Making a Horror Movie can be EVIL on the Health! “Stoker Hills” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Three film studies college students are eager to win their class’s short film contest with story idea Street Walkers, a genre blending horror movie that crosses “Pretty Woman” with “The Walking Dead.” On their first night of shooting, isolated on the empty streets of Stoker Hills, their actress and friend is suddenly abducted right before their camera lens and instantly give chase without a second to call the authorities, falling right into the maniac’s nightmarish world. Left behind for two detectives is the students’ tell-all camera, leaving behind the recording as the only clue into tracking down their undisclosed whereabouts and stopping the kidnapping-killer. As the detectives home in on the killer’s lair, only hours are left before a determined and desperate madman drains every single drop of their youthful blood for a deadly selfish cause.

Director Benjamin Louis and “Stoker Hills” want you to believe in their compelling and bloody slasher narrative of periled college students fighting for their lives against a formidable, resilient killer while two resolute detectives sniff out the mystery of their disappearance before it’s too late. However, in “Stoker Hills,” nothing is as it appears to be. As the first feature script penned and produced by Jonah Kuehner, the “State’s Evidence” director, Benjamin Louis, coproduces the sheeny cinematic slasher that hits upon almost every known trope in the book by incorporating a backwoods nook, a torturous rec room, and foggy night underneath a vividly complete full moon into a story that’s one part found footage and one part cop thriller. Benjamin and cinematographer John Orphan (“The Black String”) do a phenomenal job crafting away from a Los Angeles look and into an unrecognizable, any-town-America by shooting at the dead of night in L.A.’s low-lit surrounding areas of Griffith Park and the Angeles National Forrest without focusing in on or revealing well-known landmarks. “Wildling’s” Rab Butler and Timothy Christian coproduces the 2020 teen-mystery slasher.

“Stoker Hills” begins very much in the same way as my last review of Seth Landau’s “Bryan Loves You” with a deep-in-character production by the great Tony Todd (“Candyman”) as a film studies professor. Instead of warning audiences to look away if frightened or to be ushered out of the theater when shocked beyond just stomaching the content, Todd’s professor of cinema is passionate and enthusiastic about what great filmmaking and the auteurs who wield their work upon the world. However, much like “Bryan Loves You,” Tony Todd only dabbles into the narrative with a superficial house role that opens the doors for Ryan (David Gridley, “The Unhealer”), Jake (Vince Hill-Bedford, “Sorority Slaughterhouse”), and Erica (Steffani Brass, “Ted Bundy”), three slackjaw, maybe even indolent, students eager to take “The Walking Dead” and turn it into a “Pretty Woman” romance comedy known as “Street Walkers.” The concept is no Guillermo del Toro or Martin Scorsese, but nonetheless barely sates the professor’s threadbare faith in the three’s semester-ending grade. Along the way, we’re introduced laterally to character who will eventually be integrated into the story later and at a state of prominence to the mystery, such as with fellow star student Dani Brooks (television actress Tyler Clark) and her university benefacting donor Dr. Jonathan Brooks (John Beasley, “The Purge: Anarchy”). “Stoker Hills” also isn’t entirely linear as the footage soon appears to be corrupted only to be on pause by two officers investigating the case and analyzing the video. William Lee Scott (“Identity”) and Eric Etebari (“Scream at the Devil”) play the high-blood pressure, blue collar, family-man Detective Bill Stafford and a sophisticated bachelor and quasi-Rain man Detective Adams respectively. The Scott and Etebari cop drama show entertains as less CSI and more NYPD Blue or Law & Order with a conspicuous partner correlation only to be separated by adding snippets of out of context humanity, such as why Adam’s is a loner and Stafford hates changing baby diapers. Powerful stuff. Each character is connected to “Stoker Hills'” antagonist, Charles Muyer (Jason Sweat), who’s been abducting young, healthy people off the streets and into his vacant buildings of intravenous drips of blood into a milk crate-based cylinder beaker tube. Thomas R. Martin, Joy McElveen, Maya Nucci, Michael Faulkner, and “Eraser’s” Danny Nucci round out the cast.

Director Benjamin Louis cherry picks the best traits from a triad of genres to smush together into one trope-tastic “Stoker Hills”  A lumbering mute killer bred to annihilate in his nihilism from the slasher genre, two dedicated detectives determined to catch a killer and able to snoop out clues out of nothing that’s familiar toward the cop drama genre, and a pair of brosefs, who dude each other in every other line of dialogue no matter if it’s joshing in film studies class or being chased harrowingly through the woods and having their foot snagged in the teeth of a beartrap, pulling from the pot-smoking and arrogant hijinks of two immature college aged guys usually hovering around the teen comedy category.  All the actors really get into their parts to the point of a fault in creating a bogus, simulated environment as if a knockoff matrix, coded by naive aliens who know nothing of the human race other than watching “American Pie,” “Law & Order,” and every Renaissance era slasher film, is being pulled over the eyes. The whole ordeal that has a context surrounding Charles Muyer’s bad pig heart is also grossly under kneaded and bordering nonsensical until the ending. That game changing ending spooled by meta wiring puts in perspective every last minute of the well-paced 91-minute film, and when the narrative quickly closes upon itself and fades to black into the credits, every scene previously pondered and examined, crisscrossed into a mental algorithm that breaks down character arcs and progression devices, and spits out answers like an Amazon Alexa has suddenly last all its calculated determination in a snap of a flash. Kudos to “Stoker Hills'” screenwriter Jonah Kuehner for conceiving an overtreated trope decoy story and kudos to director Benjamin Louis in pulling the wool over our eyes without flinching or showing his cards too early.

Everybody run for “Stoker Hills” and become caught up in a diabolical twist that’ll deflate the suspense out of you but also leave you pleasantly surprised. 101 Films released this film last month, March 28th, on digital platforms. Since “Stoker Hills” is solely a digital release from UK distributor, there are no audio or video specs to note or review. Aforementioned, John Orphan helms the “Stoker Hills” noir and no-nonsense veneer which is and also the minor league Jigsaw traps are very “Saw”-like, even down to peppering certain scenes with over illuminating primary color gels if by spotlight. Roc Chen, a profound composer for China over the last decade, notes a less than impactful score in what could be considered more run of the mill material, but that also could play into the whole narrative twist. There were no bonus features available with the film nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. At first glance, “Stoker Hills” treads over the same worn trodden path of slasher predecessors, but then the finale hits like a five-finger slap in the face from Will Smith and, suddenly, everybody could be, should be, and will be talking about “Stoker Hills'” gripping gambit.

Being Slobby Drunk Doesn’t Excuse EVIL Deeds. “Promising Young Woman” reviewed! (Focus Features / Digital Screener)

On a weekly basis, Cassandra hits the night clubs and drinks herself into a stupor.  A male “Good Samaritan” will come over to assess her well being only to be selfishly determinedly for her to return to his place for a nightcap.  When on the verge of passing out or too immersed in drunken lethargy, the man makes his move with uninvited, unwanted show of handsy affection.  That’s when Cassandra springs her trap.  Feigning inebriation, the clearheaded Cassandra rouses a sobering, befuddled moment of blank expression, misplaced justification, and anger when the man’s seemingly easy lay catches them in an unsolicited sexual violation.  Her traumatizing past has molded her to become very good at pretending to be vulnerable until hearing a familiar name of a man, long thought to be out of the country, sends Cassandra down an itemized path of vengeance that not only includes ruining the life of the source of her unorthodox, yet necessary, campaign but also clump in every facet associated in with his shining existence.

If you needed a slap across the face in order to reassert yourself from the painful numbness of incessant news stories of young women being the vilified victims of sexual assault then “Promising Young Woman” is a stinging hot whack of four fingers, a thumb, and an open palm of wake the hell up!  From Emerald Fennel in her debut written and directed full length feature film comes a blunt narrative of systemic injustice involving rape and the social delusions stemmed out of grades of maturity, lengths of time, and levels of alcoholic drinking.  Coming off fresh from her recent role on Netflix’s period biographical drama, “The Crown,” Fennel draws motivation for her black comedic thriller from the infamous Brock Turner case of sexual assault on Chanel Miller that turned into a conviction judgement with abhorrent caveat in his early release for good behavior that the white, educated, star athlete’s life shouldn’t be destroyed because he’s a promising young man [sic].  “Promising Young Woman” targets every broken system that is meant to protect violated women despite their socializing determined conscious or unconscious state of affairs and has some mega star powers producing the social commentary material in such with “Suicide Squad” and “Bombshell” star, Margot Robbie, under her co-founded LuckyChap Entertainment along with the film’s star, Carey Mulligan, as executive producer. FilmNation Entertainment’s Glen Basner and Ben Browning fully finance the first real award contender of a 2021 release.

“Promising Young Woman” has an all-star, diverse class of actors surrounding principle lead, “Drive’s” Carey Mulligan as the methodically standoffish Cassandra, caught in a web of denial, self-depreciation, and straight up ignorance of the hurt caused directly and indirectly to whichever means to satisfy their own different shades of gray conscious. Mulligan is terrific as a coarse character rare to be juxtaposed against a veneer of bubble-gum chic with a reserved demeanor outside her burning the midnight oil working hours and coming out like a ferocious grizzly bear when calling out club scouting douchebags on their objectionable behavior. When Cassandra crosses paths with Ryan, comedian and “Eighth Grade” writer and director, Bo Burnham, Mulligan’s range is tested to take that disinterested and glassy eyed crusader and turn to a state of daily conformist complacency, the very dangerous thing Cassandra seeks to rectify one man after another, that slips Cassandra out temporary from her anti-heroine role until her dolled up, doughy eyes snap toward the camera and into a kill mode that goes straight for the pervert’s throat. An inclusive cast speaks volumes on not only how “Promising Young Woman” incorporates different ethnic and genre backgrounds and ages, but also doesn’t throw man to completely under the bus as Satan’s puppet on Earth with performances from Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Back”), Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2”), Jennifer Coolidge (“American Pie”), Clancy Brown (“Starship Troopers”), Adam Brody (“Jennifer’s Body”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Kick-Ass”), Alison Brie (“Scream 4”), Connie Britton (“American Horror Story”), and Molly Shannon (“Hotel Transylvania”).

“Promising Young Woman” wields a powerful theme to shed a brilliant light on everything that is fragmented with the way sexual assault accusations, trials, and punishments are handled.  The film also probes deep into the soul in how people who are not directly affected digest sexual assault but become accomplice in proximity in a range exhibited from complete, unnerving guilt to locking away the events in their mind in order to forget.  Fennel plausibly fashions a motif of passing judgement from assailant to victim while chiseling out the flawed logic in each deplorable excuse as to why a University Dean, a defense lawyer, and a good friend could cold-heartedly denounce, and frankly not lift one single finger threaded with moral fiber about, a young woman’s accusations.  The unpleasantry core of “Promising Young Woman’s” topical subject is nestled inside a sparklingly and colorful cladded showcase, housing an energetic and upbeat arrangement around a dark tone that, in a way, reflects the pretense goggles most see through to avoid any responsibility or conflict.   Empathy never seems to run it’s course as Fennel treads without fear on a mission to take back the blasted to smithereens dignity by deconstructing and exposing every unjust particle in this atypical rape-revenge thriller robust with heart paraded on by an ugly truth.

Remember when I said this film is a slap in the face wake up call? It’s more of a gut check, a conversation starter, and a watershed moment rolled up into one and now “Promising Young Woman” will land right into all the living room smart television sets in America with a Friday, January 15th VOD release from Focus Feature films. The rated R, 113 minute runtime release presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio will available for a 48-hour rental on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Vudu, Fandango, and Google Play, but if you don’t want to wait and want to brave a pandemic climate, select theaters have showings available. Benjamin Kracun’s camerawork, shot on an Arri Alexa, offers a lush and delicate milieu surrounding Cassandra who, with a Panavision lens, gleams in the scene and the soundtrack, comprised of early 2000’s pop inspired from Spice Girls, Paris Hilton, and even a strained violin rendition of a Britney Spears track, cues moments of levity before annihilating the live of the blank conscious. As far as special features go, there were no bonus materials or scenes included. “Promising Young Woman” revamps the way women approach vigilante justice with a candy coated shell and the maestro behind it all, Emerald Fennel, aims to redact or nullify the expression promising young man to no longer be a part of the conversation.

Pre-order “Promising Young Woman” on Blu-ray or DVD. Watch it on VOD come January 15th

Everything’s Chill at the Beach Until Evil Crashes the Party! “Dark Cove” review!

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Since the age of ten years old, four lifelong friends, Quinn, Jen, Joey, and Ian, camp on the outlying coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Quinn’s girlfriend, Rachel, tags along for a trip filled of booze, drugs, and beach lounging. When at first the group of friends meet up with two gung-ho surfing Australians and a drunkard Brit, a night of relaxation and hallucinogenic tripping follows until one of the Aussie’s makes a fateful move on Jen that begins a series of unfortunate and murderous events turning the fun camping getaway into a unbelievable nightmare for all.
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“Dark Cove” is a Canadian thriller from first time director Rob Willey that feasts upon the versatile and volatile nature that is aggressively human. The Vancouver Island beach backdrop is a serene, isolated stretch of sand, water, and forest rolled up into a coastal woodland. A perfect gathering point that serves suitably for “Dark Cove’s” remote needs and the aside from the roar of the surf, the tranquility becomes polluted by the wants of man that goes to prove the notion that one rotten apple can spoil the entire batch, including a peaceful beach, without needing to dump the likes of grisly viscera all over.
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Whereas “Dark Cove” conveys the underlying human aggression ready to explode at any given gas-lit spark, the film also conveys a hefty amount of breathy hot air. When building up toward the momentum-turning event, one would first wonder if anything would ever go array with no sense of a violent storm upon the horizon. Before everything spirals out of control, the centric group of characters find themselves amongst an endless cavern of talking points about the woes and the joys of their young lives growing up and being adults. Quinn quickly dismisses his recently earned university degree because he can’t find a job in his liberal arts field and has to work as a server, Joey’s immature mission in life is to have sex with a girl of every nationality, and Jen departs from a two year relationship that quickly has her jumping into the arms of strangers. The latter being more relevant to the story than all the other campfire jawing with Jen’s encounter with one of two Australian surfers. Its as if “Dark Cove” tries to become more of a film trying to make a statement about the uselessness of a higher education and that one out of five will be successful.
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From then on, the series of unfathomable events go from chill, a term Quinn constantly uses when he’s obviously not, to maximum carnage and confusion in a split second. The effect resembles the shock of going flat-out cold turkey, a sudden forced change that’s so terribly unbelievable it puts a wrench into the situational outlook afterwards. The backstory behind characters starts to quickly unravel to a point where they’re severely different characters than before. Quinn is somehow a master genius of hiding evidence, the professionally successful friend Ian snaps and goes bananas after the altercation between the Aussie and Jen, and Quinn’s girlfriend Rachel transforms into a cold person from a visibly warm and loving partner. Dean and Chase, the two Aussies, also suffer underdevelopment. Dean hints at their risky bohemian habits with their expired Canadian visas, but don’t exactly emit a bad vibe up until the moment of truth. Chase is the most interesting character with this most disappointing exposition about his history with a large Irezumi-like tattoo on nearly his entire back and his shows an enormous amount of aggressive power typical of hard life experiences.
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Rob Willey committed to a one-man filmmaking machine. Willey proved he can tell a coherent story through writing and directing the story while serving as also the lead actor in Quinn, producer, editor, and providing some original scores. His surfer “brah” attitude for Quinn stood out his character from the rest of his childhood friends who deemed more down to Earth with their raunchy “American Pie” sex jokes and philosophical debates. Co-producer Rob Abbate saddled up as sex hound Joey and his performance was filled with over saturated sex comedy that overwhelms, but his timing and delivery was on point, kicking up some chuckles here and there. I can’t say too much about the rest of the cast as they felt just too flat. Ty Stokoe is a bi fella who I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, but when his character Chase removes his shirt in anger and starts to gorilla yell at the sky, the passion didn’t quite fit the scenario and felt out of sync with the tone. Moments like this are prevalent throughout and do affect the raw appeal of “Dark Cove.”
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“Dark Cove” is a 2015 Hot Springs International Horror/Thriller film festival premier film that’s currently only available on iTunes, Digital HD, and Cable VOD. Also, the film is available on Canadian platforms Shaw, Bell, and MTS. I’m unable to critique the video and audio quality of the release since I was provided a DVD-R, but the 84 runtime feature stars Rob Willey, Rob Abbate, Ty Stokoe, Eliot Bayne, Cameron Crosby, Montanna McNalley, James Anderson, Jules Cotton, and Alexandra Brown. In conclusion, “Dark Cove” is an unimaginative, run-of-the-mill thriller we’ve seen before this time set on a Canadian sandy beach and accompanied with some jabs at their North American brethren. No offense taken, but “Dark Cove” is a tired premise done half-cocked.

Watch “Dark Cove” on Amazon Video!

Evil Medical Technicians. “Old 37” review!

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Under the sadistic thumb of their ruthless father, two physically and mentally abused brothers as children follow in their father’s footsteps in adulthood, falsely portraying to be EMT’s in old ambulance 37 and slaughtering those who desperately need medical attention on an infamous and isolated stretch of road. When the brothers’ loving mother becomes the victim of a hit and run by a group of young teens, the brothers’ quest to kill gets personal. Unbeknownst to them as the brothers’ targeted prey, the arrogant and rowdy teens live their complex and immature lives, overflowing with trivial matters such as fast cars, dating, and cosmetic surgeries.
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“Old 37” (aka “Ambulance 37” or aka “Death Call”) wrecks before reaching the finish line. Bittersweetly, the story by Paul Travers, written also by Paul Travers and Joe Landes, is an interesting concept of life savers taking lives and, interestingly enough, a similar idea was in the news recently where a supposed unmarked cop cart pulls over young women, but the driver is actually a cunning rapist instead of an actual officer of the law. “Old 37” is essentially art mimicking real life.  We feel safe when an emergency civil servant or agent is present or tells us not to worry, as exhibited in “Old 37.”  “Don’t worry, I’m a paramedic,” says one of the demented brothers.
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“Old 37” greatly has much going for the Three Point Capital funded movie.  Three Point Capital has backed many other notable films such as “Insidious:  Chapter 2,” “Nightcrawler,” and Kevin Smith’s “Red State.”  Partnered up with Joe Dante’s “Burying the Ex’s” post-production company Siren Digital, the two companies had the mucho dinero to sleekly design, which it does, and to hire a moderately formidable cast, which they do.  Kane Hodder and Bill Moseley headline, being the pair of horror icons forced to be reckoned with, and slide into the shoes of the two ambulance driving, bloodthirsty brothers, intercepting 911 calls via their scanner for victims.  Hodder hasn’t lost that Jason Voorhees gait and menacing body motions and Moseley, without even trying, has the uncanny ability to sinister up an entertaining and terrifying persona. Together on screen, a powerhouse of an unimaginable magnitude as they are, hands down, the highlight of “Old 37.”
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With high-end production value and two of probably the most prolific names in horror attached, what could go wrong? Well, the first wrong is “Old 37” is mostly an unfunny teen comedy rather than a horror movie. It’s more “She’s All That,” than “Scream.” It’s more “American Pie,” than “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” It’s more “10 Things I Hate About You,” than…you get the picture. Horror didn’t surface into full eligibility until about the last 20 minutes with the archetypical final girl chase finale and even then was the horror story still underdeveloped. The teen characters’s lives are too complex as they take over the story, including one awkward, self-loathing lead character, Samantha, eager to fit in (even though she does), eager to look beautiful (which she already does), and eager to obtain breast augmentation (though she doesn’t need them). The breast enhancement scenes drastically change the direction of the film, throwing me for a serious loop for various reasons: Samantha gets the okay right away when she asks her mother for new breasts, she gets new breasts in a matter of days, and she isn’t sore or in pain directly after receiving them. Time is an illusion when two the contrasts display Samantha throughout going forward from the entire beginning to end process for new flesh pillows while one of her crude friends gets murdered. Something doesn’t add up.
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Special effects guy Pete Gerner and his talented crew do blood spattering justice with the sanguinary written murders and while I feel the brutality and the blood is amongst the film’s aurora, the gooey gory scenes are quickly edited, taking away the time to where we can’t fully appreciate, fully engulf, nor fully digest the “I Sell The Dead” Gerner effects. The final nail in the coffin is director Alan Smithee. If you Google Alan Smithee, results will show that Alan Smithee is a pseudonym used by directors who want to disown a project. Christian Winters removed his name from “Old 37” because he thought his control over the film wasn’t his anymore. And that’s fairly accurate as “Old 37” seems and feels incomplete, much like Rob Schmidt’s 2011 unfinished debacle “Bad Meat,” directed under his pseudonym Lulu Jarmen, and just like “Bad Meat,” “Old 37” has the potential, the substance, and the talent to what could have been a solid horror narrative.

Overall, “Old 37” has the financial backing, has some serious blood that made the cut, has a great soundtrack assortment, and has motherfuckin’ Bill Moseley and Kane Hodder. What the disowned film lacks is a well-written narrative, contains poorly written and idiotic teenage characters, and needs a director with an eye for direction instead of a producer with greedy big pockets. “Old 37,” under the name “Death Call,” will be hitting DVD shelves from UK distributor High Fliers films. If you’re a fan of Hodder and Moseley, but don’t expect a typical horror movie as this film goes through multiple genre transitions and doesn’t settle just on one at any point. There is one delicate scene of Olivia Alexander which I’m sure will be pleasing to any viewer.