EVIL Masked as a Religion. “Bryan Loves You” reviewed! (MVD / Blu-ray)

All New Blu-ray release of “Bryan Loves You” on Amazon.com

Something weird is spreading across a small Arizona town.  A chapter of a new religion has influenced most of the community into believing in Bryan, a pure and pious young boy from long ago who was brutally slain by the devil.  Jonathan, a local psychotherapist receives a camera from his uncle, also a health professional, with a self-recording that warns Jonathan that Bryan zealots are a dangerous, violent cult.  Deciding to document the situation himself, Jonathan repurposes the camera to clandestinely record the widespread Bryan gatherings and even infiltrate their church where they speak in tongues and wear the scarred mask of Bryan.  As Jonathan goes deeper into the uncomfortable insanities of Bryan’s world, the more Bryan followers takes an interest in reconditioning Jonathan. 

“Bryan Loves You’s” grainy SOV pseudo-documentary lacquer not only captures the icy blank stares, the unabating drone chanting, and the brainwashed coup of an insidious cult assimilating small town America, but the Seth Landau written and directed film also homogenously captures, all too presently well, that sense of ambivalent and conspiracy dread that knots apprehension uncomfortably in the pit of the stomach.  The 2008 released “Bryan Loves You” has the story set in 1993 Arizona made out to be a historical home video and CCTV recorded account of the analyzed and dissected suppressed footage coming to light for the first time incomplete with censored last nights and specific addresses to make the pseudo-doc appear more genuine and shocking.  Filmed in and around the suburbs of Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona, “Bryan Loves You” is a found footage subgenre production self-produced by Mike Mahoney and Seth Landau, under the filmmaker’s Landau Motion Pictures, and marks the debut feature film of Landau’s humble career that started roughly around 2003 as a production assistant on “Arrested Development.”

For the average popcorn movie goer, “Bryan Loves You” is about obscure as they come with a no-name director and a cast with relatively no-name actors with the exception of one that might have a chance of recognition by the common Joe Schmo.  Old heads may recognize George Wendt, one of the barflies from the sitcom “Cheers” and the Saturday Night Live sketch of Super Fans, in his brief and strange scene as a patient holding a doll that speaks to him about people who talk about him.  For chin-deep genre fans, Wendt is about the biggest A-lister you can have in an indie film and what’s unusual about “Bryan Loves You” is the stacked list of iconic made-by-horror names that make up the cast list.  It’s impressive.  Landau’s connection to the late great master of horror Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator”) opened the door to George Wendt, who starred in Gordon’s “King of the Ants,” and, likely, led to the onboarding fan favorites such as Brinke Stevens (“The Slumber Party Massacre”), Tiffany Shepis (“Tromeo and Juliet”), Lloyd Kaufmann (“The Toxic Avenger”), Daniel Roebuck (“The Devil’s Rejects”), Chuck Williams (“Demon Wind”), and Tony Todd (“Candyman”).  Now, with these many names, none of them have starring roles and few have reoccurring scenes, but they are headlined to draw attraction for “Bryan Loves You.”  Honestly, the performances are hardly worth nothing.  Steves and Kaufmann have little dialogue and are shot at weird angles that makes them hardly recognizable.  Best scenes go to Tony Todd as a hesitantly disturbed and full of fear narrator standing in an empty board room and talking directly into the camera about what we, the audience, are about to witness, even directing viewers to turn away or to be ushered out of the theater (did this get a theatrical release?) if the content becomes too shocking to behold.  Seth Landau stars as the principal lead Jonathan who can’t be taken seriously as a psychoanalyst as there is no depth to the character in those regards.  Plus, as someone who’s supposed to uphold ethical standards, Jonathan breaks quite a few HIPPA regulations and breaks into houses with a camera, filming Bryan acolytes without their consent.  “Bryan Loves You” rounds out the cast with Tori King, Candy Stanton (“Exit to Hell”), Shane Stevens (“The Graves”), Jilon VanOver (“Bad Blood”), Tom Noga (“Anonymous Killers”), Jesse Ramiawi, Jacqui Allen (“Blue Lake Butcher”) and Daniel Schweiger (“Die-ner”)

Seth Landau’s found footage cult film is a rough cut of rudimentary psychological suspense restrained by its limiting low-ceiling budget.  The acutely hard cut editing and wonky framing is enormously puzzling within the narrative’s supposed single camera source documentary structure that suddenly diffuses into being a splice between Jonathan’s camera, which he loses halfway through the story, and a bunch of randomly placed CCTV footage across all of Arizona, in which some scenes are randomly placed in the desert where no structures are seemingly present to house a camera.  Who gathered and edited all this multi-video footage together?  Or does that play into the mystery, no matter how illogical, of adding to “Bryan Loves You’” unsettling allure?  What Landau does accomplish compares closely to what directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick were able to profoundly achieve with their unexpected breakout found footage blockbuster, “The Blair Witch Project.”  Now, I’m not saying “Bryan Loves You” had the audience gasping power as the “The Blair Witch Project” but the air in the story still feels very uncomfortably still, like in holding your breath, because something sinister is closing in and that type of disturbing presence, coupled with the erratic demonic behavior boiled to the surface if love for the almighty Bryan is absent, is all too relatable in today’s political climate.

Though “Bryan Loves You,” MVD Visual really loves Bryan right back with a high-definition Blu-ray release, remastered and upscaled from the original master source, a digital recorded standard definition, with an approved up-conversion of 172,800 pixels to over 2 million pixels per frame to achieve full HD.  For SOV, the handheld cam footage turns out more detailed than expected with suitable tinctures that are often less vivid in the found footage genre; however, there are still varying levels of quality from lower quality posterization to better than mid-grade delineation.  Though stated as presented in a widescreen 1:78:1 aspect ratio on the MVD Marquee Collection back cover, the actual ratio is a pillarbox 1:33:1 without straying from that display. The English language dual channel stereo track also has varying fidelity levels using the inconsistency of a built-in handheld mic but the good bones behind the range and depth retain the natural auditory proportionate. A few augmented audio tracks are snuck in for effect, such as the preacher’s demon-speak and the school PA system. English subtitles are optional. With a new Blu-ray release comes all new special features with a few short film-length interviews between filmmaker Seth Landau and George Wendt (44:50 minutes), Tiffany Shepis (50:49 minutes), Daniel Roebuck (59:35 minutes), and Brinke Stevens (31:46 minutes) touching upon more than just “Bryan Loves You” but also various career moments and other media cultural topics. Also featured are two commentaries: a 2008 commentary with Landau, select cast and crew, and JoBlo critic James Oster and a new 2022 commentary with only Landau. Plus, a brand new 2022 theatrical trailer. “Bryan Loves You” draws parallels to the 1993 Waco, Texas cult led by David Koresh of the Davidian sect preaching fire and brimstone, but writer-director-product Seth Landau adds his own supernatural concoction in a trade-in of doom and gloom for mindless devotion and diabolism that turns folks into followers and flesh-hungry fiends at times. Maybe not the prime cut of the cult genre but does stand out even if you don’t really love “Bryan.”

All New Blu-ray release of “Bryan Loves You” on Amazon.com

Superpowers Can Be Just as EVIL as They are Good. “The Unhealer” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

“The Unhealer” on Blu-ray home video from Scream Factory!

An old graverobber unearths the supernatural powers of an ancient Native American burial ground that gives him the ability to heal as well as to be resilient against injury with self-restoring powers.  When exploiting the local residents of his newfound “Godly” gift, a botched healing of a bullied teenage Kelly with severe pica disorder transfers the powers to him, curing his disorders and restoring his health while also leaving the old graverobber to die.  With a new lease on life, Kelly pursues his dreams, standing up to his relentless tormenters, and even finding the courage to ask out a girl, but when the powers prove to be addiction beyond control and the bullies never let up on their aggression on him, Kelly uses his newfound gifts to exact a deadly course of revenge. 

“Pet Sematary” meets “Christine” – a Stephen King-esque bully-revenge, supernatural thriller “The Unhealer” from the Argentinean born director Martin Guigui.  The music video and feature film director returns to American horror nearly a decade later after helming the 2011 “Beneath the Darkness,” starring Dennis Quaid, with a thrilling teen angsty script penned by first time screenwriters Kevin E. Moore and J. Shawn Harris that recalls a narrative very familiar to the late 80’s to early 90’s with oppressive high school bullying by the jocks and the turning point revenge by the receiving end pipsqueak.  Originally scripted under the title “Pica Boy,” “The Unhealer” reveals the dangers of severe polarities between one disorder to the next with the humbling fragilities trapped inside one’s own psychological disorder to the over-confidence of feeling invincible due to physical anomalies that result in no pain being suffered, losing one’s empathetic reasoning.  “The Unhealer” is produced by writer J. Shawn Harris and his sibling actress, “Night of the Demons 2” and “Night of the Scarecrow’s” Cristi Harris along with star Natasha Henstridge and “Why?” filmmakers Corbin Timbrook and Galen Walker with Horror Business Films and 7 Ideas serving as production companies.

Headlined with three big and recognizable names inside the genre circles and out, the film stars Lance Henriksen (“Pumpkinhead,” “Aliens”), Natasha Henstridge (“Species,” “Ghost of Mars”) and Adam Beach (“Windtalkers,” “New Mutants”) playing variable degrees in their roles important to “The Unhealer’s” story progression and each performance never overlaps prominent personalities that can sometimes stall out and unbalance a production.   Henriksen plays a long in the tooth snakeoil salesman named Pflueger who exploits the locals with his newfound healing powers and when he’s hired by Kelly’s desperate mother, Natasha Henstridge, the scene becomes a passing of the torch as Pflueger unintentionally transfers his powers to Kelly (Elijah Nelson, “Chain of Death”) that magically heals him of his longtime psychological Pica disorder. Not so much a youthful soul anymore, Henriksen has tall tell signs of showing his age, but the 81-year-old New York City born actor can still sear memorable performances into our psyche with a wisecracking charlatan conman in Pflueger, dressed from head to toe in a shabby white suit and tossing up awkward hand gestures when deriding burial ground protecting Shaman Red Elk, played by long time serial supporting man Branscombe Richmond (“Commando,” “Hard to Kill”). More awkward in his reaction to receiving an unexplainable supernatural gift is Elijah Nelson who goes from deaths door to want to join the Navy Seals in a matter of minutes after the Pflueger plot point passes. The writing doesn’t exactly assist in Kelly’s transition with an acceptance of power without an inkling of trying to comprehend is as Kelly tries to hurt himself and tries to encourage being pounded by bullies as if he already fully understands the immense reality of his abilities. Even his mother, who under the understanding that she has tried everything possible scientific medicine man has to offer to cure her only child, is instantly okay with Kelly’s rushing into the unknown. A nearly unrecognizable Natasha Henstridge from her “Species” franchise days after a thyroid autoimmune disease diagnosis doesn’t stop the late 40’s blond beauty from being just that – a beauty – in an overly protective mother role desired by the local single men from the house visiting doctor to the Adam Beach’s Native American Sheriff Adler. Beach becomes the absent father figure for Kelly and a person who has a foot in both the Native American spiritual world and in the Anglo-Saxon realities and melodramatics. Beach proceeds as the main lead of the third act, following Henriksen and Henstridge to keep a constant, recognizable presence throughout and providing his own stamp as the voice of reason whereas the first two culminated extreme biases toward Kelly. Kayla Carlson, Angeline Appel, Gavin Casalegno, David Gridley, Mike Gray, Thomas Archer, Will Ropp, and one my new personal favorite actors in Chris Browning (“Agnes”) fills out the remaining cast.

Very early on initial reactions toward “The Unhealer” were poor mainly because of the luridly unflattering dialogue and perplexing transitions between scenes that don’t exactly hit the mark matching up character intentions, but the more I watched, the more an optimistic sensation started to arise in me. Starting small in the recesses of my cerebral film database then growing until metastasizing fully into my mind and, eventually, into my nostalgic-detecting ticker is “The Unhealer’s” robust recollection toward how fun bully-revenge-thrillers from two to three decades ago can be with a carbon copy simulation ingrained with a novel narrative surrounding Midwest Native American mysticisms carrying with it that age old “Spiderman” insinuation that with great power, comes great responsibility, but in “The Unhealer’s case, as the tagline suggests, comes great pain. Screenwriters Moore and Harris burden Kelly with a King Midas touch that no matter how hard the character tries to contain his nearly invincible power, outside forces influences and unforeseen happenstances steer Kelly toward self-destructing disaster. Between a group of buffed up and obnoxious high school jocks as unyielding tormenters, Kelly pushed into a self-protecting corner despite a generous passive attitude, especially being run over with car at one point, and the unpredictable and limitless avenues built as substory awry to make “The Unhealer” a joyful hidden gem, the Martin Guigui film on the outside appears to be a cheap, indistinguishable, B-movie, but if you dig deeper, dig until you unearth a medicine man’s ancient dusty bones, and you’ll discover deep seeded veneration, a gripping story, and dark magic carnage.

“The Unhealer” will undoubtedly fly under many viewers’ radars but is a must watch from (Shout!) Scream Factory’s distribution label in a cooperation release with VMI Worldwide (“Orphan Killer”). The full HD, 1080p Blu-ray of the 2020 production is an encoded region A release with unrated certification and a runtime of 93 minutes, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Generally nothing to swing image quality from one spectrum to the next with a RED Weapon Dragon digital shot. Already decent at compression, the RED camera provides a crisp demarcating image in the forefront and capture the textures in a literal closeup with focus precision. “The Unhealer’s” lighting and set dresses cater less to the supernatural phantasmagoria with Massimo Zeri’s realistic Arizona landscapes and suburbia venues that don’t excite the camera with its cold truth realism rather than the mise-en-scene tropes of horror atmospherics. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 also has zip to complain about with high resolution quality with a surprising ample range of effects. Dialogue is prominent and clear as well. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Special features include one-sided individual cast/character behind-the scenes interviews which is basically cut and edited footage of the actors describing their characters in footnote fashion. The gag reel is a better feature that takes the same interview format, intertwines it with music, and lines up the gags with an instrumental soundtrack in one seamless show of goofs and hijinks throughout production. Deleted scenes and extended/alternate scenes, surrounding mostly around Kelly and Dominique’s coy love interest, cap the features. At first glance of the final package, “The Unhealer” looks totally like a rip off inside and out of the cardboard slipcover with a “Star Wars'” lightsaber color scheme and a character illustrated design underneath the title dressed in “Stranger Things” font, but don’t let parroting cover fool you as “The Unhealer’s” dark journey from being the bullied to the bully is an unabated and inescapable catch-22.

“The Unhealer” on Blu-ray home video from Scream Factory!

There’s No Coming Down This Evil Mountain! “Dark Mountain” review!

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Three documentary filmmakers and gold hunters hitchhike to the remote Superstition Mountains of Arizona. The Lost Dutchman mine is their destination goal and all the long the way they film their experience until they disappeared and only the footage remained. The mountain have claimed many before them, will the mountain claim more unsuspecting treasure seekers?
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“Dark Mountain” claims to be a found footage experience that displays paranormal activities based on true events. Alien green lights, cave ghosts, and internal madness are all attributed to the Superstition Mountains. This is also the film’s downfall as too much is attributed to make Superstition Mountain a mystery all the way to the credits. The backstory about the Apache being the root cause of the disappearances would have been a more likely and just that more interesting because, really, when is the last time you’ve seen killer Apaches in modern times? Claustrophobia seems to be the new fad in the horror genre with films like “So Above, As Below,” “Day of the Mummy” (), and the upcoming Alexandre Aja produced film The Pyramid where a group of explorers become trapped, entombed and doomed by a supernatural force. These films are no cult hits like “The Descent” but the fear of the walls closing in and a force looming closer to you has taken charge and is on the rise of terror. “Dark Mountain” dabbles in that a little with the cave exploration sharing the terror that a night vision should ensue into the audience.
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First time director Tara Anaise’s style is purely audible and that’s not a bad thing. The film progresses through sounds: locusts, thrash metal, and the sounds of the desert. The three hitchhikers played by Sage Howard, Andrew Simpson, and Shelby Stehlin do a fairly convincible job being lost, confused, and afraid tourists. However, the characters carry unrealistic characteristics which could also be contributed to the film crew’s inexperience. For one, if weird shit happens around one in the first instance, you get the hell out of dodge. Secondly, nobody’s cell phone and handheld camera has a battery life of five days and that is what happens here. Lastly, and this one is more bittersweet than the rest, Sage Howard scopes the land in her booty jorts amongst deadly rattle snakes and prickly surrounding cacti.
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“Dark Mountain” from, uh, Dark Mountain Studios, Superstitious Films, and released by MVD can certainly be engaging and entertaining, but this story ends too abruptly leaving a sour taste. The accounts stay mysterious and the real knowledge of what malevolence goes untold. I’m sure that’s the film’s supposed charm, but even “Paranormal Activity” had a revelation, even “Blair Witch Project” had solid back story and so comes “Dark Mountain” whose heights has no limits.

Nudity Report

No nudity. Just Sage Howard in her jean shorts!