Before Careful What Hotel You Book Online. There Just Might be an Ancient EVIL Lurking in the Basement! “The Ghosts of Monday” reviewed! (Cleopatra Entertainment / Blu-ray)

 “The Ghosts of Monday” is now on Blu-ray Home Video!  Click to Cover to Purchase!

A small film crew of ghost hunters travel to the Grand Hotel Gula, a magnificent resort that accommodated tourists from all over the world, to document the hotel’s horrible past on a rare 53rd Monday of a year when the hotel befell into notorious tragedy as guests attending a party were poisoned and the three owners had committed suicide soon after.   Eric, the director of the show, is on his last leg to make the show a success as he becomes pressured by local benefactors and even the show’s host personality, Bruce.  At the request of Bruce, Eric brings his wife Christine who Bruce raised as a child.  From day one, the empty stunning foyer and luxurious accommodates pale against the ambient creepiness of the dark corridors and basements and the ominous sounds that lurk from within the shadows.  When the shooting commences into an investigation, the unsuspecting filmmakers find themselves in an ill-boding situation with an ancient evil that has been kept hidden away from the world for eons.

I want to prelude this review by saying that my thoughts are with Julian Sands family and if there is any hope left to grasp onto, we want sincerely to yearn for the outcome of Julian Sands disappearance in the hiking region of Mount Baldy, California to be a positive one and see the actor, the husband, the father of three alive and well.  As an entertainer, Sands gave us a malevolent sorcerer in the “Warlock” trilogy and providing us with notable performances in David Lynch’s “Naked Lunch” and the fear of spiders-inducing “Arachnophobia.”  Since the turn of the century, Sands has more-or-less fell out of the limelight with sustaining his presence mostly on direct-to-video releases and appearances on TV series.  The British actor’s latest low-budget horror “The Ghosts of Monday” is a film helmed by Italian director Francesco Cinquemani on the little-known getaway island of Cyprus, a country located in the Mediterranean Sea.  Cinquemani, who typically directs his own scripts, co-writes the film with Andy Edwards (“Zombie Spring Breakers,” “Midnight Peepshow”), Mark Thompson-Ashworth (“POE 4:  The Black Cat”), and Barry Keating (Killer Mermaid,” “Nightworld: Door of Hell”).  “The Ghosts of Monday” appears to be a blend of region myth and cultural belief pulled locally and from the stories of Greeks Gods into one abandoned hotel horror full of cult sacrifice and betrayal, produced by the “S.O.S.:  Survive or Sacrifice” producing team of Loris Curci (“The Quantum Devil”), Marianna Rosset, and Vitaly Rosset under the Cyprus production company, Altadium Group.

Julian Sands might not be the principal lead of the story but is a major player in what culminates into an ambuscade of doomsday deliverance at the expense of others.  As the documentary’s host and a Cyprus local, Sands plays the eccentric, often frisky, heavy drinker Bruce who has been a father, or the adopted father-figure as it’s not entirely clear, to Sofia (Marianna Rosset, “S.O.S.:  Survive or Sacrifice”).  Christine is distant and disordered returning to her Cyprus homeland with her husband Eric, the director, played by “The Turning’s” Mark Huberman.  Almost seemingly estranged from each other, Eric and Sofia display some noticeable pensive and tension-riddled issues between them that the story never fully fleshes out for the audience.  Christine is under medication for a sleep disorder, Eric’s feeling the pressure from powerful producers, and none of that external strain has defined or even as much delineated itself in full in their aloof relationship that has glimmers of hope and smiles as the wall between them is more up than it is down despite Eric’s constant vigil over her.  Performances from Rosset and Huberman meet the need of concern, desperation, and pressure forced upon them more from in the outside than in, especially in Huberman with a slightly better angle on his creative-driven, project-lead sudden derailed from his narrow focus to deliver a quality product as his career careens out of control and that brings out his rougher edge we see in the latter half of the story.  In comparison, the more iconic and recognizable figure, Julian Sands, doesn’t land his role well in what could be seen as if his performance landing gear only had one wheel down before touching pavement but was able to jerry-rig a not-big-enough wheel to get him safely through.   “The Ghost of Monday” has some mysteriously odd and menacing individuals in hotel owner Frank (Anthony Skordi, “Carnal Sins”), his wife Rosemary (Maria Ioannou, “Waiting Room”), and the producer couple Dom (Loris Curci), and Pat (Joanna Fyllidou, “Girls After Dark”) as hovers, prowlers, and the overall conventional creeps in the corner, watching you.  On the other side of the coin, you have a film crew who are more or less victim fodder for the evil powers to be with Anna (Kristina Godunova) and suspected lesbian lovers in sound designer Christine (Elva Trill, “Jurassic World:  Dominion) and cinematographer Jennifer (Flavia Watson) because A/V is just another acronym for LGTBQ+.  With the exception of Frank and Rosemary’s background on why they bought the forsaken hotel, none of the other characters constitute a piece of the pie as they are thrown into the mix, sprinkled with tidbits of intrigue, before their dispatched into the feast or famine categories.

We have ghosts in the title. There are cult members, sometimes shrouded in obscuring clothing, sometimes just lingering exposed outright. We have silent but deadly twin girls with kitchen knives. There is also a slithering creature lurking in the basement. “The Ghost of Monday” is a variety show of vile villains with very little coherence to bring the elements together, but what is clear is a mythical being at the center of the surrounding maelstrom that’s quickly closing in on the protagonists. With the script penned by a cohort of writers experienced in resort massacres and killer aquatic creatures, all director Cinquemani has to accomplish is the effectuation of ideas, but what results is haphazard derision from what feels like “Ghostship” in a hotel and looks like “The Shinning” without the isolating madness all in the confines of a very shaky and marred cinematography. The core of the story is inadvertently lost amongst the competition of where audiences should retain their attention which is a shame because at the core is a deeper, broader, and more mythically rich in Grecian horror with a gorgon immortal that’s equated as the devil itself and linked to life’s destruction if not sacrificed a corporeal shell.  Viewers will be treated to only a glimpse of that circling terror during the climatic end and, more than likely, budgetary reasons ground the story’s larger-than-life concept with only a mixed bag clash of content leading up to the end.

Plugged as Cyprus’s first native horror production, “The Ghosts of Monday” arrives onto a Blu-ray home video release from the Cleopatra Entertainment, film division of Cleopatra Records, and Jinga Films with MVD Visual distributing.  The featured release is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, shot on what IMDB has listed as the Sony CineAlta Vince with a Zeiss Supreme Prime Lens.  The AVC encoded Blu-ray retains a quite a bit of compression issues throughout the entire digitally recorded package as video ghosting is the biggest image culprit.  I’m sure that type of ghost was not what “The Ghosts of Monday” were referring to in the title.  Aliasing, banding, and small instances of blocking also appear occasionally and in conjunction with the ghosting which makes this transferred format nearly impossible to watch with hardly any detail in what should be a high-definition release that renders closer to 480 or 720p as the video decodes at a low 22 to 23Mbps average.  The Blu-ray has two audio options, an English 5.1 Dolby Digital and a LPCM Stereo 2.0. Though both outputs render nearly identical because of the lack of explosions or an extensive ambient track, the surround sound mix offers a better side to the A/V attributes with a barren-disturbance sound design and a solid score that keeps the concerned glued to the television sets, waiting for something spooky to pop out from behind. Dialogue doesn’t perceive with any issues with clear and clean conversation, as expected with most digital recordings, and is greatly centered and balanced without sounding echoey and out of depth’s scope. The bonus features are scantily applied with only an image slideshow and feature trailer, plus trailers from other Cleopatra Entertainment productions, such as “The Long Dark Trail,” “Frost,” “A Taste of Blood,” “Baphomet,” “Scavenger,” “The Hex,” and “Skin Walker.” The physical attributes of the release come with a traditional Blu-ray snapper cast with latch and cover art, that’s slightly misleading, of a glowing apparition. The region free release has a runtime of 78 minutes and is unrated. “The Ghosts of Monday” doesn’t buck the trend for Cleopatra Entertainment’s string of C-grade horror but is an unusual, new venture in the sense of strictly being a horror story without an eclectic soundtrack of signed artists to carry it through to the end.

 “The Ghosts of Monday” is now on Blu-ray Home Video!  Click to Cover to Purchase!

All You Will See is EVIL if Blinded by Grief. “They Live in the Grey” reviewed! (Acorn Media / DVD)

Not the Blue, Not the Red, but the Grey!  “They Live in the Grey” on DVD!

CPS investigator, Claire Yang, struggles to cope with the untimely loss of her young son.  The tragedy forces her to push away her husband and have suicidal thoughts.  What’s also driving Claire further from the edge of sanity is her ability to see glimpses unhinged, and sometimes physically harmful, spirits.  When a child-protective case comes across her desk to look into the possible abuse of a young girl, Claire learns quickly that it might not be girl’s parents abusing her.  Tormented by an angry supernatural entity, Claire walks careful and hesitant thin line of keeping the girl with her family and attempt to prove that the parents are not responsible for the bruises and cuts, but when upper management pressures her to close the case at the school’s behest and a variety of ghastly come and go across her path, the churning burn of hurt and guilt grows inside her as she confronts her personal demons while trying to do the right thing for the abused girl in the middle of it all. 

“The Sixth Sense” meets “The Conjuring” in The Vang Brothers’ 2022 supernatural thriller, “They Live in the Dark.”  As the sophomore written-and-directed project for the Fresno, California raised Abel and Burlee Vang, following up on their 2016 release of the moderately successful supernatural and social media mashup debut, “Bedeviled,” continuing to venture off their solo work and into a collaborating unit, “They Live in the Dark” tackles various topical concepts and troubles with overwhelming grief and how it manifests negatively on an individual and family level.  Previously once titled as “The Uncanny,” the story is set in nowheresville, U.S.A., the brothers really set the tone that this story, or more realistically its themes and messages, are broad and non-exclusive and we also see that in the cast for the film, a segment that we’ll dive into further in the next paragraph.  The Shudder exclusive film, “They Live in the Grey,” is a production from Standoff Pictures in association with Whiskey Stream Productions with the Vang Brothers producing alongside former filmmaker-turned-film academic-turned-filmmaker Stephen Stanley.

Coming from Hmong ancestry, The Vang Brothers found personal importance to cast mostly Asian-Americans for the film.  Taiwan born Michelle Krusiec (“The Invitation,” “The Bone Box”) plays the lead and is the very first character we meet in an awkward and frightful position as a woman attempting suicide by hanging herself near the home staircase.  Immediately, we don’t know what we’re exactly in for, but we know when we’re introduced to the threadbare Clair, she has a major depressive factor that beleaguers her existence to the point of removing it from the equation all together.  The Vang Brothers thoughtfully shroud details into exactly what’s devouring Claire from the inside out and keep close to the chest in securing that ace of revelation in the back pocket until the time is just right in the story to unveil the dealt bad hand.  As the details trickle and we learn more about Claire’s disintegrating family life, we also learn of her ability to see lost spirits and how she handles those more than often visceral visions is dose up on medication that ultimately factors into her current state of mind.  Though I wouldn’t say the performance pops offscreen, but Krusiec does cruise through the role with meticulous character conditioning and the actress can tremble and look scared with the best in the business, anchoring Claire as the rooted principal and establishing a tone that works with the casted cohort.  Ken Kirby, who plays Clair’s estranged beat cop officer husband Peter, goes outside the usual comedy element for the Vancouver-born actor-comedian, walking the emotional pathway of a husband on the ousts by no fault of his own.  The heartbreaking tension that’s both expressed outward and internalized between the teetering from loss parents, husband and wife, fills the scenes with raw and relatable emotion and barrier-laden endeavor to fix what is thought hopeless. As Claire becomes closer to the case of Sophie Lang (Madelyn Grace, “Don’t Breathe 2”), nothing is as it seems from a family already on shaky ground with not only the school system’s case of suspected abuse, but also inwardly as past troubles fester toward a frenzy. Ellen Wroe (“Final Destination 5”), J.R. Garcia, Willie S. Hosea, and Mercedes Manning fill out the cast.

The Vang Brothers accomplish phenomenal representation in a female leading role with the talented Michelle Krusiec. Reaching back into my mind to access the cache of catalogued films I’ve watched over the decades, I find myself in extreme difficulty in recalling an American made story where an Asian woman female lead is not a martial arts expert. The Vang Brothers with “They Live in the Grey” expand the palette with a supernatural scenario that could curse not just the single white female rearing and protecting their child from a plethora of supernatural predators, but also afflict a person of color who has already suffered tremendously and who has to still have to find and work on themselves in the muck of overcoming a millstone. Instead of a double whammy, “They Live in the Grey” is a triple whammy of pitfalls that rival similar grief-stricken genre films like “The Babadook” and “The Orphanage.” “The Vang Brothers elicit a stillness in their shooting of an extremely melancholic yarn by not being too fancy with their camera footwork that doesn’t track or follow, no hand-held or drone, and is allowed to have a more natural tone with an unfiltered gravitate toward the austere and the tormented. Though nothing too striking to make a spectacle from Jimmy Jung Lu’s cinematography but each shot is carefully setup and the slow zoom in and out is effective enough in breath-holding moments. Early into the story, the first can be choppy and disorganized with the back and forth of present and past and though heavily focus or strict on the narrative’s virgin veneer, there’s distinguishable indication to the audience that we’re looking into the present viewfinder or the past’s. As a whole, the scenes blend together in a seamless patchwork that hinders more than helps.

“They Live in the Grey” extends that lack of light and vitality for the living and the dead. Now, you yourself can experience the saturnine of atmosphere of the film that lives on DVD from Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded, 124-minute DVD comes from our overseas friends in the United Kingdom with an 18 certification for strong injury detail – aka – stabbing and blood. Presented in a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the 2-hour runtime coupled with a compressed presentation appears to have shepherd in some compression issues, such as banding and fuzzy details. The picture is not the sharpest it should be with old wooden house’s textures could have added texture to the nerve-wracking tension builds. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track represents a solid audio inlay with clear dialogue and a diverse depth and range. The musical soundtrack is subtle but works hand-in-hand with the story. Optional English subtitles are available. Bonus features include only a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. When it comes down to brass tacks, a strong story is a good story and “They Live in the Grey” may miss a few technical marks, but the horrid truth of grief is personal, potent, and packed full of demons.

Not the Blue, Not the Red, but the Grey!  “They Live in the Grey” on DVD!

EVIL Hangs Ten! “Surf Nazis Must Die” reviewed! (Troma Films / Blu-ray)



Check Out the New Price Drop for the New “Surf Nazis Must Die” on Blu-ray!

The waves of Power Beach wash ashore red with the blood of territorial gang war.  Wiping out is not an option for the Nazis, the largest and strongest wave riders consisting of new age Neo-Nazis led by Adolf, his lady Eva, and ingenious welding right hand Mengele.  As they surf for turf, the Nazis strong arm the rival gangs into a no choice option of calling a truce amongst themselves to attack and take down the Krauts and regain control over the towering waves and lucrative scores of Power Beach.  Caught in the middle is Leroy, a young black man who becomes gang war collateral damage on the unsafe beaches.  When Eleanor “Mama” Washington gets wind of those responsible for her son’s death, she’s blitzkriegs the surf Nazi’s of Power Beach with her own brand of grenade throwing justice.

Ever since being highly promoted at random on Alex Powers’ wannabe Troma film “Sadistic Eroticism” starring adult film actress Sophie Dee, perhaps as Powers’ favorite Troma release, seeing “Surf Nazis Must Die” tickled the curiosity of the olfactory snout and became one of those must watch titles canonized with outrageous, off-color content that’s routine for the Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz independent shock-and-comedy distributor, Troma Films.  Peter George directed his semi-serious, mostly satirical-toned debut film from a Jon Ayre script based off George’s original story idea of incorporating the territorial surfer scene of California with a laying siege, post-apocalyptic, gang and revenge narrative that’s a delectable smorgasbord buffet of low-budget subgenres.  Perfectly situated in front of deep-water oil rigs and the towering smokestacks of power plants and other various manufactories along California’s graffiti-cladded Huntington Beach, “Surf Nazis Must Die” is a production of Peter George’s The Institute alongside company co-owners in editor Craig A. Colton and producer Robert Tinnell (“Frankenstein and Me”).

Tennessee born actress Gail Neely receives her big break in a lead role of a feature film.  Lamentably, that film was full of bad taste and full of punk surfers with red painted swastikas on their black wetsuits who also paralleled nefariously notorious figures of bigotry and war crimes against anyone not white Anglo-Saxon.  Yes, Neely is a black actress pitted against and taking revenge on a group of racist thugs, a narrative we’ve seen before, but the “Naked Gun 2 ½:  The Smell of Fear” actress took an unjust backseat (an unfortunate and unintended Rosa Parks pun) in sharing the lead with the very Nazis she ruthless takes head on.  Trying to understand why Peter George and Jon Ayre decided to focus more on the strategic overthrows of gangland rather than to journey Mama Washington’s revenge in her death wish arch is beyond comprehension in a lopsided narrative that gives more screen time to Nazis and gangs than it does a grieving, nursing home-residing, mother hellbent on avenging her slain son with vigilantism.  The latter is a much better story that breaks up the stagnant gang mentality unwavering throughout.  Neely does her best to pull audiences back into the revenge fold with a grit and attitude that takes us back to 1970’s blaxploitation films of yore, but ultimately, “Maniac Cop’s” Barry Brenner and “Star Slammers’” Dawn Wildsmith and Michael Sonye inadvertently bleed out Neely’s full potential with their respective Nazi counterparts – Adolf, Eva, and Mengele – and their intercompany squabbles and beach brawls against rival gangs.  “Surf Nazis Must Die’s” cast rounds out with Robert Harden (“Dead Girls”) as Leroy, Joel Hile (“Deadly Friend”) as Hook, Gene Mitchell as Brutus, and Tom Shell (“Hard Rock Nightmare”) as Smeg.

With a title like “Surf Nazis Must Die,” the expectation bar was high to bequeath audiences guaranteed politically incorrect exploitation and sizable good versus bad mayhem crashing like a cacophonic wave on the surf.  “Surf Nazis Must Die” does meet that brazen bar that associates surf territorialism to the likes of Nazism by way of excluding outsiders from their surf turf and be nasty about it as well.  Would I compare it to Nazism?  Probably not, but in the heat of control and power over others less fortunate in riding waves might draw a vague resemblance.  In a bit of satire and irony, 1940s Nazi Germany was ruled by an extremely authoritarian people running a tight ship in every facet from the meticulous armed ranks to innovative engineering to the ostentatious decorated halls and buildings of propaganda and flag hoisting pageantry, but Peter George’s Nazis, granted the new age variety, plague themselves about the beach, living off stolen goods while driving around in a makeshift shark modified van, tanning their mostly exposed bodies, or dressed in graffiti stylized wetsuits and trench coats with glitter-face painted swastikas.  The characters are cuter in caricatures than they are in terrorizing tyrants of the beach.  What’s even more interesting about “Surf Nazis Must Die” is that none of the gangs carry firearms despite one of the popular Troma cover arts displaying an archetypal lampooned Nazi riding a wave and wielding an Uzi.  The “Clockwork Orange” gangs meandering about with unprovoked violence carry traditional switchblades, nontraditional switchblade surfboards, nunchakus, staffs, a hook for an arm, and there’s even one guy with a speargun.  Only Mama Washington is armed to the teeth with conventional weaponry of grenades and a handgun that makes this film even more unfathomable at times.

Thirty-five years later, “Surf Nazis Must Die” continues to make waves a war zone with a new Blu-ray released from Troma Films and distributed by MVD Visual. The newly restored, newly remastered, high-definition region free Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 16×9 aspect ratio from the original 35mm negative and is not quite the fully uncut version, running two minutes short at 83 minutes from the director’s cut that circulates overseas. The color matte lacks bounteous vision that fails to give range to the graffiti art amongst other aspects. The transfer has little-to-no blights with some transparent vertical scratches in a single frame but nothing else more to note. George and editor Craig A. Colton work their magic on a remarkable cutting room performance with splicing in Hawaiian surfing footage with the Huntington Beach narrative in a near seamless manner. The English language lossy LPCM 2.0 track doesn’t hook into you with a linear fidelity with no range or depth but does provide fair dialogue clarity and no impeding audible damage. “Terror Eyes” and “Future Shock’s” Jon McCallum has a fantastic synth score that pulsates life into the overabundance of stagnant moments and the film is worth a watch just for McCallum’s soundtrack alone. Gnarly special features include a new introduction by a locked down stricken Lloyd Kaufman diving into his pool to take a bath, a circa late 80s/early 90s interview with Peter Geoge conducted by the enthusiastic Lloyd Kaufman, another circa late 80s/early 90s snippet interview with producer Robin Tinell, a pair of deleted scenes with Peter George commentary, scenes from the Tromaville Cafe, Radiation March Promo against pollution, a pair of archived Troma NOW PSA announcements that are as sexually titillating as they are meaningful in their message, a Soul of Troma promo trailer,” “Latched” short, and various other Troma promos: Indie artists vs cartels, Lloyd Kaufman gets “fucked” by the Hollywood system, and Lloyd Kaufman’s Audiobiography. There’s also mention of a “Gizzard Face” promo, but I did not see it as an option in the bonus content. “Surf Nazis Must Die” inches along and loses a lot of key momentum along the way building around the striking title. Eventually, the undercutting of gang machoism crumbles away to leave an open path for Mama Washington’s full-blown assault as a true cinematic Nazi hunter extraordinaire.

Check Out the New Price Drop for the New “Surf Nazis Must Die” on Blu-ray!

If EVIL Wanted Your Soul, Would You Choose An Eternal Damnation with the Promise of Having Everything You Ever Wanted, or Would You Simply Decline to Live What’s Left of Your Meager Existence? “Val” reviewed! (Epic Pictures / Blu-ray)

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

When Fin, a criminal on the run after a misfortunate mishap of possibly having killed his boss, breaks into a high-end prostitute’s mansion home in an attempt to escape police pursuit, he finds himself struggling to stay in control when the wound on his head causes him dizziness, vomiting, and a thin thread of consciousness.  His whore hostage helps him evade police capture, conceals her dead client he inadvertently kills, and also dresses up his wounds after he passes out.  Confused by her benevolence, Fin attempts to regain control of his authority over the sexually elegant and smooth talking dressed woman, but as the night progresses and strange, unexplainable occurrences warp his reality, he quickly learns his hostage is more just a simple high class working girl and her house is her domain of deviltry. 

Not to be confused with the extraordinary life of actor Val Kilmer documentary of the same name also released in 2021, “Val” is the that other 2021 released film, an independent horror-comedy from writer-director Aaron Fradkin and co-written with writing partner and fiancé (or maybe wife now at this point), Victoria Fratz.  While one “Val” may be more of a commercial success than the other, Fradkin and Fratz’s “Val” still has equal parts charisma and style with solid performances in a “Bedazzled” like tale where a down on his luck Joe Schmo meets a sultry Netherworld deal maker dangling his very soul delicately in the balance of his existence  Shot in a supposed haunted, Gothically styled mansion located in Ojai, California, “Val” is produced by Jonathan Carkeek, Paul Kim, Jeremy Meyer, Kevin McDevitt, and Caitlin O’Connor with Victoria Fratz serving as executive producer under the couple’s Fradkin and Fratz production banner, Social House Films. 

The titular character Val is short for Valefor, the grand Duke of Hell with a penchant for collecting human souls to adorn as treasure, at least to the trolls scribing world wide web, underworld mythology. A trickster, a showboat, and a psychic-vampire, Valefor is characteristically mirrored to the milli-fiber of wickedness by actress Misha Reeves who’s able to adapt her demonic namesake for a new lease on celluloid life. However, one aspect of Valefor is quite different. Val’s appearance is anything but a monstrosity; instead, Reeves radiates beautiful as a pinup girl complete with stark colored makeup and professionally styled hair in victory rolls and soft curls for a throwback 1940’s impression in a complete about face of Valefor’s traditional animalistic Lion or Donkey head look. There’s also the fact that the cinematic Val bares no wings, no tail, no fur, and no scales as usually illustrated – again, by the dark forces of the internet’s most untanned. Reeves offers up, again, the pinup-esque sex symbol with high thigh stockings, garter, and all the vibrant trimmings that would turn heads and howl catcalls. Reeves is utterly wonderful riding the spectrum of Val’s multi-faceted manipulative personality to the point where feeling bad for Fin (Zachery Mooren, “Darkness Reigns”) becomes awkwardly odd since Fin is the wanted criminal here. Even though Mooren eventually sold the part of a wannabe tough guy, the actor looks more unsure of his performance than his most of the time scantily cladded costar, even with Mooren has dress down into just a kimono as well in a few tension-breaking scenes that didn’t really break the toned stride. Reeves and Mooren start up with ease, picking up where the pair of actors left off in Fradkin and Fratz’s 2018 “Electric Love,” joined by another fellow costar in Erik Griffin as a powerful mob boss with a kink for acting like a dog in one of Val’s masochistic whims. Along the line, other pivotal players associated with Fin and Val come into the mix, including John Kapelos (“The Shape of Water”), Sufe Bradshaw (“Star Trek”), Kyle Howard (“Robo Warriors”), and co-writer Victoria Fratz as Fin’s scheming girlfriend.

The idea of the playful, humanoid demon has always been more of an interesting concept for me personally because speaking frankly between man and demon, the two can be interchangeable.  Demons can con, pervert, steal, and kill under the will of their lordship and master or as a mere rogue still in servitude of doing evil bidding.  Man can accomplish very much the same malevolent behaviors and when you have a demon masquerading among mortals, what’s the difference?  Can one tell the difference? “Val” falls along the fringes of that same category except we’re not talking about any ordinary smooth talker with a devilish smile in human skin.  No.  We’re talking about the immense staying power of Misha Reeves’ slipping into something a little bit more comfortable and still be a force to be reckoned with as the blithefully frisky and seductive Val undercutting her prey’s sanity and soul.  Reeves carries the story up to the end as the titular character, but “Val” does downplay the question of Fin’s choice.  There’s a lack direct peril when the third act came down to brass tax and Fin had to make a decision. Fin was persuaded without a nail-biting ultimatum, a countdown, or a severe threat to him or someone he cares about and the motivation for the hapless lawbreaker to pave his own fate didn’t exact a sense of urgency. In fact, Val offers an unlimited number of perks with little risk and, I believe, we had to assume Fin was smart enough, a common motif throughout the film was Fin is this big, handsome chump, to understand giving up his soul would damn him for eternity. Though visually stimulating with a climax resembling The Last Supper with demons, the damned, and Fin all sitting at a table garnished with severed heads and an inferno hue, the culmination drops hard like a rock squashing that eager element of anticipation.

A bathing beauty of its genre, “Val” contends as a witty Mephistophelian comedy-horror. The demonic good time can now be enjoyed on a region free Blu-ray release from Dread Central’s home video label, Epic Pictures, distributed by MVD Visual. The not rated, 81-minute film is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with not really much to negatively critique on the image quality that’s quite sharp from the compression of a BD50. Keelan Carothers’ hard lit and red-hot neon glow of warm red-light district-like colors inarguably defines the distinct worlds of Fin and Val while flashbacks denote a slightly softer color reduction as a third environment. There’s good camera work here between in camera foreground and background focusing as well as delectable key lighting on certain medium-closeup shots that pact a punch. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track has dialogue clarity palpable enough for Misha Reeves’ sharp tongue and quirky humor. Ambient track slips a little in the depth and can blur character spatial relations but there’s plenty of range for a story that’s pretty much sole-centric. Mike Tran, Eric Mitchen and Robot Disco Puma provide the eclectic, synth-rock soundtrack that overwhelms with a booming LFE that leads to a bit crackling distortion during the decimation of decibels of maximum speaker output if not lowered, which then affects the dialogue. Options subtitles include an English SDH and Spanish. Special features include a making of Val featurette narrated by the filmmaking due Aaron Fradkin and Victoria Fratz, two of the pair’s short films – “The Ballerina” and “Happy Birthday,” and a Q&A from Popcorn Frights. Well, here we are at the end of the review and the question still stands of what path would you choose? Personally, I’d go with the sexy, quick-witted, Duke of Hell for a good time, the soul be damned, and you should go with “Val” too for it’s all well-made, well-acted, and well-told story.

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

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