Police detective Eric Hughes and his pregnant American wife Katrina strive to find their own place and withdraw from Eric’s father’s home. A hot tip leads them to small, slightly rundown, midwives maternity facility just out on the rural outskirts of Crystal Springs. With help from their friends and a lot of elbow grease, Eric and Katrina rehab the structure into their dream home to settle down in hopes to raise their first born, but Katrina quickly discovers that her dream house is more like the house from hell when shadowy figures suddenly appear through the walls with an apparition of a midwife nurse bellowing, “Give me Scarlett!” – the name of Katrina’s unborn child. The Hughes turn to the Church to plead for assistance and an unorthodox demonologist, hearing their call for help, tends to their aid in hopes to cease the languishing torment, but rushing into the situation, eager to rid the supernatural forces from plaguing the Hughes, has escalated the pending doom for their unborn child.
“Out of the Shadows” is the 2017 released, ghostly-demonic horror from Australia, directed and co-written by Duncan “Dee” McLachlan along with co-writer Rena Owen (“The Last Witch Hunter”) from a story by Eric Nash. McLachlan’s atmospherics can compete with the best, toying with the shadowy figures passing behind frosted windows and door panes in a glimpse of a moment, demonic tongue ripping through the ears of the latched upon victim that is Katrina, and conjuring up vivid and haunting figures that are airy and grim. All of which is backed by sound cinematography by Viv Scanu in creating a personality, essentially giving breath, toward the Hughes home of destined damnation. Set location speaks for itself being a countryside, rundown hovel, but the innards bare an unsecured unsettling with many windows in a well ventilated structure fenced around by obscuring foliage that creates a gloomy prison for a tormented Katrina.
Kendal Rae stars as the stalked Katrina Hughes who goes from happy-go-lucky to a panicky mess in less than sixty seconds from the first inkling of trouble. Rae has a fine performance being the frightened house wife to the never-at-home husband, but that inability to transition, with time, Katrina’s slow burn into insanity or supernatural plunder is a blight on her performance. That never-at-home and naive detective husband finds an actor as the first feature film for Blake Northfield. Northfield’s has naivety down pat with Eric’s dismissive attitude and a penchant for not caring. Eric and Katrina seek the help from a renegade exorcist Linda Dee (Lisa Chappell) whose a biker relative of Father Joe Phillips (“Matrix’s” Helmut Bakaitis) with a checkered past and on thin ice with the Catholic Church for practicing unauthorized exorcisms, but that’s about how far the script takes us when delving into Linda Dee’s backstory. Jake Ryan, Jim Robison, and “Alien: Covenant’s” Goran D. Kleut, as the Hat-man Demon, round out the remaining cast.
As with the Linda Dee character, a noticeably uncomfortable underdevelopment of major roles put divots into the, what should have been, a cut and dry storyline whose only complexity would be if Katrina’s harrowing ghostly encounters are caused by either a sudden loneliness with her husband leaving her by herself for work, the fluctuation of pregnancy hormones, or an acute combination of both. Dee’s wavering stance with the Church, and also with her uncle, is hardly touched upon with brief exposition and doesn’t convey the severity of her actions that warrant being on the outs with the Catholic officials. Concurrently, Katrina suffers with a tangent subplot with unspoken tension between her and her State side mother that never gets explored, leaving the scenes left detached like an unhinged satellite orbiting the planetary story.
Umbrella Entertainment releases the Bronte Pictures produced “Out of the Shadows” onto DVD that’s presented in an 2.35:1 widescreen. Image quality has some nice outlined details without sizable DNR, especially during night sequences in the midsts of constructing a formidable shadow army. Though tinted in more of a blue and yellow hue, the overall color palette is pleasing, even if staged like a “Saw” film. The computer generated effects are where the details go awry dipping toward a softer side that perhaps exhibits the production value. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has no defining qualms with a even spread of low and high level ranges to where even the muttering demonic chanting is audible. There are no bonus material and the DVD doesn’t even have a static menu for guidance as the movie plays as soon as the opening credits roll. “Out of the Shadows” has a premise that’s been through the horror mill before, but director Dee McLachlan holds the thrilling line, maintaining a collectively strong start to finish to only stray from one or two key subplots that would wholeheartedly tie the entire film together.
Just off the rough stormy shores of Nova Scotia is a remote island where American Tom Doherty becomes the newly hired lighthouse caretaker in search for good money. Already overwhelmingly cloaked with the lighthouse’s creepy adjacent housing and being forewarned by the island’s infamous legends, an isolated Tom experiences the abilities of dark force first hand and doesn’t know whether the forces are real or madness has swallowed him from the extreme isolation. As Tom continues the work, he discovers clues along the way that suggest the island holds a nefarious past involving murder, suicide, and cannibalism, but an old bible with a list of names is the key that has the potential to unlock all the island’s mysterious doors and can also be Tom’s unfortunate undoing if he maintains being the lighthouse caretaker.
Based off the Angela Townsend book with the same title, “The Forlorned” is the 2017 silver screen adaptation of Townsend’s mystery-thriller from “Dead Noon” director Andrew Wiest who has helmed a jolting, supernaturally visual and auditory accompaniment to Townsend’s literary work. To maintain authenticity, Townsend co-wrote a script alongside Wiest and Ryan Reed that’s riddle with an ill-omened story leading audiences down a path of insanity-ladened darkness. But what exactly is “The Forlorned?” Forlorn has two definitions: 1) pitifully sad and abandoned or lonely 2) unlikely to succeed; hopelessness. Either of the disparaging definitions, if not both, can be used to described “The Forlorned’s” eerily gloomy story that’s saturated in a motif of burdensome loneliness and relentlessly bashes the concept into our heads in a constant reminder that no one can ever escape the island even in postmortem. The character Tom is the very definition of the forlorned. Whether because of due diligence or a dark force, his role of caretaker is a permanent position allotted to him unwillingly by a sadistic, secret-keeping demon that seeks to swallow more unfortunate souls.
Colton Christensen inarguably shapes the role of Tom Doherty into his own with a solid solitary performance for more than half the film. Christensen also, for much of the last ten minutes of the story, had to systematically break away from his character in order to forge a combative persona to Tom and while Christensen does the job well for one character, shouldering a second didn’t suite the actor’s abilities despite a total embrace of character and a few jabs at his own humility. Wiest has worked with Christensen prior to “The Forlorned” and has seemed to continue the trend of using his own entourage of actors with the casting of Elizabeth Mouton (also from “Dead Noon”). Mouton’s character is briefly mentioned near the beginning as a little girl of a previous caretaker, but her adult version only makes the scene in the latter portion of the story to provide a better clarification and exposition into the demon’s background. Also serving exposition as story bookends and peppered through as emotional support is Cory Dangerfield’s “Murphy,” a sea-salty old bar owner who liaisons with the lighthouse committee and can make a mean clam chowder. Murphy hires Tom to do the restoration and caretaker work and while Murphy initiates Tom existence into the fold, Murphy, for the rest of the film, serves as slight comic relief and, in a bit of disappointment, an unfortunate waste of a character. I also wanted Benjamin Gray, Shawn Nottingham’s priest character, to be built upon and expanded more because the character is a key portion that, in the end, felt rushed with quick, messy brush strokes in order to finish painting the picture.
At first glance, Townsend, Wiest, and Reed’s script screens like a typical, if not slightly above par level, haunting where Tom encounters sportive spirits, ghastly visions, and a slew of ominous noises inside a time-honored lighthouse home, but then a twist is written into play, pitting Tom against a masterminding demon whose conquered many other bygone caretakers and whose the epicenter of all that is sinisterly wrong with the island. The demon, who has taken the form of a man hungry hog, lives only vicariously through the camera’s point of view, never bestowing an appearance upon to Tom or even the audience, but referenced numerous times by island locals and boisterously given hog attributes whenever the demon is near. The concept fascinates with this demon-hog thing kept stowed away deep inside the isle’s bedrock even if the dark entity never makes a materializing appearance, but where that aspect thrives in “The Forlorned,” a pancake thin backstory for the demon goes simply construed with a slapped together account of its languished two-century long past and wilts the demonic character wastefully down with backdropped uncertainly, powerlessness, and puzzlement that’s forlornly misfired. There’s no deal with the devil, no selling of the soul, no medieval rite that gives the demon-hog it’s power; it just turns into an evil spirit out of greed.
Andrew Wiest’s production company, Good Outlaw Studios, presents “The Forlorned” that found a distribution home in Midnight Releasing, the fine folks who released “Blood Punch” and “WTF!” “The Forlorned” is available on DVD and multiple VOD formats such as iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu, Xbox Video, and Google Play. Since a screener was used for this critique, a full review rundown of the technical specs will not be provided and no bonus materials were featured on the disc. Director Andrew Wiest and his cast and crew entourage are able bodied participants in assembling a good, entertaining, and sufficient indie mystery-thriller brought to fruition out of Angela Townsend’s story with the author’s pen ship assistance. With a little tweak here and there on the antagonistic demon-hog, “The Forlorned” might have necessarily escalated into a richly dark territory of a more volatile, blood thirsty spirit that’s scribed to have racked up body after body, century after century; however, the fleeting chronicle of how the demon-hog came to be a malevolent being leaves a bittersweet aftertaste on a premise that started out spooky and strong.
Six friends break bread for the holidays in a remote woodsy cabin. As their jovial and joyful conversation continues, a wicked evil lurks in the forest. A sudden and harsh knock at the door confuses the group on who would be calling at their isolated retreat and at the late hour. When Tess volunteers to answer the knocking, a stranger spews blood all over her and falls to the ground as she opens the door. With his dying breath, the aging stranger warns them to never open the door. stunned with complete shock and terror, the group doesn’t realize that the very moment the strange dies on their doorstep is the very moment of the beginning of the end as weird occurrences and odd behavior pits friend versus friend, girlfriend versus boyfriend, and spouse versus spouse when staying or fleeing the cabin becomes a life or death decision.
“Never Open the Door” strikes as an odd feature that marries projecting horror genres with resurrecting structures from the past into modern times. The Vito Trabucco directed 2014 released film, who also had producer Christopher Maltauro collaborate on to pen the script, stirs up vintage Alfred Hitchcock cinematography craftwork and mirrors the enigmatic nature of particular and peculiar “Twilight Zone” episodes. Trabucco and director of cinematographer Joe Provenzano voids the film of color to encompass the mood of bygone black and white thrillers and employs composer Carlos Vivas to enchant the story with a classically engaging score that embellishes upon harrowing pivotal moments in the story. Vivas and Trabucco have a prior working relationship under Trabucco’s previous nunsploitation slasher “Bloody Bloody Bible Camp.”
Vito Trabucco casted his staple entourage of actors. If you’ve ever seen “Bloody Bloody Bible Camp,” you’ll recognize many faces with the exclusion of George Troester, who plays the crude, unhitched Terrence. However, Troester does fit into the whole seven degrees of Kevin Bacon theory, being a co-star in “Crack Whore” along side Kristina Page and Steven Richards, Angel and The Stranger in their respective roles. Contemporary scream queen Jessica Sonneborn, the lead actress in “Never Open the Door’s” quasi-dual Tess performance, has a director’s credit under her name for her work on “The Haunting of Alice D” starring the iconic Kane Hodder. The 2014 film also rostered supporting actresses Kristina Page and Deborah Venegas, who portrays in Trabucco’s film as Maria, Luke’s wife. Luke is portrayed by Mike Wood with fellow “Bloody Bloody Bible Camp” co-star Matt Aidan as Angel’s fiance. Whew. Overall, the actors click as a group with a dinner room dynamic that’s natural with slightly pretentious moments that don’t really kill the mood. When the story ramps up, performances start to dwindle and overacting starts to unfold. Mike Wood absolutely murders the shower performance with ghastly exposition, but, again, this might be playing the retro card. Sonnerborn does well as the headliner. Her demon-like twin dominates, but just didn’t receive much screen presence in measly 66 minute runtime.
Continuing with the Tess demon, the black and white style fortunately masks most of the low budget special effects with the aid of some great uses of silhouettes and editing. Evil Tess’s pudgy demon sausage fingers dressed with cheap plastic looking fingernail attachments couldn’t fool a fool that they’re razor sharp, but with jagged teeth and glowing eyes encircled by a pitch black ring, she’s a nightmare inducing boogeywoman. Aside from a pair of demonic dispatches with one involving the razor blade finger caps, the effects were safely contained inside the realm of an independent feature. A few spurts of black blood and a handful of stabbings share a common bound of having being what remains of the effects which were executed well enough to serve the intended purpose. Mostly, “Never Open the Door” relied heavily on editing. Editing that involves characters’ hallucinating future or past events, attributing their frantic confusion and life threatening situation toward an endless loop of purgatory.
Yes, the characters are afflicted with a hell on repeat, switching identities on a continuous horizon that leaves fragments of prior rebroadcasts. From gathering information about the characters, none of them strike me as a damned souls. Tess is a veterinarian who performs the occasional neutering and spade and dates a man nearly twice her age. Terrence just doesn’t want to grow up, but no skeletons appeared from out of his closet. The couples, Angel and Isaac and Luke and Maria, grow suspicious of each others’ intentions that involve jealousy, paranoia, and hatred. Unlike a “Twilight Episode,” “Never Open the Door” leaves open doors of unsolved questions, such as answering the question of how the group came to acquire the house. Before the abrupt knock at the door, the person who located the isolated question seemed to befuddle the entire group. Another loose end lies with the person texting Luke messages about an illicit affair his wife’s having with one of their friends. Again, the loop doesn’t quite close on this interesting caveat.
Maltauro Entertainment presents in association with Baumant Entertainment the Vito Trabucco film “Never Open the Door” on Blu-ray. Unrated in a HD 1080p, the widescreen 1.78:1 is delectably sharp on a BD-25, but that really isn’t a surprise here with a black and white feature barely over a hour long. However, black-upon-black scenes define the Blu-ray with a low bitrate, displaying some blotchy, compression issues. Audio quality is quite fair. Carlos Vivas score channels through a Dolby Digital dual output that caters, again, to a vintage replication, but in creating an atmospheric feature, having surround sound would have boosted the result tenfold. The dialogue is a bit wish-washy, pending on the scene and character positioning, but forefront evident in the quality and that is what really matters. English subtitles are also available. “Never Open the Door” has grand potential in a small package, but trips over it’s own inconsistencies with erratic editing and walled details. Director Vito Trabucco’s vision in modernizing classic techniques and styles merely becomes just that, a vision, and was inches, or rather seconds, away from opening the door for potentially a far greater anxiety-riddled psychological thriller.
The long awaited follow up to Sami Raimi’s “Army of Darkness,” STARZ original series “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” will summons itself to retail shelves on August 23, 2016 on Blu-ray and DVD. Evil Dead producer Robert Tapert and director Sam Raimi come back to be executive producers for Bruce Campbells big return as Ash for the small screen, television series.
“Campbell reprises his role as Ash, the stock boy, aging lothario and chainsaw-handed monster hunter who has spent the last 30 years avoiding responsibility, maturity and the terrors of the Evil Dead. When a Deadite plague threatens to destroy all of mankind, Ash is finally forced to face his demons – personal and literal. Destiny, it turns out, has no plans to release the unlikely hero from its “Evil” grip.”
Street Date: August 23, 2016
Pre-book: July 20, 2016
Catalog #: BD63966
Run Time: 294 mins.
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
“Ash Vs. Evil Dead” DVD
Street Date: August 23, 2016
Pre-book: July 20, 2016
Catalog #: ST63965
Run Time: 294 mins.
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
From the demented minds of Brian Dorton and Douglas Conner, “The Horror Network” anthology has set sail on it’s first volume maiden voyage, shipping five petrifying and on the edge of your seat horror shorts right to your television set. Stories so darkly atmospheric and spine tingling that leaving the lights off while watching would be a horrible mistake. Each tale tells a different kind evil including demented demons, child stalking predators, family abusers, and a sadistic plaster saint. Certainly not intended for the faint of heart or the easily offended for each episode turns up the intensity, the fear, and the scares. Leave the lights on, take a blanket to hide under, and make sure you grab a couch partner to watch with you and then ask yourself, are you ready to tune into “The Horror Network?”
A young woman named Georgia drives through the English countryside to get away for a few days. When she arrives at her remote farm house, a strange sense of foreboding overcomes her and weird, sporadic noises emit from all around her throughout the day and into the night. When the digital clock nearly reaches 3:00 A.M., she hears a concerning noise from downstairs and when she investigates, a ghostly presence lies in wait.
Before the anthology’s credits even begin to roll, the Lee Mathews directed film “3:00 A.M.” will for damn sure kickstart anybody’s heart. The atmosphere is violently tense when Georgia explores the strange occurrences downstairs and even before the night falls. Initially, the main focus kind of misguides you through much of, what were led to believe to be is, Georgia’s imagination from the one after the other false jump scares: a branch scratching at a window, a cat jumping out of the shadows, a jack in a box toy. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit obvious and not so much a surprising jump scare, but the toy does tie into the story near the end, giving the toy a reason to exist and a hint of menacing. Many of the jump scares are accompanied by screeching sound effects, like fingernails across a chalkboard, which would make any poor soul, who fears the dark and supernatural, jump out of their skin.
“3:00 A.M.” is a good introductory 10 minute short that sets the tone for the four other films in tow; a tone with a subtle message that insinuates the maturity of this anthology. Despite being a little redundant with the classical jump scares, especially with the cheesy jack in the box jump scare that could be seen coming from miles away, for director Lee Mathews, with “3:00 A.M.” being the only credit to his name, creating a nail biting short of that magnitude is fairly impressive and inviting.
Hal has mental problems. He can’t sleep. He can’t stop sleepwalking. He can’t seem to stop dreaming about death. Psychiatrist Dr. Aleksey is determined to root out Hal’s issues, but when Hal informs him about the news of a school friend named Alice being murdered, the good doctor decides to put Hal under hypnosis and determine just what’s going on in Hal’s mind. Under the semiconscious state, Hal recounts his last dream and sleepwalking incident where he describes in detail a man coming into his room from outside his window. The man has Hal follow him into Alice’s room, the same Alice Hal said was brutally murdered prior to going under hypnosis. When Dr. Aleksey discovers the truth about what happened to Alice, Hal’s hidden inner demon named Edward reveals himself, leaving Dr. Aleksey at wits end in trying to cure the incurably evil.
“Edward” is a gothic tale that isn’t too overly gothic in setting onscreen. The ominous presence, whether through the acting of Hal played eerily and perfectly by Nick Frangione or the chilling atmosphere, remains always present in the confined space of Dr. Aleksey’s office. The “Edward” short is a stray genre short from director Joseph Graham, a San Francisco based director who has been credited in directing feature films about homosexuality and the cultural-based stigmas – reminds me a little of the work helmed by Gus Van Sant. Graham’s “Edward” has an pitch black aura that seeks to let loose the horror-elements, yearning to be freed, because everything about the story of “Edward” is well told and well shot, as if you yourself were standing in the room with Hal and Dr. Aleksey, experiencing the fate of both men. However, Dr. Aleksey’s fate could have, and probably should have, contained more exposition, especially when the doctor arrives back home to his wife and sleeping child.
Alice, a partially deaf young school girl who particularly loves the quiet instead of using her hearing aid which eventually to taking the brunt of the cruel jokes from her classmates, rides the bus home from school. When she’s being dropped off at her remote stop, she forgets her cellphone on the bus. With her mother no where in sight, Alice decides to walk home alone, but when a suspicious blue van seems to be stalking her, she makes a break for the woods where she unfortunately loses her hearing aid. Lost in woods and unable to hear good, a cat and mouse game ensues between her and the man with the blue van whose on her closing in on her.
Unlike “Edward” where dialogue catapults the film into a tension-filled frenzy, “The Quiet” lives up to the title with the duration containing no dialogue until the twist ending. The built-in weakness of our protagonist Alice and the constant bullying of her helps the audience sympathize with her character more, making Alice a relatable person rather than a whimsical character everyone wishes instant death upon. The story has a strong beginning, continuing to build once the blue van man is introduced, but there are moments of unclarity that create more confusion than add value to the story; for example, the scenes of a padded room, a tortured little girl’s doll, and someone whispering, “I’ll love you forever,” don’t seem to connect up or match with the rest of the story, making the scenes seem out of place and unnecessary. The twist ending also becomes mysterious and diluted when were giving more information about the man in the blue van, but his intentions still aren’t made crystal clear, leaving way too much to the imagination and not in a good artistic way. Imwiththemproductions is behind the production of “The Quiet,” that’s supposedly based on a true story about a young girl being kidnapped when walking home with friends, and has a runtime of 21 minutes.
“Merry Little Christmas”
Christina and her mother Lola have lived many years with the scars bestowed upon them by Christina’s father, Lola’s husband. On the Eve of Christmas many years back, Christina’s strikes Lola unprovoked, continuously beating her, slashing her face with a straight edge razor, stabbing her, and raping her. Christina’s inner struggle constantly fights to restrain her internal, monstrous-illustrated hatred and self-destructiveness while Lola’s alcoholism and self-inflicted cutting addiction amplifies every Christmas Eve and this year, the mother and daughter grapple on keeping it together for one more year, but that battle will be lost in a fierce tragedy when they receive a phone call from the man who hurt scarred them for life.
“Merry Little Christmas” is the 20 minute Ignacio Martin Lerma and Manuel Marin visually graphic directed film from Spain. Surprising and suspenseful, “Merry Little Christmas” isn’t your old fashion gay and jolly-filled holiday film where Saint Nick brings all little boy and girls toys. No. In fact, Christmas is defined as a terrible point in time for Christina and Lola, a time when pain and fear are symbolic for tis the season. Lerma and Marin deconstruct the mother and daughter down to reveal their complexity and they’re characters are filled with various demons that become flesh in Christina’s mind when their abuser makes an unexpected phone call. A bravo should be awarded to Blanca Rivera for her bathtub scene, exploring her cutting addiction as well as attempting to learn to lover her body fully in the nude. The demon special effects are downright nasty, frightening and fantastic from “[REC] 2” and “[REC] 3” special effects guru Juan Olmo and the Doug Jones of Spain actor Javier Botet portraying the Demonio, or Demon. “Merry Little Christmas” is callous and cold without any remorse and no apology is needed for the cynicism or the brutally that it portrays.
“The Deviant One”
A young man becomes the victim of a suburban sexual sadist who lives a facade life of scripture and holiness. The atrocities committed might be the misinterpretations of the good Lord’s holy book and no one is safe from the deviant’s hungry claws and thirst for sexual and murderous gratification.
Perhaps my least favorite short from “The Horror Network” anthology, “The Deviant One” is helmed by the anthology’s co-creator Brian Dorton who also starred as the deviant neighborhood sadist. In the 8 minute black and white story of a young man’s death, body desecration, and body disposal, a lack of story glorifies the private life, but just doesn’t tell the tale fully of the deviant’s public church-going life. While the deviant walks up to a church, I wanted scenes of him standing at the pulpit, in front of shoulder-to-shoulder filled pews, opening the bible, and reading from the book, preaching his version of the scripture upon those ears listening. An opportunity was missed to strike at the heart of church hidden hypocrisy. On a positive note, Dorton, as the deviant, plays and looks the part so uncomfortably well that it’ll be hard to distinguish his off-camera self from his on-screen character.
“The Horror Network” material is nitty gritty with loads of passion behind the camera and from the crew of all the shorts. One of my favorite anthology releases of 2015 from Wild Eye Releasing. The DVD contains shorts that were shot in various formats and aspects ratios so I won’t be too harsh on the quality of the picture, but I will say that the noticeable posterization in “The Deviant One” and “Edward” stood out from the rest. The audio tracks do need fine tuning as there was some faint, but obvious feedback and the dialogue tracks were slightly overpowered by the soundtracks. The extras include an extended cut of Dorton’s “The Deviant One” which contains dialogue and additional scenes of Dorton, but the short works better without the clunky, kindergarden dialogue and Dorton’s testicles as he makes love to a severed head – yup, testicles. An image gallery and trailers for the shorts round out the rest of the bonus material. The DVD art, from “Merry Little Christmas’s” demons, amazingly exhibits and sells this release and stays true to form from the disturbing short. I expect volume two to exceed the fear bar!