Early Bill Paxton EVIL in “Mortuary” reviewed! (MVD Visual / Blu-ray)

The tragic swimming pool drowning of Dr. Parsons might not have been an accident as determined by the police.  At least that is what his daughter, Christie, believes and she is for certain her mother has some involvement in the so called accident.  Plagued with nightmares followed by a stint of sleepwalking a month after her father’s untimely demise, Christie tries to maintain a semi normal life as a high school student romantically involved with boyfriend Greg Stevens.  Meanwhile, Greg’s best friend disappears after the two trespass onto local mortician Hank Andrews’s storage warehouse.  Christie and Greg unwittingly become embroiled into sinister intent by a masked and caped ghoulish killer stabbing victims with a detached embalming drain tube and at the center of it all is Hank Andrews and his son Paul’s family morgue that processes and possesses all the dead’s secrets. 

Before Wes Craven’s “Scream” mega-franchise turned caped killers revolutionary cool with meta-crafting horror tropes of the genre slasher, there was the little known “Mortuary” that perhaps paved just a slab of keystone for the Ghostface Killer who has become the face of slasher films for more than 20 years, much like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers back in the 1980s and early 90s.  Written and directed by the Baghdad born filmmaker, Hikmet Labib Avedis, credited under the more westernized stage name of Howard Avedis, the 1983 film nearly had all the hallmarks of a peculiar macabre dance that skated around the slasher sphere.  “Mortuary” had seances, pagan rituals, a shrouded murderer, and, of course, the embalming of dead, naked bodies that are the inevitable, natural, mortality reminding entities in movies regarding morgues.  The late director, who passed away in 2017, cowrote the film with wife, producer, and actress Marlene Schmidt who had a role in every single piece of his body of work.  “Mortuary” was self-produce by the husband and wife filmmakers under their Hickmar Productions company and by grindhouse producer Edward L. Montoro (“Beyond the Door”).

Though the post-credit opening scenes begins unscrupulous enough with Greg Stevens, played by television soap opera star David Wysocki whose credited as David Wallace, and his best friend Josh (Denis Mandel) stealing tires from Josh’s ex-employer, morgue owner Hank Andrews, the late “Day of the Animals” and “Pieces’s” Christopher George’s last cinematic role, because of being fired without being paid for his services, “Mortuary” inconspicuously moves from Stevens’ infringing on local law to surround itself more aligned with Stevens’ girlfriend Christie Parsons who feels more like a backseat character upon introduction.  Yet in a flurry of exposition with her mother, Christie, who is played by “Mom” actress Mary Beth McDonough, circles back and ties into the opening credit scenes of an unknown man being bashed over the head with a baseball bat and falling into his pool.  We learn that the man is Christie’s father whose death has been rule an accident (no evidence of baseball bat related injuries? Was evidence collecting really that low-tech in the 1980s?), but Christie begs to differ as she point blank accuses her mother, Christopher George’s life co-star Lynda Day George, being involved in his poolside death.   While performances statically hover inside the wheelhouse of teen horror with Greg and Christie seemingly unaffected by the mysterious incidents happening all around them until someone literally is grisly murdered in their adjacent bedroom, a fresh-faced Bill Paxton (“Frailty”) inevitably steals the show with this enormous presence on screen as Paul Andrews, the town’s mortician loony son working for his father as an embalmer.  Paxton’s zany act borders “Mortuary” as either a diverse trope horror with an awkward outlier character stuff into the eclectic mix or a seriously unserious bluff of being a serious horror film – see what I did there?  Paul listens to Mozart on vinyl, has an obsession for Christie, and likes to prance and skip through the graveyard as a son broken by his mother’s unhinged suicide.  “Mortuary” rounds out with Curt Ayers (“Zapped!”), stuntwoman Donna Garrett (“The Puppet Masters”), Greg Kaye (“They’re Playing With Fire”), Alvy Moore (“Intruder”), stuntman Danny Rogers, Marlene Schmidt, and Bill Conklin as a walking contradiction as a beach town sheriff wearing an unabashed cowboy hat like a sorely out of place rootin’-tootin’ lawman from the West complete with country draw lingo. Also – don’t miss the bad nude body double used for McDonough when Christie is lying on the morgue slab.

Now, I’m not saying “Mortuary” is the sole inspirational seed that sowed the way for the “Scream” franchise, as I’m sure many, many other iconic classics inspired Kevin Williamson, but, in my humble opinion as an aficionado about the genre components and how they’re all connected by a few or many degrees of separation, “Mortuary’s” villain could be the long, lost ancestral sperm donor responsible for the origins of Ghostface.  The purposeful movements and actions align very closely in a parallel of deranged defiance and floaty black and white costumes.  However, “Scream” is just packaged nicer as “Mortuary” continuously drips all over the place like a three scoop ice cream cone on a hot summer day.  Containing Avedis’s arc on Christie was nearly impossible as each act jumps and focuses on someone entirely different while also exposing the killer blatantly without even trying to misdirect or repel any kind of suspicion.  It was as if Avedis and Schmidt swung for the fences with a convoluted giallo mystery plot but couldn’t figure out how to build that into the narrative without drawing from and drowning in exposition and that’s how the cards came crashing down by unfolding with talking head pivotal plot points that steered to a rather quick, yet pleasant, climatic head of a total mental meltdown that’s much more cuckoo than Billy Loomis and Stu Macher will ever be. 

If you didn’t score a copy of Scorpion Releasing’s limited edition release of “Mortuary” on Blu-ray, then sing the praises of second chances with this Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray reissue through the MVD Visual Rewind Collection line. The all region release is presented in a high definition, 1080p, widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio of the Scorpion Releasing AVC encoded transfer on a BD25. Quality-wise, the release delivers the perhaps the full potential of a cleaned up 35 mm restore with no sign of cropping, edge enhancing, and a healthy amount of good grain, but there are noticeable gaffes with select scenes that seemed to have missed or left out of the restoration all together, reverting back to the rough, untouched image. Coloring, skin and objects in the mise-en-scene, come out lively, naturally, and without a flutter of instability with transfer damage at a minimum. Probably the most surprising is the original 2.0 mono LPCM track. The English language mix does the job without climbing the audiophile corporate latter, leaving in the wake a soft dialogue that’s a struggle to get through if you’re not wearing headphones. Depth seems a little slim, but the range keeps progressing nicely that often feeds into the late John Cacavas score. Cacavas operatic film score is bigger than the movie itself, often grandiose the Gary Graver one-note cinematography. The overexposed ethereal flashback has slapped redundant fatigue plastered all over it but, then again, the film is from the 80’s. Option English subtitles are available. Special features include only an interview with John Cacavas from 2012, from the original Scorpion Releasing print. Two upsides to the MVD Visual release are the cover art mini-poster tucked inside the casing and the added cardboard slip cover that resembles a tattered VHS rental tape slip box complete with a faded Movie Melt yellow caution sticker, a Be Kind, Remind sphere sticker, and a Rated R decal. If you’re a big Bill Paxton fan, “Mortuary” reveals another shade of talent from the late actor. Other than that, the Howard Avedis production often haphazardly stumbles bowleggedly to a giallo-errific-type ending made in America.

For One Exhausted Truck Driver, EVIL is on the Move! “Goodbye Honey” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

Dawn has been driving for over 30 hours straight schlepping a customer’s belongings from point A to point B. Unable to keep her eyes from closing, she pulls over and parks in an empty lot of a state park. Before Dawn could close her eyes, a mysterious and frightened woman approaches her asking for help, informing Dawn that she has been held captive for months. Treating with suspicious eyes, not fully trusting this young woman’s thinly laid out accusation, the exhausted truck driver is eager to protect her truck from would-be thieves and vandals, but decides to assist though her phone is broken and her truck keys are lost, leaving the two women stranded in the middle of nowhere with a radical abduction story and the captor is not too far behind. What seemed to be a quiet night of deserved rest and relaxation for a truck driver who just drove straight-through without much as taking a break is about to unfold an eye-opening, harrowing ordeal that puts the two women in for the long haul.

Would you trust a harried and jonesing-looking straight knocking on your day cab door of your straight moving truck in the very early AM hours of the night? This iffy scenario plunges audience into that exact pressure point of Max Strand’s feature film directorial debut of “Goodbye Honey.” The 2020 abduction-thriller is also written by Strand and co-written alongside Todd Rawiszer, collaborating for a second time since 2011 for their cannibalistic-comedy, the family kills together, eats people together, “The Labbinacs.” Generally most abduction thrillers takes the viewpoint of the captive, but for “Goodbye Honey,” Strand and Rawiszer take the perspective of an outsider with unlucky happenstance and makes persevere over their own hang-ups in the dealt lousy hand called life. “Goodbye Honey” is produced by Joshua Michaels from the Examined Dots Pictures, a subsidiary of the video media company, Examined Dots Media, and is the first feature length film production from the company.



The point of view from the trucker sparks a clean slate inception of events as Dawn is oblivious to the entire occurrence that has scared and scarred this young woman whose animal instincts have kicked in and is working against her advantage with Dawn as desperate spurs her to act instead of thinking logically about what to do.  Pamela Jayne Morgan (“The Manor”) headlines “Goodbye Honey” in her first breakout role of 2020 stepping into not only an impromptu lifesaving moment but also into the steel toed shoes of a trucker’s life behind the wheel that features sleeping in her cab, eating lunch in her cab, and being driven into the ground by a demanding, world’s most dangerous, profession.  The only uncouth trucker habit Morgan does not do in her cab is urinate into a bottle.  Oh wait, she does bottle potty!  However, the circumstances surrounding that moment is not because of her profession and only adds to the many layers, including her tragic background and lost ambitions, that makes Dawn a complex character working the mental gears to do what she can to survive and save a life in terror’s grip.  And just like Dawn, we’re weary to believe the fantastic accusations coming out of Juliette Alice Gobin’s lip-quivering mouth who sizes up to the very still with fright the shaken and traumatized abductee in Phoebe as she narrowly escapes her captor, played by Paul C. Kelly (“Devils Prey”).  Gobin debuts her talents in horror with flawless strokes that paints Phoebe more of a misunderstood threat than a distressed victim of kidnapping.  Morgan and Gobin’s hot and cold dynamic perfectly rouses doubts as nothing, at first, is entirely clear.  “Goodbye Honey” has an indie size cast, but the performances are robust with layered intensity from the principle roles to the momentary characters played by Peyton Michelle Edwards, Rafe Soule, Jake Laurence, and Keara Benton.

There’s always been this uniquely bizarre fascination of which story angle an abduction thriller should play from and in “Goodbye Honey’s”, the story doesn’t follow a linear narrative of the abductee but backtracks with anecdotal flashbacks as Phoebe divulges the events leading to her snatching and how’s she’s been isolated in a small room for months to her only hope and savior, an emotionally downtrodden and physically fatigued Dawn.  While not entirely new, as we’ve seen a structure similar in John Oak Dalton’s “The Girl in the Crawl Space” that relives the victim’s held captive experience through mental flashbacks and therapy sessions, “Goodbye Honey,” bills far superior dread unlike the 2018 film, which suffers from monotonous exposition and topical offshoots.  Strand plops us in the unravelling thicket of action with gripping what-ifs potentially lurking in the midnight shadows surrounding Dawn’s painted white beacon of hope on wheels.  Character curveballs also hit empathetically hard with twist and turns coming out of the ears of all the narrative pawns and not just confined to the black and white abduction that brings them together. As much as Phoebe needs Dawn’s help to escape the clutches of her captor, Dawn also needed Phoebe’s accidental life purpose healing that fills the void in Dawn’s life left by the passing of her husband and reaffirms her passion for helping people no matter her personal circumstances.  Oddly enough, I found Kelly’s captor lacked substance to the story other than the characteristic ploy of revenge that agitates the action as his endgame for Phoebe isn’t exactly clear other than spouting, “she needs to pay.”  The serendipitous connection between Dawn, Phoebe, and the abductor has designer destiny stitched into the natural fabric of life in an almost comical happenstance of events, but makes for good entertainment nonetheless knowing that there is a circle of connectivity, a sense of purpose, and a reason to fight back in “Goodbye Honey’s” pressure cooking recipe.   

On May 11th, “Goodbye Honey” was released on digital HD and on cable VOD in North America from Freestyle Digital HD after a successful stint of festival wins including Best Thriller Feature, Best Actress (Pamela Jane Morgan), and Best Supporting Actor (Rafe Soule) at the Garden State Film Festival, Best Lead Performance (Juliette Alice Gobin) at the Nightmares Film Festival, and Best Actress (Morgan) at NOLA Horror Film Festival. Todd Rawiszer didn’t just co-write the film he also shot the film, his first feature film credit at a cinematographer. Inside 96 minutes and with a narrative taking place over a single night, Rawiszer casts a variety of hard lit shadows with glimmers of intermittent portable lights and neon reds kept tight with medium to closeup shots and rarely venturing out beyond that range with clarity as much of the wide shots or long shots are obscured, in a haze, or blurry to the eye as Rawiszer never wants you to know what’s exactly out that far. A pair neat editing montages by Jay Yachetta, with the meal plate and door slamming alongside Phoebe going mad with stir crazy is some of the best work I’ve seen a long time that can trigger an epileptic episode and still be insanely cool in the cruelty. Top those montages with an aggressive sound design and you’re head will surely pop off with unsettling jubilation. No bonus scenes during or after the credits are included. Regardless of budget or the stigma of low budget pictures, nothing but good vibes and good things to say generally about Max Strand’s “Goodbye Honey,” a startling trembler of persistence to outlive a night of terror that stars two stellar leading ladies at the heart of the film’s success.

Rent or Own GoodBye Honey on Amazon Prime!

Nab’em, Chop’em, and Feed’em to the EVIL Ox! “Butchers” reviewed! (Breaking Glass Pictures / Digital Screener)

After the death of their firm handed, elderly mother, brothers Owen and Oswald Watson remain isolated in the boondocks, off the beaten path to nowhere, to live in their rundown family home, like the generations before them, to do the one thing they desire and born to do – abduct stranded motorists, kill the men, and imprison away the women for their sadistic and misogynistic pleasures.  After breaking down passing through on a rural bypass, four young friends find themselves fighting for their very lives against a pair of siblings with a deep rooted heritage of experienced violence to show for it, but when one of the brothers starts to become even more unhinged than normal, the remaining survivors seek to take advantage of the situation to escape, but their captors know the woods inside and out.

Everyone believes Canadians are overly nice and well-mannered.  Our considerate neighbors of the North withstand the plethora of static noise from the turbulent South, willing to forget and forgive in a moments notice with nothing more than a smile and slap across the back, but has anyone ever bare witness to Adrian Langley’s dog-gonna-hunt, exploitation film, “Butchers,” hailing from Ottawa, Ontario?  The 2020 survival horror thriller displays the unseen dark side of Canadian’s grinning and friendly façade and, boy, does it familiarize and rival some of the similar backwoods doggedness we’ve seen in the last quarter century.  The film is written and directed by Langley and co-written with Daniel Weissenberger (“Come True”) in the intent of being a gritty, hillbilly-gone-wild hoedown with butcher blade sharpness.  Langley’s cinematic shiplap usually provides hard to swallow and violent themed content set to put one on tenterhooks established from his string of unflinching crime dramas (“A Violent State,” “Crook”) when the director is not moonlighting as a made-for-television PG-rated filmmaker for the holidays (“Candy Cane Christmas,” “Homemade Christmas”).  Christmas is long gone and a long way off and no amount of jovial spirit can guarantee a happy ending in “Butchers,” a production of Langley’s Unit XIX Films and Nicolás Onetti, producer and filmmaker behind retro-manufactured giallo horror “Abrakadabra” and “Francesca,” attached under his production banner, Black Mandala.” 

Principal characters are essentially the entire cast, small in size but pack a punch with their performances.  Starting off with the brothers, Owen and Oswald Watson, whose story begins during the snow and icy-filled heart of the winter months with them standing graveside, freshly filled with the remains of their mother, well before the hapless four protagonists breakdown in the summer’s heat.  The Watson boys story arc from second fiddle to top brass in a brief moment of background with the death of their mother as they quickly set to work pouncing on a young couple and exploiting the chained up and captive wife/girlfriend for carnal pleasure while abiding by a certain set of harshly punishable rules.  Television’s “Age of the Living Dead’s” Simon Phillips and Michael Swatton reteam in their respective roles of Owen and Oswald who are very much human characters with carefully planned and executed uncontrollable urges, callous whims, and fallible actions, sullied by a mixture of mental disease and rotten nurturing.  Philips is terrifying as in the intellectual brother, with his sophisticated word hole, very willing to get his hands dirty as the more perverse of the two brothers, but his relationship is on the rocks with his unstable brother, Oswald, as Swatton channels the internal family quibbling mindset of Leatherface from the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise with the exception of the crossdressing obsession and the iconic, rip-roaring chainsaw.  Oswald instead wields a custom butcher’s knife with jagged shark life teeth as he manically runs through the forest hunting down the four youngsters played by Julie Mainville (“Ghastlies”), James Gerald Hicks (“Killer Mom”), and “The Nights Before Christmas’s Anne-Carolyne Binette and Frederik Storm.  With these lambs for the slaughter characters, this is where Adrian Langley succumbs to tropes that instill a misplaced sense of courage, uncontrollable and shallow horniness, and a turmoil amongst friends to be the divisive factor leading of their fate.  “Butchers” rounds out the cast with Jonathan Largy, Samantha De Benedet, Blake Canning, and Nick Allan as uncle Willard. 

“Butchers” does have blatant derivative bones underneath a body that echoes the frameworks of pioneered films from the aforementioned “Texas Chains Massacre” to more recently “Wrong Turn,” the original film series formed in 2003 about inbred, cannibalistic mountain people.  These powerhouse of unpretentious and bloodthirsty franchises inspired much of what you’ll experience in Langley’s homage of a cyclical subgenre; yet, the filmmaker’s tale of two brothers with a bloodletting scheme of their own doesn’t lend itself as being a hack work nor does the story render like an atrocious carbon copy but, rather, “Butchers” lives in a moment of simple, matter of fact craziness living in the dark corners of the seemingly innocuous world.  Owen paints a near perfect picture of the one in a million chance that people, like his hapless captives, fall into the position they’re in, sophisticatedly monologuing with intent to his bound prey in a pair of scenes that slice a thinly opened gap of possibility and that, right there, is scary.  “Butchers” builds no momentum, but, instead, goes right for the throat straight from the get-go as Langley reinforces the attitude that this can happen to anyone by not getting too familiar with characters in their backstories.  In order to establish a pattern of action and to lay foundations in who we should and shouldn’t root for when things go to hell, virtue-less unfaithfulness becomes a promising wedge that doesn’t necessarily cause descension in the ranks of survival, but paves a trope-laden path of who will ultimately perish.

Backcountry exploitation might have seem to have run it’s course. I mean, really, how many times can crazy deformed cannibals wreak gut-spilling havoc on the naïve outlanders to their idyllic provinces? For me, as many time as it damn well pleases, especially when fundamentally satisfying as Adrian Langley’s “Butchers,” distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures and now available streaming on Prime Video. “Butchers” will be available on DVD at a to be announced date. Langley, wearing multiple of hats in the spirit of indie productions, dons the director of photography bowler hat…well, I don’t really know what hat the DOP would wear, but we’ll represent the position with a bowler for now due to the deluxe sophistication the bowler implies while still sustaining a classic touch and that’s how I see Langley’s clean and competent cinematography style whose able to frame scenes that force audiences to be a part of the action . As soon as a character turns to speak to another character or when a car hood slams, an effective rush of adrenaline courses through the veins when out of nowhere one of the brothers pop onto the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio presented screen. “Butchers” come with no bonus material after a 92 minute runtime, but a single scene lingers during the credits that, again, harps back to a certain dancing killing machine from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” May not be an original concept, but “Butchers” can still castrate the soul with an exploitatively merciless family tree sowed with perversion and bloodlust.

Rent or Own “Butchers” on Amazon Prime Video! Click the Poster to Watch!

EVIL is in the Waiting Room. “Host” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)

Six friends, locked down due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, hold a séance with a medium over a video chat platform.  With some skeptical of the astral plane practice and connivingly mock the ritual without aware of the consequences, they unwittingly call forth a false spirit under the guise of their seemingly harmless mockery.  In short, a malevolent demon crosses over their spiritual internet connection plane, attaching itself to their domicile surroundings.  Unable to break the connection to the spirit world, surviving a night that was supposed to shoulder quarantine boredom with excitement and booze has beleaguered the friends with a night of undisclosed deadly terror.

When online game night during quarantine life goes horribly wrong in Rob Savage’s “Host.”  The UK bred survival tech-horror is the sophomore feature length film from Savage who co-wrote the cast sundered script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, who has previously collaborated with Savage on the director’s short films, “Salt” and “Dawn of the Deaf.”  “Host” plays into being a film of the moment, shot entirely over the pandemic lockdown with unconventional production direction conducted through video chat platforms with each actor pent-up performing in their own personal abode and being subjected to wear multiple crew hats to avoid spreading COVID-19 from face-to-face interactions.  Despite the severe limited enforced by the threat of infection and the local governmental mandates, the film received hefty financial backing from horror’s most prolific streaming service Shudder after director Rob Savage pulls off a video chat prank with colleagues and friends of him checking out a mysterious sound in his antic and seamlessly interlacing a jump scare clip from Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s “REC” that scared the bejesus out of the unsuspecting participants to his prank.  “Host” is a production of Shadowhouse Films. 

“Host” stars five real life friends, aspiring actresses in the London area looking for work that has become frighteningly scarce in the pandemic’s wake, and they’re joined by a sixth, the outlier male to join the virtual hangout session.  To add authenticity to the circumstances, each actress has their parent-given (or stage-made?) names incorporated into the film, heightening the illusion of a friend being ripped apart by a demonic entity, especially if a sly Rob Savage redacts much of the script to keep his actors in the dark in certain scenes to garner real reactions.  Haley Bishop, who has worked previously with Savage on “Dawn of the Dead,” spearheads the nighttime gathering for a little séance fun, to stave boredom with her closest friends, with prearranged invitations to Jemma Moore (“Doom:  Annihiliation”), Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, and Edward Linard, who is the only one of the six not to use his actual name and goes by Teddy.  Each character provides a slight unique viewpoint that integrates into the story nicely, such as Jemme’s jokester and cavalier attitude, Caroline’s bracing for the supernatural consequences, Radina’s distracted relationship troubles, and Teddy’s wild and carefree persona.  “Host” rounds out with minor co-stars enveloped into the séance chaos, including Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Jinny Lofthouse, and “Double Date’s” James Swanton as the malevolent spirit.

Cyber and social media horror has no leverage to be groundbreaking horror anymore as a handful of these subgenre jaunts slip into our visual feeds every year in the last decade and “Host,” on the surface, might perpetuate the long line of outputted tech horror in an overcrowded market.  However, “Host” has a beauty about it that doesn’t reach into capitalistic territories like the ill-conceived “Corona Zombies” from Full Moon or the Michael Bay-produced “Songbird” about sustaining love in the time of dystopian pandemic and, instead, redefines how tech horror not only uses innovated methods in creating movies during lockdown but how the knuckle white and teeth chattering terror is perceived in the reinvention of the ominous presence that has found its way through the fiber optic cables and into our cyber lives not in the context of a social media obsessed society but in a quarantine-forced one that brings a whole unique set of isolation fears and complications.  While the characters try to form a much desired human interaction the best way that they can through internet video chats, they’re also connected by the spiritual circle that has engulfed the apart, but together, connection, sparking a palpable atmosphere of mass fear together.  Audiences will be pulled into this fear being visually privy to Haley desktop screen, that’s not quite tipping into the found footage field, as she helms control of the video chat that quickly spirals into a Zoom-screen of death as one-by-one each friend succumbs to the unwittily summoned demon.  Rob Savage has reformed the tech horror genre much like George Romero had revamped the zombie on not so much a social commentary level, but vitalizing new life into it, making “Host” a game-changer in horror. 

While I wasn’t lucky enough to review Second Sight Film’s Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset of Rob Savage’s “Host,” dropping today, February 22nd in the United Kingdom, housed in a rigid slipcase with illustrated artwork from Thomas Walker with an original story outline booklet, new essays from Ella Kemp and Rich Johnson, and 6 collectible art cards inside, I was graciously provided a BD-R that included the film as well as the bonus content.  The region B, PAL encoded, just under an hour runtime film, clocking at 57 minutes, is nearly shot entirely on Zoom that melds in the position of negative space inside tightly confined camera optics and plays right into the hands of dark spots that the optics can’t entirely define, leaving the space void in a blanket of inky black.  From video to audio, the sound design meshes the natural auditory blights that would conventionally spoil audio tracks for the sound department, but Savage and Calum Sample found the mic static or the distorted or near cancelation of sound during a high pitched screams added elements of grounded fear rooted by technology to where people can relate to when having their own video chat technical difficulties during meetings or such while also playing into the theme with funny face filters, augmented backgrounds, and the bells and whistles of the platform. Second Sight’s slew of special features for this limited edition boxset includes exclusive commentaries with director Rob Savage, producer Douglas Cox, and the cast, cast interviews about their individual takes on the film, a behind-the-scenes feature, Rob Savage’s group prank video that sowed the seed for the film, the same prank done on a single individual, Kate, Rob Savage’s short films – “Dawn of the Deaf” and “Salt,” the actual Séance held by the cast, crew, and a real life medium, a British Film Institute Q&A with the director, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd, Douglas Cox, Haley Bishop, Brenna Rangott, and Caroline Ward, and an evolution of horror interview with cast and crew. The best horror movie of 2020 now has the best release of 2021 from Second Sight Films; “Host” logons to be the heart clutching video call from hell.

Own “Host” on Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset from Second Sight Films by clicking the poster!

On Valentine’s Day, Were You Struck by EVIL’s Arrow? “Cupid” reviewed! (High Flier Films / Digital Screener)

In one interpretation of the legend involving the god of love, Cupid is betrayed by his mother, Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty, when she poisons Cupid’s consort, Psyche, over conceited jealously with the tainted tip of his own arrows of love and desire.  Enraged, Cupid denounces love and if he can’t have love, no one will love as he sells his soul to Death in the underworld and becomes a demon of execution summoned by those who abuse love.  When the incessant bullies as Faye’s school push her too far, Faye evokes Death through a black magic ritual and contracts with the master of the netherworld that all those in her high school shall never know love.  Death summons the scorned Cupid to do the ghastly bidding that places not only Faye’s tormentors in Cupid’s destructive path, but also her friends, her teachers, and herself.    

Post-Valentine’s Day horror movies always seem appropriate as if love itself is fleeting, elusive, and nothing but trouble and elicits a bit of cathartic relief for unfortunate souls unable to find love come February 14th.  Nothing screams more about anti-love than Scott Jeffery’s arrow-through-the-heart and twisted Roman mythology story, “Cupid,” that festers from a lower fork in the road possibility of the god of love and desire aggrieved to become malevolent and spiteful in a cheeky, campy rampage.  Jeffery isn’t afraid to take on the challenge of transforming Cupid into a heart-stopping death-dealer as the film’s writer-director who has credential history of being a serial B-horror movie filmmaker with a resume of titles stemmed from myth, legend, and tall tales having produced and written the Frau Perchta inspired “Mother Krampus,” the Gorgon fueled, “Medusa:  Queen of the Serpents,” and producing that little dental-snatching hag known as the “Tooth Fairy.”  Jeffery aims to demonize the match-maker in the UK production from his Proportion Productions alongside co-producer and CEO, Rebecca Matthews.

The heart of the story begins with Georgina Jane (“Pet Graveyard”) as the hopeless romantic schoolgirl, Faye, reading from a book of black magic spells to bewitch the high school’s hunky male teacher, Duncan Jones, played by Michael Owusu in his introductory feature film performance.  Though Owusu is a handsome devil that plays authentically into his role, Faye’s character surpasses shallow and gullible traits as she’s desperate enough to try enchants for an older man to fall for her teenage body and soul and naïve enough to think that her charm passage actually worked enough to warrant sending scandalous pictures of herself over the phone to whom she believes to be Mr. Jones when in actuality is a Faye browbeating clique led by the insufferable rebellious student Elise, a role callously perfect for “Pagan Warrior’s” Sarah T. Cohen.  Jane tries to squeeze out as much as she can as the victim of Elisa’s volley of vile bullying tactics but also somehow cope the receiving end of embarrassment of kissing a shocked Mr. Duncan and as the two instances clash in a heap of dump on Faye day during Valentine’s, Faye retreats back to her fantasy safe haven as she tries to summon Death in vengeance.  This time, the incantation works and in flies with two large white wings and Roman sandals is Bao Tieu caked in some pretty atrocious facial makeup with a horizonal cleft nose, exposed teeth in a skull’s bare smile, and some serious baggage under the eyes.  I’m assuming Tieu’s short stature and small frame makes him suitable to portray the Cupid look often depicted as a child or as a slender, nearly feminine man in mythology art, but in “Cupid,” as the harbinger of death, the overall package feels less menacing and more absurd appropriate for the B-horror mockup as the dialogue-less winged villain hunts down rather easy prey using a campy assortment of atypical, Valentine’s Day weapons like heart shaped cookie cutters, a bouquet of roses, and mushy, sharp-edged greeting cards alongside Cupid’s go-to bow and arrows.  “Cupid” rounds out the cast with a majority of Scott Jeffrey entourage actors who’ve been in many of his produced films, such as Abi Casson Thompson (“The Candy Witch”), Ali Barouti, Georgie Banks (“The Mermaid’s Curse’), Kelly Juvilee (“ClownDoll”), Jake Watkins (“Toothfairy 2”), Adrian Bouchet (“HellKat”), and Nichola Wright (“Witches of Amityville Academy”).

Valentine’s Day holiday has seen a fair share of engendered horror films. While “Cupid’s” heart doesn’t beat to the same lovestruck drum as George Mihalka’s “My Bloody Valentine” or Jamie Blanks “Valentine” that scoff at romance by killing every love sick person in the room, Jeffrey’s take on Valentine’s Day stays on the slasher subgenre path, but takes a tongue-and-cheek route despite the earnest performances. I mean, really, who gets ninja starred in the back with Valentine greet cards or have their skin sliced out with heart-shaped cookie cutters? Jeffrey’s killer concepts have immense heart, no pun intended. Where “Cupid” begins to stray lies in the left out important details and the fast-and-loose character development that leaves a rancid taste of an expired box of chocolate in your mouth. For instance, Faye, a high school girl of maybe 16 or 17-years old, has what seems to be an archaic artifact of ancient black spells in her possession for reasons we don’t know how she obtained. Do we then conclude that Faye obsessively meddles casually with the black arts? Or did she visit Ray Stantz’s Occult Book store in NYC? There’s also a rich backstory, if not tale-telling, in Faye and Elise’s contention for each other involving a relationship scandal between Faye’s mom and Elise’s dad that’s only scratched at the surface and never really brought to light, but would have greatly help in explaining Elise’s wickedness toward Faye, who briefly blames her mother’s aggressive libido for all her high school problems. In what is, in all serious, an allegory for bullying spun high school mass murder, “Cupid” heavily ousts the outlier as a person lost in the fray of struggling to cope and turns to evil to solve their problems by taking out everyone in an instant. The only thing different is Jeffrey doesn’t arm Faye with a rifle; instead, he weaponizes her impulsive desires in the form of a demonized Cupid. Another character who doesn’t flesh out is Duncan Jones who drops out of medical school in order evade debt for the rest of his life; instead, he’s a substitute teacher with feelings for a colleague and his biggest prospect is chaperoning the Valentine’s Day dance. Instead of nurturing Jones’ arc from the beginning of the film, his medical background is only brought in later to serve as the needle in the arm for all the blood junkies out there as “Cupid” gets gory with a hacksaw scene that comes out of left field compared to the rest of the movie. “Cupid’s” story wilts like 6-day old roses starting to smell like rot, but is still thorn sharp as a campy, fun slasher braided with classical mythology and mass shooting undercurrents.

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but you won’t be able to get away from “Cupid” that easily as the Scott Jeffrey written-and-directed holiday slasher soars in onto DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment and High Fliers Films in the United Kingdom. The PAL encoded DVD has a runtime of 84 minutes. There were no details provided on the DVD specs and since the screener provided was a digital screener, no critique will be made on the A/V aspects other than director of photography Ben Collins’s cinematography that deploys a better way to experience “Cupid” with perforated soft glows of vibrant tints in the most weirdest of places, like the school bathrooms, during tense supernatural expectations or when Cupid is on the prowl, giving more interest toward the scenes that might seem more run of the mill ordinarily. There were no bonus materials with this release nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Abuse love and love will abuse you right back tenfold in this death-summoning, tale-twisting holiday themed horror “Cupid.”