Father Augustus Bane is a go-by-the-book type priest and through his unlimited optimism and passion, grudgingly turns the other cheek when life’s bitterly cold callousness bends him over a barrel and pulls his hair until bruised and raw on that very same turned cheek. When the God dedicated man of the cloth is pushed too far after the merciless slaughter of God worshipping parishioners and he is left for dead by a gang of demented family members, the surviving Father Bane is reborn and becomes destined to a vindictive life path with a six-shooting revolver he baptizes as The Lord. Hell hath no wrath like a priest scorned to obliterate all sinners from every walk of life in a blaze of the almighty glory (and gory) of The Lord and those explicitly responsible for the death of his congregational followers and much of the city’s crime and corruption will have nowhere to hide from their lethal penance.
What could be considered as the pious Punisher on steroids, Ryan LaPlante’s offensive-laden, satirical grindhouse exploitation feature, “Holy Hell,” is a confirmation of that films like LaPlante’s are sorely needed and pleasingly free in speech inside the dominion of today’s sensitive and politically correct cultural society. Surely not a product of the U.S. and will certainly piss some viewers off (especially zealots), this Canadian made production could only exist outside a conservative dome, looking inward for a weakness to seep and taint the sometimes too wholesome American cinema market that’s tiptoeing around what should expressively blunt and in your face. Let’s face it, folks, it’s a movie! LaPlante writes, directs, and stars in this movie of comedy, action, and exploitation that’s even too controversial for some of the supporting cast who used pseudonyms, such as punned Yennifer Lawrence and Zooey Deschansmell, as their stage names because of the deviant material.
The man with many hats, Ryan LaPlante stars as Father Augustus Bane, a cheerful priest with a firm belief of charity instead of violence, and as LaPlante’s first and only feature as a writer and director, “Holy Hell” snuggly fits the filmmaker’s contemning, vindictive, “autistic rage monger,” as another character described accurately. Satirically stoic, Bane reminisces the days of yore when severely slighted protagonist broke and the endured trauma became a journey of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. LaPlante, whose career pivoted to the video game world and could so seamlessly, understood the mentality of once was with harden, good men turned relentlessly anti-heroic. Father Bane’s opposition had parallel penchants of aggressive stamina, but in a more deplorable and deviant calling. The MacFarlane family is about as coarse and as ruthless as they come ran unflinchingly by Dokes, the head of the family, with his wild eyes and skull earring atop his fishnet undershirt and open Hawaiian button down. Dokes is truly satanic as a ravishing villain from in co-producer’s Michael Rawley’s in his sardonic performance of the father of three. The “Disco Pigs” actor revels as Dokes in not only being the kingpin, but also a special daddy to his three rotten and just as maniacal kids – Trisha (Rachel Ann Little), Buddy (“Red Spring’s” Reece Presley), and, the more flagrant of the trio, Sissy, a labeled sadistic he/she of boundless perversion and a flair for the theatric played vivaciously by Shane Patrick McClurg and McClurg’s Sissy MacFarlane is difficult to dislike and is favorably one of the best and best portrayed characters alongside Father Bane and Dokes MacFarlane. The entire “Holy Hell” cast amazes as deviant delectation and round out with love interest Amy Bonner played by Alysa King (“Slasher” television series), Luke LaPlante, and Austin Schaefer.
While “Holy Hell” trails the established trope about a vindictive good man, a thrilling theme consisting inside half the grindhouse genre films of 70’s to 80’s, Ryan LaPlante doesn’t really offer much new to audiences whom are well versed; however, since “Holy Hell” is one big punch-to-the-face nod toward grindhouse and the filmmaker constructs a complete caricature picture, the shocking, the disgusting, and the hilarity mold almost an entirely new brand of grindhouse or, as I’ve coined, mockhouse. A mock-grindhouse film have natural degrading quality where filmmakers remain on the fray of getting the right look and feel of a grindhouse film, but LaPlante accomplishes the task, echoing the effect while adding his own brand of comedy. Also LaPlante’s bludgeoning of taboo is no holds barred comedy, especially on surface level narratives such as with Father Bane who has a tremendous arch to hurdle as a priest fueled with guilt and rage against an army of inhuman and derange psychopaths, plus all the other miscellaneous miscreants roaming the streets at all hours of the day, but the script is penned like the Divine retribution as the priest endures, almost in a supernaturally reborn or resurrected kind of way, after being shot six times in the form of a cross by Dokes that, ironically, acts as a blessing for Bane to declare war on evil.
Indican Pictures presents a Rogus Gallery production with “Holy Hell” onto a not rated DVD home video. The widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, has a warm toned coloring grading from digital grader Defiant and also embellishes the natural grain and blemishes to assimilate into the grindhouse collective. “Holy Hell” is intent only appealing to a comic book illustration that makes definition fuzzy, but not totally cleared from the playing field. The closes up of the gore is nicely displayed with a drenching and gruesome effect. I couldn’t detect a lot of girth from the Englih language 2.0 stereo track which makes me think LaPlante intended on suppressing much of the ambiance and up the soundtrack quality from composer Adrian Ellis, whose upbeat, synch-rock has killer intentions whenever the MacFarlane’s are rolling heads. DVD extras include a director’s commentary and a blooper reel. Chockfull with affronting one liners, “Holy Hell” is utterly sound being well-rounded with the best intentions paved in hooker blood and indecent exposure, as well as being highly entertaining, in one holy redeemable package of horror exploitation blessed by Ryan LaPlante himself.
Texas 1955 – the pride of the Sawyer family was not their tattered farm, but a bloodline taste for something else – callous murder and a penchant for human flesh. Verna Sawyer sought to instill that pride into her children, especially her youngest, Jed, but when Hal Hartman, hard nose local Sheriff, learns that his daughter becomes victim of the Sawyer’s suspect nefarious carnage, he executes the law to his advantage, deeming the Sawyer house unfit for children and removes Jed from his labeled degenerate mother Verna. Ten years later, a group of teenage patients escape a mental hospital, kidnap a young nurse, and reek bloody havoc in their voyage to Mexico in an attempt to elude the very same lawman who put them away, but this time, Hartman isn’t adhering to the law, straying off his moral compass to pursue a vengeance mission against unprincipled youth that’s personally driven by Jed and the Sawyer family. Once the embattled Hartman catches up with his prey, a series of gruesome events lead to the creation and the construction of one of the most notorious killers Texas will ever see.
I love a good origin story. There’s something to be said about understanding the commencement of character, to be in the shoes of a long running icon, and to be able to sympathize with their story no matter how atrocious. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s 2017 “Leatherface” does just that with the film’s own origin enlightenment on how the chainsaw wielding, human skin mask wearing psychopath came to fruition inside a home of unspeakable brutality and influenced externally by a unforgiving society. From a script penned by Seth M. Sherwood, “Leatherface,” serving as a direct prequel to Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” briefly touches upon the preteen years to setup the catalytic road trip from hell, birthing a monster in a time of adolescence and if part of a legacy spanning over forty decades inspired by Ed Gein, the real life human skin wearing and notorious serial killer, then you damn well know “Leatherface” has to be genetically predisposed to be ultra-violent drenched in blood splatter. The French filmmaking duo, who’ve helmed 2007’s “Inside” and had directed the “Xylophone” segment in “The ABCs of Death 2,” nail the dark and gritty tone that not only breathes a gassy and exhaust fumed life into a massive flesh-ripping chainsaw, but also inflicts heartlessness across the story board into a heartfelt homage to the characters and to the story fathered by Kim Henkel and the late Tobe Hooper, both of whom were attached as executive producers.
Over the years, many actors have held the mammoth power-drive cutting tool in their hand that’s ready to chip away at flesh such as Andrew Bryniarski (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” 2003 remake), Bill Johnson (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”) and, most famously, Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface. However, I’m not going to divulge who the pubescent Leatherface is in the story because the film plays out as a who out of the group of degenerate teens is the son of Verna Sawyer, even though you can easily obtain the information in a simple click and search on Google. Instead, Sam Strike, James Bloor, and Sam Coleman portray the three escapees who are accompanied by an equally insane sociopath in Jessica Madsen and an eagerly novice kidnapped nurse by Vanessa Grasse. Amongst a sea of English actors are a pair of vets to shepherd the young cast and be the embattled bookends to the dawn of an icon. Lili Taylor (“The Haunting”) and Stephen Dorff (“Blade”) face off as Leatherface’s mother, Verna Sawyer, who butts horns with a longstanding sheriff, Hal Hartman, with a steadfast vendetta against the Sawyer family. Christopher Adamson (“Razor Blade Smile”), Nathan Cooper (“Day of the Dead: Bloodline”), and Finn Jones (“Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines”) co-star.
Usually with a pair of directors, two different styles spawn to an end result. With Bustillo and Maury, styles merge into a seamless effort of elegant wonders. Each shot emerges a purpose to the story whether it’s painting an image of the Sawyer’s death house to pulling a one-eighty with characters, the filmmakers ability to combine each element into a single story, that has such a close knit cult following, and still manage to cinematically pull off the atmosphere, the grit, and the gory carnage of a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film is impressive. Cinematographer Antoine Sainer, whose worked previously with the directing duo on the “The ABCs of Death 2’s” segment “X,” has the ever so poised eye that’s able to well-round and solidify Leatherface’s terror tenor, particular exampled in a foot chase scene through a moonlit forest, smoke bellowing out of a growling chainsaw, and a tattered young girl bawling, screaming, and fleeing for her life from a deranged masked killer whose huffing, snarling, and growling during the pursuit.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment presents the Millennium Films produced “Leatherface” onto Blu-ray + Ultra-violet combo disc, a MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc with a 1080p resolution and presented in a widescreen, 2.38:1, aspect ratio that displays the Bulgaria landscape in a yellowish-brown, Texas-like backdrop. Details are noticeably fine that exquisitely reveal the death and destruction of the Sawyers and those who unfortunately surround the family. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track evenly distributes and consistently a range of engrossing fidelity, ambient, and dialogue layers. Bonus material includes a play feature with an alternate ending that’s less superior in contrast to the final product, deleted scenes, and a behind-the-scenes making of that includes brief interviews with directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, actors Sam Strike, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, and others, and goes behind the scenes in creating the tone and style of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” while implementing their own vision. “Leatherface” forces the unsavory and unpleasant down the throats of TCM fans, jamming an attempt to exposition a futile chance to a destined maniac of cannibalistic proportions and manages to mix up the Tobe Hooper’s weathered franchise with a barbaric bruiser of a tale.
Lisa is just your average high school student, except this particular teenage girl bares the blunt carnage of on and offline bullying. From her extreme bulimia to her sexual orientation, Lisa absorbs daily taunting from her peers in a merciless presentation of harassment and she has lost the connect between all of her close and dearest friends, even her childhood friend Andrew, the boy living next door, betrays her trust and privacy. Nobody seems to care about whether Lisa lives or dies, except for one individual who has taken an interest in Lisa and her situation. A mysteriously beautiful woman, who goes by the name of Destiny, befriends the teen, offering her hand in friendship as well as physical intimacy, but when Destiny reveals herself as Satan, Lisa is offered a trade that’ll not only benefit Lisa’s status and exact revenge on all who have done Lisa wrong but will also require an enigmatic desire of terrible consequences from the unholy beast. As Lisa soul hangs in the balance, she’s stuck between an deal with the devil and the evil bestowed upon her by her schoolmates.
“Devil’s Domain” is the 2016 new age horror from writer-director Jared Cohn. The New York born Cohn, known for his various contributions in the direct-to-video horror market, attempts his taste for horror by commingling the ongoing social issue of high school cyber bullying with a polished satanic spin. Cohn’s depiction of bullying, though a bit exaggerated, radiates with a lot of truth with the way kids nowadays treat each other from conniving behind their backs to exploit their privacy to straight-to-the-face insults. The way in Cohn constructs Lisa’s responses and reactions to all of that tormenting punishment is more-or-less accurate, if that’s fair to say, as Lisa is reclusive to her well-decked out room, showers with a hint of self-inflicted cutting, and attempts to fit in by committing dangerous acts of being thin.
Conscripted to tackle such a burdened role is Madi Vodane with “Devil’s Domain” being her only film to credit. Though Cohn squeaks by with the proper junctions at which a trouble teen might take, I can’t fathom actress Madi Vodane looking the part of the bullied Lisa. The whole scenario feels like how “Not Another Teen Movie” spoofed “She’s All That” with a good looking young girl portraying the unwilling participant of high school oppression and to top it off, Cohn has Vodane prance and lounge in her underwear for a good portion of the film, making Lisa’s plight even more harder to swallow. Lisa even partakes in a four-way with three scantily-cladded women in a devil manifested fantasy with one of the women being “Ratpocalypse’s” Linda Bella as Destiny/Satan. The French born Bella eagerly takes on the role of Satan in a familiarity akin to Elizabeth Hurley in “Bedazzled.” In the beginning when Bella comes onto the scene as the Devil, the supermodel statured actress is tucked into a skin tight, short skirt party dress wearing a long horned and barbarically cool satan latex mask. As she dances seductively toward her first victim Lexi (Molly Nolan) before commanding her minions to rip her to shreds with a chainsaw, the first thought was how interesting and intriguing this portrayal of Satan might be in Cohn’s film, but the character quickly becomes conventional, less evilly frisky as the story unravels around Lisa, and transforms more into a more grislier version of a trickster devil that we’ve all seen before. “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Hateful Eight” star Michael Madsen headlines the film despite being just a familiar face playing a side role of unimportance as Lisa’s sketchy, but understanding step-dad. As much as he tries and as much as I love him for it, Madsen can’t grasp being uncool, can’t fathom being understanding, and knows more about anger, thrills, and being the tough guy in the room. There other characters, played by Zack Kozlow, Kelly Erin Decker, Desanka Julia ilic, and others, but they come up short with sorely underdeveloped worth that they’re offed even before getting to know who they are and why we, as viewers, should care about them.
Cohn and his special effects techs bring some gore to the table in a few over-the-top kill scenes that show promise early on, but the blood flows tamer after Bella’s Devil character drives a machete over-and-over into one of the cruel schoolgirls at a kegger party. Also, when Destiny morphs into her true self, a wide wing-spanned and hideously grotesque Balthazar, played by a shorter actress named Angie Stevenson, the effect hardly sells itself, but Stevenson, I must admit, looks great in an elaborate, if not slightly Halloween-esque, costume accompanied with a set of razor sharp dentures on top of her bat-like outfit. However, one scene reaches new heights when the devil, though female in true form, rapes one of the female characters from behind in a show of pure malicious dominance that leaves a cold sweat and a gloomy mood over the treatment of dumped upon characters to whom never really dig themselves out of that deep hole from which they start, but rather they lay stagnant throughout without any hint of redemption. So you can say the whole story peters out after the apex of the she-devil climaxing because even though that particular moment is pivotal, the outcome briefly captures the meaningful intention as the message of the entire film becomes utterly lost and not anymore about resolving cyber bullying.
MVDVisual delivers the Cleopatra Entertainment production of “Devil’s Domain” on high definition Blu-ray. The unrated, 91 minute runtime of the 2.39:1 presentation is stored on a region free MPEG-4 AVC (BD 25). The image palette goes through a score of colored filters, from a scorching red to an intense blue, that removes much of the detailed definition, but natural coloring and skin tones do emerge from unfiltered sequences and bring full definition to the scene. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track heavily promotes Cleopatra Records music talent for obvious reasons, such as Iggy and The Stooges, DMX, and Onyx. However, much of the track looses transitional traction between layers that abruptly pop in and out. The dialogue comes out clean and coherent. Extras include a making of featurette entitled “The Devil Made Me Do It,” a slideshow, the red carpet premiere featuring brief cast and crew interviews, and the theatrical trailer. Despite having gleaming moments of pure demonic appeal and a taste from many women in many undergarments, “Devil’s Domain” looses a bit of ground covering the topic of severe high school abuse and cyber bullying and doesn’t have the stamina to keep out from being a candy-coated horror film.
Marilyn Burns, lead scream queen actress in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed by Tobe Hooper, died on August 5th at the age of 65. She was “found unresponsive” at her home in Texas by her family members.
Burns landed the lead role in Hooper’s cult classic in 1974 while a student at University of Texas. She has also appeared in another Hooper film, Eaten Alive, and had some cameo roles in Future Kill, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.