Rats! EVIL Got Out! “The Mutation” reviewed (Uncork’d Entertainment / Digital Screener)

Three detectives and a zoologist and his assistant don’t exactly know what they’re hunting down. An unknown animal has brutally killed two people, including the scientist experimenting on it after breaking loose from his lab. Keeping close tabs on the scientist’s wife who’s eager for revenge, the investigators discover through DNA residue and a first hand attack that an uranium mutated lab rat, now the size of a human, is the responsible culprit terrorizing the city. Behind every dumpster, lurking in the sewers could be the giant, killer rat hungry for a next meal and it’s up to the desperate detectives and the zoologist to stop the creature before devouring the city whole.

Giant, mutant Rats!  The antisocial Willard isn’t back to his own vengeful tricks again nor has Bruno Mattei risen from his Eurotrash grave to resurrect a rodent-infested sequel to “Nights of Terror.”  No, this scuttling little creature feature isn’t so little in Scott Jeffrey’s 2021, man-in-a-body-suit terrorizing schlocker “The Mutation.”  Last time we covered a Scott Jeffrey written and directed project, the modern day serial B-horror director was breaking hearts (well, more like, puncturing them really) with his Valentine’s Day massacre slasher “Cupid” that saw the winged and chubby, love-matching cherub be only a figment of fables and myths as, in reality, Cupid’s broken, maligned heart aims to sever relationships, and sever heads, with his deadly bow and arrow and ninja star-like greeting cards.  Giant rats don’t need a holiday to wreak havoc in this United Kingdom independent film production from Scott Jeffrey’s own Jagged Edge Productions.

Battling against the rat’s superior stealth and strength is a cast of Jeffrey film regulars beginning with lead Ricardo Freitas as the zoologist Allen Marsh.  The upcoming “Conjuring The Plastic Surgeon 2” actor reteams alongside fellow “Bats” costar Amanda-Jade Tyler, who plays a medical doctor hellbent on exterminating an adversary fed up being a lab rat.  Other than their word, Freitas and Tyler exhibit little of their vocations and with “The Mutation’s” limited budget, to expect a hospital or zoo setting shouldn’t be on the realistic table, but aside from a little backstory about Marsh’s team work and a flimsy explanation of genetic manipulation testing, the characters’ poor technical knowledge, compounded by a lack of thespian vigor, ultimately becomes clear that what should be a rich in trait zoologist Allen Marsh and Dr. Linda Rowe are nothing more than a pair of regular commoners caught in in the middle of an investigation.  Megan Purvis (“It Came From Below), Andrew Rolfe (“Amityville Scarecrow”), and Jamie Robertson (“Conjuring the Genie”) spearhead the investigation as a hapless trio of officiating authority bumbling through the case.  I can literally see the figurative question marks over top of the actors’ heads, unable to detach and discern their character confusion about a humanoid rat terrorizing the city and their actual confusion about how to portray cops on a case.  Rounding out the cast of character is Sarah T. Cohen (“Hotel Inferno III: The Castle of Screams”), Abi Casson Thompson (“Cupid”), Nick Danan, and “A Werewolf in England’s” Derek Nelson who goes from a canine howling at the moon to an upright, human life-size rodent snapping necks at a posh restaurant in “The Mutation.”

Yes.  You read that last bit correctly.  Forget the transmission black plague that killed multi-millions of people, those rats are wimpy mice compared to a killer rat that understands how to meticulously break a human cervical vertebrae with uranium produced opposing thumbs.  The mutation not only granted the rat unnaturally large mass and superhuman strength but also instill lethal ninja abilities as the all hell breaks loose restaurant scene is pure rat-cheesy carnage.  Much of “The Mutation” is heavily moist in campy bog, hobbling on a fine line of either being intentional or unintentional with spotty dense character moments played off earnestly, such as Marsh looking directly into a lab ring light after turning it on himself and exclaiming, “god damn,” as he recoils from the blinding brightness is the most stupidly funny part of the film.  My guess is if “The Mutation” wields a man running around in a scruffy and latex snarly rat costume offing city denizens then more than likely the campy category is the former with a misguided sincere shot at adding gravity to the narrative.  Though overflowing with an abundance of bottom-barrel scenarios and inscrutable character head scratching, “The Mutation” does have select satisfying moments of post-mutilation gore and a neo-monstrous CGI rat briefly holding all the cards in the finale. From my little time with the filmmaker, Scott Jeffrey makes good with palpable bloodshed and kitsch visual effects, but the stale white bread acting pitches up a conspicuously lopsided crushing blow that can’t be ignored.

If you suffer from Musophobia then “The Mutation” is great cathartic exposure therapy, gnawing at the flesh and bone and toward DVD home video and Digital platforms today, October 5th, courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment. Since a digital screen was provided for review coverage, the DVD home video release’s A/V aspects will not be analyzed in this critique; however, as far as the film’s appearance goes, Charles Jeffrey’s cinematography saturates our hairy rat-agonist in blue hues during more personal kill moments, but the backlighting is terrific, almost channel an 80’s slasher-esque of backlit vibrancy, when the man-rat is nothing but a silhouette perched on top of a trash dumpster. Classy. Yet, typical of many low-budget films, “The Mutation” is mostly otherwise softly lit that beams and ricochets lighting right off the skin, creating an overly polished varnish no self-respecting scummy rat would be caught dead in, and really could have benefit toning down the washout blue tint that steals from the details and the impact of earlier scenes. Specs are limited with no information on the DVD nor the rating or bonus content. With a creature that resembles more like a long-tailed gremlin than an oversized disease carrying rat, that’s the least of “The Mutation’s” troubles as Scott Jeffrey’s radioactive-rodent creature feature can’t find it’s four-legged footing with a languid cast and a disheveled script that gore alone can’t rescue.

Honey’s Sweet, But There’s EVIL in the “Royal Jelly” reviewed! (Uncork’d Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Bee careful what you wish for in this apiary tale that tells a story of high school misfit, Aster, an easy target for unsympathetic pubescent bullies, including the continuing at-home abuse from her half-sister, Drew, and pitiless stepmother.  With neither school or home being a safe retreat, Aster finds comfort in an unorthodox and brash substitute female teacher who has taken a shine to Aster and provides her shelter when she’s distraught after discovering her collection of apiary beehives was maliciously destroyed in an act of malice.  After living with her teacher and her son for some time, they exhibit strange behaviors, develop skin rashes, and Aster begins to notice that she doesn’t quite feel like herself either as her safe haven is unveiled as a façade for her grooming to become the next hive queen.   

“Royal Jelly” isn’t exactly the killer bee movie you’d be expecting.  Writer-director Sean Riley invites a new take of the Apiformes horror subgenre outside the beehive of being per se a creature feature with his new film, “Royal Jelly.”  And, yes, even though tiny in size, bees are still tiny creatures with mighty (painful) stingers.  Those not familiar with the term royal jelly, other than it being an unique title for Riley’s sophomore feature, royal jelly is the honey bee secretion from glands located in the hypopharynx and is the chief nourishment for colony’s larvae.  See!  Who says horror movies can’t be education?  Somehow, someway the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-born director found malefic inspiration secreting from his metaphorical hypopharynx domiciled glands and packages with it a paralleling an all too familiar fairy tale crowdfunded by Indiegogo backers, second feature funded this way behind his breakout directorial of the comedy “Fighting Belle,” and Riley’s Integral Motion Pictures.

Now, who is this leading lady willing to be misled into a turned-out humanoid life sized queen bee?  The University of Southern Mississippi Fine Arts graduate Elizabeth McCoy, of course.  The Greater New Orleans actress slips into an quasi-goth cladded outcast Aster sporting fishnet stockings and a black graphic t-shirt promoting the band Queen, a bit of fitting foreshadowing if I’ve ever come across one.  Before being bequeathed the hive throne, McCoy has to render Aster a meek existence made small by the death of her beekeeper mother backstory and surrounded by loneliness stemmed by an abusive sister and stepmother and a coward of a father.  The only joy made clear in Aster’s life is her bees.  When her apiaries are decimated, that is when high school sub Tresa (Sherry Lattanzi) flies in and shelters Aster under her wing that makes for an odd couple combination that’s one part predatory teacher fraternizing with a vulnerable student and one part comical motherhood to see McCoy tower over a short Lattanzi who is in this insect sovereign role. Doesn’t Darwin always say the strongest always survive? I guess there’s nothing in Darwinism about the tallest. Lattanzi expresses Tresa about as audaciously enigmatic as they come with little-to-no story arc to move in accord with as Tresa just shows up, out of the blue, and after a scene where Aster’s teacher has had his throat slit and I’m still trying to fathom the plot hole of how the hell Tresa entered the frame so quickly, as a substitute teacher, without ever laying eyes on Aster until stepping into her classroom. Sparse is the name of the game as Tresa, as well as Aster, are poorly written without much density and neither actress can pull off miracles adding layers to already rotten onion. The rest of the cast includes Raylan Ladner, Lucas T. Matchett, Fiona McQuinn, Jonas Chartock, and Jake McCoy.

Pulling inspiration from Roger Corman’s “The Wasp Woman,” Riley’s “Royal Jelly” ditches the experimental cosmetics for timeless folk lore while still vaunting a Corman class cinema gooey with bee secretion center. Instead of an enchanting tale of rags to riches, this loose Cinderella adaptation comes with all the classic hallmarks like an evil stepmother, a wicked stepsister, and a fairy godmother manifesting Aster’s dreams on the spot, but instead of a magical wand and a pointy hat, this fairy godmother comes in the form of a personified bee queen wearing a façade of a presumptuous substitute teacher. Riley’s openly emblematic killer bee story could go one or two ways. 1 – Aster is actually being groomed by a bee queen to take over her hive as a homolog event to Aster’s earlier class presentation on the eusocial bee social organization or 2 – Aster has snapped due to bullying and she’s daydreaming, hallucination, or dead and the bee-havorial chaos she’s experiencing is either in her head or is sardonic Hell. I like the second theory better over the first as I don’t find Aster’s sprouting of inorganic and rigid Halloween costume bee wings and a makeshift stinger, that appears more phallic than necessary, to be enticing me with a freakish reality. I still can’t get over the possibility of a predator allegory as a big truck cruising Tresa targets Aster to mate with her “sons” “Henry” or “David” to produce a heir of sorts. Either way you slice into Sean Riley’s “Royal Jelly,” little feels right story-wise with the delimited, bareboned farmhouse and apiary analogy and with the flighty characters leaving all their aces on the table which Riley scarcely goes back to address, such as with Aster’s family who just disappear from the story altogether though scenes of her snide stepsister showing slithers of guilt and sympathy go unfounded.

The bee invasion has landed with Uncork’d Entertainment’s release of Sean Riley’s “Royal Jelly” this September on all digital platforms From the unhinged “Homewrecker” to the love you to death “Cupid,” Uncork’d Entertainment distributes a wide berth of independent horror, stretching to all home entertainment platforms, and acquires the bee-horror “Royal Jelly” that fits into the company’s catalogue. Since released digital, the audio and visual aspects won’t be given the once over. Jonathan Hammond (“Attack of the Southern Friend Zombie”) serves as cinematographer who’s overexposed day scenes are starkly contrasted by the night scenes’ hard lighting slathered with an unforgiven blue tint. The inconsistent visual styles and slips, such as unfocused, blurry scenes at the dinner table near the beginning of the story, clash in the 94 minute runtime. Joe Hodges lays down a common brooding industrial score that’s not half-bad as the melodies change with the extent of the solid sound design. Stay tuned post credits scene for a millennial targeted public service announcement to protect and support the bee way of life by scanning a QR code to receive information on how to exactly do that. Pleasantly informative and certainly unusual, “Royal Jelly” evinces more the echelons of bee society and lot less the terror of horror and that takes a lot of the sting of Riley’s film, making this bee killer movie a total buzz kill.

Own or Rent “Royal Jelly” on Amazon Prime Video

On Valentine’s Day, Were You Struck by EVIL’s Arrow? “Cupid” reviewed! (High Flier Films / Digital Screener)

In one interpretation of the legend involving the god of love, Cupid is betrayed by his mother, Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty, when she poisons Cupid’s consort, Psyche, over conceited jealously with the tainted tip of his own arrows of love and desire.  Enraged, Cupid denounces love and if he can’t have love, no one will love as he sells his soul to Death in the underworld and becomes a demon of execution summoned by those who abuse love.  When the incessant bullies as Faye’s school push her too far, Faye evokes Death through a black magic ritual and contracts with the master of the netherworld that all those in her high school shall never know love.  Death summons the scorned Cupid to do the ghastly bidding that places not only Faye’s tormentors in Cupid’s destructive path, but also her friends, her teachers, and herself.    

Post-Valentine’s Day horror movies always seem appropriate as if love itself is fleeting, elusive, and nothing but trouble and elicits a bit of cathartic relief for unfortunate souls unable to find love come February 14th.  Nothing screams more about anti-love than Scott Jeffery’s arrow-through-the-heart and twisted Roman mythology story, “Cupid,” that festers from a lower fork in the road possibility of the god of love and desire aggrieved to become malevolent and spiteful in a cheeky, campy rampage.  Jeffery isn’t afraid to take on the challenge of transforming Cupid into a heart-stopping death-dealer as the film’s writer-director who has credential history of being a serial B-horror movie filmmaker with a resume of titles stemmed from myth, legend, and tall tales having produced and written the Frau Perchta inspired “Mother Krampus,” the Gorgon fueled, “Medusa:  Queen of the Serpents,” and producing that little dental-snatching hag known as the “Tooth Fairy.”  Jeffery aims to demonize the match-maker in the UK production from his Proportion Productions alongside co-producer and CEO, Rebecca Matthews.

The heart of the story begins with Georgina Jane (“Pet Graveyard”) as the hopeless romantic schoolgirl, Faye, reading from a book of black magic spells to bewitch the high school’s hunky male teacher, Duncan Jones, played by Michael Owusu in his introductory feature film performance.  Though Owusu is a handsome devil that plays authentically into his role, Faye’s character surpasses shallow and gullible traits as she’s desperate enough to try enchants for an older man to fall for her teenage body and soul and naïve enough to think that her charm passage actually worked enough to warrant sending scandalous pictures of herself over the phone to whom she believes to be Mr. Jones when in actuality is a Faye browbeating clique led by the insufferable rebellious student Elise, a role callously perfect for “Pagan Warrior’s” Sarah T. Cohen.  Jane tries to squeeze out as much as she can as the victim of Elisa’s volley of vile bullying tactics but also somehow cope the receiving end of embarrassment of kissing a shocked Mr. Duncan and as the two instances clash in a heap of dump on Faye day during Valentine’s, Faye retreats back to her fantasy safe haven as she tries to summon Death in vengeance.  This time, the incantation works and in flies with two large white wings and Roman sandals is Bao Tieu caked in some pretty atrocious facial makeup with a horizonal cleft nose, exposed teeth in a skull’s bare smile, and some serious baggage under the eyes.  I’m assuming Tieu’s short stature and small frame makes him suitable to portray the Cupid look often depicted as a child or as a slender, nearly feminine man in mythology art, but in “Cupid,” as the harbinger of death, the overall package feels less menacing and more absurd appropriate for the B-horror mockup as the dialogue-less winged villain hunts down rather easy prey using a campy assortment of atypical, Valentine’s Day weapons like heart shaped cookie cutters, a bouquet of roses, and mushy, sharp-edged greeting cards alongside Cupid’s go-to bow and arrows.  “Cupid” rounds out the cast with a majority of Scott Jeffrey entourage actors who’ve been in many of his produced films, such as Abi Casson Thompson (“The Candy Witch”), Ali Barouti, Georgie Banks (“The Mermaid’s Curse’), Kelly Juvilee (“ClownDoll”), Jake Watkins (“Toothfairy 2”), Adrian Bouchet (“HellKat”), and Nichola Wright (“Witches of Amityville Academy”).

Valentine’s Day holiday has seen a fair share of engendered horror films. While “Cupid’s” heart doesn’t beat to the same lovestruck drum as George Mihalka’s “My Bloody Valentine” or Jamie Blanks “Valentine” that scoff at romance by killing every love sick person in the room, Jeffrey’s take on Valentine’s Day stays on the slasher subgenre path, but takes a tongue-and-cheek route despite the earnest performances. I mean, really, who gets ninja starred in the back with Valentine greet cards or have their skin sliced out with heart-shaped cookie cutters? Jeffrey’s killer concepts have immense heart, no pun intended. Where “Cupid” begins to stray lies in the left out important details and the fast-and-loose character development that leaves a rancid taste of an expired box of chocolate in your mouth. For instance, Faye, a high school girl of maybe 16 or 17-years old, has what seems to be an archaic artifact of ancient black spells in her possession for reasons we don’t know how she obtained. Do we then conclude that Faye obsessively meddles casually with the black arts? Or did she visit Ray Stantz’s Occult Book store in NYC? There’s also a rich backstory, if not tale-telling, in Faye and Elise’s contention for each other involving a relationship scandal between Faye’s mom and Elise’s dad that’s only scratched at the surface and never really brought to light, but would have greatly help in explaining Elise’s wickedness toward Faye, who briefly blames her mother’s aggressive libido for all her high school problems. In what is, in all serious, an allegory for bullying spun high school mass murder, “Cupid” heavily ousts the outlier as a person lost in the fray of struggling to cope and turns to evil to solve their problems by taking out everyone in an instant. The only thing different is Jeffrey doesn’t arm Faye with a rifle; instead, he weaponizes her impulsive desires in the form of a demonized Cupid. Another character who doesn’t flesh out is Duncan Jones who drops out of medical school in order evade debt for the rest of his life; instead, he’s a substitute teacher with feelings for a colleague and his biggest prospect is chaperoning the Valentine’s Day dance. Instead of nurturing Jones’ arc from the beginning of the film, his medical background is only brought in later to serve as the needle in the arm for all the blood junkies out there as “Cupid” gets gory with a hacksaw scene that comes out of left field compared to the rest of the movie. “Cupid’s” story wilts like 6-day old roses starting to smell like rot, but is still thorn sharp as a campy, fun slasher braided with classical mythology and mass shooting undercurrents.

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but you won’t be able to get away from “Cupid” that easily as the Scott Jeffrey written-and-directed holiday slasher soars in onto DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment and High Fliers Films in the United Kingdom. The PAL encoded DVD has a runtime of 84 minutes. There were no details provided on the DVD specs and since the screener provided was a digital screener, no critique will be made on the A/V aspects other than director of photography Ben Collins’s cinematography that deploys a better way to experience “Cupid” with perforated soft glows of vibrant tints in the most weirdest of places, like the school bathrooms, during tense supernatural expectations or when Cupid is on the prowl, giving more interest toward the scenes that might seem more run of the mill ordinarily. There were no bonus materials with this release nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Abuse love and love will abuse you right back tenfold in this death-summoning, tale-twisting holiday themed horror “Cupid.”