EVIL’s Greatest Trick Was Convincing The World Giallo Was Dead. “Abrakadabra” reviewed! (Cauldron Films / Blu-ray Screener)


In Milan 1951, a prestigious magician, Dante the Great, is tragically killed when a deadly trick goes wrong. Fast forward 30 years later, the magician’s son, Lorenzo Manzini, has trouble finding his own success following his father’s footsteps as a struggling magician. The night before his grand debut, a woman has been gruesomely murdered on the very stage his father had died. As a compulsive gambler and an excessive drinker in over his head in debt, Manzini goes on with the show, but the events following his performance inspire a grisly, sadistic murderer to uses magic tricks to kill and point all evidence toward him. Hounded by a mysterious, chain-smoking detective, a frantic Manzini must split his efforts toward his own investigation into the murders, but as the bodies start to pile up and the evidence grows even more against him, there may not be anything left in Manzini’s bag of tricks to prove his innocence.

In the old traditions of an Italian murder-mystery, “Abrakadabra” is the 2018 released giallo inspired film from the Argentinian filmmaking brothers, Luciano and Nicolas Onetti, along with Carlos Goitia serving as the third wheel scriber on the script. The trio have worked previously on one other project from 2017, another horror of course, with the haunted ruins premised, “What the Waters Left Behind.” With the Onetti’s being brothers, their collaboration runs deeper, sharing an affinity for the genre that has inspired the duo to collaborate on another giallo thriller, “Francesca” in 2015 and “Deep Sleep,” where Nicolas served as producer to Luciano’s writing and directing duties. “Abrakadabra,” as well as “Francesca,” are not only far cries from the haunting and terrifying reminiscence of the ruins in “What the Waters Left Behind,” but also varies in direction, cinematography, and production design that more in lines with giallo hallmarks, such as extreme closeups, awkward camera angles, and posh interiors. “Abrakadabra” is a production of the Nicholas Onetti and Michael Kraetzer New Zealand founded company, Black Mandala, and another Nicholas production company on a more localized level with Guante Negro (Black Glove) Films co-founded with brother, Luciano.

Despite being dubbed in a fine-tuned homage of an Italian overlay track, the actors involved are hail from South America, as where the film is shot. The story centers around Lorenzo Manzini, played by German Baudino (“2/11: Day of the Dead”), and Baudino shepherds Manzini toward the brink of desperation, spinning out of control from the malevolent forces that seem to be binding his hands to gruesome murders. Baudino captures the marks of the giallo fervor in his animated performance, especially when running through a memorial park with arms flailing and a streak of fear across his face, but since it’s a murder mystery swarming around Manzini, the magician’s encounters with other rich characters comes key to unravelling Manzini’s dubious circumstances. His lovely assistant Antonella (Eugenia Rigon), the lurking chain-smoking detective (Gustavo Dalessanro), and a hospice-housed convicted murderer (Abel Giannoni) become cryptic pawns that turns “Abrakadabra’s” into a deadly game of chess soused deep into the thralls of a calculated whodunit. The remaining cast, including Clara Kovacic (“Jazmin”), Ivi Brickell, Raul Gederlini (“Francesca”), Pablo Vilela, Alejandro Troman, and Luz Champane, are perhaps the weakest link in the chain to hold “Abrakadabra” back from being a well-rounded giallo. There presence seemingly come into the fold without much creditability to their substance toward the story are, some of them, are easily dispatched with the same loosy-goosiness that firmly dilute their characters.

You have to give the Onetti brothers tremendous credit. Their attention to detail techniques, production design, and overall wardrobe schemes accomplished a toppling feat in taking the natural aesthetics, textures, and sounds of an Argentinian setting shot film and transformed all the blatant aspects to resemble an Italian giallo filmed in Italy from the 70’s or 80’s. Yet, does the veneer alone make “Abrakadabra” a good giallo film or just an immaculate carbon copy? The Onetti’s certainly know enough to exact a perfect replica as seen in “Francesca,” which was my first experience with the Onetti brothers, but “Abrakadabra” is a step backwards form “Francesca” from a story standpoint with some mishmash editing and character underdevelopment around the midsection of the second act that immobilizes the story from going forward properly, leaving the lead character Manzini in a circular rut rather than a tailspin to the climax. The prologue of Dante the Great’s accident and the twist ending that harks back to a opening Harry Houdini quote, “What the eyes see and the ears here…the mind believes,” solidifies as the best riveting acts of the Onettis’ film that becomes equalized negatively by a drab dynamic interior. In any case and though an Argentinian production “Abrakadabra” is an invigorating slice of Italian cinema with razor-sharp characteristics and a well shrouded and gloved killer.

Open sesame on the inaugural, limited edition Blu-ray, release of “Abrakadabra” from the new genre distributor on the block, Cauldron Films, who plans to release a full slate of cult films from 70s and 80s in the coming months. Limited to only 1000 copies, the Blu-ray release will include inserts of promotional artwork, a limited edition high quality slipcase with original poster art, and a CD soundtrack with music by Luciano Onetti. However, I won’t be able to review in full the finished package or the audio and video qualities as this review is based off a disc screener, but I can tell you reaffirm that DP Carlos Goitia’s scenes are amazing well established, lit, and a glimpse into the past. The Luciano Onetti score can be invasive at times, but a pure product of the electro-synth rock that goes hand-in-hand with the giallo cinematography. Audio options include an Italian 5.1 surround sound, and an Italian and English 2.0 stereo that come with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Accompanying the unrated 70 minute film is the theatrical trailer and raw behind-the-scenes footage without subtitles. As Cauldron Film’s maiden release, “Abrakadabra” is anything but hocus-pocus with a bloody homage to Italian giallo films complete with a vital synthesizing soundtrack and a shocking twist finale.

“Abrakadabra” Available on Prime Video!

The Devil’s Greatest Trick is His Evil Being a Part of You. “Luciferina” review!


Natalie’s dedication to her religious vocation has led her to become a nun. Her celibacy is a symptom of disgust with her family’s household, a home the young virgin could not bear to live in another second or much rather return to that stems from an uncomfortable inkling of unnatural circumstance, but when she is informed her parents were in a tragic accident involving the death of her mother and a father bedridden by shock, Natalie reluctantly returns home. She’s greeted by Angela, her university studying older sister, and her delinquently dangerous boyfriend, Mauro, and alongside a few of Angela’s classmate, the decision to track down a shaman on an secluded island on the outskirts of town has convinced the group to seek alternative and holistic treatments, such as a brew made from the mystical Ayahuasca plant, to battle their own self-complications. What they discover is that some inner demons should be left untapped and undisturbed or else their souls will pay the consequence.

“Luciferina” is a black rites narrative saturated with psychosexual tendencies and religious divergences from writer-director Gonzalo Calzada whose horror mystery footprint, the Argentinian filmmaker’s common foundation for his prior work in “Resurrection” and “The Clairvoyant’s Prayer,” maintains a strong foothold for his latest venture from 2018 with a story of solid foreboding and overshadowing complication that’s naturally opaque, guiding viewers seemingly toward one direction and then obliterating their conjectures in an in a blink of an eye about how characters or events might play out. Layered with themes and heavy with motifs, Calzada summons the internal demon, figuratively and literally, from within an indie picture budget that’s complete with accidental demonic conjuring, eye-devouring effects, and a climax involving temple fornication of various Kama Sutra positions.

Young, beautiful, and, yet, withdrawn and plain, Natalia has embedded herself into nun-hood, a means to escape the unexplainable discomfort inside her own home and even in herself as she’s haunted by visions of a disheveled woman with crooked arms popping unnaturally out of a white nightgown, but not all of Natalia’s visions are bleak as she’s able to, at times, define a person’s gleaming aura during a momentary spell. Sofia Del Tuffo stars as the troubled vocational woman, a role that demands much from the young actress who can easily transition from a screaming and scared postulate to taking charge of her destiny by gripping Satan’s horns. Tuffo opposites Pedro Merlo as Abel who is, well, more or less a potential love interest. Abel has fire inside him sparked by his desire for Natalia, but goes full inferno after downing the Ayahuasca juice. The light and dark of Abel has Merlo flipping the script continuously and the actor keeps up with relative ease. The opinionated downside to roles Natalia and Abel might be lost in translation, but there’s a sense of disconnect between their multiple purposes: shaman visit, the unspoken connection for each other, and their intertwined destinies. These aspects go fairly unexplored or are either, in the script, diluted in the details. The supporting cast also don’t add volume to the story and though not all of the cast are like this, a good chunk are rather auxiliary for the moment of pinnacle prominence and their sub-stories are quickly squished – that’s the Gonzalo Clazada affect. The remaining cast includes Marta Lubos (“Darkness by Days”), Melena Sanchez, Francisco Donovan, Stefania Kossl, Gaston Cocchiarale (“Terror 5”), and Desiree Gloria Salgueiro.

“Luciferina’s” themes bubble quite easily to the surface, the more obvious found in the religious field, but an interesting theme is a woman’s protective, if not problematic, stance toward copulation and the guarded uterus and their right to chose. Natalia has no experience with sex and she’s constantly under the pressure of having sex, even inside the chaste nunnery. Natalia nonchalantly pushes away one of the boys in the nun’s drug rehab program with not much oomph, she then comes under siege by the forcibly accosting Mauro and his verbal rape fantasies toward his girlfriend’s younger sister, and then Abel’s internal struggle with his Faustian under guise who enthusiastically confesses his hard on to score with Natalia to bring forth more evil spawn. A common motif from the baby making is the uterus that pops up in Natalia’s dreams and her late mother’s frantic paintings that circle around the pressures of motherhood and as Natalia procrastinates under the semblance of saving her own life to further prolong her inevitable destiny, she comes to the realization running will prove for naught and becomes empowered. One thing weird in relation is not the uterus in itself, but rather the computer generated baby in the womb; the impression is okay in construction as the baby has some realism in the detail, but the adverse effect is the use of the effect that seems pointless and ostentatious.

Artsploitation Films and Reel Suspects presents “Luciferina” onto Blu-ray home video. The anamorphic widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ration, presentation is quite sharp with textures and details in a lossless image. Calzada uses much of the natural coloring in daytime sequences and the night scenes are moderately bluish and director of photography, Claudio Beiza, has immense range and depth that provide astonishing interior and exterior backdrops that can be subtly pleasing. The Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound substantially keeps with the tone and pacing of the story. Dialogue is balanced and verbose in the forefront. The release also comes with a Spanish language 2.0 stereo track. Both audio tracks come with English subtitles that saw minor issues with translation errors and timing. The only bonus feature available is the film’s theatrical trailer. “Luciferina’s” contemporary tale of possession and sexual innuendo is rabid. Director Gonzalo Calzada’s ambiguity of mystery horror is grossly engaging while “Luciferina” can also be glossy with splayed monstrous savagery and graphic sexual content, two genre commodities that churn easy entertainment.

An Ageless Evil Takeover! “Children of the Night” review!

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Alicia, a reporter working tirelessly on reports of missing children, receives a letter from Erda of Limbo, a haven for unwanted children located in an isolated area of Argentina. When Alicia arrives, she can’t shake strange inklings that the children’s faces seem familiar to her. Come to find out, all the children are vampires, created shamelessly by adult vampires, and now some of the vampires, some elder in age who are stuck in the body in which they were turned, live under the care of their human caretaker Erda. However, the children are not safe as vampire hunters have assembled around their serene community, lying and waiting to drive a stake into each of the timeless vampires. Their survival depends on Erda, Alicia’s reporting, and the 90-year-old grandson of Dracula himself. Though the community of vampires seek to reap the world of mortals as they have an apocalyptic plan to put in motion.

“Children of the Night,” also known under the original title “Limbo,” is written and directed by Ivan Noel and under the thumb of numerous Argentinian producers and actors, the mythology of Dracula lives yet again on screen. The film uniquely puts a different spin on the old Prince of Darkness tale, creating a jutting story that surrounds a scenario with Dracula’s bloodline kin. While the idea touches on the rarity of vampire children, contrasting with “Interview with the Vampire” or more recently “Let The Right One In”, there arguably lies missing pieces to Noel’s film to properly complete a story of this size and, perhaps, the microbudget hindered and faltered under financial stress rather than just becoming a medium of storytelling. For instance, much of the background on Erda’s writing to Alicia’s to travel to Limbo isn’t necessarily forthright and that feels neglected not on purpose, but rather feels neglected absentmindedly and financially.
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Secondly, the children characters vary in age and the girth of their long lives should have been explored more to develop more meaningful characters. Noel’s version bypasses many valuable characters and their traits to make the children of the night more likable, or hated, or something, because in Noel’s version, the children could live or die and not an emotion would be concerned. Noel does bring a certain enigma to children’s position in the world as we’re not totally convinced their evil or well-intentioned. Children caregivers are similarly forgotten when regarding their attributes. Alicia’s and Erda’s hemophilia condition is suppose to echo the children somehow, but the idea barely misses the cutting room floor completely and is only mentioned briefly upon Erda’s and Alicia’s initial meeting.
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The specials effects are minor, but effectively garnered. The majority of the effects shine through the second and third acts, especially during the all out bloody vampire hunter and children vampire brawl in an open field where children will be children and play with their food before slicing and sinking their teeth right into the necks in a blood splattering type fashion. I also thought the wooden stake on a rotating drill was a fascinating, if not very phallic. Along with this gruesome play yard greet and eat, comedy is sprinkled in throughout the duration, but some of the material falls flat; the comedy feels dated or obsolete, offering nothing new to that side of the genre. “Children of the Night”, simply put, is a vampire film with a feat of a concept, but the film lies at the fringe of being a horror-comedy that stirs up calamity with my critique about Ivan Noel’s semi-serious take on the Dracula mythology.

The performances are little to be desired for with the inclination that the actors, mostly involving the children, are being spoon fed dialogue or given cue cards, especially in more serious toned scenes. Dracula’s grandson The Count becomes the poor performance scapegoat. Child actor Lauro Vernon portrays The Count and his naturally sculpted ominous almond shaped and gloomy eyes, protruding upper lip, bronze skin, and lanky thin features creates a stereotypical creepy child archetype, but Vauro’s attempt to execute a Dracula-esque character, waning the powers of Dracula, is less expressive and more passive in deliverance. The Count in the script is powerful; one who oversees the children as a protector and a worthy warrior against a vast superior, well armed vampire hunting band of men, but instead the character weakly wanders from scene-to-scene even when his flock is being picked off and staked one-by-one.
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“Artsploitation Films” releases this 2014 Spanish-languaged Argentinian film on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ry is presented in a widescreen 1.87:1 aspect ratio and looks fairly decent during daytime or lighted scenes with slightly noticeable ISO noise. However, with a film titled “Children of the Night,” night scenes more common and also reek more havoc on the quality as many of the night scenes maintain a blocky posterization with the digital film. Digital noise also plagues the digital film produced during low lit scenes, creating undefined shadows and blob-like shapes. Overall, “Children of the Night” has a fair share of budgetary quirks and flaws and the story loosely presents itself with an unclear and oddly edited lineage. Totally ignoring this release would be a mistake as producer, writer, and director Ivan Noel has fain under the limitations and manages to technically achieve a few great medium and long shots, though Noel seems to be attached to the closeup. Check out “Arsploitation Films” Blu-ray or DVD release of “Children of the Night” for another take on the mythology of Dracula!

Second Lesson of Evil by Knowing Your ABCs! “The ABCs of Death 2” review!

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Ready for the second round of ABCs of death? Twenty-six new directors sign, seal, and deliver twenty-six new stories about death and breathe a whole new life into this highly anticipated sequel to the highly popular 2012 anthology. The ABCs of Death 2 attempts to be callous, sick, and offers up more blood and gore than it’s predecessor while the ABCs are very elementary, its the death part that makes then alphabet more complicated.
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When one glances the cover and see thats familiar figure of the death eating Grim Reaper holding a story book, one who knew nothing about the anthology would consider The ABCs of the Death to be strictly a horror genre, short story telling series in the same ballpark as “Creepshow,” which ironically enough has a similar, yet cartoony, ghastly Grim Reaper on it’s sophomore sequel DVD cover. That assumption is significantly mistaken. The Grim Reaper is all about the death in every sense of the way and “The ABCs of Death” productions resemble more of the controversial and ultra-violent “Faces of Death” series. If you scour the internet, or just have the entire collection, many of the VHS and DVD editions have a similar Grim Reaper, but again more cartoonish. The content though is all about death gathering home recordings of unspeakable acts of death from suicide, murders, and to accidentals just to name a few.
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Yes, there are fantastic horror elements to “The ABCs of the Death” as well making this hybrid of an anthology that more entertaining, but the sequel relies a lot on the human element. The nature of man is cruel and vicious and most of the 26 films are based on this true to form fact. For example, “C is for Capital Punishment” by director Julian Barratt tells the story of a lynch mob trying to justify the disappearance of a village girl, Aharon Keshales “F is for Falling” involves the tautness of a rifle-toting Palestinian boy who discovers a Israeli fighter dangling from her parachute chords stuck in a tree, or Vincenzio Natali’s “U is for Utopia” in where a society made up of thin, good looking people living their lives while the ugly people are hunted down and burned alive.
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What I also like about “The ABCs of Death” is the various culturally inspired films. There are directors from all over the glob spanning from Japan, England, France, Argentina and Nigeria just to name a few and all of who incorporate their own culture and style in the mixture. Some introduced comedy while others took a stylish-serious route and others just wanted to scare the pants off you. The couple animated shorts weren’t as rememberable as in the first anthology, but certain “D is for Deloused” by Robert Morgan will at least make you have underlining nightmares.
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Some of the more memorable shorts stood out over all the rest. One in particular was Steven Kostanski’s “W is for Wish” which took a late 80’s to early 90’s take on a fantasy toy commercial where two children wished to be a part of and then actually went into the world where it was like nothing they expected. In fact, carnage and chaos (and awkwardly weird and fantastic) was the maelstrom these kids were thrusted into making their fantasy a real and deadly nightmare.
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Magnolia Home Entertainment scores big with the sequel to “The ABCs of Death” and I’m sure the company won’t stop at just two. Expect more great films from lesser known directors and more blood and guts than ever. In the meantime, pick up your copy of “The ABCs of Death 2” on DVD or Blu-ray because you never know when you might keel over and die!