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.

Curse EVIL Curses! “Baphomet” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Cleopatra Entertainment)



Jacob Richardson, a Napa Valley landowner, and his wife are jubilantly excited about becoming grandparents with the eager arrival of their daughter’s child.  Still months before the actual delivery date, their daughter vacations with him while her husband works a few more days in Malibu before joining her but gruesomely dies in an apparent shark attack.  His sudden death isn’t just a stroke of horrible luck, but a devil worshipping cult’s curse bestowed upon the unsuspecting family after the rightfully stubborn Richardson refuses to sell his vast property to a shady businessman the day before.  One-by-one members of his family fall victim to a series of accidental and unexpected tragedies that leave his daughter, having dreamt the cult responsible for the black cloud that has been afflicting her family, desperate to try anything, even if that means making contact with a benevolent white witch to resurrect her shark bait dead husband.  The cult still wants their land and for the Richardson family, only Jacob, his daughter, her resurrected husband, and the white witch stand against an army of Satanists besieging upon the family home to awake a slumbering dark force. 

You know you’re watching a Cleopatra Entertainment distributed release when the plot revolves around a Satanic or demonic annihilator, as such with “The 27 Club,” “The Black Room,” “Devil’s Domain,” “Devil’s Revenge,” and maybe even a tiny bit from Glenn Danzig’s strange comic book adapted anthological tapestry, “Verotika.”  Matthan Harris’s 2021 released “Baphomet” walks along the same lines with the titled gnostic and pagan deity made infamous by the worshipped practices of The Knights of Templar acolytes.  “Baphomet” is “The Inflicted” director’s sophomore feature in which he’s written to remain in the horror ranks as an aggressive occult summoning of an evil presence to walk the Earth.  Shot in various California and Texas locations, the moneybag company behind “The Velicpastor” and “Don’t Fuck In the Woods,” Cyfuno Films L.L.C., collaborates supportively Matthan Harris’s formed Incisive Pictures production company to deliver a trackless, unmapped, and unholy “Baphomet” to the home video market with Harris producing alongside executive producers Grant Gilmore, John Lepper, and Cyfuno Films’ Adam and Chase Whitton.

We’re initially introduced to Giovanni Lombardo Radice sermonizing as the paganized pastor and cult leader Henrik Brandr before they slice open a naked woman wrists and drink her blood from a single chalice.  Right from the get-go, “Baphomet” hits us with the 80’s circa Italian star power of the “Cannibal Ferox” and “StageFright” actor.  The blood trickles down from there once we’re introduced to the Richardson family, headed by the patriarchal Jacob Richardson in “Mother’s Boys” Colin Ward.  Ward’s a convincing father figure, rugged and surly in showing off his rough and tough cowboy swagger, yet also sensitively compassionate in a broad range of acting experience.   However, that’s about as far as Jacob Richardson impresses as the character levels out, sulking over the loss of his son-in-law Mark Neville (Matthan Harris), wife Elena (Ivy Opdyke) and daughter’s unborn baby after his force to be reckoned with verbal encounter with one of the cult leaders offering him a lump sum of moolah for his land; instead, Richardson’s daughter, Rebecca Neville (Rebecca Weaver) takes a family first lead by engine searching and watching video tutorials on the nature of black and white witches.  After easily tracking down and skyping with witch expert played by Dani Filth, lead vocalist of metal band Cradle of Filth, a obsessed Rebecca becomes hellbent on resurrecting her Great White shark masticated husband, Mark, with the help of good witch Marybeth (Charlotte Bjornbk, “Cannibal Corpse Killers”) and this is where things go awry for the narrative.  Only a self-absorbed director would kill himself off extravagantly in character, saw fit to be resurrected for the sole purpose of love, and then become the ultimate hero of the story that leaves his wife and father-in-law in glory’s dust trail. “Baphomet” supporting roles from Gerardo Davila (“Ticked Off Trannies With Knives”), Stephen Brodie (“Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich”), and Nick Perry as the cult-sought demon.

Filled with blood sacrifices, family curses, killer sharks, and a pitiless grey demon, certain viewpoints embody that very black magic archetype of the historical devil dealings engrained into “Baphomet, but what specifically the Harris brings to the obscure budget horror smorgasbord is a platter of tasteless derivativity and bland storytelling, flavored with peppered gore granules and a pinch of pop culture icons. “The film opens engagingly enough with spilling the blood of a fully naked woman so everyone can play pass the cup of virgin blood in order to appease their dark lord and then we’re firmly segued into the happiness of the Richardson family until Jacob Richardson declines a money offer for his land. Spilling blood into the ocean and leaving dead, crucified birds on the porch enacts a deadly curse that sends sharks and snakes into a murderous rage. Up to this point, Harris has control of the story with some decent editing work and effective bitesize prosthetics to actually descend hell’s wrath upon an ingenious family. I could even look past the wild and impetuous decision to resurrect the dead boyfriend after his fatal encounter with a Great White, but when the third act’s last stand against cult comes knocking at the door, the script chokes on a grotesque amount of happenstance and exposition. For example, when the sheriff and deputies arrive at the Richardson house on Jacob Richardson’s whim that the cult might be outside their doorstep, one of his deputies randomly pulls out of a bag of large scale dynamite his cousin uses on at a jobsite, thinking the ACME-sized TNT would come in handy. Mark also decides to blow his undead cover, exposing himself to the officers in a screw-it moment of “yeah, I don’t care.” Soon after, a “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II” battle ensues between the deluging cult and the defending Richardsons/Officers and many main characters parish during the skirmish fruitlessly and effortlessly to the point where they might as well have been non-essential to the story supporting parts. Also – the lack of considerable screen time of Baphomet and the demon child lays waste to a perfectly good title, in my humble opinion.

Perhaps one of the few Cleopatra Entertainment, a subsidiary banner of Cleopatra Records, to not be accompanied with a soundtrack compact disc with the Blu-ray, distributed by MVD Visual. The single disc BD-25 release is perhaps one of the few trimmer releases from Cleopatra Entertainment and is presented in HD 1080p in a widescreen 2.37:1 aspect ratio. Generally speaking, the music mogul company has continuously be consistent on their video and audio Blu-ray releases. The details are rather defined looking and sharp with blacks, and there are many black scenes, noticeably inky without that dim lit tinge of gray. Some of the underwater sequences and the video chat calls with Dani Filth are murky and at a lower rate than due to Filth filming his scenes literally from the UK on a video call for most of film. Two English language audio options are available – a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix and a Stereo 2.0. Flipping back and forth between the two option, the devil is in the file track details but both mixes sound frightfully the same down to the climatic explosions. Bravo on the depth and range that captures rightfully the echoes of high vaulted ceilings and the positioning of characters. Dialogue is clearly present and mostly natural with aside from Gerardo Davila, the Sheriff in the film, in what discerns to be a soundstage track layover of his dialogue. When he speaks, Gerardo doesn’t seem to be sharing the same dialogue space with his costars in an unnatural vocal delivery of his role. While there is no soundtrack disc to rock to, the hefty bonus material is a shocker with deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, a music video ‘Shellshock” from Tank featuring Dani Filth, behind the scenes pictures, Dani Filth backstage interview, Jason Millet’s storyboards, and a teaser trailer. Tickled me unimpressed by Matthan Harris’ “Baphomet” that hinges on uninspired cult creed. For me, special effects wins top prize and a giant handful of bonus material is the only thing that arises out of “Baphomet” from the wells of damnation.

“Baphomet” is on Blu-ray at Amazon.com