Daughters Don’t Cause This Much EVIL! “Son” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)



After escaping the imprisonment of an abusive ordeal with her father’s cult, the next eight years have been easy for Laurel living with the joy of her son who was born as a result of her abuse.  When her son contracts a mystery ailment that causes open sore rashes and bloody vomit, the doctors are baffled when the surely fatal, undetermined disease makes a rapid retreat and the boy recovers seemingly miraculously.  Days later, the boy again falls more ill and, this time, Laura suspects her previous life in the cult to be behind his suffering.  With clandestine acolytes making the presence known, Laura flees with her son as the two motel jump across the Midwest with no only two detectives on her tail but also the cult looking to reclaim her son with a terrifying and gruesome new gift. 

Back into the creepy kid subgenre field we go with another multiplex single mother and son relationship American-thriller, simply titled “Son,” from Irish-American writer and director of “The Canal,” Ivan Kavanagh.  Spun from the yarn of familiarities that are stitched together with the overprotective mother trope battling the forces of beleaguering evil reigning down on her child, as seen in such films with Jacob Chase’s “Come Play” and Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook,” Kavanagh deviates from the abstract lines of the mental illness undercurrent that reshapes and plagues centric characters into horrific, supernatural episodes of isolation, grief, and loneliness personified by often terrorizing entities lurking in the dark.  “Son” is an American production formed by intercontinental production companies with the UK’s Elastic Films (“Cub,” “What We Become”) spearheaded by producer Louis Tisné, Dublin based Park Films co-operated by Kavanagh along with AnneMarie Naughton and Ana Habajec, and René Bastian and Linda Moran’s Belladonna Productions (“Funny Games,” “Stake Land”). “Son” is an exclusive release of Shudder and RLJE International.

Added to the long history of assorted turmoiled single mothers versus the things that go bump in the night is currently a big name in horror at the moment with being principally casted in the latest three recognized sequels of the “Halloween” franchise.  Andi Matichak steps into the wretched past but ever so optimistic shoes of Kindergarten teacher Laura whose introduced in a prologue of heavy rain and the blood pumping cacophony of an intense chase.  Pregnant and haggardly dirty and barefooted, Laura is being followed by menacing, unknown men before she pulls off to safety just in time to give birth to a child she verbally proclaims no desire for but reluctantly accepts as her own after a bloody, front seat natural delivery, a moment that not only conveys Laura’s compassion but also her strength. Fast forward, Laura and son David (Luke David Blumm, “The King of Staten Island”) living daily normal lives with school, neighbors, and the ins and outs of parenting.  Blumm gives a good run on distress and duress as the titular character that has contracted an illness rapidly reconstructing his mortal soul.  “Killer Joe” and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe’s” Emil Hirsch enacts a sympathetic detective taking an interest in Laura’s case, but Hirsch is mostly silent and stiff, almost like he’s part of the background furniture, for the entirety of the character arc, bringing down, as a counteractive device, much of “Son’s” speedball narrative.  Rounding out “Son’s” cast is Blaine Maye, Cranston Johnson, Kristine Nielsen, Erin Bradley Danger, Adam Stephenson, and David Kallaway.

“Son” is surprisingly gory involving intestinal viscera and severed body parts with child actor Luke David Blumm at the center of all the carnage and the story is heartbreakingly sober when a mother, a rape victim, has to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.  Kavanagh subtly massages the thematic quandary of how a rape resulted child can be a perspective schism.  On one hand, the born without sin child stems the mother’s womb, ready to be loved and cared for by instinct to protect our own, whereas the other side, of that coin, more ingrained into the human psyche than we like to admit, is the child is a constant reminder of the past, a figurative reincarnation of a hurtful monster who the victim has to lay eyes on every day for the rest of their life.  Kavanagh instills into Laura that blurred line of trauma while imprisoned by the cult and she couldn’t clearly recollect whether her father or someone, or something, else is David’s biological father.  However, Kavanagh’s script houses too many illogical potholes to warrant foolproof approval, some more egregious than others.  For example, at one point Laura removes her severely ill son from the hospital without authorization because she believes cult members are after him to at which then she arrives back home to gather clothes and supplies to skedaddle out of town.  Yet, there were no police officers or cult members in route or staged at the home which should have been the first place anyone looking for Laura, as Emil Hirsch’s character states over the phone to Laura, would be staked out.  Secondly, the local detectives are able to cross state lines into Mississippi, Kansas, and Alabama without so much as batting an eye lash, presumably stepping over local authority.  Lastly, If evidence of a cult, especially a pedophile cult as one of the detectives suggests, is rearing its ugly head again and coming after a previous victim and her son, the federal government would be much more involved than local PD.  “Son” holds fast in keeping it’s cast close to the chest albeit some severe logical issues.  With that being said, Kavanagh knows how invoke dread and horror with his bleak narrative and stylistic techniques.  Good at horror, poor at story is what Ivan Kavanagh’s “Son” boils down to, leaving behind a lingering middle of the road afterthought in it’s wanton wake.

“Son’s” the past catches up with us all story perpetually never becomes tiresome, hitting every stage precisely with intention and full of scares to garner big, soul-freezing reactions. The iciness of “Son” will leave goosebumps, raise hairs, and shiver spines and you can watch it all now on a UK Blu-ray from Acorn Media International. Presented fully hi-def in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio, the region 2 Blu-ray is PAL encoded and has a runtime of 98 minutes with UK rating for strong gore, violence, language, sexual threat, and child abuse references. When looking over the picture quality, there’s not much to note other than some scenes appear softer than others in a more a director’s style approach to the content of the scene. Much of the blood is inky black with a nice mirror glaze shine, as Paul Hollywood would say, inside from the solemn color-toned to the natural lighting of daytime scenes. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix has a robust and fiery soundtrack in Aza Hand’s quite aggressive sophomore composing score. Dialogue is clean and clear without any break in the chain or obstruction as the audio tracks are balanced appropriately through all five channels. Special features include a spliced together snippets from interviews with the cast and crew along with deleted scenes more directly involved exploring Laura’s cult-captive background. To say you would do anything for your child is a complete understatement in Ivan Kavanagh’s “Son,” a top shelf singer full of venom , but as a whole, better stories are out there.

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

Transcend This Life With an EVIL Elixir! “At Night Come Wolves” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Leah has tirelessly tried everything to please her misogynic and negative husband Daniel, even going as far as dressing up in a skimpy and sexy Wonder Woman outfit and serving him his cake in more ways than one.  Yet, nothing seems to be chipper his spirit as he barrages her with meanspirited down talk that disparages her in every possible way.  Fed up with it all and hightailing their home before she does something rash, Leah drives aimlessly to get away from him and winds up, out of gas, at a diner where she meets Mary May, an acolyte to cultist Davey Stone who believes an elixir made from a forgotten, thought extinct, plant will transcend their existence beyond the cruel world of the now.  What the elixir actually does is something far more horrifying.

Verbal abusers, cult leaders, murders.  The crazy doesn’t stop there in Thomas J. Marine’s debut feature film, “At Night Comes Wolves,” landing it’s anti-sexism and anti-misogynistic messages upon the world on digital platforms this month.  Marine comprises his three short 2015 through 2017 films – “Paris, My Love,” “The Call to Future,” and “Object in Reality” – together with central narrative to bring new life into each one of his projects and also create something new from half the work being already filmed years earlier. Marine, or TJ as credited, writes a genre abstract story out of the pieces he tries to puzzle together, wildly cutting and pasting his shorts together as he continuously self-funds that extends into the filler narrative of his 2021 film under his own copyright, leaving “At Night Come Wolves” as a piece of true work from an auteur.

Beyond the first scene of a bound woman to a chair, bleeding from her hungry eyes and mouth, “At Night Comes Wolves” opens with Leah, “On-Site’s” Gabi Alves in her sophomore feature film, coming under hellfire from her loathing husband Daniel (Jacob Allen Weldy). Alves comes off with the submissive, will-do-anything to be a pleasing wife starkly contrasted against Weldy’s take-it-all and give nothing sexist persona; however, their relationship strays into Daniel’s bizarre sexual fetishes and watching his sexually objectified wife become the plaything for another man, a black man to be specific. The scene is brief, but powerful, perhaps the most powerful 10 seconds in the entire film that could have been, or rather should have been, the very principal theme of “At Night Comes Wolves'” subjugating prejudice roots. Instead, Leah throws in the towel and deadheads to nowheresville, serendipitously running into cult acolyte Mary May (Sarah Serio) and cult leader Davey Stone (Vladimir Noel). Stone’s fancies himself as an alchemy enthusiast, mixing his vintage bottled potions of unmarked substances that produce a variety of outcomes, usually ones Stone doesn’t expect and that thinly becomes the plot point genesis of Marine’s shorts. The entire dynamic becomes a glass ceiling as the story kind of just ceases to make logical sense when Leah deliveres Stone and Mary May to Daniel in a reconnect from the past of bad blood crossing paths again and along for the ride is Daniel acolyte Susanne (Colleen Elizabeth Miller “Leaf Blower Massacre 2”) whose down to drink Daniel’s demented womanizing Kool-Aid. Joe Bongiovanni, Myles Forster, Madeleine Heil and Byron Reo are sprinkled into servitude of “At Night Comes Wolves'” contorted three prong story.

Marine might repurposed his shorts into a Frankenstein feature to resuscitate new life into his lifeless projects, but the concept of regurgitating material itself isn’t totally unheard of while also being not widely popular amongst the mainstream crowd and even well-backed, risk-taking B movies due to the innate choppiness consequence.  Whether the restructure comes in the form of a web episodes strung together as in Nicholas Tana’s “Hell’s Kitty” or from lengthy shorts of one continuous story as with Joe Lujan’s “Rust” being a prime example of his short films, “Rust” and “Rust 2,” having been meld together years later, the narrative planes always seem and feel fragmented and staggered to the point where convincing audiences of a seamless story becomes a blurred line of why even try as filming styles, crews, actors, and even equipment change over time and “At Night Comes Wolves” suffers from that very incoherency with an intended non-linear storyline inelegantly sewn together by backtracking segues. Marine has two, if not three, very different ideas floating around his feature with one being very poignant, another identifying ideological radicalism with sexism undertones, and the other being just for the hell of a horrific good time with the undead. Of course, you don’t ever see the finale coming because, let’s face it, there’s never an established clean and clear objective in the narrative that floats in time and space. Hell, I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be partly a comedy or not with the incorporated park ranger scenes with Joe Bongiovanni and Vladimir Noel that are offbeat funny. This is the hand Marine dealt himself and it wasn’t a pretty one, yet somehow his ambition made a semi-intelligible presentation of a cult group toppling another more depreciating cult group before transcending into the seedlings of the apocalypse. And all I can do by the end of the movie is ask myself, what the hell did I just watch?

Don’t let this review scare the preeminent pants off of you from checking out and judging for yourself TJ Marine’s 2015, 2017, or, maybe, 2021 released films within a film as “At Night Comes Wolves” hit digital platforms this month of April, including iTunes, Google Play, Fandago as well as available on cable and satellite VOD services. Clocking in at 77 minutes, the unrated “At Night Comes Wolves” is out now released by worldwide film distributor Gravitas Ventures.  Aside from that singular moment of marital dysphoria that leads into an uncomfortably potent fetish of sexual desires and some witty repartee between a pair of colorful characters, TJ Marine’s reworked story might actually weaken the mystifying intrigue of his shorts as he plucks holes and fills gaps with new footage in a forced teetering of trying to make a comprehensible notch in the movie market.

Rent or Own “At Night Comes Wolves” at Amazon.com!

All Hail the EVIL Slumbering One! “Sacrifice” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Years after being quickly whisked away to America as a small child from his remote Norwegian island birthplace, Isaac returns nearly 30-years later with his new, pregnant wife, Emma, after the death of his mother leaves the empty family home in his inheritance.  With their heart set on fixing up and selling the house before the birth of their child, Isaac and Emma learn that marketing the seaside and scenic estate comes with a tragic past when the local sheriff discloses the brutal murder of Isaac’s father inside the home.  The dreadful information and the bizarre locals with their customary traditions doesn’t alarm Isaac who, instead, feels a strong connection and is drawn to staying whereas Emma, plagued by terrifying nightmares ever since stepping onto the island, is eager to sell and return to American as soon as possible, fleeing a community that worships an aquatic deity beneath the water’s surface.   

Based off dark fantasy and science fiction writer Paul Kane’s short story, “Men of the Cloth,” found in the author’s “The Colour of Madness” collective works, “Sacrifice” is an alienating folklore horror bound by the influence of a Lovecraftian core under the direction of a filmmaking due in Andy Collier and Toor Mian.  As their sophomore film as collaborating directors, following their 2017 psychological cop horror “Charismata,” Collier and Mian tackle Kane’s short story head-on by changing only a few details, such as location, family structure, and the title from formally known as Kane’s “The Colour of Madness” to “Sacrifice”, but keep rooted the foremost principles of “Men of the Cloth’s” cultish discomfort that’s greatly inspired with the otherworldly sensation of an amiss atmosphere akin to Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man.”  Filmed around the idyllic and mountain enclosed shore town of Bjørk, Norway and in the town of Volda, Norway, the 2020 film seeks to plop strangers into a strange land as a production of the London-based companies, Loose Canon Films and Hydra Films RKM, in association with Dread.

Over two years ago was the last time we reviewed a Barbara Crampton movie with “Death House,” that included a plethoric cast of her all-star genre brethren with Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, Dee Wallace, and others, and, now, Crampton makes her glorious return to the Lovecraftian turf that nostalgically brings most of us horror fans back to the New York-born actress’s “From Beyond” and “Re-Animator” days.  “Sacrifice’s” Cthulhu spirit finds Crampton playing a small town Norwegian sheriff, Renate Lygard, in which Crampton, under the training of a dialect coach, surprises us with a fair Norway accent as she provides a quasi-warm hospitality set of manners upon island outliers in Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and Emma (Sophie Stevens) Pinkman. Hughes and Stevens nudge their way into a solid man-and-wife, but their dynamic density becomes crispy at times and pale from their initial arrival soon after rustling with the natives. The lack of vitality doesn’t stem from the wedge being driven between from the lure of Isaac being called by the natural phenomena of the Northern Lights, the drunken friendly benevolence of Gunnar (Lucas Loughran) and Ledvor (Jack Kristiansen), and the full frontal skinny dipping of Renate’s beautiful daughter, Astrid, an eye-opening film introduction from Johanna Adde Dahl; instead, the Pinkman’s bond held together about as tight as using kindergarten grade craft glue that bled into the performances as well that came off stiff and unnatural. Aside from Hughes and Stevens hailing from the United Kingdom and Crampton from the U.S., the remaining cast was curtailed to Norway nationals, as such with Loughran and Kristiansen, rounding out the cast with Erik Lundan, Dag Soerlie, and Ingeborg Mork Håskjold.

“Sacrifice’s” cult mania lays on a thick coating of grass roots that really set the tone for an foreboding outcome.  An idyllic Norway fishing village propped between the eclipsing mountain range and marine inlet intrinsically obscures an already unspoken secret that’s only been rendered on the faces and actions of the residents.  At the center of village’s idiosyncrasies are the two hapless protagonists venturing into unknown territory with only an inherited house in their back pocket and a vague sense of youthful recollection; this sets up for an obvious antagonism theme of locals with a sense of xenophobic nationalism, especially against two Americans.  The initial friction opens the flood gates for cultural customaries to be weaponized against Isaac, who wants to strongly embrace his heritage, and Emma, who can’t seem to grasp the village’s peculiar beliefs and even goes as far as being naïve of and mocking the village’s traditions and deity.  The tension is compounded by the ominous presence of the labeled slumbering one, sleeping beneath the glossy surface of the inlet waves, but conjuring up tangible and intense nightmares that plague the every island inhabitant, a mystery Emma can’t explain, won’t entertain, and ignores exploring that turns Emma floundering more into Isaac’s sudden disinterest in her albeit soon-to-be-parents.  “Sacrifice’s” climatic, tell all scene harbors more secrets regarding Isaac and Emma’s purpose on the island that are to be interpreted by the audience, but don’t connect back to any string along clues leading up to a poignant and sharply-shocking ending.  Instead, “Sacrifice” acutely wraps up not only the story but also the characters like a paper wrapped fish at the fish market ready for sale without any huff about where, why, and how that particular bug-eyed fish became the gutted victim of man’s delicacy.

“Sacrifice” shores folklore horror swelled with Lovecraftian roots and is docking digitally today, March 15th, in the UK courtesy of 101 Films. The film has a runtime of 87 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, shot on a Sony CineAlta Venice camera. Co-director Andy Collier tackles his first credit director of photography gig with interesting shots looking up through all different angles and vessels that hold water. Whether boiling eggs, taking a bath, or in small cove, Collier, and Mian, put eyes on the bottom surface, promoting all varieties of water within it a lurking presence and the imagery is done extremely well with depth and space to pull off the illusion. A fair amount of soft lighting, moments of bright primary color glow, and the specs of well-placed lighting to barely illuminate a scene is broodingly worthwhile. Tom Linden’s original score is fiercely compliment as a folklore staple, harsh-chord intensity that lingers well after the boiling blood levels drop to a mere tentacle dwelling simmer. There were no extra features or bonus scenes included with the digital screener. While the build up didn’t pay off at the bloody end, the two-tone terror of “Sacrifice” wrecks the nerves and frays warm pleasantries with wicked wallowing, slumbering, nearby in the shallows.

Time Travel to Stop EVIL via Astral Projection: Part II! “Mandao Returns” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

With his powerful ability to astral project, along with the help of a motley entourage of friends and family, Jay Mandao saved multiple lives, some who are close to him, from his blood thirsty ex-girlfriend on Halloween night.  Two months later, days before Christmas, and now living in the scheming medium Cousin Andy’s townhome after his unrelated cousin Jackson set fire to his apartment, Mandao and Jackson float through life, sleeping in Cousin Andy’s living room and barely off the royalties of Mandoa’s father breakfast cereal line.   Dreams of his father, Raymond Mandoa, urging him to stop astral projecting as dark entities will discover him are reluctantly ignored when Cousin Andy connives a get-rich-quick opportunity to contact the recently deceased Aura Garcia, a well-known B-movie actress having died a few nights ago after a drug overdose, but as soon as the spiritual and time planes are disturbed, sinister plans of murder, from the living and the dead, deck the halls with a blood red Christmas.  

Mandao is back!  Or rather returns in a new scouring the astral plane misadventure entitled “Mandao Returns.”  When we last reviewed the Scott Dunn 2019 comedy-horror sleeper hit, “Mandao of the Dead,” an open ending left us salivating with a possible sequel under, what we know now to be a working title, “Mandao of the Damned” that promised exploring the nonphysical and paranormal realm’s mysteries and secrets that threatened Jay Mandao’s whole grain boxed-in existence, at least according to Mandao’s father, Raymond with a foreboding sign of inexplicable things to come.  The Kickstarter.com, crowdfunded modern cult favorite raised more than $26,000, doubling the first film’s budget, from approx. 250+ generous likeminded supporters within two weeks time that brought back four core characters essential to “Mandao of the Dead’s” grim, but lighthearted success to battle half-cocked the supernatural forces of evil.  Instead of a blood drinking cultist, a by-midnight death ceremony concretes stardom and greatness, but not if Jay Mandao has something to say about it.  “Mandao Returns” is a production of Scott Dunn’s Dunnit Films and distributed by Indie Rights.

Returning, obviously as stated in the title, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who incessantly annoy yet deep down care for him on a daily level is the hapless Jay Mandao, the titular hero played by writer, director, and story creator, Scott Dunn, along with Dunn’s wife, Gina Gomez Dunn, who steps back into a co-producer role for the sequel as well as stepping back into the shrewdly wild shoes of Fer, a close but no cigar Mandao love interest continuing to become mixed up in Mandao’s spiritual shenanigans while being a private driver for the Uber-equivalent Bum Rides.  Though blood is thicker than water, Mandao’s cousin-by-marriage Jackson oozes with dense innocence as Sean McBride reprises the daft role to another perfect tune of witless naivety.  Together, Mandao and Jackson arouse a likeable dynamic duo that becomes the keystone to both films’ success because without McBride’s timely childlike disposition, Mandao would just be a snippy and angsty loner and without Dunn’s subtly serious tone, Jackson would overrun the comedy-horror with one-sided gullibility.  With any sequel aiming to top its predecessor, the buddy comedy needed to be bigger and by adding the fourth returning character, Cousin Andy, as an important ingredient to the mix, Sean Liang adds a grounding hoodwinking conspirator that thrusts Mandao and Jackson into action on the astral plane field when the no-good antagonist, Aura Garcia, played by newcomer Jenny Lorenzo, becomes scorned in the spiritual world and takes heinous vengeance that not only involves Mandao, Cousin Andy, Jackson, and Fer, but also Garcia’s talent manager, Ted (Jim O’Doherty), in a sacrificial ritual gone terribly wrong. 

“Mandao Returns” is a smartly written script from creator Scott Dunn whose able to mold fallibly fascinating characters into unlikely heroes juxtaposed against a monumental occurrence much greater than themselves with the vast possibilities in the spacetime continuum.  Of course, the cinema flair to decorate the otherworldly dimensions with accessible ease and gloomy aesthetics faces speculation of existential questions of mindpower and life after death and the challenges the mechanics of the theory of metaphysics, but all that abstract mumbo-jumbo is pushed aside in order to make the “Mandao” films entertaining and for a good reason because when the script has colorful characters and a working narrative, “Mandao Returns” allows audiences to turn off rationality for approx. 71 minutes to enjoy a modestly produced Sci-fi comedy-thriller with a cast accurately in sync with each other’s methods.  The one thing I will say about “Mandao Returns” that I found to be a sore spot, despite still immensely enjoying, is that the story echoes eerily to “Mandao of the Dead.”  With a slight tweak to Mandao’s astral projection powers and trading in a different breed of villain, from point A to point B, from dynamics to outcome, everything seemed nearly identical to “Mandao of the Dead’s” narrative, delivering nothing distinctively new to the table to elevate the character’s fate and circumstances into unique, un-before-seen horizons.  Dunn comes close to challenging and upgrading the prior narrative by hinting something lurking within the spirit world was on the verge of closing in on Jay Mandao if he continues blindly using astral projection by the forewarning words of his father, Raymond Mandao, but slips out of that digressional stream to pit Mandao versus greenhorn cult acolytes looking for glam and glory by way of the gory and that, done in the Dunnit Films’ essence, is okay too.

As a quirky, out-of-body sci-fi thriller experience, “Mandao Returns” succeeds in succeeding as the sequel that brings the thrills and the laughter of far-fetched heroes ready to tear into the fabric of time to stop evil once again. The film comes to you from distributor Indie Rights and is available now streaming only on Amazon Prime so get your pandemic pants on aka comfy, stretchy pants, grab some movie style popcorn, and recline back to watch “Mandao Returns.” Experience the vibrant and wraithy-visioned glow cinematography of A.J. Young, returning from “Mandao of the Dead” as well as Dunn’s first film “Schlep” and another camping trip horror film, “Camp 139.” Young stays true to the films atmospherics with hard lighting a variety of hues and creating a story through the presence of shadows, working movie magic creating an opulent visual experience when really only working with about 25 grand. There were no bonus features nor extended credit scenes with this digital screener. One day, I’d like to see Scott Dunn and his Dunnit Films team work with a good chunk of budget cash and push the limits beyond the simplicities of the “Mandao” films, but until then, “Mandao Returns’ is disseminated with a whimsical awareness and fervent macabre that’s intent to please.

Watch “Mandao Returns” on Prime Video. Click the Poster!