth, a obsessed Rebecca becomes hellbent on resurrecting her Great White shark masticated husband, Mark, with the help of good witch Marybeth (Charlotte Bjornbk, “Cannibal Corpse Killers”) and this is where things go awry for the narrative.  Only a self-absorbed director would kill himself off extravagantly in character, saw fit to be resurrected for the sole purpose of love, and then become the ultimate hero of the story that leaves his wife and father-in-law in glory’s dust trail. “Baphomet” supporting roles from Gerardo Davila (“Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”), Stephen Brodie (“Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich”), and Nick Perry as the cult-sought demon.

Filled with blood sacrifices, family curses, killer sharks, and a pitiless grey demon, certain viewpoints embody that very black magic archetype of the historical devil dealings engrained into “Baphomet, but what specifically the Harris brings to the obscure budget horror smorgasbord is a platter of tasteless derivativity and bland storytelling, flavored with peppered gore granules and a pinch of pop culture icons. “The film opens engagingly enough with spilling the blood of a fully naked woman so everyone can play pass the cup of virgin blood in order to appease their dark lord and then we’re firmly segued into the happiness of the Richardson family until Jacob Richardson declines a money offer for his land. Spilling blood into the ocean and leaving dead, crucified birds on the porch enacts a deadly curse that sends sharks and snakes into a murderous rage. Up to this point, Harris has control of the story with some decent editing work and effective bitesize prosthetics to actually descend hell’s wrath upon an ingenious family. I could even look past the wild and impetuous decision to resurrect the dead boyfriend after his fatal encounter with a Great White, but when the third act’s last stand against cult comes knocking at the door, the script chokes on a grotesque amount of happenstance and exposition. For example, when the sheriff and deputies arrive at the Richardson house on Jacob Richardson’s whim that the cult might be outside their doorstep, one of his deputies randomly pulls out of a bag of large scale dynamite his cousin uses on at a jobsite, thinking the ACME-sized TNT would come in handy. Mark also decides to blow his undead cover, exposing himself to the officers in a screw-it moment of “yeah, I don’t care.” Soon after, a “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II” battle ensues between the deluging cult and the defending Richardsons/Officers and many main characters parish during the skirmish fruitlessly and effortlessly to the point where they might as well have been non-essential to the story supporting parts. Also – the lack of considerable screen time of Baphomet and the demon child lays waste to a perfectly good title, in my humble opinion.

Perhaps one of the few Cleopatra Entertainment, a subsidiary banner of Cleopatra Records, to not be accompanied with a soundtrack compact disc with the Blu-ray, distributed by MVD Visual. The single disc BD-25 release is perhaps one of the few trimmer releases from Cleopatra Entertainment and is presented in HD 1080p in a widescreen 2.37:1 aspect ratio. Generally speaking, the music mogul company has continuously be consistent on their video and audio Blu-ray releases. The details are rather defined looking and sharp with blacks, and there are many black scenes, noticeably inky without that dim lit tinge of gray. Some of the underwater sequences and the video chat calls with Dani Filth are murky and at a lower rate than due to Filth filming his scenes literally from the UK on a video call for most of film. Two English language audio options are available – a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix and a Stereo 2.0. Flipping back and forth between the two option, the devil is in the file track details but both mixes sound frightfully the same down to the climatic explosions. Bravo on the depth and range that captures rightfully the echoes of high vaulted ceilings and the positioning of characters. Dialogue is clearly present and mostly natural with aside from Gerardo Davila, the Sheriff in the film, in what discerns to be a soundstage track layover of his dialogue. When he speaks, Gerardo doesn’t seem to be sharing the same dialogue space with his costars in an unnatural vocal delivery of his role. While there is no soundtrack disc to rock to, the hefty bonus material is a shocker with deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, a music video ‘Shellshock” from Tank featuring Dani Filth, behind the scenes pictures, Dani Filth backstage interview, Jason Millet’s storyboards, and a teaser trailer. Tickled me unimpressed by Matthan Harris’ “Baphomet” that hinges on uninspired cult creed. For me, special effects wins top prize and a giant handful of bonus material is the only thing that arises out of “Baphomet” from the wells of damnation.

“Baphomet” is on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

Do You Know Why EVIL is Fun the Life of the Party? Because He’s a Fungi! “Gaia” reviewed! (Decal / Digital Screener)



Checking and repairing motion capturing surveillance cameras in one of the last untouched forests in the world, a park ranger becomes severely injured while tracking a downed drone.  She finds herself in the company of a nature survivalist, a father and son, living outside the means of the modern world and becoming acolytes to waking entity underneath the forest ground, sprouting up and assimilating the living organisms topside, including people, into spore-growth mutated creatures.  Despite the father and son’s devotion to the being, essentially integrating themselves seemingly uninfected by the airborne spores, they avoid the blind drones who hunt by sound and the survivalist know most of the tricks in the book to dodge their incessant wrath, but the ranger brings new dangers to their sanctuary forest home being an outside influence on the son who takes a keen fascination to her beauty as well as instill in him an interest beyond the edge of the wilderness.  Battling two fronts and keep his devotion to the ancient being, the father must do anything in his power to avoid the corruption of his son even if that means making a sacrificial pact with his God. 

If you dug unearthing Ben Wheatley’s “In the Earth” that released earlier this year, then travel from the United Kingdom to South Africa and definitely follow up with another subterranean deity at the crust of breaking through to our plane of existence with Jaco Bouwer’s nature versus man, out of body experience, thriller “Gaia.”  “Gaia,” from Greek mythology is one of the primordial deities of Earth, plays on themes of youth into adulthood, the parental struggles of children leaving home, and the dangers of a forgotten and neglected nature from a script from South American screenwriter Tertius Kapp, collaborating once again with Bouwer after their work in their respective roles on the crime horror series “Die Spreeus.”  Filmed in the Tsitsikamma forest of South Africa, “Gaia” is a production of the new Film Initiative Africa company in partnership with kykNet Films.

With only less than a handful of actors, four to be exact, the characters are quickly overshadowed and swallowed by the dense growth of an uncultivated forest.  Couple that with an insidious fungi that unhurriedly alters the exposed with toadstools and mushrooms shoots growing from the inside out onto their skin and face until they’re a part of the forest or a syncytial creature and you have an isolating setting of dichotomized terror between the beauty of nature’s miracle and it frighteningly growing right on your forehead. The story opens with park rangers Gabi (“Die Spreeus'” Monique Rockman) and her more playfully cautious partner Winston (Anthony Oseyeme, South African television’s “The Dead Places”) kayaking down river with Gabi using a drone to scout the forest ahead. Eventually, Gabi and Winston become separated because Gabi feels compelled to track down the downed drone alone and Winston bumbles the his watertight inappropriate walkie-talkie right into the river, making it useless and easily setting up obstacles to make reinstating their partnership extremely difficult in a forest that’s literally trying to eat them so to speak. This is where Gabi encounters the austere father and son living on dogma Gabi has yet to be schooled until the pundit father, Berend (“Blood Drive’s” Carel Nel), educates her on him and his son vocation, the forest deity, and, eventually, her own fate. Berend’s son Stefan (Alex van Dyk) is a child raised in the thicket, lamed by his father about the outside world because of his own insecurities. Nel and van Dyk are charismatically mysterious snaking themselves through the woods as one unit and ping well of each other in silent action as they collect spores and set primitive traps. Only when Gabi becomes an inadvertent wedge that lights a small flame of interest under Stefan, who’s at the edge of adulthood as a young man with hormones and a sense of wonder, does Nel and van Dyk begin to dissolve the father and son union that turns into a love triangle, of sorts, to which no parent will ever win when it comes to new and shiny objects and a sexual drive bigger than any spirit dwelling forest.

“Gaia’s” disturbing and omnipresent world imagery creates thought-provoking allegory of nature fighting back against the rapid infestation known as people.  As mankind creeps closer to the borders of naturally preserved habitats, singeing ancient ecosystems with deforestation and various grades of Earth withering pollution, the idea that a planet has a champion of defense, eager to rid the land of detrimental flesh and bone with a fungus cleanse, in an unseen mythological terrestrial being personified as this worshipped-by-few deity is great creative story telling. Paralleling the concept is a secondary of dynamics, the growth of life within the destruction of life. Stefan is nothing more than a boy without knowledge beyond the forest limits until he meets an resident of that outside world with the power to influence and we all know beautiful women have this mystifying power of young men. While Berend sees corruption, a tainting of purity that is his son, Gabi depicts more than just an aesthetic influencer and good-doer eager to save a boy from an unadorned existence, she is also the full-bodied, well-endowed representation of everything persuasive to impressionable minds. Bouwer works the characters interactions inside an imagery soup that bob with meat chunks, that gleam off the edges of rigid noodles, under a milky broth that looks so unnatural that only nature can be the very architect of it’s organic design. The hallucinations, the nightmares, the floating, hazy spores douse the senses, the psyche, with undiluted uneasiness and that’s Bouwer’s defining moment with a trip down a rabbit hole made with cautionary tale fibers too unreal and fantastical to forget.

Part ecological horror, part posture on pollution, and part Biblical narrative with The Binding of Isaac, “Gaia’s” value is as immensely somber as it is scary. “Gaia” is planned to be unearthed to the public exclusively in theaters on June 18th and everywhere digitally one week later, June 25th, as the inaugural feature from the new distribution company, Decal. Jorrie van der Walt’s eye for contrast and distressing imagery is enriching to a soul hungry for the subtle and striking caliginous brink of apocalypses. Bordering pure performance art tinged with intense closeups, Walt easily interchanges the grand forest presence with tight personal trepidation as if nothing else in the world was as important as that exact moment, as you’ll see in the screenshots. The digital effects coupled with the makeup work tilts more to a less textured desire, but integrates well enough into the madness of phantasmagoria. “Gaia” is beautifully shot, edited, acted, written, and directed as a pondering piece for the reality of Anthropocene principles rooted by elemental horror.

A Diary Full of EVIL Secrets. “The Darkness” reviewed! (Reel2Reel / Digital Screener)

David inherits his ailing grandmother’s countryside cottage and holidays with his novelist girlfriend, Lisa, who seeks a little refuge to inspire her next big bestseller.  As soon as they arrive and Lisa discovers an old storage chest in the attic, Lisa’s is pulled by a call of a supernatural entity that lures her outside to an unmarked grave, an ominous cave suspected with evil fairies, and a diary that tells the horrifying accounts of a murdered woman.  Their time at the cottage take a toll on Lisa who’s strange behavior places concern on David.  An ostracized priest forewarns possession, death, and the stakes if Lisa remains in the area that’s haunted with witches, ghosts, changelings, and betrayers. 

Originally titled “Dorcha,” an Irish term for dark, and then rebranded as “The Darkness” for the remainder of the English speaking residents of the world, the 2021 released multifaced specter and fairy Irish folklore spectacle is the directorial debut of Tharun Mohan, a current producer for the 2021 United Kingdom vampire versus human boiling point coexistence television series, “Age of the Living Dead,” co-starring our good genre loving friend and actor, Bill Oberst Jr.  While Bill Oberst Jr. is not a part of “The Darkness” (my apologies if I gave a sense of false hope), Mohan, from off the pages of his screenplay, aspires to illuminate Irish mythology as an alluring gothic horror mixture of mystery with fear sans the more popular little green men defending pots of gold.  The self-produced film under the Tharun Productions is the banner’s first feature with Aoun Khan, Neenu Mathai, Anoop Pillai, and Monique R. White serving as executive producers.

While we don’t get Bill Oberst Jr. (still hurts), we do get someone just as good with “The House of Bly Manor’s” Amelia Eve!  The UK actress headlines “The Darkness” in the role of Lisa, the struggling novelist looking for a slice of inspiration but instead receives the whole pie of possession.  Eve lives it up as an entity puppeteering her youthful outer shell in the filth and muck, stuffing her face with all the food in the cottage, and, at times, imitating an urbanity style of death.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend David (Cyril Blake) would have probably unintentionally babe’d her to death if she wasn’t already being haunted by a vindictive Victorian spirit.  “The Darkness” is Blake’s introductory role into feature films and the 36 year old, South Yorkshire actor can’t quite capture sincerity when it comes to his girlfriend’s unusual behavior.  David also just wanders to-and-fro around town in an aloof manner for more than just one reason until things become dire with Lisa and  then is that only when he’s starts to get really involved and attempt to fix whatever’s afflicting  Lisa, even if he has to entertain an informed, but shunned, eccentric priest (John Sudgen) with tea and biscuits in order to get just what the hell is going on.  A number of side characters pop up with an inclining of importance, such as the nosy waitress (Marian Elizabeth), a powerful witch (Gillian Kirkpatrick), and a determined historian (Mary Drake), but fall short of any real significance by fluttering in with just enough motivational tidbits and then flutter out of the scene and let the principle characters work out the rest.  “The Darkness” is a dual timeline narrative with the current story focusing on Lisa’s bubbling black enchantment slowly taking over her body with the backbone base layer account of events providing a tell-all mystery driving Lisa mad with a menacing spirit.  Occurring around a few decades ago before Lisa and David arrive, Niav O’Connor (Katherine Harthshorne) mysteriously disappears from her husband Bryan (Adam Bond), but much of this is revealed through the Lisa’s obsessive reading of Niav’s diary which begs the question, how did Niav write her demise in the diary pages if she was already dead?

And that last sentiment ultimately describes Mohan’s film, as an unfocused and trite expression of amateur storytelling.  There’s difficulty in trying to nail down, or taking a stab at anything as the saying goes, in the “The Darkness’” many moving parts and many fiends in the off shoots Mohan tries to tie in from all various directions.  Even in the film’s final scenes, Mohan had to pen in one more twist that corrodes even further the integrity of a much desired narrative about Irish mythologies and the malevolencies that spur them. Myths are the heart of “The Darkness,” more specifically with the changelings who are fairies that replace real people, and Niav and Bryan O’Connor’s ghastly tale echoes the non-fictional account of Bridget Cleary, an Irish wife murdered by her husband under the suspicion that his wife was a changeling. Connections made between the past and present are roughly tied together at best with only Niav’s unearthed and charmed diary serving as a conduit to possess Lisa’s curious id. The pursuit of revenge for her untimely demise falls upon… well, that part of the story is undoubtedly vague as Niav seems to be resurrecting from the grave, so to speak, to reveal dubious secrets held by relatives from the lineage of her husband Bryan and cling her spiteful lifeforce to that bloodline and haunt O’Connor descendants like a severe post traumatic stress disorder; yet the vapid ending doesn’t justify the means, falling short the buildup of the hallmarks of folklore horror in witches, changelings, fairies, dark arts priests, and ghosts with anything but spectacular.

No cheap thrills, no gore, no nudity. “The Darkness” relies heavily on the suspense of the gothic tale itself to drawn in and spook audiences as the Mohan film creeps onto digital streaming services and video on demand this month, May 3rd, from the fresh-faced independent UK distribution label, Reel2Reel. The production value on “The Darkness” catches the passing aesthetically expensive eye while still being an economically financed and that’s a big credit to director of photography, Ariel Artur, getting the artistic shots that displays time and patience in getting the minor key angles right to at least extract a gripping moment of apprehension, resembling 60’s and 70’s European horror to likes of Hammer Horror or Amicus in appearance alone. As far as bonus scenes during or after the credits, there are none. As a starting line feature, “The Darkness” is not terrible. Let’s be clear on this as Tharun Mohan understand the fundamentals of filmmaking with sound positioning of characters in scenes, a superb, expensive look on a value size budget, and the Amalie Eve’s crazed performance is a thrill in itself, but envisioning the structure still remains behind the blinders, leaving “the Darkness” just an aimless shot in the dark.