When the EVIL in Your Dreams Terrorizes You…”Nightwish” Reviewed!


A graduate dream research group experiment on paranormal and sensory deprivation sleep patterns involving controlling their own dreams, even if their terrifying, and examining their own deaths but when they pivot to investigate supernatural activity inside an isolated compound mansion in the midst of an arid desert, the four students and their eccentric teacher conjure malevolencies that include satanic rituals and alien encounters. With their professor spearheading an underlying motive to use them for his diabolical plans, the hesitant and scared group must decide to either force their participation or try and escape their instructors madness, but when the lines of reality blur, friend becomes foe and foe becomes friend with casualties in the middle on all sides as grisly depictions of death and suffering question whether their nightmares are spilling into reality.

Subconscious surrealism on an ultimate terror coaster from writer-director Bruce R. Cook with an unspeakable horror in every corner, from flesh eating extraterrestrials to disillusioned Mad Doctors, in the nightmare-inducing “Nightwish!” The 1989 made and 1990 released “Nightwish” is produced by Paul White and Keith Walley, both of whom collaboratively funded through their Wild Street Pictures production company the early 1990s horror which included another Unearthed Classics release, spine #2, “The Dark Side of the Moon” and, also, put a little cash into the Jeffrey Combs cult favorite, the Brian Yuzna sequel of “Re-Animator,” “Bride of Re-Animator.” However, the real star of the filming crew is none other than Sean McLin. Before going full fledge into being a camera operator, especially around the early days of Power Rangers’ television series, McLin had a short stint as director of photography and his cinematography beyond divine that engrossed to draw audiences into odd angles, mind-boggling depth play, and just colors after colors of spectre ghoulishness. McLin provided a pure motley of mental macabre of the Gregory Nicotero (“Day of the Dead”), Robert Kurtzman (“Lord of Illusions”), and Howard Berger (“In The Mouth of Madness”) powerhouse effects team.

The central characters essentially encompass four graduate students – Bill (Artur Cybulski), Jack (“April Fools’s Day’s” Clayton Rohner), Donna (“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood’s” Elizabeth Kaitan), and Kim (Alisha Das) – along with their stern professor played by the solemn faced Jack Starrett (“Grizzly II: The Concert”). Relatively low on the totem poll names when considering a main cast; hell, I only know Clayton Rohner from his role in the mid-80’s teen transgender appropriation film, “Just One of the Guys” as well as being Admiral Jameson on one episode of Star Trek: TNG. Yet, the combination of crew talent along with the chiseled define facial features of a one Brian Thompson (“Cobra”), the meshed cast suffer no visible calamities or outright fumbles of performance as they each carrier about equal weight into a floating, weightless, construct of boiling human antagonizing fear. The cast rounds out with colorful supporting performances of a muscle head henchmen by Robert Tessier (“The Sword and the Sorcerer”) and the nitwit gate keeper, also animal feeder, Wendall played by Tom Dugan. Yet, Thompson tops the more colorful performances as Dean whose Kim’s ruggedly, manly boyfriend that’s more confident jock without the loss of brain cells. Thompson’s at the height of career, sporing a tank top for most of the film that puts his muscular form on display, but he isn’t the only actor to bare skin as Elizabeth Kaitan and, especially, Alisha Das bare a bit of flesh for the sake of providing a sexual desire to story.

“Nightwish” understandably has a hard chronicle to follow because any film, regardless of genre, incorporating dreams or delving into the state of madness is definitively ambiguous at best, hard to follow, and puts minds into high gear to either understand the just what the hell is going on or to make sense of the chain of events to deduct a reasonable explanation. Sure, over thinking “Nightwish” as a complex construct can be dead wrong. There could be simplicity strewn about and, maybe, we’re too dense or too complicated ourself be aware of the obvious, but Cook certainly knew how to piece together a disjointed storyline that distinctly defines part A of the plot, but parts B and C are so well blend together that the clarity of part A starts to disintegrate and more questions than answers starting whizzing through our think box. “Nightwish” epitomizes the resemblance of nightmare residue and is best left open for personal interpretation.

Spine #3 from Unearthed Films Classics label comes “Nightwish” onto Blu-ray distributed by MVD Visual. The Blu-ray is presented 1080p in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio through a newly restored 4k transfer, but the transfer, perhaps from the best negative possible, has some minuscule wear with faint scratches and dirt impressions; however, the definition and the color palette ultimately overrun the set hard grain with the minor damage also being an after thought. The uncompressed English 2.0 PCM has a better grade in comparison to the video with clear dialogue and a robust soundtrack throughout to which the ambience is nearly overshadows by but does present itself despite the lack of inertia to progress. Special features include a commentary track with Wild Street Pictures producer Paul White and the president and founder of Unearthed Films Stephen Biro. Also available is a photo gallery, trailers, and an extensive cast and crew bio booklet filled also with production notes and a slew of high resolution stills that’s great to flip through. As another judiciously placed classic for Unearthed Films, “Nightwish” is a dream come true for viewers that combines the effects talents of Nicotero, Kurtzman, and Berger with the terrifying ferocity of facing death through in the dark subconsciousness.

Nightwish available on Blu-ray!

Time Travel to Stop Evil via Astral Projection! “Mandao of the Dead” review!


Astral projection defined per Wikipedia: an interpretation of an out-of-body experience that assumes the existence of an “astral body” separate from the physical body and capable of traveling outside it. The otherworldly experience befalls suddenly upon Jamison Mandao, a young man living off the royalties of his late father’s flailing popular cereal brand, and his recently discovered, and also bewitching, new astral plane exploring powers land him in a macabre laced predicament with his adult squatting nephew, Jackson, and his nephew’s blood hungry, murderous ex-girlfriend, Maeve. With a little help provided by Jamison’s astral enthusiast relative, cousin Andy, and Maeve’s recent victim whose ghost is stuck in limbo, Jamison must use his astral projection to travel back in time, rearranging the series of events in order to not only appease the desperate pleads of a ghost, but to also save his daft, but good natured nephew becoming her next hapless fatality before the stroke of midnight segueing into the Day of the Dead when their chance to live again will rest in peace for eternity.

Here we go again with a time traveling genre film, the horror-comedy “Mandao of the Dead” from writer, director, and star Scott Dunn. Dunn’s sophomore feature film of 2018 dares the chances in being overly and, frankly, unnecessarily lambasted by internet trolls aiming to pick apart the film, hunting vigorously for time travel plot holes, but, and I reiterate this point again, that Dunn’s film is mainly a comedy where the laws of physics and ideas of probability have no bearing on Dunn’s grim fantasy loop. Despite the rather clichéd title suffix implying a facet from the zombie genre, “Mandao of the Dead” refers toward the post-Halloween, more traditionally Hispanic recognized Day of the Dead on November 2nd and while Dunn uses the day typically held for respect of past lives, the “Schlep” director conjures up a lively twist upon deathly circumstances that forms a cut-off date when that slither of twilight time for the dead ceases to be no more.

Alongside Scott Dunn as Jamison Mandao, Sean McBride buddies up as the freeloading nice nephew, Jackson. Dunn and McBride have previously worked together in Dunn’s first feature entitled Schlep and their rapport in “Mandao of the Dead” indubitably confirms a harmonious witty banter and a light-hearted dark comedy in fine, mechanical form. McBride’s spot on heartfelt halfwit Jackson nicely compliments Mandao’s knack for impatient contemplating. Throw a dude name Darth into Jamison and Jackson’s inert existence and things get dire and interesting. “2-Headed Shark Attack’s” David Gallegos isn’t portrayed as your friendly neighborhood ghost nor is he a malevolent one; instead, Darth begs for help and the cosmic universe delivers to him an astral projector and Gallego’s couldn’t be more sharply colorful with his spontaneous humor. Together, the three 30-something year-olds are pitted against the dark horse that is Maeve. Playing an incognito blood drinker, Marisa Hood has an innocence about her that renders a false sense of security and, in Jackson’s case, a pair of weak knees. Alexandre Chen, Sean Liang, and Gina Gomez round out the cast as characters finding their ways into the Day of the Dead debacle.

While we’ve seen where timelines become mangled by the interference of a time traveler and where the theme is fondled with in “Mandao of the Dead,” Dunn doesn’t over knead the narrative with it though certainly a centerpiece of the film as a whole. Mandao’s adventure with astral projection and his middling with the planes are only the beginning that have stirred a frenzy of unhappy campers in the spiritual world. The whole event of Mandao going back in time, twice, to save people is the proverbial tip of the iceberg and a welcoming taste of what’s to come from Dunn and his team. Shot in 10 days with a tight budget, Dunn, who also self-produced and edited the final product, has crystal clear storytelling abilities even with some of the rough, less glamourous edges encompassed within the world indie filmmaking. The characters are well written, from Cousin Andy, to Jackson, and to Darth, as their three various personalities colliding under a thin, blurry gothically influenced omen line.

“Mandao of the Dead” arrives onto Amazon Instant via Prime Video and presented in a widescreen, 2.35:a aspect ratio, and clocking in at a runtime of 74 minutes. No physical media specifications were provided now or for future release. With a budget around $13,000, the English stereo audio track and Panasonic GH5 image quality are finely calibrated and a flat out success for streaming platforms. No bonus features are included with this release. Vampirism, science-fiction, spirits, and astral planes, “Mandao of the Dead” is Scott Dunn’s golden genre-bending film of ghoulish and space and time continuum disproportions! So much so, a sequel has been announced, “Mandao of the Damned,” sparking a positive anticipated interest, by at least this reviewer, for the next chapter of a hapless, macabre adventures that Jay Mandao and Jackson will step into in the next astral plane!

Evil Gets Snuffed and Blued. Blu-ray That is! “Effects” review!


Special effects technician Dom joins a small cast on the scenic outskirts of Pittsburgh to work on a horror film with wealthy director Lacey Bickel at the helm. Filmmaker Bickel’s indifferent passion about obtaining the perfect shot for his movie puts Bickel at odds with the other cast and crew, rendering Lacey just another irregular and peculiar director attempting to show the general public his ultimate vision, but during one particularly odd behavioral moment, Dom was subjected to the exhibition of a presumably snuff film possibly directed by Bicket during a coke-filled round table discussion. Dom begins to suspect that the movie he’s laboring over isn’t the sole objective of Bickel’s, but stays quiet about his instincts and he forms a romantic relationship with Celeste, a gaffer whose worked with Bickel prior to, and the two resume their work on the film despite the being the oblivious subjects of a real snuff film.

In 1978, the Godfather of the modern zombie film, the late great George Romero, had an inner circle of friends conjure up their own funding for an idealistic, ahead of it’s time horror film entitled “Effects” with then newcomers and Pittsburgh natives Dusty Nelson at the helm, John Harrison producing and starring as the offbeat Lacey Bickel, and post-“Effects” “Day of the Dead” and “The Dark Half” editor, Pasquale Buba, as the other producer. Filming had wrapped with tons of positive public review potential to be the next big horror film of it’s time being produced out of Pittsburgh, but a major distribution complication had put the kibosh on any theatrical and home release run, leaving “Effects” to be shelved for nearly thirty years until 2007 when Synapse released the film on DVD. The snag resonates soundly with the group of filmmakers who are probably more than acquainted with their friend and colleague George Romero’s “Night of the Living” and the copyright problem. However, the American Genre Film Archive, or AGFA, began a kickstarter funding campaign to buy a 4K scanner to remaster cult and underground titles to Blu-ray and “Effects” became one of the first selected!

“Day of the Dead” star Joe Pilato stars as special effects technician Dom and Dom is a far cry from being his future role of the sadistic and stir crazy Captain Rhodes. Pilato brings a lot of peace and tranquility to his mild mannered, if not very gullible, character. Along side Pilato is another fellow “Dead” series star, Tom Savini, as portraying not his trade of a special effects tech, but as a producer of sorts in the film. Off camera, Savini handles the gruesome special effects with a straight blade and gunshot sequences. In character, Savini doesn’t stray too far from his character on “Dawn of the Dead,” donning the black leather jacket and sporting a cocky-jerk attitude. Producer John Harrison also has a role as the callus director Lacey Bickel who bosses around his two surface actors “Life of Brian” actor Bernard Mckenna and a “Dead” series dead head zombie in two of Romero’s films, a Mrs. Debra Gordon. McKenna delivers question mark after question mark of a performance that Matthew Lillard, perhaps, imitates the best in Wes Craven’s “Scream” whereas Gordon just provides a straightforward background performance with her scene with Lacey conversing over the idea of stress releasing sex being one of the more intense moments of the movie. Susan Chapek, Charles Hoyes, and Blay Bahnsen complete the cast.

Despite the modest budget, Nelson and his team construct monumental frightening moments. When Dom, Lacey, Lobo, and Barney converse around a mirror laced with coke, Lacey wants to show Dom a film after their sharing their opinions on what the general public will or will not pay to see. The actors’ faces and reactions as the snuff film rolls is on the brink of teeth clenching madness. The catalytic moment bombards questions internally into the group of presumably professional people and starts the separation between whose really in control of their fates. “Effects” is a movie within a movie and a deception within a deception where the characters have more than one role and pinpointing their specific purpose is difficult to land that Nelson’s film will have your head spinning with guesses. A fierce and boldly ambitious film from a scrappy Pittsburgh crew of talented filmmakers taking a risk with an intricate plotted thriller.

AGFA and MVDVisual present Dusty Nelson’s “Effects” for the first time on a region free Blu-ray. The 1980 thriller has been scanned and restored in 4K from the only existent copy of the 35mm negatives and delivered the original aspect ratio, an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. The image quality is better, but only slight above the Synapse DVD that sourced from 16mm negative and still maintains a healthy dose of noised induced and film grain and print damage. The color palette has a dullish grey-brown combination fairly noticeable to the naked eye. The English DTS-HD dual channel audio has hints of a hiss and faint crackle in more scene intense segments, but relatively clean and clear inside a limited range. Extras included are an updated version of Synapse’s retrospective documentary entitled “After Effects” that brings a stingy melancholy when seeing George Romero converse with his friends. There are also two short films by John Harrison, an archival commentary track, and liner notes by AGFA’s Joseph Ziemba. Plus, the AGFA Blu-ray has a snazzy illustrated cover, with reverse cover art, encasement. “Effects” glorifies snuff film with ample attention to detail and precision that only this Pittsburgh all-star team of filmmakers could produce on a limited budget and AGFA, alongside MVDVisual, amplify their efforts by a hundredfold with a remastered transfer withstanding straight razor home movies, a bombastic car explosion, and cloak and dagger guerilla filmmaking that’ll have you second guessing if the effects are only movie magic or not?

“Effects” on Blu-ray by AGFA and MVDVisual!

Strippers aren’t evil! Stripperland review!

In all my days I would never consider the exotic profession of a stripper to be a bad thing.  These (sometimes) youthful ladies contribute to society just like the rest of us and perform a gentleman’s entertainment that will forever be the loner’s safe-haven and open ear to deaf, faux sympathizers.  Director Sean Skelding sees the pole dancing society to be the evilest place on the face of the earth as his film, Stripperland, has strippers from all shapes and sizes, dolled up in cheesy outfits, run an undead amok eating the guts of the living and mindlessly dancing to hip-hop music.

Idaho is an annoying college kid who lives by a set of exotic dancer rules that help him survive a world of undead, flesh eating strippers.  He meets Frisco, a man on a mission to destroy every stripper that steps in his path and to fulfill an obsession for home made baked goods, and they embark on a journey to Oregon, but before they arrive, West and Virginia, two uninfected females, trek with them in search for their Grambo.

Sean Skelding has a vision and that vision is to recreate that vision in a parody.  Stripperland parodies Ruben Fleischers’s 2009 Zombieland and, in all honestly, doesn’t do it very well.  Having strippers only come back to life to eat the living doesn’t make much sense to me; to have them dance to hip-hop music and crave one dollar bills as a distraction ploy has the same effect.  I get it, Skelding, Strippers are the epitome of mindless drones who seek nothing but sparkly objects, a fistful of George Washingtons and just want to dance all night long.  This concept could have been done with another storyline; why use Zombieland’s premise?  Stripperland isn’t a soul sucker of only Fleischer’s zomedy as it mocks a bit of Zombie Strippers (for obvious reasons) and Romero’s Day of the Dead (with Thom Bray as Dr. Logan).

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