Joanna and her fiance, Geoff, enter a sublet agreement sight unseen. With her fiance being a struggling actor with gigs teetering on the line and domineering most of his time, Joanna struggles to find ways to pass the day alone in her apartment on unpaid maternity leave. The creepy, unwelcoming apartment doesn’t feel like home when Joanna has yet see another living soul in the building, but hears footsteps on the next floor above, violent wall banging thumps next door, and extremely unpleasant dreams that seem to cause her to lose time in reality. When Geoff neglects her pleads to leave the sublet, Joanna becomes enthralled with a newfound journal from an off limits room and as soon as she starts to read from the pages, her life in the apartment strangely follows a parallel path of the journal’s previous owner, a house wife named Margaret, that leads to jeopardizing everything Joanna knows: her sanity, her husband, and her baby.
“The Resident,” aka “The Sublet” as known in other parts of the world, is the debut psychological horror directed by the writer of “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer,” John Ainslie, who also co-wrote the script with Alyson Richards. The 2015 film is also produced by Chad Archibald, whose name might sound familiar if you’re a regular reader of this review website where you can read about interesting horror feature films like “The Resident.” Archibald helmed the body horror delicacy “Bite” the same year. Together, the qualified credential crew steps up to a challenge with “The Resident” that, on the surface, appears to be another run-of-the-mill tired premise of a young couple coping with a malevolent presence and with a common subplot involving a stay-at-home mom being the unfortunate victim. Ainslie and Richards, obviously, go through the stages of that realm, knocking down the expected pillars of conventionalism, but the duo do touch upon a couple of things. For one, they make “The Resident” very interesting and entertaining by seriously messing with Joanna’s state of mind, forcing her to question every little aspect of her mundane existence in that small sublet. The second thing is is that the whole story can be seen a metaphor for postpartum depression that’s driving psychosis right into the thick of Joanna’s unhappiness. More than once, Joanna mentions how ugly she feels and she becomes overly jealous of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, even if rightfully so.
“Bite’s” Tianna Nori gluttonously takes on Joanna’s dwelling punishment. Nori’s par performance sells sufficiently, but doesn’t completely enthrall Joanna into the depths of madness, leaving a rather tame aftertaste. The same can be said for Mark Matechuk, who plays opposite to Nori with Geoff. His struggling actor shoes fit his two-bit stiff and starchy outfit, but Matechuk and Nori do work well together even if some scenes feel forced and scripted. By far, Rachel Sellan was my least favorite of the three main actors with her portrayal of a snobby, yet beautiful, ex-girlfriend of Geoff’s. A world built solely on the inner walls of the apartment, literally 95% of the film is inside this constructed sublet, has more personality and life than the organic material composing an orchestrated dialogue and I personally don’t blame the cast. I believe the sublet, the construed presence, subversively overshadows the intended characters. Krista Madison, James Murray, Mark Ettlinger, and Jeff Sinasac make up the supporting cast.
“The Resident” has modest effects that spur mostly off screen, but on the rate instance when mise-en-scene effects happened, they didn’t go unnoticed. “The Resident” brought and delivered the appropriate psychological nightmares associated with brain-warping spirits, shelling out an introverted dreaminess in Joanna that only she could experience with those unfortunate family and foes surrounding her witnessing only the outer chaos. Sometimes the story gets lost in itself when attempting to further Joanna’s skewed circumstances. Is Joanna dead already? The answer is possibly. Every external scene of the apartment building or even the brief scenes of Joanna with the stroller sets the moments in dreary rain and when going further into the film, Joanna is no longer able to leave the apartment. She even becomes a part of her own missing person’s investigation conducted by two belligerent cops, played venomously by Mark Ettlinger and Jeff Sinasac, who inform Joanna that her family hasn’t heard from her in days. It’s the final scene that sets the whole rest of the film in stone, that solidifies Joanna’s mental state, and yet the simple moment still leaves questions and reflection. That’s a considerable tall tell sign of good story telling from Ainslie and Richards.
Canadian production company, Black Fawn Films, headed by Chad Archibald have another successful odious anecdote in their arsenal of horror and the company has quickly gained momentum in becoming a juggernaut in sustainable low-budget horror. Second Sight will be heading the home distribution portion of the title with a May 22nd release onto DVD and On Demand. Unfortunately, a press DVD-R was provided and the audio and video qualities can’t be commented on nor can any critique on the bonus material. John Anislie has the tools and the means to labor a chilling trap of supernatural spookiness. With a cast of similar caliber, “The Resident” would have made it higher on the list, but manages to keep a solid bleep on the radar when the next scene always begged the question – what’s going to happen next?
Elliot, Sasha, and John move into an old manor home just off the university’s campus. The tight knit three friends stumble upon a tattered nightstand with scribbled nonsense inside the drawer and underneath the incoherent writing and scratched into the wood is The Bye Bye Man. Once you hear the name, a searing imprint has been made into the mind, opening up a layer within the universe that invites a grim reaper-like figure to come horrifically collect individuals who have been infected with the name. The mysterious malevolence will impose hallucinations, or tricks, upon the mind to induce others to commit evil acts on another and will stop at nothing until those who know his name are either end up dead or spread his vileness. For Elliot, Sasha, and John, their close relationships will be tested, they’re bodies will be challenged, and their minds will be altered in a race against the clock in order to beat death, to defeat The Bye Bye Man.
“The Bye Bye Man” is an Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment distributed boogeyman concept from 1995’s “The Last Supper” director Stacy Title. Title, who hasn’t been active for about ten years since her last directorial, helms the project written by her husband, an appropriately named Jonathan Penner, who also had a co-starring role in “The Last Supper.” The inspiration stems from a collection of horrific tales from Robert Damon Schneck’s “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America,” but “The Bye Bye Man” borrows heavily from well-crafted horror brethren too, birthing a mythological personification of death that doesn’t wield a scythe, but rather being a master, underneath a dark hooded cloak, to a hellish beast that munches on the faces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Final Destination,” and a little bit of “Scream” become the selected examples that are the genetic makeup of TItle and Penner’s film, but doesn’t grossly rip from the said works, two of which are the late Wes Cravens masterpieces. Instead, Jonathan Penner reconfigures the nightmare man, a modern day Freddy Krueger type stalking every soul during the day and night hours, whom establishes his own brand of Rube Goldberg deaths through deadly vision inflictions that pray upon a human’s moral subconscious. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” sets as the 2017 film’s tagline with the notion that perhaps little white lies are, literally, lifesavers or that the truth can be hurtful, and or knowledge can be powerful, but can also lead to your own demise.
“Ouija’s” Douglas Smith succumbs to his lead role of Elliot, an educated and patient young man who seems to have everything despite tragic misfortune that’s whisked through the character development. From friends, to a supportive brother, to a loving girlfriend, Smith transition seamlessly to languishing burden during a spotlight scene with co-star Carrie-Anne Moss (“Matrix”) that’s raw and cuttingly empathetic. The story centers around Elliot, but Sasha and John have pivotable relationships to Elliot, two essential roles given to two British actors, former girl of Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, and television actor Lucien Laviscount. Both Bonas and Laviscount expensed drab performances, mechanically and, often, monotonically coming and going from scene-to-scene without mingling well into the rest of the film’s grim and dire trimmed overalls that basically left Smith out to pick up the slack. Along with Carrie-Anne Moss, who always seems to be typecast in a women of power role and, in this case, a detective, “The Bye Bye Man” sports other veterans of both horror and general film, but; instead, take a backseat to a younger generation of actors. “HellBoy’s” Doug Jones silently strolls through one of the easiest prosthetically garbed performances of his illustrious career as the titular character, genre stable Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) commits to a haunting performance as a murder-suicide martyr, and the legendary Faye Dunaway portrays a longtime widow of the aforementioned madman. Michael Trucco (“Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled”), Jenna Kanell, Cleo King (“Hood of Horror”), and Erica Tremblay round out the supporting cast.
Universal picking up a horror title resembling an infantile kids feature and releasing it theatrically might with relatively unknown, mostly non-American cast, will scratch some questioning heads, but with a well oiled supporting cast consisting of many years of guild service, a director, despite being inactive for many years, maintaining a sensible and visionary eye, and a story, aside from a few underdevelopments, that captivates with edge of your seat scares and with next moment eagerness, “The Bye Bye Man” has great potential. With smoothing out details of Elliot’s and The Bye Bye Man’s backstories and construing more of a slow burn method when getting the characters involved with the ‘don’t think it, don’t say it’ villain name, Universal would have increased their gross profits by double and the world would be happy once again. Unfortunately, that scenario was not the case as credits bombarded “The Bye Bye Man” as about as borrowed and as hokey as any low-budget horror film can be, but “The Bye Bye Man” surpassed the production budget by triple and to me, someone who generally has the same stance as most credits, that’s a win for Stacy Title and company.
The Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production “The Bye Bye Man” makes a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment debut on a two-version unrated Blu-ray and DVD combo. The MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p Blu-ray disc contains a razor sharp image in the 1.85:1 presentation. Depth and shadows phenomenally define the space, especially in closer quarters and the ariel shots. A motif of bleak black and grim grey is consistent throughout, creating a tone through the darker shades, with vivid hues to gloriously fend for themselves amongst the achromatic reel landscape. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound doesn’t feign in the balance category with dialogue prevalence not short of excellence and, much like other atmospheric horror, the spooky elements are outlined in various levels from a coin dropping to a train horn. Bonus features are surprisingly zilch with no extras on either format; I guess there wasn’t much to say during or post-film. In all, “The Bye Bye Man” is a total hack with plot holes. A completely borrowed and revamped product with a terribly childish title promising nothing to the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “The Bye Bye Man” can’t be entertaining, providing a wicked sense of humor and a morbid final destination outlook with unexpected casting choices and a barely bordering PG-13 horror rendering.
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.
In a small South Korean village, tight-knit families practically know one another in the quaint middle-class community. When mysteriously deadly destructions from inside local families and strange stories of animal carcass devouring creatures in the woods surface, local police sergeant Jong-Goo begins an investigation to connect a pattern of violence and superstition and at the center of it all is a suspicious and reclusive Japanese traveller. Bound by the law and an overall lack of courage, Jong-Goo proceeds to investigate with extreme caution, but when his young daughter, Hyo-jin, becomes subjected to the same symptoms that overtook destroyed families from within, the desperate father sets aside rules and regulations and uses threats and force when visiting the Japanese Stranger, whose rumored to be an evil spirit that’s plaguing the small village with terror and death.
By far, “The Wailing” sets the precedent on folklore horror. Acclaimed writer-director Hong-jin Na lands a harrowingly ambitious, well-constructed film right into the lap of horror fans with “The Wailing,” known also as “Goksung” in the film’s country of South Korea. South Korean filmmakers have once reestablished proof that foreign films can be as masterful, as bold, and as elegant when compared to any other film from major studio productions. Hollywood has started to come around by remaking one of South Korea’s most notorious films, the vengeful thriller “Oldboy,” and seeks to remake recent international hits in “Train to Buscan” and “I Saw the Devil.” Lets also touch upon that top Hollywood actors are beginning to branch out to South Korean films. “Captain America” star Chris Evans had obtained a starring role in Joon-ho Bong’s “Snowpiercer” alongside co-stars Ed Harris and the late British actor Sir John Hurt. “The Wailing” will reach similar popularity being one of 2016’s most original horror movies and one of the more unique visions of terror to clutch the heart of my all time favorite’s list.
Do-won Kwak stars as Sergeant Jong-Goo, a officer who avoids trouble at all costs and has no motivation to be on time for anything. Kwak, basically, plays the fool character, comically going through the routine of investigating brutal murders complete with stabbings, burnings, and hangings despite his Captain’s constant chastising and seizes every opportunity to act dumb and look stupid, but once the story starts to focus “The Wailing” as nothing more than an offbeat black-comedy, Hong-ja Na devilishly about-faces with a severe turn of events that’s a mixed bag of genres. Kwak no longer plays the lead role of comic relief; instead, a more self-confident Sergeant Jong-Goo takes control of the investigation as the deeper he finds himself involved in the dark plague that’s ravaging his village. He hunts down the Japanese Stranger, the debut South Korean film for long time Japanese actor Jun Kunimura (“Kill Bill,” Takashi Miike’s “Audition”) with a zen like aurora that’s enormously haunting to behold and captivating when his presence is lurking amongst the scene. Though Kunimura’s demeanor contrasts with other actors, he’s very much in tune with the dynamic, but it’s the maniacally, foul-mouth ravings of Hyo-jin, played by Hwan-hee Kim, that stand out and are the most distraught during her possession state that could give “The Exorcist” a run for it’s money and is a visceral vice grip to the soul that has to be experienced. Woo-hee Chun and Jung-min Hwang round out the cast in their respective and memorable co-starring roles as a peculiar no named woman and a flashy shaman.
“The Wailing” incorporates various folklore stemming from cultures all over the world including the Koreas, China, Japan, and even from China’s bordering neighbor Nepal and meshes them with religious practices of Buddhism to even the far corners that the Catholic faith possesses. The luxuriant green South Korean mountain backdrop sets an isolated, ominous cloud over a beautiful and serene archaic village, an awe-inspiring juxtaposition created by cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong that coincides with the complete dread piercing through the heart of the story; a perspective vastly opposite to Hong’s works in the previously mentioned “Snowpiercer” that’s set in the tight confines of a class dividing bullet train. “The Wailing” bundles together mythos with visionary concepts and landscapes in an epic mystery-thriller that’s unforgettable; it will cling to you, like a evil-dwelling spirit, well after the film is over.
20th Century Fox, in association with Ivanhoe Pictures and Side Mirror, produce Hong-jin Na’s top horror contender “The Wailing” with Well Go USA and Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment distributing on DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, I was provided with a DVD-R screener and can’t specifically comment on specifications and image or audio quality. Accompanying the screener were two bonus features: a behind-the-scenes featurette and the beginning tale of “The Wailing” featurette. Both were fairly informative that gives insight on Hong-jin Na’s mindset and how the director’s ambitious story in a malignant tale of comedy, horror, and mysterious involving demons, shamans, and, quite possibly, the devil himself. “The Wailing” significantly captivates, sucking you into the darkness with an uncanny amount of pull with a story too terrifyingly original to avert and too thick with vigorous characters in a plot twist too harrowing to forget.
All Doctor Victor Wolffenstein wanted to accomplish is to invent an occult practiced serum that would permit eternal life, but his pure genius was corrupted by an egomaniacal drive during his time of research in a small village of 1930’s Germany. When Dr. Wolffenstein began gruesomely experimenting with the body parts of the resident dead, local inhabitants labeled him an abomination against humanity and God and sought to expunge him from life by cutting out his tongue and burying him alive in a wooden coffin. Before his ultimate fate, Wolffenstein injects himself with his latest serum batch and curses the villagers prior to his damnation. His serum works, giving the malevolent doctor decades to perform his vital experiments for the next 80 years, but portions of his body start to decay and rot. To keep his tissue viable, this time he steals body parts from the living!
Director Marc Rohnstock’s German gore film “The Curse of Doctor Wolffenstein” finds residence on a callously displayed Blu-ray/DVD combo set courtesy of the blood aficionados over at Reel Gore Releasing. While the premise sounds like nothing more than one deranged doctor’s thirst to slice and dice at his little black heart’s whims, running parallel to Wolffenstein’s monstrosity narrative done in the dank dull light of a mad scientist’s bloodstained lab is the declining story of five young partygoers living life to the fullest travel to a rave festival and when their car breaks down in an eerie and isolated village, beginning the Rube Goldberg process of landing on the front door step of Doctor Victor Wolffenstein’s castle home. The two stories are structured almost purposefully divisive to distinguish on one hand the relationship ups and down of Mike, David, Tina, Jenny, and Emily and while on the other hand, the good doctor straps victims to his cold metal slab, performing invasive experiments on them, and finishing them off by slashing right into the thick of the noggin with a machete, solidifying a hard motif that eventually becomes a the doctor’s MO.
A big part of the Rohnstock 2015 gore film is Wolffenstein’s numerous machetes to the cranium kill that explodes a geyser of dark red blood all over the place. The special effects and makeup by Oliver Müller literally had the blood rushing to brain, splitting the skull to unleash the blood splatter, and Müller does offer a bit more than sustaining as a one trick pony. Realistic arm dismemberments and reattachments, decapitations, exploratory surgical openings, and much, much more are a part of this gore-God’s repertoire. So much gore is present that gore itself becomes a character. That’s saying something since Rohnstock exploits his short lived, ill-fated red shirt characters that roster many recognizable Germans such as porn star Lena Nitro and one of the great gore and shock directors Olaf Ittenbach!
Without a doubt, “The Curse of Doctor Wolffenstein” is a labor of love that subtly borrows from the films of the director’s fandom. There’s a bit of “Evil Dead,” a piece of “Night of the Creeps,” and a flair of Hammer Horror in a mix that defines Rohnstock’s writing and director perspective and style. As the co-founder of the film’s production company Infernal Films, Rohnstock and his Infernal Films team have free reign over the overall structure, style, and tone of this fantastic flesh filleting of a film. What Infernal Films couldn’t really control was the relatively young cast of Isabelle Aring, Robin Czerny, Roland Freitag, Stephanie Meisenzahl, and Julia Stenke whom are pitted against the dual role performance of Mika Metz, playing a miserable mechanic and Doctor Wolffenstein.
Reel Gore Releasing’s gorgeously slipcovered 2-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo release doesn’t hold back standing behind a flick that gallops in blood, bares it all with female nudity, and even has an orifice invading creature with enough ooze to lube it’s way down with ease. Video quality wise, the image is heavily showcased in a cyan hue that’s feels unnatural. The day or brighter scenes look good enough for hi-def in the widescreen presentation in a 16:9 aspect ratio. The German DTS-HD 5.1 option with optional English subtitles is flawless in all areas of the audible tracks. There is also a DTS-HD 2.0 with optional subtitles. Bonus features include a showcase reel in a behind-the-scenes featurette, a German only bloopers reel, “Trapped & Stabbed” short film by director Marc Rohnstock, the film’s trailer, and a still image slideshow. Gore films have always been a hit or miss with this review, but “The Curse of Doctor Wolffenstein” has reclaimed my faith in the intensity of content that’s not suitable for most viewership in one way or another.