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.

EVIL Should Have Never Pissed Off One Uncontrollable, Raging Chick! “Jolt” reviewed! (Amazon Studios / Digital Screener)



Intermittent Explosive Disorder.  It’s an unstable condition Lindy Lewis has lived with her entire life where the little annoyance can set her into a murderous rage.  High levels of cortisone give her extra stamina, increased strength, and an endless stream of undaunted courage.  Mix all of that with her antisocial behavior and a variety of special, military grade, skillsets, Lindy can be one of the most deadliest humans if you happen to piss her off.  To control her temperament, an unorthodox psychiatrist designs an self-inducing electroshock harness that provides Lindy at jolt of electricity to snap her out of a potential bloodthirsty rampage, but when she finally finds a man pleasing in every way , a man who can keep the volatile emotions at bay, his sudden murder sends her into a vindictive slaughter of anyone involved with his death. 

“Shoot’em Up” meets “Crank” in Tanya Wexler’s unbridled tempest, “Jolt, that features an eclectically (and electrifying) international cast dropped into a graphic novel noir of femme fatales and organized crime.  The “Relative Evil,” aka “Ball in the House,” Wexler directs the 2021 released revenge narrative from a vivacious script penned by Scott Wascha as the writer’s debut feature length credit.  Filmed oversees in Bulgaria, “Jolt” is a melting pot of explosions, street fighting, and Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn under the production banner of Avi Lerner’s typically entertaining, yet hit-or-miss Millennium Films in collaboration with Busted Shark Productions, Eclectic Pictures, Nu Boyana Film Studios, and the “2001 Maniacs” series’ Christa Campbell and Lati Grobman company, Campbell-Grobman Films.

As if she never stopped playing the sleek vampiric werewolf huntress, Selene, of the “Underworld” franchise, Kate Beckinsale is stunning.  And I don’t just mean her timeless and ageless beauty as the English actress, who is living her best life at the latter half of her 40’s, proves that age is just a number in executing a physically demanding role with nearly every scene involving stunt work.  Unlike the gun-toting Selene, Lindy Lewis prefers her bareknuckle combat and a car battery alligator clipped to an old man’s genitals to get what she’s after.  Beckinsale plays the role beautifully equipped with a sharp, snarky tongue that’s pretty damn funny, well-timed, and consistently befitting to the Lindy’s personality.  “Jolt” has many colorful characters played by interestingly elected actors.  “Suicide Squad’s” Captain Boomerang himself, Jai Courtney, finds himself as the unlikely sedative lover, Justin, to counteract Lindy’s explosiveness.  The Australian actor, who is more than a decade junior to Beckinsale, fills in “Jolt’s” ranks alongside the gruffy-raspy voiced Argus Filtch, I mean David Bradley (“Harry Potter” franchise), as the top-tiered bad guy who stamp-approved the hit on Justin.  Along the way, a pair of tenacious detectives pursue the wrongly accused Lindy as a welcoming pair polarized on how to bring in their suspect that isn’t based off corruption with “Orange as the New Black’s” Laverne Cox as the by-the-book cop and “Snakes on a Plane’s” Bobby Cannavale as a cop with a softer side for the pursued.  “Jolt” rounds out with Ori Pfeffer (“Shallow Ground”), Sophie Sanderson, Susan Sarandon (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) in a minor role, and versatile Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”) as the electroshock harness inventor and psychiatrist, Dr. Munchin.

While it sounds like I’m singing high praises for Wexler’s film that does indeed have an amazing cast, quick wit performances, can be funny, and great action, I find “Jolt” to be lacking that little Je Ne Sais Quoi as the French would say.  Maybe the breakneck speed story that follows an illogical and nonsensical means of progression overloads the system to where you fry out your organic circuit boards trying to keep up with Lindy’s investigative warpath.  Aside from the fact that figuring out what happened to poor Justin is no mystery, an overexploited trope spanning from every era of cinema, our heroine also nonchalantly strolls right into the middle of crowded street fights, police stations, and in and out of explosions with every aspect of her hell hath no fury like a woman scorned purpose seeming too easy without anything rewarding stemming from difficulty that surrounded her, leaving no tension to salivating over or achieve relief from her impossible no way out scenarios.  Even when Lindy is easily captured, tied to a torture chair, and still mouthing off to her captor, the bad guys still let her go…on purpose!  (enter mind blowing up here)  Speaking of things going boom, the limited visual effects work renders like a cheaply made for television spectacular, especially with the explosive finale ofan inferior inferno ball of combustion and flames composited over top the endgame skyscraper locale.  I have never loved and hated a film as much as I do “Jolt” and will have to wait until the – assumed – pipelined sequel to break this torment of indecision.

What might be considered to be vague and entertaining euphemism for addiction, “Jolt’ is high powered narcotics injected right into the sensory nervous system.  The Millennium Films feature will broadband across Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service on July 23rd under the Amazon Studio’s banner.  “Krampus” director of photography, Jules O’Loughlin, brings a chic and symmetrical contemporary noir to the look, using a not so severe fisheye lens to emphasize centered characters while wrapping the fluorescently lit background ever so slightly around them. Best scene is the torch lit brawl, tinted in a blue-purple shade, that makes for a simple yet grander cockfight. The steadycam work anchors down more of the fast paced punch’em, kick’em fight sequences which is a credit to O’Loughlin in making the scenes work for the audiences instead of the audience working to make out the scenes. Dominic Lewis caters the soundtrack’s pulsing electro score that does the trick by keeping up with the whiplash pacing, but barely sneaks in there as Lindy’s anthem to clean house. “Jolt” leaves Lindy’s book entirely unfinished with a well-knowledgeable human wrangler in Susan Sarandon to segue audiences into a possible sequel that will start off looking not too promising for our asskickin’ heroine. While there are no post-credit scenes, there is a slightly humorous, slightly minor character fulfilling bonus scene to looking for mid-credits. “Jolt” needs a little jolt itself in some areas of considerable concern, but the fast paced action doesn’t bore, the clever wit has endless sardonic charm, and there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy.

Watch “Jolt” on Prime Video coming July 23rd!  Dropping This Thursday!

The Devil’s Tongue is a Powerful, Influencing EVIL. “The Dark and The Wicked” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)



Siblings Louise and Michael Straker return home to their farmland house when their terminally ill father becomes bedridden.  A long time alone and isolated before her children arrived, Virginia provided suitable care for their father up until the voices started.  Lurking in between the shadows around the rural home, a menacing presence wedges itself into an already splintered family spirit as the harbinger of death coming for their father’s soul.  The influence of voices and grim visions tatter Louise and Michael resolve, testing their unconditional love for family and moral obligations, but evil can be very persuasive the closer their father comes to his end. 

The battle grounds of losing oneself during the verge of loss has commonly been a recurrent topic amongst indie films.  For filmmaker Bryan Bertino, the concept feels deeply personal.  “The Strangers” and “Monster” writer-director’s latest discomforting horror film, “The Dark and the Wicked,” uses Devil speak in mass, detrimental volumes as an allegoric device for the internal deconstruction of family, capitalizing for his tale the use of his family’s rural Texas farm house written as a threatening locale of isolation and the tenebrous unknown.  “The Dark and the Wicked’s” paganistic undertones heavily perceive a dissipating family structure’s disconnect from not only God but from the community who has been all but absent from coming to the fictional Straker family aid.  The 2020 released film is produced by Bertino’s production company, Unbroken Pictures, alongside Shotgun Shack Pictures (“Hurt”), Traveling Picture Show Company (“The Blackcoat’s Daughter’), and in association with Inwood Road Films.

To play characters accustomed to the rural lands of the Texas outskirts, “The Dark and the Wicked” required a range submerged with leisurely movements, a Lonestar draw, and to, of course, look good in plaid and Wrangler jeans.  The cast that emerged was nothing short of spectacularly precise in fabricating the lives of remote lives rural Texans, opening with a Texas-born Julie Oliver-Touchstone (“Bounded by Evil”) sewing dresses in the barn, tending the farm’s goats, and chopping produced in her white nightgown as who will be the catalytic mother, Virginia Straker, that passes not only the 24-hour hospice care to her children but also all the beneath the light misery that drives her terrified.  The girth of the story revolves around, Louise, “The Umbrella Academy’s” Marin Ireland, and Michael, Michael Abbot Jr. from the upcoming “Hell House,” as sister and brother who return back home upon the news of their bedridden father (Michael Zagst).  At this point in the story, where we meet Louise and Michael for the first time, a shrouded background puts a delectable side dish of mystery into making them initially interesting, but over the course of the 96 minute runtime, the enigma dissolves around why Louise no longer works from the Postal Service and what’s stringently being shied away from the thick layered division between the siblings from being close to one another.  The impending standoffish goes unspoken, never comes to a head between them as like the unfolding of “The Strangers” where Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman unravel and expose their marital struggles with the invisible wall between them before, and even in the midst of, being terrorized.  There’s something there that isn’t being part of the exposition or coming back around when the Devil comes really calling for their father’s doomed soul.  Instead, Ireland and Abbot simply assimilate well enough into their falling into farm life dynamics as the sister who must shoulder the responsibility of hospice care and the brother overseeing what could be considered man’s work of handling the duties of raising livestock.   We also get some messed up supporting second fiddlers to execute Satan’s handywork with performances Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki (“Conjurer”), Mindy Raymond (“Bigfoot Wars”), and “The Walking Dead’s” Xander Berkeley channeling his best Julian Beck’s Kane performance as a sinister Priest making a house call.

Bryan Bertino has a stillness about his films. Their creepily quiet, stirred in a somber stew of macabre, and utterly deranged in a nihilist coating. What appeals to me about “The Dark and the Wicked,” as well as “The Strangers,” is Bertino’s gift to deliver powerful fatalist realism. His stories couple earthly family drama with otherworldly malevolence stemmed from the deeper affects of prolonged relationship breakdowns that literally assigns a demonizing blame on the supernatural for people’s own crumbling failings. Another aspect is the godless presence wholeheartedly felt throughout from the Straker’s loud and proud proclamation of atheism to the lack of religious artifacts. Michael nearly tosses the priest out of his keester just for making checking and noting his mother’s recent unbeknownst connection to God to which Michael took great offense. This leads into the Straker’s lack of community connection as they seemingly are adverse or are agonized by those who wish to help and those who rather seem them burn under the guise of the malice presence. Goats are thematically prevalent to the story, especially when the shadowy Wicked hides amongst the herd, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Goats are often associated with Pagan beliefs, such as with the deity Baphomet, and the evils marked upon them by cultures all around the world and by having the Straker farm be a goat farm is more than just coincidence. “The Dark and the Wicked” brings chaos and confusion much like any circumstances where one or both parents die and all the burdens, all the consequences, and all the pure emotional baggage that comes with death is passed to the children whether the Devil is involved or not. When broken down rudimentary that decline of hope and overwhelming grief can cause a great amount of destruction for any family and even extend to friends with suicide being heavily portrayed in the film. Bertino masterfully touches upon every collateral damage output leaving no one spared from death’s, the Devil’s, hopeless hold on them.

Filled with frightening imagery, plenty of toe-curling suspense, and a loud silence of utter despondency, “The Dark and the Wicked” is a must own for any horror fan and, luckily for you, Acorn Media International just released the Bryan Bertino film on Blu-ray in the UK in alliance with horror’s favorite streaming service, Shudder. Listed as region 2, but more accurately a region B in Blu-ray format, the PAL encoded release is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. If there was one word to describe the comprehensive picture that word would be dark. Bertino maintains an eclipsing cinematography through hard lighting, matted lifeless colors, and a reduction tint to give it that extra gloomy blackness. Cinematographer Tristan Nyby’s first collaboration with Bertino is also the first debut into the genre field and Nyby comes out on top with an ability to show just enough, whether through shallow focus or obscured wide shots to always keep the depth and range of the unknown factor alive and frightening. In regards to the Blu-ray quality, “The Dark and the Wicked” has little to offer in details not because of the lack there of but because much of the film is shot in the dark, a fine midnight black with little-to-no wish or noise, and dim lighting . Facial details do appear slightly soft as you can’t make out the blemishes or even skin pores, but the intentional flat coloring steers much of that away from the senses. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound is a boost of jumpscare ambient effects. The range and depth finely pitch the position of well-timed scares, especially when the strung together bottles, glasses, and cans rattle in a discordance. Dialogue has lossy muster that makes discerning characters’, especially Michael or his mother, Virginia’s, Southern draw. English subtitles are optional. Special features include only a Fantasia Q&A with actors Merin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr that dive into their characters quite a bit and into Bertino’s morose mindset. Bleak and genuinely personal on a whole other level, “The Dark and the Wicked” is quintessential truth when talking about the Bryan Bertino Americana horror film and, believe you me, expect more devilish descriptors that’ll shock you.

A Security Guard’s Terrifying Dance With EVIL in the “Morgue” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Well Go USA Entertainment)

After fleeing a hit and run on his way to his girlfriend’s house, night security guard Diego Martinez is called to work a shift at the hospital morgue later that evening.  Seemingly showing very little concern for what transpired earlier, Diego goes through the motions of the night, checking doors and making sure the area is locked up tight and secure.  When a pursuit of a vagrant ends with Diego trapped inside the eight table slab morgue, he comes face-to-face with the malevolent paranormal in a terrifying night of survival.   Could what be happening to the scared night security be connected to the pedestrian he hit with his car or the transcendence of a purgatory afterlife from those who pass through the morgue without a pulse? 

“Morgue” is the Paraguayan poltergeist and purgatory thriller of high anxiety and tenebrific atmosphere proportions from the introductory feature film directorial debut of Hugo Cardozo.  The 2019 released horror film, which only recently made Stateside debut onto home video, is supposedly based on real events and written and produced for the silver screen by Cardozo and not only does the filmmaker showcase a hair-raising fright of a foreign film, “Morgue” also highlights the intrinsic South American infostructure and societal norms that’ll certainly be eye-catching details and differences to audiences from Paraguay’s northern neighbors.  From the Toyota Hillux trucks that are not sold in the U.S., to the wheel valve toilet flushes, to the open plaza compounds, “Morgue” is a down-to-Earth Latin American production that offers no unrepresentative notional misconceptions of other parts of the world.  Trust me, I’ve been to South America and to me, the city framework is authentic to the location.   With the support of FilmSharks’ subsidiary, The Remake Co., and HJ (Hugo Javier) Producciónes, a music video and film production company, “Morgue” is filmed in the district city of Encarnación, the capital city of Itapúa in Paraguay. 

Much of the story lands on poor Diego Martinez’s shoulders.  A cheapskate and a bit of an overall scoundrel, Martinez’s loafing life only has one thing going for it, his doting girlfriend who keeps him on thin ice because of his wandering eye and penchant for breaking promises.  Pablo Martinez has no problem playing a fool in Diego’s pitiful life as the actor shifts right into being indolent young man driving a beat-up jalopy and steel shavers just to keep ups his groomed look.  On the job, Pablo Martinez has to shift postures to a more diligent security guard which, for a character already established in a foundation without throwing down a trickster trope card, creates an uneasiness and a sense of empathy for Diego during his otherworldly ordeal as he follows his duties without much messing around.  Martinez, in both the character and actor, radiates fear once the tables turn and he realizes what he’s up against isn’t human or in figment of his imagination.  Or is it?  The role is written with some ambiguity on whether his experience might be guilt induced, but that’s for you, the audience, to decide.  “Morgue’s” one man show fleshes out with some strong supporting performances from Francisco Ayala, Willi Villalba, María del Mar Fernández, Abel Martínez, and Raúl Rotela.

Not many horror films hecho en Paraguay come across our screener desk; in fact, Cardozo’s “Morgue” is probably the first from the country and not too sound like a stuffy harsh critic, but I wouldn’t exactly say I’m more than pleasantly surprised by the overall design; yet,  I’m not not impressed either.  The middle of the road impression balances the bone-shivering atmospherics of a dark and tightly confining morgue where mischievous spirits seriously terrorize and toy with Diego’s physical and mental being with an about-face in Diego nonchalant behaviors and the established and recognized grim tone Cardozo slowly builds around the bonehead protagonist quickly fades at the very tail end with cheesy special effects and unfitting Latin rock music.  Without going too much into spoiler details, “Morgue” strongly reminds me of some elements of the “Creepshow 2” segment, “The Hitch-Hiker,” blended with Ore Bornedal’s “Nightwatch” while being stuffed with paranormal psychotic-nightmare fuel straight into the guts of story for gaslighting a terrified response.  The slow burn beginning might seethe a few eager to dive right into the you can’t-spell-pandemonium-without-demon action, but does set up perfectly, in a few suppressed laughs kind of way, Diego’s series of events that serve as a bread crumb trail to his frightening ordeal.  Cardozo utilizes various shooting techniques, many stunningly achieved in the manipulation of the film, to capture Diego’s fear and hikes the tension to a bite your lip in suspense level that’s well deserved. 

Light and spooky, “Morgue” is a lean, shivering supernatural story machine released onto digital and Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment this past May.  The not rated, single-layered AVC encoded disc, 1080p Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, has a runtime of approx. 81 minutes, and has a region A playback. Director of photography, Blas Guerrero, discerns a softer touch that you can more or less notice around Diego’s face as the details are not as fine, but the deep blue and purples hued tints (and other lightly used color grades) and lighting make for elevated stellar direction toward the things that go bump in the morgue at night. Cardozo employs closed circuit cameras, extreme closeups, sped up playback, and a nifty deep focus of indiscernible corporeal silhouettes that is just creepy in itself. The Spanish and Guarani DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track has little to muster in the dialogue department with Diego having very little interaction with others, such as his girlfriend through a video call or the night guard he’s relieving, but the dialogue track does come through clearly. The captioning is synched well with no obvious errors aside for some translational preferences from Spanish to English. Catered to be a startling romp, “Morgue” is heavy on the ambient LFE effects that do a nice job filtering through and landing the desired whip-in scare and then quiet again, resetting for the next go around. In the background, there is a slight engine-esque hum throughout and I thought maybe it’s presence was just in the Morgue, the rumbling spans the almost the entire duration of the story and doesn’t seem to be emanating from the dialogue track. Bluntly, the Blu-ray release lacks bonus features with only a theatrical trailer along with preview trailers before the film. The physical release does have a cardboard slipcover but of the same images and stills as the snapcase. A good time can be had with “Morgue’s” karma emerged psychological torment of one man and the spooky energy swarmed in shadows and dodgy point of views that solidifies Cardozo’s Paraguayan thriller as a rival to most name brand counterparts, but because of the ending that kills the entire mood of “Morgue’s” misery lashing, that bad taste of an anticlimactic drop off finale cuts far deeper than expected.

“Morgue” Blu-ray is on sale now 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.