Slavic Folklore EVIL Goes Full Amber Alert in “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” reviewed! (Digital Screener / Shout! Studios)


Still reeling over the loss of his mother, a disheartened Egor has moved to a new apartment on the forested outskirts of the city with his father, step mother, and infant half-sister. A nanny is hired for house upkeep and to look after him and his sister, but the nanny’s strange behavior borders hostility toward him while also bewitching his father with her beauty and charm. Since her hire, the nanny cameras alert Egor of movement in the nursey, projecting an unknown and disfigured woman in the room hovering over the baby. When his parents don’t believe him, there’s nothing more the older boy can do until his baby sister goes missing and his parents don’t remember her, as if she never existed. Egor, along with his friends, track down a man living in the woods who seems to have an inkling about the mysterious disappearances of children and why everyone forgets about them as he has experienced the loss of his daughter and can barely remember her. Based off the man’s ramblings, their search for Egor’s baby sister leads them to an old and abandoned power shack that serves as conduit to the world of Baba Yaga, a Slavic witch with the influencing ability in kidnapping and devouring children’s souls for power and Egor’s sister, along with the rest of the nearby children population, have been abducted to lure in the pivotal pure child to set her free into their world.

“Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” is the second part of this unintentional two part Russian horror film appraisal following our extrospective look into Olga Gorodetskaya’s psyche serrating “Evil Boy” that just happens to have another protagonist by the name of Igor, but in this case, the spelling is Egor and, instead of a middle-aged doctor, Egor is a pre-teen boy with pre-teen issues – just to jazz it up a little. Also originally known as “Yaga. Koshmar tyomongo lesa,” the supernaturally Slavic folklore tale, directed by Snyatoslav Podgaevskiy (“Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead”), was released February in motherland Russia and is making a distributive second coming toward the States on September 1st courtesy of a collaboration between Shout! Studios and Leda Films. Penned by Podgaevskiey as well as Ivan Kapitonov and Natalya Dubovaya, the scribing trio pickup right where the wrote off form the gritty mysticism of fabled creatures beginning with “Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead” and into a classically frightening and morose villain salivating for juvenile souls spurred from one of the numerous variations of one of the more popular, if not grotesque, Russian mythological being. “Baba Yaga” is a production of the Cinema Foundation of Russia, Central Partnership Productions, Non-Stop Productions, and QS Films.

In much of the reverse from “Evil Boy,” Podgaevskiy’s “Baba Yaga” rocks the cradle in a “Goonies” approach with a condiment and courageous group of pre-teen, developmentally spongy, angsty, and hormonal driven children to solve the big bad witch mystery that not only afflicts the very lives of their brethren age group, but also the parental halfwits who have their minds erased like a chalkboard with nothing more than tiny dust particles to cling to to keep their missing children alive in their memories. From the visually powerful alien invasion thriller “The Blackout” (ItsBlogginEvil review here), Oleg Chugunov spearheads a trio of adolescents on the cusp of being witch-fodder. Chugunov plays Egor, a dispirited youth unhappy with his father’s remarriage to another woman and the target of bullies at his new school before becoming the chosen meal plan for Baba Yaga’s unholy escape for an ethereal world. Egor’s experience of an afterthought to a savior of child-kind isn’t represented well through Chugunov and how the character is written as Egor just falls into the “pure” child role without much explanation to why, staying flat on the personal growth scale for 113 minute runtime. Egor’s followed by a love interested in Dasha (Glafira Golubeva) and lead bully Anton (Artyom Zhigulin) who both have bouts with their parental caretakers; Dasha’s mother is a scorned beauty hellbent on controlling Dasha’s life form outside influences while Anton is a parentless brute with a guardian who is equally as callous as him, if not more. Svetlana Ustinova (“Hardcore Henry”) has two roles in this film and both are bad guys: Baba Yaga and Baba Yaga’s half-bird, half-human hench-thing. Ustinova shows immense range by fielding human to hybrid to full out witch qualities, inching the insidious intentions through the storyline that requires varying degrees of discourse with other characters along the way. The cast list rounds out with Aleksey Rozin (“Leviathan”), Maryana Spivak (“The Outbreak” TV series), Igor Khripunov (“The Bride”) and Marta Timofeeva (“Welcome to Mercy”).

Out of the two terror inducers from Russia, “Baba Yaga” inches out “Evil Boy” on the supernatural spectrum. Between Anton Zenkovich’s colorfully prismatic photography, Vlad Ogay’s sleek-straight and modernally tight architectural designs juxtaposed against a vastly rustic and chaotic woodland lore, and topped off with Podgaevskiy’s highly effective misdirection jump scares, “Baba Yaga” inveigles to a palatable lore horror invigorated by a two-timing enchantress with a sweet tooth for kid blood. Despite not being exact to the Baba Yaga’s tale, as the creature’s house is supposed to erected by actual chicken legs, Podgaesvkiy shoots a fear-laden heartstopper where anything can happen in any scene at any moment. Yet, something is indubitably missing from “Baba Yaga.” Perhaps, what’s missing is that meaningful message about rekindling that spark between parent and child, patching up the tears in the relationship that’s been strained by XYZ reason. Perhaps, what’s missing is the unsatisfactory ending of easily dethroning of a powerful and mighty mage. Perhaps, what’s missing is the explanation on why Egor is the key to Baba Yaga’s tyrannical freedom from cursed exile. I’d say all three contribute to the cause and not much, not even a wonderfully animated s storybook prologue depicting the phantasmal enterprise and downfall of Baba Yaga, could save the heartache in wanting more substance from the already loaded story but, then, we would be looking at another hour of runtime though its sorely warranted. In sum, “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” slips in a variant version dispersing a tingling tale of Russian folklore with stunning visuals and dutiful scares that ends deficiently and mediocrely.

Hide your children! “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” will be unleashed on VOD, digital, and on Blu-ray and DVD September 1st from Shout! Studios and Leda Films. You can look for it digitally or on-demand from the following providers: AppleTV, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, PlayStation®, XBOX, hoopla, Fandango Now, DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, Charter, and AT&T U-verse. Since the review is based off a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be examined but the Scream Factory Blu-ray and DVD release will be region A/1, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and will include a powerful Russian language Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix with English subtitles and will also include a dubbed English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Unlucky for me, I had to screen the movie with the dubbed version. Lucky for you, I can confirm that though obvious, the dubbing isn’t horrendously overly-hyperbolized or too asynchronous. There were no bonus features or bonus scenes included nor none announced on the press release. Grab a bottle of Vodka, pop some Zefir candies, turn off the lights, and sink into an Eastern European mythos horror with Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy’s “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” that’ll scare the Ushanka right off your head.

Pre-order “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” on DVD or Blu-ray for Sept 1st release!

Where There is Darkness, There is Evil. “The Dark Tapes” review!


Four dark and terrifying tapes tell tales of a petrifying horror through the camera lens of various found footage assets. Whether between the bleak, grim nature of disturbed mankind or the ominous, otherworldliness of menacing creatures, each story’s ultimate objective is to expose what lies behind the scenes, to shine a light upon what lives shrouded in shadows, and to unearth what lurks in the mind’s subconscious. At first glance, the dark tapes might seem uncorrelated, but at closer examination, the tapes share a deep rooted evil that connects every afflicted recorded event and makes one think twice about their perception on reality.

“The Dark Tapes” are a formidable found footage anthology that resembles a familiar “V/H/S” layout under the meticulously constructed eyes of co-directors Michael McQuown and special effects guru Vincent Guastini (Child’s Play 3). Scripted by the anthology creator, Michael McQuown, “The Dark Tapes'” four interlocking episodes will leave inside you a paralyzing case of nyctophobia as the genre-spliced anthology has no shortage of bone-chilling creepiness; in fact, “The Dark Tapes” epitomizes the very term and with an alternate universe mixture of ghastly ghouls, ghosts, and grisliness, the extremely exhausted found footage genre might have discovered some new, and much needed, life before being on the brink of a near death extinction in this quaint independent production from Michael McQuown.

The three internal tapes, directed by McQuown, are entitled, and in this order, “The Hunters and The Hunted,” “Cam Girls,” and “Amanda’s Revenge” with Vincent Guastini’s external wrap around segment, “How to Catch a Demon,” being broken into four parts between each tape and each tape should be viewed in complete and utter darkness to achieve maximum level of pants-pissing fright. Your overworked heart will skip with long deadly pauses in between, your lungs that keep you breathing will cease to provide breath, and your mind will warp to unfavorably play tricks on your eyes from an unrivaled nightmare witnessed on “The Dark Tapes.” The full body-stopping, comatose-inducing effect can’t be accomplished without the collaborating cast that includes Brittany Underwood, Tess Munro, Stephen Zimpel, Meredith Thomas, David Roundtree, “Sushia Girl’s” Cortney Palm, Anna Rose Moore, Shawn Lockie, Jo Galloway, and Michael Cotter to just name a few.

Much is right about Michael McQuown’s “The Dark Tapes.” Always welcoming practical effects are better than most indie ran features, especially in the anthology category, and the effects can best some lower-end Hollywood productions inside eye-glueing, on the edge of your seat narrative designs that are smart, gripping, and definitely heart-stopping scary, but to be somewhat of a devil’s advocate, the acting was overall a bit stiff across the plane with an awkward uneasiness in the vary of lackluster performances and overzealous deliveries that petered scenes from reaching full potentials. Production wise, “The Dark Tapes” impress inside the sets of bland reoccurring locations, but coincide them with a vast amount of timely, well placed special effects that quickly mutate the stark locations and the uninteresting backdrops turn into vivid portraits of hell.

The Thunder Road Incorporated produced, “The Dark Tapes,” has been slated for a worldwide video on demand distribution release come this mid-April after a theatrical stint this past March courtesy of the Epic Pictures Group. VOD platforms include Google Play, Vudu, iNDemand (Comcast- Xfinity, Time Warner, Cox, Bright House & more), Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity (Verizon Fios, Charter, Sudden Link, Media Com &more), Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV & Vimeo. Unfortunately, I was provided with an online screener of the festival favorite and can’t necessarily comment on the video or audio qualities nor any bonus features that might be available on a home entertainment release, but I can firmly state that, visually, “The Dark Tapes” is the Haribo of horror eye-candy with the different flavors of thrilling genres in a pint-sized package and while a little tame with the cherry red graphic content, director Michael McQuown seizes the opportunity to instill an open faucet of fear rather than tease with gore and sleaze with sex. If I had to recommend a horror anthology for 2017, “The Dark Tapes” would be on the very short list.