If EVIL Wanted Your Soul, Would You Choose An Eternal Damnation with the Promise of Having Everything You Ever Wanted, or Would You Simply Decline to Live What’s Left of Your Meager Existence? “Val” reviewed! (Epic Pictures / Blu-ray)

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

When Fin, a criminal on the run after a misfortunate mishap of possibly having killed his boss, breaks into a high-end prostitute’s mansion home in an attempt to escape police pursuit, he finds himself struggling to stay in control when the wound on his head causes him dizziness, vomiting, and a thin thread of consciousness.  His whore hostage helps him evade police capture, conceals her dead client he inadvertently kills, and also dresses up his wounds after he passes out.  Confused by her benevolence, Fin attempts to regain control of his authority over the sexually elegant and smooth talking dressed woman, but as the night progresses and strange, unexplainable occurrences warp his reality, he quickly learns his hostage is more just a simple high class working girl and her house is her domain of deviltry. 

Not to be confused with the extraordinary life of actor Val Kilmer documentary of the same name also released in 2021, “Val” is the that other 2021 released film, an independent horror-comedy from writer-director Aaron Fradkin and co-written with writing partner and fiancé (or maybe wife now at this point), Victoria Fratz.  While one “Val” may be more of a commercial success than the other, Fradkin and Fratz’s “Val” still has equal parts charisma and style with solid performances in a “Bedazzled” like tale where a down on his luck Joe Schmo meets a sultry Netherworld deal maker dangling his very soul delicately in the balance of his existence  Shot in a supposed haunted, Gothically styled mansion located in Ojai, California, “Val” is produced by Jonathan Carkeek, Paul Kim, Jeremy Meyer, Kevin McDevitt, and Caitlin O’Connor with Victoria Fratz serving as executive producer under the couple’s Fradkin and Fratz production banner, Social House Films. 

The titular character Val is short for Valefor, the grand Duke of Hell with a penchant for collecting human souls to adorn as treasure, at least to the trolls scribing world wide web, underworld mythology. A trickster, a showboat, and a psychic-vampire, Valefor is characteristically mirrored to the milli-fiber of wickedness by actress Misha Reeves who’s able to adapt her demonic namesake for a new lease on celluloid life. However, one aspect of Valefor is quite different. Val’s appearance is anything but a monstrosity; instead, Reeves radiates beautiful as a pinup girl complete with stark colored makeup and professionally styled hair in victory rolls and soft curls for a throwback 1940’s impression in a complete about face of Valefor’s traditional animalistic Lion or Donkey head look. There’s also the fact that the cinematic Val bares no wings, no tail, no fur, and no scales as usually illustrated – again, by the dark forces of the internet’s most untanned. Reeves offers up, again, the pinup-esque sex symbol with high thigh stockings, garter, and all the vibrant trimmings that would turn heads and howl catcalls. Reeves is utterly wonderful riding the spectrum of Val’s multi-faceted manipulative personality to the point where feeling bad for Fin (Zachery Mooren, “Darkness Reigns”) becomes awkwardly odd since Fin is the wanted criminal here. Even though Mooren eventually sold the part of a wannabe tough guy, the actor looks more unsure of his performance than his most of the time scantily cladded costar, even with Mooren has dress down into just a kimono as well in a few tension-breaking scenes that didn’t really break the toned stride. Reeves and Mooren start up with ease, picking up where the pair of actors left off in Fradkin and Fratz’s 2018 “Electric Love,” joined by another fellow costar in Erik Griffin as a powerful mob boss with a kink for acting like a dog in one of Val’s masochistic whims. Along the line, other pivotal players associated with Fin and Val come into the mix, including John Kapelos (“The Shape of Water”), Sufe Bradshaw (“Star Trek”), Kyle Howard (“Robo Warriors”), and co-writer Victoria Fratz as Fin’s scheming girlfriend.

The idea of the playful, humanoid demon has always been more of an interesting concept for me personally because speaking frankly between man and demon, the two can be interchangeable.  Demons can con, pervert, steal, and kill under the will of their lordship and master or as a mere rogue still in servitude of doing evil bidding.  Man can accomplish very much the same malevolent behaviors and when you have a demon masquerading among mortals, what’s the difference?  Can one tell the difference? “Val” falls along the fringes of that same category except we’re not talking about any ordinary smooth talker with a devilish smile in human skin.  No.  We’re talking about the immense staying power of Misha Reeves’ slipping into something a little bit more comfortable and still be a force to be reckoned with as the blithefully frisky and seductive Val undercutting her prey’s sanity and soul.  Reeves carries the story up to the end as the titular character, but “Val” does downplay the question of Fin’s choice.  There’s a lack direct peril when the third act came down to brass tax and Fin had to make a decision. Fin was persuaded without a nail-biting ultimatum, a countdown, or a severe threat to him or someone he cares about and the motivation for the hapless lawbreaker to pave his own fate didn’t exact a sense of urgency. In fact, Val offers an unlimited number of perks with little risk and, I believe, we had to assume Fin was smart enough, a common motif throughout the film was Fin is this big, handsome chump, to understand giving up his soul would damn him for eternity. Though visually stimulating with a climax resembling The Last Supper with demons, the damned, and Fin all sitting at a table garnished with severed heads and an inferno hue, the culmination drops hard like a rock squashing that eager element of anticipation.

A bathing beauty of its genre, “Val” contends as a witty Mephistophelian comedy-horror. The demonic good time can now be enjoyed on a region free Blu-ray release from Dread Central’s home video label, Epic Pictures, distributed by MVD Visual. The not rated, 81-minute film is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with not really much to negatively critique on the image quality that’s quite sharp from the compression of a BD50. Keelan Carothers’ hard lit and red-hot neon glow of warm red-light district-like colors inarguably defines the distinct worlds of Fin and Val while flashbacks denote a slightly softer color reduction as a third environment. There’s good camera work here between in camera foreground and background focusing as well as delectable key lighting on certain medium-closeup shots that pact a punch. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track has dialogue clarity palpable enough for Misha Reeves’ sharp tongue and quirky humor. Ambient track slips a little in the depth and can blur character spatial relations but there’s plenty of range for a story that’s pretty much sole-centric. Mike Tran, Eric Mitchen and Robot Disco Puma provide the eclectic, synth-rock soundtrack that overwhelms with a booming LFE that leads to a bit crackling distortion during the decimation of decibels of maximum speaker output if not lowered, which then affects the dialogue. Options subtitles include an English SDH and Spanish. Special features include a making of Val featurette narrated by the filmmaking due Aaron Fradkin and Victoria Fratz, two of the pair’s short films – “The Ballerina” and “Happy Birthday,” and a Q&A from Popcorn Frights. Well, here we are at the end of the review and the question still stands of what path would you choose? Personally, I’d go with the sexy, quick-witted, Duke of Hell for a good time, the soul be damned, and you should go with “Val” too for it’s all well-made, well-acted, and well-told story.

“Val” is now available on Blu-ray and Prime Video! Check it out on Amazon.com

EVIL Wants a Cuddle in “Benny Loves You” reveiwed! (Epic Pictures / DVD)



35-year old man-child Jack still lives with his parents, still plays with toys, and remains stuck in a dead-end job.  When his parents tragically die in a surprise birthday for him and his professional prospects at an all time low, Jack decides to grow up and improve his life, even if that means throwing away his favorite childhood stuffed teddy bear, Benny.   Being discarded in a blink of an eye resurrects Benny to life, seeking Jack’s affection like the good old days when Jack was a child.  There’s only one problem, Benny doesn’t want to share Jack’s love and the toy’s thirst for blood sends him into playful murderous rage against anyone or anything that comes near him.  Jack has come to terms with Benny’s intentions, even mocking up a new craze toy line inspired by Benny, but as the bodies pile up and a new woman comes into his life, Jack must confront his plushy childhood best friend to save what little of a life he has left. 

What an age us horror fans live in!  Our good guy doll Chucky makes a tremendous comeback these last couple of years with a reboot film and a new television series on SyFy!  Killer dolls are back, baby!  Joining in on the fun is another pintsized maniac with just about as much red coloring on its soft nap as Chucky’s stringy hair on top of his head and, also, sees about the same amount red when wielding a knife with homicidal intentions.  From the United Kingdom comes Karl Holt’s time to grown up or die horror-comedy “Benny Loves You.”  Holt’s a one man show in his debut feature film that he doesn’t just direct, but also is the writer, editor, cinematographer, composer, lead star, and producer of this heart-warming and heart-severing, cute and cuddly, gore show.  The 2019 released riot is an exclusive Dread Central (Dread) presented release of a joint production from Raven Banner and Darkline Entertainment.

Alongside Ken Holt as Jack, the failure to launch mid-30’s man still parent dependent, are a slew of individuals with a variety of personalities suited to Benny’s killer taste in protecting his most beloved human.  From home to the office, Benny slays through the competition in the game of life and death, starting with an indifferent bank representative, played by Greg Barnett (“Hot Property”), looking to foreclose on Jack’s family home.  Yet, Jack has seemingly always been destined for a grisly fate, just not his own, as his parents (Catriona McDonald and Greg Page) die in a “Final Destination” style accident rooted by the very theme of the story – his inability to grow up.  As when Jack and Benny’s new dynamic goes through a 180-degree positive spin on Jack improving his downtrodden life is when more unfortunate souls become ensnared in Benny’s mission.  More of the oppressive office environment, with snide performances from a pug pooch-adoring and stern boss in absolute deadpan by James Parsons and a jerk colleague in the running for a promotion played perfectly tat by George Collie.  Then there’s the love interest in Claire Cartwright (“Souljacker”) as Dawn, a toy tech engineer who finds common interests in Jack and falls for him.   Cartwright exudes pleasure seeking in an overreaching of every man’s fantasy categorized kind of gal.  Holt tries to maintain Dawn’s perfection with her own Benny-esque storyline but that never brings the character down to his level of trouble, leaving Cartwright cornered in being just a slave to Jack’s coyness instead of a sympathetic character.  Cast rounds out with Anthony Styles (“Razors: The Return of Jack the Ripper”) and Darren Benedict (“Aux”) as two oblivious cops who are actually inching closer to the truth as well as David Wayman (“Seven Devils”) as a real estate agent and Lydia Hourihan (“Inmate Zero”) as Jack’s ex-girlfriend.

While Benny may not have the massive sex appeal of a one Brad Dourif or a mega franchise with vary degrees of success, “Benny Loves You” is still a delicious small fry of the toys gone murderously wild horror-comedy subgenre that dapples into a little of everything from gratuitous gore to the heartfelt warm and fuzzies.  The blend of practical and composited computer imagery of Benny’s movements is the work of a mad genius and I’m sure we have Holt to thank for that as well under his many hats in production.  Benny strikes me more differently than the likes of “Child’s Play” or even the anthropomorphic toys of “Puppet Master” with an encompassing amount of personality.  From his cutesy voice box limited to only a handful of says like cuddle me or Ta-Da! to the way he flops around like a possessed rag doll with wide eyes and an ear-to-ear smile, Benny’s an easy villain to love and is easily able to root for when the unlikeable people of Jack’s life suddenly hem in with unforgiving, browbeating mercy, making Benny the cutest and most loveable anti-heroic punisher of the killer toy canon. Holt’s film doesn’t come out flawlessly unscathed, however, where minor issues of lightspeed pacing and choppy editing aims to get through one scene to the next leaving little to sink in when plot points, monkey wrenches, or heart-warmings transpire. Much of the background into Benny’s sudden erect to life goes unexplained but that Devil in the lack of details is better suited for a film about a discarded toy coming to life – “Toy Story” did it and look how successful Disney made that franchise – and while the whole film is fluff filmmaking at is finest, you have to find appreciation in the smallest details, especially with Holt’s forging of horror scenario tropes into embarrassing personal ordeals that don’t even involve the titular killer.

I’m sure “Benny Loves You” has already been through the toyetic process, at least on the indie production circuit, but, in any case, you can definitely own Karl Holt’s wonderfully macabre and instant cult classic on DVD home video from Epic Pictures, a Dread picture label. The not rated, region free release clocks in at 94 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Where Benny shines as a grisly tale of saying goodbye to your childhood stuffed friend, the clarity in the image state is not so defined with a meager detail and sharpness. Scenes with the matted CGI often appear blurry and chunky with Benny very flat in what should be his grand alive and breathing opus. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 lossy audio too inadequate for the scope of content. Holt included a wide range of sounds, and this audio track is bridled to curb in an assortment of a blend of action, horror, and the downright awe of Benny’s cuteness. Dialogue a bit muddled but overall perceptible. So far, audio and visuals are a blinking sign to a rather cheapie DVD presentation and the lack of special features hits the last nail into the mass-produced coffin, reaffirming that the standalone movie home media is all well and alive and that’s okay with me in the case of “Benny Loves Me.” A chip off the old diabolical doll block, “Benny Loves Me” is an out of the blue hit, a real cutup, and the perfect Friday night fright to enjoy with your own personal favorite, stuffed animal buddy.

MUST OWN!  Bring Benny Home on the “Benny Loves You” DVD!

EVIL Drugs Zap the Sanity Out of Ya! “Dry Blood” reviewed!


Struggling drug addict, Brian Barnes, travels to his and his estranged wife’s cabin in a rural mountain community to force himself into isolated detox. He calls upon his friend Anna to assist with keeping him focused to sobriety. As soon as Brian arrives, temptation to score rears an ugly head and in his battle with withdrawal, Brian is frightened by his experiences with grisly, ominous phantoms in the cabin, a unhinged sheriff perversely following him, and the disassociation of linear time. He unwittingly falls into a mystery he doesn’t want to unravel as the occurrences of death and hallucinations intensify every minute within withdrawal and Anna doesn’t believe his frantic hysteria with ghostly encounters, but scared and unwell, Brian is at the brink of snapping, the edge of reality, and on the cusp of reliving his nightmare over and over again.

A harrowing insight into mental illness and abstaining from illicit drug use exaggerated by the overlapping of paranormal wedges of weird into the fold and Kelton Jones’s “Dry Blood” renders shape as a detoxing detrimental peak into exclusively being afraid and relapsing that also touches upon the idea of being afraid repeating relapse without consciousness. Under the Epic Pictures’ Dread Central Presents distribution banner, the Bloody Knuckles Entertainment production is of a few original horror films from a media leader in the horror community, leading an exposure campaign that might not have otherwise been possible. Not to say “Dry Blood” wouldn’t have metamorphosed from idea to realty by any means, but the DREAD line opens up films to a broader market, a bloodthirsty bandstand section of sometimes divisive and opinionated fans, who have seen, under the DREAD banner, an innovative horror lineup including “The Golem,” “Book of Monsters,” and “Terrifier.” “Dry Blood” fits right into the mix that’s sure to be a favorable side of judgements.

Clint Carney sits front seat as not only screenwriter but also the star of the film with Brian Barnes who tries to reclaim his self-worth and life from long time substance abuse. At the slight entreatment from director Kelton Jones, Carney has a better understanding of downtrodden Barnes character more than anyone and having some experience acting in short films, the writer naturally finds himself ahead of the pack on a short list of talent. However, though Carney has a modestly okay performance, the overall quality in selling Barnes as desperate, duplicitous, and genuine misses the mark, exacting a clunky out of step disposition as the character tries to figure the mystery that enshrouds him. Jones also has a role as the deranged sheriff who stalks Barnes like an overbearing, power monger cop who smells blood in the water. In his feature debut, like Barnes, Jones’ splashes a friendly, yet simultaneously devilish smirk spreading wide under a thick caterpillar mustache that adds another psychological layer in caressing Barnes’ madness. Barnes love interest, Anna, is found in Jayme Valentine and, much in the same regards to Carney, there were issues with her performance as the willing friend to be the support beam to Barnes. Valentine just didn’t have the emotional range and was nearly too automaton to pull Anna off as a person whose romantically unable to resist the addict but can manage to keep a safe distance away in order for both of them to benefit in his sobriety journey. “Dry Blood’s” casts out with some solid supporting performances by Graham Sheldon, Rin Ehlers, Robert Galluzzo (director of “The Psycho Legacy” documentary), and Macy Johnson.

“Dry Blood” is certainly an allegorical move toward the severe effects of withdrawal, even with the title that’s a play on words of a former addict staying dry during their difficult abstaining campaign, and with that symbolism, that ambitious ambiguity, to question whether or not Barnes is actually seeing these horrific images of disfigured bodies becomes open to audience interpretation of their own experience with substance abuse or their empathetic knowledge of it. Combine that individual experience aspect with some out-and-out, gritty moments of bloody violence, especially in the final sequences of Barnes careening reality, and “Dry Blood’s” simmering storyline ignites a volcanic eruption of unhinged blood lava that spews without forbearance. Those responsible for acute effects are Chad Engel and Sioux Sinclair with Clint and Travis Carney rocking out of the visual effects to amplify the scenes already raw and gore-ifying moments.

Epic Pictures and Dread Central Presents a paranoia, paranormal, psychological bloodbath of a production in “Dry Blood” and lands onto a hi-definiton, region free Blu-ray home video in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, distributed by MVDVisual. The 83 minute presentation has a consistent, natural adequacy that delivers strong enough textures to get a tactile sense of the wood paneling of the rural mountain cabin and also the various materials in clothing and skin surface for easy to flag definition. Hues are potent when necessary, especially when the blood runs in a viscous red-black consistency. Darker, black portions have a tendency to be lossy and flickery at times, but nothing to focus on that’ll interrupt viewing service. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound has little to offer without inlaying a full size candy bar of action; instead, “Dry Blood” has bite-size appeal that would render okay without audio channel overkill. With that being said, dialogue doesn’t falter and there maintains an ample range and depth of sounds. Surprisingly, the build up of notating the soundtrack composed by System Syn left a disappointed aftertaste as the expectations of an industrial electronic, upbeat score was met only with a casual fling of the group’s spirit. Still, the soundtrack is a brooding horror melody which isn’t unpleasant…just not what was to be expected. Bonus material includes an audio commentary with Clint Carney and Kelton Jones, the making of “Dry Blood,” and teaser and theatrical trailer. Don’t be fooled by “Dry Blood’s” initial crawl approach as when the tide turns, addiction roles into hallucinogenic despondency and mayhem, and the blood splatters on a dime bag detox, “Dry Blood” will factor into being one of the better sleeper horror films of the year.

Dry Blood on Blu-ray! Purchase It By Clicking Here!

Evil Zombies Inherit the Earth! “Zombieworld” review!

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A deadly virus turns the world’s living population into a hoard of fleshing-eating, brain-devouring, gut-munching zombies and KRPS anchor Marvin Gloat bravely remains on the airwaves reporting the walking dead incidents from all over the globe until his very last breath. “Zombieworld” delivers an undead collection, glorified in gore, vicious in violence, and surely necessary for the human survival in a zombie inhabited world. From Canada to Australia and from the United States to Spain, the tales of the risen dead relentlessly show no mercy with no holds barred on the bloodletting.
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From RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment comes “Zombieworld” onto home DVD video from the United Kingdom and for all you zombie apocalypse nuts out there, “Zombieworld” will be your handbook guide through the trying times. “Zombieworld” is the epic storytelling of various zombie-related accounts from several countries directed by young and fresh talent who bring a blood bathed new take on a seriously soaked genre. The 11 narratives are unique in their own rite, but share a common horror-comedy element with the exception of a couple of segments. While internet researching on “Zombieworld,” my curiosity got the better of me and I wander onto other review sites to see what my peers’ opinions are about the collection of shorts and to my surprise, the reviews and opinions are fairly negative as the reviewers take in the collection as a whole that’s being glued together by an outer story segment. This style relates similarly to the V/H/S or HI-8: Horror Independent Eight’s way of conveying multiple short films with the outer-storying being their commonality.
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In fairness, yes, the outer-story does come off a bit cheesy especially with the animated zombies that resembles the Dire Strait music video “Money for Nothing,” but my main man Bill Oberst Jr. doesn’t disappoint as anchor man Marvin Gloat and his slow transition into one of the undead masses as he continues to report world incidences. However, my interests lie mainly with the girth of “Zombieworld” and what better way to start off the tale-telling by going head first right into an intense first-person take of “Dark Times” where a nuclear plant meltdown causes panic, extreme chaos, a heartless military response, and, of course, rampaging zombies! Bits of comedy come about with a zombie Santa, a golf-club wielding family, and ends with a stellar, monstrous finale that leaves you hanging for your own interpretation!
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One of my favorite shorts is the sacrilegious short “Fist of Jesus” directed by David Muñoz and Adrián Cardona. Jesus fights off undead acolytes, Romans, and, uh, cowboys in a gory old Peter Jackson type way and then some. The non-stop comedy and blood translates over to Muñoz’s and Cardona’s other short “Brutal Relax” along with a third co-director Rafa Dengrá. “Brutal Relax” awards itself as the grand finale of “Zombieworld” and rightfully so by being just as bloody as “Fist of Jesus” yet bringing in tons more comedy especially from lead actor José María Angorrilla who portrays a large and uptight, angry-issued ridden man needing of a vacation which becomes interrupted by sea-dwelling zombie-like creatures that rip apart the beach goers.
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There are segments that pay respects to other zombie-related medias such as Resident Evil. The Vedran Marjanovic Wekster directed “How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse” are informative shorts that refer to a welcome to sign for Raccoon City and any self-respecting horror fan knows, Raccoon City is a big part of the Resident Evil series where all the Umbrella Corporation hijinks go down. “Teleportal,” helmed by Paul Shrimpton, also pays homage to another video game series that is first person shooter entitled House of the Dead. Forget Uwe Boll’s mess of a film and go for the throat of this short that sucks in a gun-toting controlling player through his television set and right into the zombie attack that contains an ironic and spectacular game-over ending.
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Though many of the segments are inspirational, “Zombieworld” does contain some originality. The Aussie-born Cameron McCulloch directed “Home” starring a lovely Jamie McDowell contains no dialogue, but conveys the rough time McDowell’s character goes through with the loss of her fiance who she has chained up. Her loss is so tremendous that she is unsure on how to use her last remaining bullet – will she kill her fiance’s corpse or will she kill herself? The Irish horror-comedy “I Am Lonely,” directed by Phil Haine, follows an naive and annoying young man named Chris living in a zombie overrun town who comes home to his apartment and finds his friend Steve has been fatally injured. As Chris dim wittingly spills out all the absurdities he’s done to Steve, Steve’s injury isn’t solely zombie-related and that’s where things get interesting. Also, an American film entitled “Certified” is not necessarily a zombie short, but only implies to the undead. Luke Guidici directs Rebecca Spicher as young Alice who tells the grim tale of her uncle and cousin’s mind shaft demise to a gullible new mailman that nearly scares him right out of his USPS uniform.
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Lastly, some shorts follow a more heart-pounding scenario. For example, “Dead Stop” by director Tommy Woodard is a CCTV shot short that has a police officer pulling up on a frantic woman who is trying to save her bitten husband. The scene grows more intense when the husband turns on his wife. Realistically surreal with well acting completes this short and fits right in with the “Zombieworld” collective. Another intense short with a synonym-like title is the first person view of “Dead Rush” directed by Zachary Ramelan. The viewers embody a man waking up in a bathroom with dead bodies and blood everywhere and we follow his, and two others’, journey as he wields an axe through a mass of the undead. Things get serious when our hero becomes part of the dead ranks from being gut-ripped opened and devoured!

In all, I’m pleasantly pleased with how the Ruthless Pictures and Dread Central produced “Zombieworld” brought in little-to-unknown talent and showcased their short features that awesomely fit into the highly entertaining category and bites ferociously into being one of the best zombie DVD releases of the year! The RLJ Entertainment and Image DVD release cover is colorfully detailed with the best intention on not taking itself too seriously, but feels eerily similar to other notable covers such as “Faces of Death” or Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.” The specs include a widescreen 16:9 transfer with Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Since this is a mixed bag of films, the clarity of presentations vary, but I can tell you that most shorts are sharp and clean looking with with no distortions in image or audio. Some of the night scenes in “Home” or “Marathon Apocalypse” have some digital interference that won’t ruin your viewing pleasure. The overall recommendation is to pick this undead puppy up and dive into a whole new world of talented horror directors and I’m positive that your blood lust won’t go unquenched!