Channeling the EVIL from the EVIL DEAD! “Slaughter Day” reviewed! (Visual Vengeance / Blu-ray)

SOV “Slaughter Day” on Bluray for the First Time Ever!

A pair of friends who run a small construction company drive up to an isolated cabin project in the outskirt nooks of Hawaii.  When they arrived, they encounter disgruntled employee John Jones who dabbles in the dark occult.  Having murdered already one of their construction crew members, Jones invokes the evil from the book of the dead, the Necronomicon, to bestow upon himself unnatural powers to seek revenge for years of abuse on the job.  Enslaving two other members of the construction Crew, Jones relentless goes after his former employers who must fight tooth and nail for every minute of their lives.  The fight stretches across the island and spills into the streets, abandoned factories, tropical brush, and even on the side of a mountain. 

“The Evil Dead” meets “Double Dragon!”  A fierce bareknuckle fight against a malevolently possessed construction crew is the not-stop action and gore premise of the Brent Cousins’ “Slaughter Day.”  The heavily influenced Sam Rain and “The Evil Dead” 1991 shot-on-video occult survival horror is co-written by Brent’s twin brother, Blake Cousins.  The twins’ filmic debut concept where a maniacal occult enthusiast goes on the offensive with his vindictive side by conducting dark, Necronomicon evil against the two construction supervisors is pieced together, scene-by-scene, from the various shorts created when they were adolescents.  The four short films from their inspired youth were revisited and remade into a full length feature film financed by a nearly a next-to-nothing zilch budget, but with more than a little can-do attitude, a group of close friends and family, and a willingness to drench the cast in splatter bags fill of fake blood, Brent and Blake’s balls-to-the-wall, commercial grade equipment schlocker never lets up and pays endearment to the legendary video nasties that have stimulated their need for tangible blood-shedding effects.  “Slaughter Day” is a self-funded labor of love under the Cousins Brothers Productions and is made in one of the more tropical places on Earth, the Big Island of Hawai’i, with a few scenes shot in the town of Honokaa.

Aside from being one of the two writers, Blake Cousins jumps in the front seat to become one of the hapless heroes in the suddenly twisted, Hellish ride of that classic story of good versus evil. Blake embodies one of the few aspects that makes the viewing of “Slaughter Day” so infectiously exciting with a high intensity level somewhere around near redline critical. The intensity spreads to each and every actor in front of the camera and with Blake’s breakneck pacing as the film’s post-production editor, there’s a side-scrolling, beat’em-up video game quality about the whole run through. The acting isn’t terribly good with haywire yelling and screaming from start-to finish with a lack of professional training that gives way to under developing a story, but story be damned, the brother Cousins ambitiously puts caution to the wind by balancing out the acidic acting with exceptional camera work that occasionally would involve hazardous to their own health amateur stunt work. The unharnessed and unpadded fight sequence in the back of the pickup truck gets mad props in succeeding instead of squashing someone’s head under the tire. If everyone lives and you get the shot, it’s a win, right? The fight sequences themselves are extensive, as I aforesaid, the breadth of the short feature is like experience a live action “Streets of Rage 2,” and they have the smack of decent choreography with near miss blows and head whips. Some of the bigger fake hits lack sterling results but are nonetheless entertaining and expected. “Slaughter Day’s” cast is made up of essentially a closeknit group of friends with performances from Sam Bluestone, Dave Anderson, John Lambert, Kulaka Branco, Jeremy Couchiardi, Joe Ross, and Lincoln Ross who all have never again seen the gaffer lights of another film production.

“Slaughter Day” has many flaws: bad acting, continuity mistakes, not much of a plot, etc. While honest attempst were made to rectify a handful of those sore points, those very same imperfections are what make “Slaughter Day” ironically perfect in the SOV canon. Some of the gags land relatively smooth, such as being John Jones being bent backwards in half and sucked into a copy of the pop media cultural influencing H.R. Giger’s Necronomicon book, and others kind of flounder in the lukewarm stew of unskilled technical know-hows. Yet, I do firmly believe the brothers achieved a memorable salute to Sam Raimi’s breakthrough 1981 video nasty, “The Evil Dead” in pulling more so the macabre-isms then comedic slapstick elements of the “3 Stooges.” Brent and Blake obviously understood what they wanted to see and how much familiar content they wanted to rework to open the recesses of our memory banks to access and recall “The Evil Dead” playbook, but then the flyby the seat of their pants filmmakers take their committed vision farther by adding certifiably crazy stunts and be big and bloody as all bloody hell! Severed limbs, decapitations, exploding shotgun bursts, and impalings are difficult for even the most seasoned effects artist, taking sometimes years to master a simple effect to perfection. With “Slaughter Day,” the brothers are unafraid to take risks, something the filmmakers proved with audacious stunts, by rendering a practical effect inclined storyboard or script thought to the screen tactic and owned it with a pinch of panache pizzazz!

“Slaughter Day” might be release number five for Visual Vengeance but is clearly the Wild Eye Releasing cult-horror SOV sublabel’s second adulation of “The Evil Dead,” following “Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell.” The rough-and-ready S-VHS quality, presented in a full screen 1.33:1 from the original standard definition master tapes, can take on a grueling affect with a below par outcome. Tape lacks the proper color resolutions and that displays here immensely with full of deep and warm purples, reds, and yellows that you’d think the brothers were using gels to tint the picture. Tape wears, static interference, tracking lines… you name it, ‘Slaughter Day” visually had it. Delineation and details are deduced to a softer, overlapping ghost image that barely yokes together resolution pertinent pixels. Like always, Visual Vengeance’s disclaimer warns of the consumer grade equipment issues. These issues extend also into the English Stereo audio mix with a consciously underlay of static shushing, lo-fi dialogue recording, and zero depth and range to add more fuel to the “Slaughter Day’s” chaotic fire. Perhaps that’s why the dialogue is terribly rampant with the hope to invigorate and illicit engrossing captivation. The video game punch throw sound bites are a good touch and a innovative way to keep with the fighting game motif. The special features include a new audio commentary by directors Brent and Blake Cousins, a new audio commentary with Visual Vengeance’s own Matt Desiderio and Rob Hauschild, a quickly paced new interview with the Cousins Brothers regarding the genesis of “Slaughter Day” and they’re excitement about the new Blu-ray release, all four original “Slaughter Day” shorts, an earlier short entitled “Full Metal Platoon,” the “Slaughter Day” theme song, trailers from other Cousins films, such as “Rising Dead,” and the original trailer cut. Physical release features include a mini poster of the Visual Vengeance cover artwork, a three-page colorful essay from long time cinema contributing writer Tony Strauss, retro Visual Vengeance stickers that has graced all the company’s releases so far, a reversible cover art with new artwork as well as the original VHS art, and a cardboard slipcover with a heavily demonic and menacing Thomas “The Dude” Hodge design. The film comes unrated and has a runtime just shy of an hour at 58 minutes. I always get the warm and fuzzies when obscure works of art receive the red-carpet release treatment and “Slaughter Day” is an exemplar of SOV at its best while being innately its technically worst. Lots of ambition, lots of derived creativity, and lots of guts behind and in front of the camera to make a life-long dream of filmmaking come true.

SOV “Slaughter Day” on Bluray for the First Time Ever!

Become Wrapped Up in EVIL with “The Shroud” reviewed! (SRS Cinema / DVD)

“The Shroud” now available on DVD from SRS Cinema!

Centuries before, an evil witch is brutally tortured and killed while covered in a white shroud. In present day, a nun, part of a special sect vowed to never let the unholiness of the shroud deviltries be unearthed from the forgotten rubble of a divine stupa, is raped by two men wearing masks. With the help of a hired obtainer, the nun will stop at nothing to get her hands on, even at the defiance of her brother’s advice, but the shroud’s a bewitching mistress and its power are intoxicating. Breaking her piety pact with God and her sworn duty to protect man from wickedness, the nun succumbs to the sin that drips from the shroud’s blood-soaked fabric and exploits its personification powers of evil doings by not only exacting revenge on her attackers, sending the shroud to assassinate her attackers without an ounce of mercy, but also converting her devout habit to a shameless, promiscuous one of immorality.

A made-in-Italia possession film about a killer burial garment and a nun with big guns giving out the last rites. What could go wrong? The immediate impression arises a lot of interest in this 2022 released inanimate killer object flick from writer-director Fabrizio Spurio. As Spurio’s third feature in the horror genre, “The Shroud” envelopes the 50-year-old, Rome-born director’s first ambitious single story length venture behind the more episodic anthology, “Innesti,” and the more obscure “Vanity,” that taps into the willingness participation to do anything for stardom. “The Shroud” embarks into a more religious and supernatural discourse that clashes the sin and the sinner with a blurry line of empowerment. Made with pennies, or rather made on the Italian centismos on the Euro, “The Shroud,” or “Sindome,” is a production of the Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci inspired Goreproduction company, cofounded by Spurio with Francesco Lagonigro tacked on as a fulltime collaborator in shooting low-budget, independent, free-thinking cinema of underground horror.

The last time I saw the sultry lead Italian actress and extreme indie horror luminary, Chiara Pavoni, was in the avant garde “Xpiation” helmed by one of, if not the dominant, underground horror filmmaker, Domiziano Cristopharo.  In her motherly-voyeuristic role, Pavoni radiated with dark, sphinxlike desire in her well-dressed, pin-up sex-symbol performance of longing and control.  Pavoni doesn’t stray far from that archetype with her latest role in Spurio’s “The Shroud” as she plays a woman of virtue, a nun to be more exact, who has quickly turned lubricious and vindictive after her being raped.  Pavoni is certainly bodacious on screen as she adorns tight-fitting outfits that barely contain her snugly-packed large chest, exposing a Mariana Trench deep cleavage in a Spirit Halloween sexy nun getup for much of her role’s sordid side.  As a thespian performer, Pavoni has the subtle moves of a temptress who knows what she wants but dialogue deliveries are something left to be desired as the “Demonium” actress goes through the motions of plain speak as does much of the other cast, including the Goreproduction producer costar Francesco Lagonigro. Lagonigro plays her object obtainer who, by the seducing forces of the shroud, turns into her sex-slave or gothic lackey as visions of death please feed him the sensation of guilty pleasures. Lagonigro’s version of a factotum is about as cheesy as they come with a glaring lowered brow and white and black face paint to embellish something that looks nowhere near sinisterism. If we’re supposed to take Lagonigro’s maniacal manservant role seriously than Spurio, and Lagonigro for that matter, misses the mark badly in a poorly sized up rendition of a Renfield like stooge. “The Shroud” rounds out the cast with many miniscule, nearly nonspeaking roles with Paolo Di Gialluca (“7 Sins”), Andrea Pucci, Allesandro Massari, Giuseppe Andreozzi, Sara Lagonigro, Monica Rondino, and Andrea Pacilli and Samuele Lagonigro who composed the score for the film under the moniker, Sam and Andy.

As you can see, “The Shroud” is a family production for the Lagonigros who won’t hesitate to pitch in to make Francesco’s lewd and crude extreme horror on a bar tab’s worth. Conceptually, “The Shroud’s” an appealing idea of religious hypocrisy and the natural human desire to be immoral. Rules are meant to be broken as Spurio seizes control the very one thing a woman should have control over – her body. By introducing rape by two masked men, Spurio rips away that control and for a nun who whole schtick is to abide by God by maintaining purity in keeping her holy temple intact, she must seethe with humiliation in front of her Lord and inevitable turn away from him because there is nothing left unadulterated to give. She has sinned, whether intentional or not, and so the tainted nun must keep on sinning in various ways: lust, revenge, and murder. Despite being on a budget, Spurio’s ability to liven up a plain white tablecloth is what making movies is all about as the shroud lives and breathes on screen, moving in an agile manner, and becomes a physical presence that can gore a man through. Sleight of hand scene reversals bestows the shroud with a life of its own, creating a slithering dolman of death that looks great in the humble presentation. That kind of DIY special effects translates the same across the slender 76-minute with practical gore gags that rest above mediocracy, and I can say that with a straight face. “The Shroud” will have very few claims to cult fame with a slew of sloppiness that takes the zero-dollar expenditure and makes it appear even cheaper than pocket change. There’s even a scene where the director is clearly reflected into the frame, not even an attempt to hide or review for need to reshoot.

“The Shroud” is warm and cozy when it’s not trying to kill you! SRS Cinema, a leading purveying of underground cinema, releases Fabrizio Spurio’s “The Shroud” on DVD as part of the company’s extreme and unrated nightmare fuel label. Distributed through MVD Visual, the region free DVD5 is presented in an unmatted widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a commercial grade quality of a standard definition camcorder that maxes out on the higher side of output of a 720p resolution and so the final result looks fairly okay for DVD. For much of the natural lighting, the high contrast works extremely well, creating deep shadows that make the film feel richer than its actual value, but the details and textures are often soft and bleary, washing out any kind of tactile material. Luminescence of green and blue gels as well as double overlays are used to symbolize nightmares and shroud vision are more headache inducing than a stylish solution when mingled with an industrial engine rumble or high-pitched and stretched vocal score with some piano keys tossed in to mix it up. The Italian language dual-channel stereo is a lossy, unbridled catchall. As much as the audio is purely soundtrack, there is still an insurmountable of sounds being captured by the camcorder mic that softens the desired prominent audiles, such as dialogue which becomes trapped in a cavernous state of echos and various levels of pitch inconsistences. The subtitles on the SRS DVD appear to be translated by a person with English as not their primary language as a tone of grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, and absolutely zero capitalization tarnish an already low-rent feature. If you can work your way through the strangely designed menu options to the bonus features, you’ll find included raw take bloopers, photo gallery, music videos starring Chiara Povani and Francesco Lagonigro, and SRS trailers. The physical package is perhaps the best part of “The Shroud” with a true-to-form beautifully dark illustration of the most memorable character faces to exhibit in the film, crafted and designed by Avery Guerro. “The Shroud” is an estimable underground piece of the extreme horror art pie but slacks in unnecessary places and becomes an exemplar of a shoddy and careless production that ultimately hurts the overall value of its genus.

“The Shroud” now available on DVD from SRS Cinema!

The Fourth Go-Around with an EVIL Icon Is An Inferior Copy. “Jeepers Creepers: Reborn” reviewed! (101 Films / BD-R)

Laine and her boyfriend Chase drive toward Jackson, Louisiana where Chase has planned a fun-filled weekend in the land of the notorious Creeper legend and where the annual HorrorHound festival lures fans from all over the world for a carnival celebration of horror. Rolling her eyes at Chase’s complete obsession with the Creeper and his love for horror, Laine indulges her boyfriend’s every geeked-out whim, including entering a contest for a chance to enter a Creeper inspired escape room held at a dilapidated manor house on the outskirts of town. The lucky winners and the producing team find themselves lured into a deadly trap orchestrated by a cult loyal to the Creeper and Laine, who has been handpicked by his disciples, learns through premonitions that the Creeper hungers for her unborn child. Trapped inside with an unstoppable winged monster hunting them down, Laine and Chase implore the others to fight back against a living legend of lore.

Fascinating is the monster that is the Creeper, a versatile humanoid with batlike wings, a serious sniffer, and a flesh-eating connoisseur with the strength of 10 men and a primitive, yet effective assorted arsenal of deadly melee weapons. The Creeper is a modern marvel and icon of contemporary antagonistic favorites this side of the early millennium having arrived on the big screen now over two decades ago back in 2001 and producing now four films between that time span, but within those 21 years, a tremendous controversy has tarnished the good name of the “Jeepers Creepers” legacy. That name is “Jeepers Creepers” creator Victor Salva who conviction as a child sex offender might not have stopped him from directing three “Jeepers Creepers” films but certainly put the rubber stamp of disapproval against any kind of box-office success with audiences steering clear of work. 2022 saw promise for the Creeper with a new, fourth entry entitled “Jeepers Creepers: Reborn,” a title resembling a phoenix being risen from the fiery ashes type of project that removed Salva not only from the director’s chair but also any kind of substantial compensation for the legal rights. Timo Vuorensola (“Iron Sky”) steps into frame as the franchise’s newest visionary to hopefully resurrect the Creeper from the depths of indirect persecution. With a story written by Sean-Michael Argo (erotic-fantasy-horror writer of “Sineaters” and “Fable: Teeth and Beasts”), “Jeepers Creepers: Reborn” promises new blood and a new creative process with possible white glove treatment without the sully of sin behind the scenes. The first “Jeepers Creepers” film to be shot almost entirely in the United Kingdom with a few Louisiana locale shots, the fourth flight of the Creeper entry is a coproduction between Black Hanger Studios and Orwo Studios.

With a new “Jeepers Creepers” installment focused on adverting attention away from its creator, “Reborn” comes with an overhauled cast, including a new face toward the Creeper.  Instead of Jonathan Breck returning to resume the role in a fourth film, complications from an overseas production, English actor Jarreau Benjamin tackles the role with everything he’s got and with everything he has to work with.  Breck cobbled together large boots for the assimilation of a western horror villain with a mischievous and ruthless personality as he toys with his food before he eats it in the first three films.  Benjamin does a remarkable job attempting to emulate much of the same albeit the Creeper have a slightly different look because of Benjamin’s build and face structure.  Nonetheless, as the Creeper, the greenhorn fills in quite well tormenting conned prey that includes on screen couple Sydney Craven (“York Witches Society”) as Laine and Imran Adams as Chase.  To be honest, Craven and Adams had little emotion weight beyond a fantasy and lust dynamic and couldn’t find character and story support in what seems to be more of a close acquaintance rather than a highly involved and evolved romantic relationship.  They’re teamed with producers of a reality show, game show, some kind of vague media show of sorts, as the unfortunate lucky winners of an escape room challenge as well as a local Jackson resident, Stu, with a Duck Dynasty beard and salty arura about him, played by Peter Brooke (“Wrong Turn 5:  Bloodlines”) and I wanted to know more about Stu.  Is he good or bad?  Is he a patsy?  He’s mysterious but likeable and he’s written enigmatically up to a point but the descends into just another ordinary link in the chain. Ocean Navarro (“Infamous Six”), Matt Barkley, and Alexander Halsall round out the victims corralled by the cult of the Creeper. The Creeper worshipping group represented by a local shopkeeper (Georgia Goodman), a fire and brimstone preacher (Saverio Buono), and a horror hostess named Madam Carnage (Jodie Mcmullen) are a flake of a bigger scab that reveals nothing about their reasoning or their cause in helping every 23rd year for 23 days and the element of the cult cheapens the story because it goes unexplained. Overall, the performances are steady, if not slightly cliche at times, and the cast rounds out with Dee Wallace (“Cujo”) and Gary Graham (“Robot Jox”) with a familiar and strong opener that gets the blood going.

That very 15-or-so minute opener is “Jeepers Creepers: Reborn.” That’s it. That’s the film. It’s classic Creeper with a new, beaten down, larger box truck, starkly different from his rusted Chevy HD COE that’s like a supercharged street-legal tank but with the same BEATINGU double entendre license plate and malevolent-ripping energy that would make anyone’s heart race with fear as he tailgates and blares the horn at high speed. Yet, the opener quickly rescinds into an unsolved mystery-like episode and from that point on, Vuorensola and Argo work diligently to rapidly dismiss the first three films by meta means with one of the principals stating the Creeper stories gave way to three films, hence why the fourth film is subtitled “Reborn” and acts more like a reboot than a sequel. Perhaps that is why the plot adds a stronger motivation for the Creeper who is hellbent on extracting a prenatal child from Laine. “Reborn” invokes a return to the premonition theme that go hand-and-hand with the Creeper’s return as Laine has visions of her the centerpiece of attention, covered in blood, and a baby carriage containing, supposedly, the target, but the story is so far up the abstract tail with the visions and conjectural dialogue, we never receive a straight answer as to why the Creeper is after the peanut-sized pregnancy. With any of the four films, the Creeper dispatches prey in various neat ways with a primordial arsenal of medieval killing tools and the scenes of slaughter don’t disappoint. There’s actually a gory moment of a scalp flip and a brain snack that’s well executed. What kills “Reborn” with a stake through the heart is the rotoscoping at climatic end. Clunky, chunky, and disproportionate, the actors appear to be standing and moving around in a 2D environment with unintended rigid actions that dispel realism after a wonderful show of makeup and practical effects in the first two acts.

You don’t have to wait another 23 years to see the Creeper as “Jeepers Creepers: Reborn” lands on UK digital platforms on October 10th and on UK DVD and Blu-ray October 24th courtesy of UK distributor 101 Films. The just-before-Halloween release will contain a 15 certification and is available preorder at the https://101-films-store.com/. Unfortunately, I’m unable to dive into neither of the DVD or Blu-ray spec details or give a full critique of the audio/video aspects as a BD-R was provided for feature screening purposes only. The screener also didn’t have any bonus features and included only an English subtitle option. The film runs clocks in at 88 minutes and is shot with an Arri Alexa camera. “Jeepers Creepers: Reborn” might have dropped the surface level controversial dead weight but can’t fully shake the stigma and in an opportunity to reboot or rebrand the franchise, the effort is squandered by production snafus and shoddy presentation that’ll put the Creeper asleep for another 23 years until the next film.

EVIL Secluded is When EVIL is Most Dangerous. “Hellbender” reviewed! (Acorn International Media / DVD)

Izzy is sheltered from the outside world, living isolated with her mother in the Catskill mountains.  Izzy’s been told all her life that at a young age, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that warrants her from staying away from people.  When a lost hiker stumbles upon Izzy, his friendliness and niceties inform her of his niece who lives nearby and is around the same age as Izzy.  the lonely teen, who spends most of her time rocking out with her mother in a two-person band, curiously ventures away from the safety of her home and meets the niece, Amber, a freethinker and free-spirit very opposite in comparison to Izzy’s protected life.  The interaction ignites a hidden family secret form within Izzy that ties her family lineage to witchcraft, revealing the true intentions of her mother’s overprotecting behavior and an unleashing growing pains of power coursing through Izzy’s thirst for independence. 

No cackling.  No broom.  No familiar black cat.  No pointy black hat.  “Hellbender” isn’t your typical witch and witchcraft reel of dark magic spells.  The family owned and operated, produced and crafted, feature film, released in 2021 and hailing straight from upper New York State’s Catskill mountains, is indie folk horror of coiled family complications in the coming-of-age aspect of a daughter finding herself outside the confines of mother’s safety net as well as the adverse effects on a child because helicopter parenting. “Hellbender” is a family affair as the writers and directors of the film are a nuclear family consisting of father – John Adams, mother – Toby Poser, and their daughter – Zelda Adams. The Adams family, as they like to punningly like to credit themselves, have collaborated, along with their oldest daughter, Lulu Adams, together since 2010 and released their first film, a drama feature from 2014 that was written and directed by John Adams and Toby Poser, known as “Rumblestrips” of essentially mother and daughters playing themselves going on one last RV trip before cannabis cultivating mom’s incarceration. Since then, the unstoppable family unit have been perfecting their craft on the indie circuit with short films, such as with the “Kid Kalifornia” shorts, and such as with their previous horror film, “The Deeper You Dig,” which became Zelda’s debut directorial. As their 6th feature film, “Hellbender” is clearly self-produced by the troupe, specifically Toby Poser who must control the family purse strings, and is a production of their own company, Wonder Wheel Productions.

Being right on the heels of watching “While We Sleep,” an Ukranian-U.S. demon-possession collaboration with an actual family playing a fictional one on screen, “Hellbender” doesn’t feel so terribly unique with its layered, dual roleplaying, but the performances in “Hellbender” are far superior with a richer, robust dynamic and better character progression that leads to terrifying results. Up in the principal forefront playing mother and daughter are mother and daughter, Toby Poser and Zelda Adams, who have made a sustainable and simple life for themselves on the mountainside.  Passing time by forming their own lo-fi garage punk band (tracks recorded and used from their actual band of the same title but with 6s replacing the Es – H6LLB6ND6R), Mother and Izzy entirely live off the land, avoiding strangers, and substituting meat for twigs and berries.  Poser and Adams deliver a real sense of kinship between a caring and shielding mother and a daughter naïve to the rest of the world in an allegorical sense of parents defending their children from the spoils of a loose culture.  Inevitably, an outsider opens the door that now can never be closed and one of two of those outsiders is played by father John Adams as lost hiker.  Subsequently, his presence spurs Izzy to another outsider which is played by Zelda’s sister Lulu Adams as the residential mountain neighbor and individualist Amber.  Zelda admires Amber’s cavalier gamut that includes accepting Zelda into her friendship circle without condition.  The feeling profoundly impacts and alters Zelda’s way of life, way of thinking, and grows the seedling of sorcery inside her.  Watch Zelda flow through Izzy’s blossoming arc is subtle, ambiguous, and slightly volatile – a frightening combination to the best degree.  “Hellbender” rounds out the cast with Rinzin Thonden, painter/model Khenzom Alling, Rob Figueroa, Shawn Wilson, Tess McKeegan, and adding one more Adams to the cast with John Adams Sr. in a cameo role.

It’s been established that “Hellbender” is classic without being conventional but does that necessarily make the film worth watching.  The answer is resounding yes.  “Hellbender” has a spartan wit of etching out enough character-driven resolve balanced with soft-pedaled special effects around the spellcasters’ craft that’s intertwined more with nature. Their special blood mixed with twigs, berries, or leaves are the special recipe for conjuring charms and incantations and while the mother’s intent is to keep on a low profile and away from people, the teen daughter who was held back from who she really is, held back from her own life even, has been rewired as the monster with a spasmodic surliness seen through her deceivingly wide smile and chipper attitude. The love and psychopathy are a symbolic combination of a stereotypical tumultuous mother and daughter relationship stemmed from being two peas in a pod. The darkness within them yearns to be free and much like a teenage girl eager to spread her wings, Izzy tastes the power of individuality on her lips and develops an incognito ruse in learning more about her powers, her family history, and all her mothers’ secrets to be what all parents fear – to be replaced by their children. “Hellbender” has an immense sense of seeing our own mortality right before our eyes with the very presence of our children and as the idiom goes that knowledge is power, Izzy plans to learn the whole ins and outs of her true self. “Hellbender” never lets up and never doubts the story with implementing a charade within a charade to keep audiences on their toes up to the fiery finale point of no return after opening Pandora’s box.

The Yellow Viel Films distributed “Hellbender” is a witches’ brew unlike anything ever concocted in the genre and the Shudder Original film has a new UK DVD release from Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded, DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, has a runtime of 83 minutes, and has a certified 15 rating for very strong language, strong bloody images, violence and threat. Running at a higher level DVD9 bitrate of 8-9 Mbps, the image presentation is phenomenal for the format with no compression issues and the visual details are seamless. Catskill mountains invoke a tactile dampness throughout, and the foliage enlivens with a primary green with good contrasts against the darker brown and forestry emerald shades. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound also has little to complain about with a maxed-out output of 192kbps that provides an unsullied soundtrack to H6LLB6ND6R’s discography. Dialogue renders perfectly as well. The only flaw is with the ambient overlays that distinctly felt exaggerated to a fault. Even when Izzy is walking through the forest, the Foley had an extra 200% crunch underneath her feet being one among the examples. Bons features included a visual FX breakdown by FX artist Trey Linsdsay that goes over layer-by-layer the visual heavy effect scenes to see how they were created, a handful of blooper scenes, behind-the-scenes footage of the Adams family shooting scenes and testing lynched dummies, H6LLB6ND6R band music videos, travelling with Wonder Wheel productions, and a short, very short, slice of film of Zelda Adam’s alter ego, Eville Adams in an odd artificial scope. Unflinching folkloric horror with a pinch of overparenting gone awry, “Hellbender” is hell-spawn defiant and a perfect, LoFi witch film that isn’t a witch film.

Southern Hospitality is all EVIL Cloaks and Daggers! “The Long Night” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)

“The Long Night” now available on Blu-ray home video!

After spending years in foster care as a child, the now adult Grace tries to track down any information or background about her biological parents with the help of affluent boyfriend Jack.  The New York City couple travel into the rural, deep south on a seemingly solid lead about her folks.  As Grace and Jack drive up to their contact’s isolated and grand manor estate, their contact with the information doesn’t greet them upon their arrival and as they search the house, they find it as empty and still as the wide open land around them.  When darkness falls, cloaked members of a demon worshipping cult surround the estate, using their telekinetic and telepathy powers to infiltrate and corral Grace toward being a host for the prophesized return of 400 year slumbering and powerful demon the night of the equinox.  The couple battle the subservient minions inside and outside the manor as the night progresses into terrifying visions of Grace’s predestined lineage and the hope of surviving the night is quickly dwindling.

A longstanding demonic cult with supernatural psychotronic abilities besieging two city slickers armed with broken cell phones and a fireplace poker feels like the mismatch from Hell.  Somehow, “The Curse of El Charro” director, Rich Ragsdale, was able to stick the landing with loads of dourly, yet intensely powerful, cinematography crafted from a Mark Young (“Tooth and Nail”) and Robert Sheppe script based off the Native American mythology of the Horned Serpent, Utkena.  Keeping with the mythos’ descriptors involving snakes and horns or antlers, Ragsdale utilizes his usual bread and butter music video talents to fashion psychedelic imagery out of an extremely committed cult mercilessly stopping at nothing in resurrecting their preeminent master who will cleanse the world of corrupted humanity to start the world afresh…or so they believe.  Shot on site at a deep-rooted and isolated plantation house and property in Charleston, South Carolina, “The Long Night,” also known as “The Coven, is a production of Sprockefeller Pictures (“Fatman”) and Warm Winter in association with Adirondack Media Group, El Ride Productions, and Hillin Entertainment.

Super stoked that “The Lurker” and Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake star Scout Taylor-Compton is playing an age-appropriate role and not another high schooler, the actress plays the soul and parent searching Grace who has a strong desire to track down her parents, which never comes to the forefront why Grace was placed in foster care to begin with. Compton is completely competent assuming a role that requires her physicality as well as her emotional range in fear through resistance against a group of mostly unknown cast of characters that mostly keep their hoods and masks on for the entire engirdling of the manor house. Compton can also exude being a badass at times, but the script shamefully holds the character back that never allows Grace to become a true opposition to their exalting will toward their demon god. Nolan Gerard Funk (“Truth or Dare”) might ooze that trope persona of a dude-bro bred out of spoiled opulence as Grace’s boyfriend Jack. Despite his unappealing swaggering veneer, Jack reaches for depth more than any other character in the film and Funk pins it pretty well. Jack loves Grace but can’t face his Hamptons residing parents’ derision of a woman, of any woman in fact, who will never be good enough for their son and that creates some nice early on tension that fizzles out to being actually nothing of real importance to the couple. Yet, Jack continues to be the one with more common sense, receiving pre-plot point hump bad vibes since arriving at the manor and also making some of the better decisions when the bottom drops out and snake-charming demonists come calling for his main squeeze to squeeze out the resurrection of an unholy being. Funk adds bits of comedic charm throughout like someone who watched too many horror movies and tries to reenact scenes that could be beneficial to their survival in theory but hopelessly fails in a humorous way. A real waste of a raw cinematic talent is in Jeff Fahey (“Body Parts”) who plays the brother of the missing manor owner. Fahey feels very much used for solely his veteran star power, a recognizable face, just to be nearly instantaneously forgotten at the same time and by the climatic ending, you might not even remember Fahey being a part of the story. “The Long Night” rounds out with Deborah Kara Unger (“Silent Hill”) and Kevin Ragsdale (“Little Dead Rotting Hood”).

“The Long Night” is a delicate incubus uncoiling its snake-biting venom of inexorable fate. Rich Ragsdale hyper stylizes flashbacks and often mundane moments to conspicuously denote unimaginable and resistant-futile power over a pair of out of their league NYC outlanders. Speaking of which from within the script, there is a sting of contrast between North and South, as if the Civil War was still relevant, ever since the first moment Jack and Grace hit the screen with their travel plans. Jack passively continues to harp upon his dislike of South and even looks to Grace to make sense of a demon cult outside on the front and back lawn, hoping that her Southern roots can explain the provincial nonsense raising torches and speaking in tongues that’s blocking any and all exits. Even Grace, a character originating from the South, believes that the makeshift totems surrounding the property are resurrected to ward off evil. As a Southern, I never heard of such a thing. The concept for a Lazarus possession out of the depths of dimensional binding sounds like a winner in my book, but Ragsdale can’t quite smooth out the edge to effectively and properly give the cult and Grace a banging finale of supercharged hellfire that sees our heroine fight to the bitter end. Instead, the entire third act and ending feels like a sidestep because not a single better thought came to the writers’ imaginations. Cool visuals, good special effects, but a banal trail off ultimately hurts “The Long Night’s” longevity.

Well Go USA Entertainment delivers the Shudder exclusive, “The Long Night,” onto Blu-ray home video with a region A, AVC encoded, high definition 1080p release. Presented in 16X9 widescreen, some scenes look compressed or rounded suggesting an anamorphic picture, but the overall digital codec outcome is really strong elevated by the creepy folkloric and the pernicious dream atmospherics of “Escape Room’s” Pierluigi Malavasi who can masterfully casts the light as well as he shields it in a menacing silhouette. Some of the nightmares or hallucinations see more of compression flaws in the mist, smoke, or gel lighting with faint posterization. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD master audio balances a vigorous surround sound output, catching and releasing all the appropriate channels with a range of environmental ambient noise and the scuffle between violent contact, denoting a strong amplitude with depth between foreground and background. Dialogue comes out nice and clear with a vitality that’s reverberates in the ear channels whenever a momentous moment sparks an outburst of rage and dominion. Special features include a behind-the-scenes featurettes that look at the raw footage of the birthing flashback scene, the overall aesthetic tone of the film, and the resonating tribal score. Also included is a Rich Ragsdale commentary track, the theatrical trailer, and Ragsdale’s 2019 short film “The Loop,” a meta-horror surrounding a scary VHS tape and two young brothers. While “The Long Night” has flaws with unfinished plot details that will leave a lingering unsatisfied aftertaste, entrenched within the narrative is a contemporary premise revolving around dark fate and that gut feeling toward belonging to something bigger that unfortunately turns out to be murderous summonsing of a demon scratching at the door wanting to be let out in the world. An unforgettable long night of terror.

“The Long Night” now available on Blu-ray home video!