Catalepsy EVIL Blended with Japanese Folklore! “Snow Woman” reviewed! (Darkside Releasing / Blu-ray)

Beware the “Snow Woman!”  She Just Might Just Leave You With the Cold Shoulder!  Amazon.com

Trekking up a mountain side are three male villagers hauling up a wooden casket.  Inside the casket is thought to be the malevolent Yuki Onna, the urban legendary beautiful snow woman spirit who roams the snowy landscape enticing men to their death.  Found seemingly dead and half naked amongst the village at the bottom of the mountain, this will mark the second trip up to the crag with her corpse that suddenly comes back to life.  Feared by the men, her casket is left abandoned and stranded atop of the icy, cold mountain yet the thing inside the casket isn’t a ghost, but rather a shunned woman, Yuki, with a thought supernatural evil power that’s actually a death-trance condition where her intense sexual climaxes render her unconscious and not breathing for long stretches of time.  Lodge owner Hyubei discovers her predicament firsthand after bedding the strange woman and the two use her condition to feign the killing of the “Snow Woman” when other persecuting-seeking male villagers coming calling for her head.

Many unusual, but still erotically stimulating, pink films have come across my desk for a professional review and for personal viewing.  Shintaro Sasazuka’s “Snow Woman” might be the goofiest, nonsensical one, and threadbare storied one yet.  Based off the Japanese folklore of Yuki-onna, various versions of Yuki-onna revolve around the freezing harm or death of children as well as succumbing those near the child to an icy grave.  For Sasazuka’s “Snow Woman,” the 2009 released adaptation follows more closely to the Ojiya region of Niigata Prefecture where a beautiful and mysterious woman sought out a man to marry for her own sensual desires only to dissipate into frozen droplets when forced into a bath.  While there’s no forced bathing in the film, the writer-director does pull inspiration of a woman immediately eager to please and marry the first man who doesn’t expel her permanently from companionship upon her climatic death-trance and is, in fact, more inexplicably inclined, aka an inkling of amorousness, to keep her around despite her unsettling disorder that locks their genitals together until she awakes from her stupor.  “Snow Woman” is produced by Takeyuki Morikakuo (writer of “Rika:  The Zombie Killer” and producer of “Legend of Siren XXX”) and is a production of the AMG vintage erotic catalogue.

“Tokyo Gore Police,” “Grotesque,” and JAV model actress Tsugumi Nagasawa stars in the folkloric titular role or Yuki. Nagasawa’s a bit all over the board, which is usually the case with all Japanese pink films, with her misjudged ghostly “Snow Woman” that loses all the pizazz when much of the mysticism is removed almost instantly when the immediate revelation of her sexual catatonic disorder renders her into a rigor mortis like state. Nagasawa doesn’t exactly sell the ethereal quality of the folklore of a presence able to float above sheets of snow without a trace left behind or burst into icicles surrounding heat. Yes, yes, I know pink films are strapped with very little cashflow, banking on the nudity and the bump-and-grind of exploiting popular and historical culture. Takishi (listed as Takashi on other platforms) Okabe opposites Nagasawa as the lonely lodger Nyubei who saves Yuki from an icy death by trying to charge her warmth and shelter. Okabe and Nagasawa fail to bring any kind of chemistry to the screen, romantically or sensually, that render themselves far short of saving this pink’s film vitality rebound on the home video market. The villagers who are seemingly more interested in destroying the Snow Woman as well as contemplating speculative conjecture on whether having intercourse with a monster is better than having intercourse with a woman who eats a lot is better. That whole section of the dialogue arc to the portrayed monster in the story, the Snow Woman, and when the virginal deft villager sees the Snow Woman for the first time, he immediately ravages her in a rape-eseque moment to prove no matter how monstrous she is he’s going to conquer by way of copulation. The other villagers round out with a cast in Takehisa Futagawa, Daisuke Tamaru, Horiken Fumio Yamamoto, Tetsu Teraoka, and Nami Uehara.

As mentioned, “Snow Woman” is considered a pinksploitation parody of a well-known folklore and as stated, the film’s financial support leaves much to be desired in the finish product to the point that there’s really not a story here to be told. Ostentatiously goofy without a morsel of A-for-effort lore or supernatural suspense to call a foundation, the struggle is inherently real to get through the entire film, a film that’s only approx. 1 hour long. The humor doesn’t stick and that would have flipped “Snow Woman” to a more advantageous experience coinciding with the one-on-one action that’s puts pink films on the erotica map. “Snow Woman” ultimately is a double flop on both fronts with the humor missing marks in its ultra-dry deliveries and miscued moments to the romping that’s not stimulating, titillating, or satisfying in the positioned choreography or character heterogeneity as a basic setup and cycle that inches toward only a chip of difference between the sexual scenes by adding the accompaniment of villagers with only the usual outcome results. The scenic views are actually pretty and breathtaking in see the snow-covered landscape with plenty of long and wide shots to capture Japan wilderness and while the location becomes only important in its aesthetic beauty, the b-roll footage never becomes important to the storyline as should with any Snow Woman themed media adaptation. I, personally, just wanted the characters to vamoose the lodge, or rather the overly large hut, that kept becoming the place of Yuki’s catalepsy trances because the location is the only interior location and gets old really quick.

For the first time, Shintara Sasazuka’s romantic-pink-comedy, “Snow Woman,” has a North American release from Darkside Releasing and distributed by MVD Visual. The region A coded Blu-ray release is an AVC encoded BD-R 25 presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There are two versions of “Snow Woman” available for viewing: the vintage version retains the Japanese orb of censorship around the nether regions and a newly restored version that basically means the removal of the those said orbs. Both transfers are identical in a clean and free from blemishes and damage eyesores. However, banding is a real issue that creates visible clear lines across a shade washed picture. The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack renders over quite well with discernable and clean dialogue, but the English subtitles are slightly out of synch and have at least one error that I saw. Special features include the original “Snow Woman” trailer, an erotic trailer reel that contains erotica and horror from select Italian productions, and a pink trailer reel that includes classic and modern pink films from PinkEiga. I guess in a world where pink films are outrageously perverse and can be downright sleazy and horrific, a necessity for balance would come in the form of goofy-romanticism and that’s what “Snow Woman” offers humbly by exemplifying passion and compassion as a cure for the mobbing disorderly and the ones with misunderstood disorders.

Beware the “Snow Woman!”  She Just Might Just Leave You With the Cold Shoulder!  Amazon.com

Beware the EVIL Bite of Silver Teeth! “The Cursed” reviewed! (LD Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Lord Seamus Laurent and the neighboring landowners show grave concern for the recent Gypsy encroachment upon their shared property.  In proactivity protecting the laboring residents and the pastoral farmland of the feudal system, Laurent and fellow landowners order the removal of the Gypsies by hiring ruthless mercenaries who slaughter every last Gypsy in cold blood and bury them in the land.  When every resident on the estate, from villagers to the lord’s family, share a common nightmare of silver teeth buried with the Gypsy corpses, an evil curse unleashes upon the farmland with a killer beast roaming, hunting every resident.  Gypsy chasing pathologist John McBride enlists himself helping Laurent and the villagers to not only relieve them of the cursed creature, but also face his own tragic past linked to the very same evil he pursues.  

Lycanthropy an allegory for the cholera outbreak in late 19th century Europe?  That’s the seemingly centric subject to Sean Ellis’s written-and-directed, folkloric supernaturally spun creature feature “The Cursed.”  Though narratively set and actually shot in France, “The Cursed,” or else better known internationally under the original title “Eight for Silver,” is comprised nearly of all English actors with very few from France and an American in the principal lead to wage war against a swift enemy that kills anyone without prejudice and without mercy.  No, I’m not talking about the wolfish creature that rips settlers and lords to shredded sacks of meat.  I’m speaking of the Cholera epidemics of the 19th century and while Ellis’s metaphoric intentions lean more toward the pains of broad-based additions, our modern pandemic plight felt more widespread linking both the past and present with an event that plagued countries like a curse with unsystematic cruelty and didn’t differentiate between the poor unfortunate and the opulent.  The Los Angeles based production company LD Entertainment finances and produces the feature under Mickey Liddell (“The Grey,” “Jacob’s Ladder” ’19) along with executive producers Alison Semenza (“Lost Boys:  The Tribe”) and Jacob and Joseph Yakob.

“The Predator’s” Boyd Holbrook walks the pathological shoes of John McBride, a man haunted by his past in his continuous pursuit of nomadic Gypsies, and it just so happens that McBride falls right into the thicket of, unknown at the time, Gypsy-made bedlam as missing children and ravaged dead bodies pop up.  Holbrook tries to corral in the pathologist’s inexplicable purpose as the character is often too withdrawn from his intent on what he’d actually do if he came across any Gypsies, which McBride never does.   Instead, McBride feels like a hero who’s dumped in the perfect place at the perfect time to be the hunter of what his pathological experience and instincts claim to be the death-dealings of a wolf while the village becomes the bewildered and unassuming hunted, led by the 2019 “Hellboy” actor Alistair Petrie as the noble estate lord Seamus Laurent stewing stoically in his own despair and desperate head space in search of his missing son (Max Mackintosh). The only character acting rationale in a conventionally proper manner in her reactions to the whole situation is Seamus’s wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly, “Eden Lake”), with a blistering heartful longing for her son, and their daughter Charlotte (Amelia Crouch, “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death”), with a shock-induced and childlike response to her brother’s disappearance. Yet, Isabelle and Charlotte alter course. Isabelle weaves in and out of anguish to the point where her suffering is only implemented to benefit the story and Charlotte, well, Charlotte plainly disappears as a key supporting character who knows truly happened to her brother in the field and with a villager boy, Timmy (Tommy Rodge), who discovers the silver teeth etched with curse inducing rune symbols. The interactions between McBride, Seamus, and Isabelle never quite feel nature and complete, as if there’s an unspoken trust issue between McBride and Seamus or a mutual understanding or compassion between McBride and Isabelle that never leaves the hilt of the sword to see spark action. Nigel Betts, Roxane Doran, Richard Cunningham, Pascale Becouze, Simon Kunz, and Amazon’s “Hanna” star Áine Rose Daly, as farm hand girl turned white wolf, round out “The Cursed” cast.

Sean Elliss tweaks the werewolf mythos to try and shake up the genre, turning it up on its head to dust off a tired narrative of man bitten by wolf, man turns into wolf, wolf terrorizes villagers, and villagers kill wolf with silver bullet. Instead of silver weaponized for good, “The Cursed” weaponizes it as Gypsy revenge, a calling card that leaves bite marks with lasting impression until every single inhabitant, guilty or innocent in the crime against the Romanian wayfarers, is laid to waste by its transformative power. Though unexplained in why the Gypsies forge silver fangs etched with a curse other than a storm is coming, as if perhaps they’re clairvoyancy provided them with a disturbance in the air instinct rather than exactly what to expect, the teeth are a nice cinematic touch of menacing terror literally inscribed on each tooth. “The Cursed” atmospherics of folkloric superstitions blended into a broodingly dense landscape of low-lying fog and uncomfortably vast empty fields surrounded by a thickset of trees comes close to the likes of a Hammer horror setting, especially with the period of time in which “The Cursed” plays out in that has been Hammer’s niche era. The setting might be the only controlled aspect of Ellis’s take on the werewolf genre as the werewolf, if that is what we can even call the abomination of mutation, is written from out of our traditionally known contexts and into a new breed of metamorphism. Hairless, white, and somatically encasing, Ellis’s monsters radically redefine our expectations with a beast that literally consumes our very being and turns us into an unrecognizable fiend amongst the flock. Fast, agile, and ruthless, this newfangled fang-bearer up until the end never received any insularity resentment from me, but the ending abruptly diminishes the near mindless brute strength of a beast with a hint of intelligence in its ability to sound like person to draw the hapless into a trap and that’s where a line needs to be drawn, especially when the technique is used as an out of the blue device toward an endgame.

Whether be a narrative about an all-consuming addiction or about a precipitating plague of chaos in the time of cholera, the uniquity of “The Cursed,” semi-diverging from one of the most revered classic monsters in our history, may be an immediate turn off for many traditionalists, but the film does right by the savagery gore, the minatory threat that lingers in every scene, and that no one is immune from danger. LD Entertainment is set to release “The Cursed” this Friday, February 18th, in theaters. Since this was a digital screener, the audio and video will not be covered. No bonus mater or extra scenes during or after the credits were provided. Sean Ellis provides that creepy fog-laden and dense folky aesthetic of barnyard chic while still conditioning an upscale appearance of a beautifully crafted production from a native French crew of productions designers in Thierry Zemmour and Pascal de Guellec as well as costume designer Madeline Fountaine. “The Cursed” starts strong with visceral intent to be novel by offering callous over civility, a dysmorphic werewolf, and a new set of blingy chompers fit for Lil’ Wayne, but gaps riddle unignorable holes into the story and its characters that ultimately becomes the silver bullet obliterating the beastly nature this new breed of wolf desperately needed to survive unscathed.

Hide Your Children! EVIL Comes For Them! “Achoura” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Digital Screener)



“Achoura” now available on Prime Video!

Broken by witnessing the kidnapping of their friend Samir, Ali, Nadia, and Stephen’s lives are plagued by the past and turmoiled in the present as adults.  When Samir is miraculously discovered alive, a realization of truth begins to flood back into their memories as the kidnapper’s intentions were to stop a malicious, child-devouring entity by stowing the demon away in Samir’s body as an encapsulating prison.   The demon, known as the Bougatate, uses the joyous celebration of the Muslim holiday Ashura to snack on beguiled youth and is now free to feed upon ripe, happy children once again, especially Ali and Nadia’s young son.  The four friends must band together and seek to destroy Bougatate on his own turf, a decrepit rural French house engulfed in nightmarish lore. 

Nothing says originality and mind-broadening concepts more than when international filmmakers weave the fabric of their folklore, the sequin of traditions, and the raw materials of cultural customs into their fabrication of creativity.  Director and co-writer Talala Selhami takes us on that very journey through Morocco with a tale based off the concepts of a shifty Djinn-like urban legend terrorizing children of the Ashura celebration with a shadowy, jaw-opening and jowl-extending monster devouring children like a snake in this 2018 released supernatural, child-be-vigilant thriller, “Achoura.”  Selhami’s sophomore film comes 8 years after releasing the cutthroat hiring practices of Corporation authority over the applying individual in “Mirages.”  The French-born director helms a script penned by Jawad Loahlou and David Villemin showcasing the horrors of loss, sometimes forgotten, amongst the Arab-Berber population.  The half-crescent coast of Casablanca becomes the main shooting location for the Moroccan-French co-production under Moon & Deal Films, Overlook Films, Orange Studio, and Black Lab VFX produced by Selhami and Lamia Chraibi with executive producers in Caroline Piras (“Among the Living”) and Rachida Saadi.

“Achoura” has been described as the Moroccan “IT” where four childhood friends reunite to face a preadolescent predator known as Bougatate.  That analogical sentiment is extremely on-point to the detriment of “Achoura’s” North American release; I, myself, before reading any other external comments, had thought “Achoura’s” story walked the same line as the 2017 remake and strongly resembled Pennywise in intentions and, in some ways, specific ways he – or rather it – tricks and consumes children.  The four friends are also similar to certain characters in the Loser Club, but the Sofiia Manousha is the least affected by her past, reimagining what happened to her friend, Samir (Omar Lotfi), as nothing more than being an abducted whim of a pervert’s fantasy.  Samir is the younger brother to Nadia’s estranged husband Ali (Younes Bouab), a brooding, sleepless detective ceaselessly on his brother’s case as he dives deep into old investigative interview footage and cigarette packs he continuously bites the filter off of each cancel stick.  The pain Ali bottles up is complete poison wonderfully conveyed as well as the interpretation of trauma from the last friend of four in painter, Stephen or Stéphane as the character is credited.  Played by the Spanish born Iván González, whose worked on a pair of intense thrillers – “The Divide” and “The Crucifixion” with director Xavier Gens, Stephen singles himself the only person that remembers what actually happens as González glosses the artist with starry eyes and a verbally shaken recollection of monstrous images.  The one performance thought to be the weakest link was Omar Lotfi’s Samir, an imprisoned man-child imprisoning a demon with him, and Lotfi’s infantility as a grown man freed from confinement and a demon crossed too intractable goofiness, leading the Samir away from being a sympathetic character into more of a cartoon of one.  The cast is relatively comprised of the four friends with minor parts here and there in roles from Mohamed Wahib Abkari, Jade Beloued, Abdellah El Yousfi, Celine Hugo, Gabriel Fracola, Mohamed Choubi, Noé Lahlou, and Moussa Maaskri as The Guardian incarcerating Bougetate inside Samir, who we assume is the same boy from the film’s prologue setup but never actually verified.

While “Achoura” draws many comparisons to “IT,” Selhami sepulchers itself into an overwrought, yet hugely overworked subgenre of shrouded gangly presences lurking from the darkest corners of the room to bring antagonism toward children.  “The Babadook” comes to mind with the manifestation of grief descending upon a single mother and her child.  Same theme can be extracted from “Achoura’s” grief and trauma over the loss of their friend and how they represent the condition in different ways:  Nadia chooses to reimagine the event to a safer, saner memory, Stephen expresses his horror through painting, and Ali’s guilt drives him to unhealthy habits in looking for his brother.  The Bougatate is akin to a pedophile robbing children of their innocence, a motif that extends from the very beginning of the story with a preteen boy expressing his affection for a girl his own age before Bougatate seizes upon them.  Their innocent and charming clandestine affair is kept from her betrothed husband, who’s creepily decades older, in a mind-boggling and unpleasant idea of children arranged marriages that sets the misguided tone for a sordid underlayer that sparks Bougatate’s resurgence into the world.   Though I like the tone of the film albeit a vague carbon copy of others like it, what I find to be tone deaf is the often clunky special effects surrounding the entity’s polished look.  One attribute belonging to Bougatate is the legion of flies that constitute his form in what has diminutively become just a bunch of nano byte specks moving in menacing unison and swallowing (or being swallowed) anything in their path. The non-linear format that double culminates the unravelling in present and in flashback past retains a sustainable 90-mystery.

One of the last horror films to be released in 2021, “Achoura” came to digital platforms and DVD home video this past December from Dark Star Pictures, the same company who released the phenomenal Veracruz folklore and Bruha horror, “The Old Ways,” and the Mickey Reece’s perfectly subtle nod to vampires and depression in “Climate of the Hunter.” Since a digital screener was provided, commenting on the DVD audio and video quality is a no-go, but the Mathieu De Montgrand offers harsh hard lit scenes vast in depth, a breadth of landscape between the countryside of France and Casablanca shoreline, and excellent action and tracking shots to instill the appearance of a big-time movie. Montgrand is definitely not just a point and shoot cinematographer as he can build suspense purely on his angles along with Julien Foure’s editing of the flashback montage that tells a bigger side of the four friends’ history yet to be revealed. “Achoura’s” bleak analogy of children’s innocence being consumed by the complexities of adulthood problems understands the unstoppable crossbreeding crisis of blending youthful naivety with seasoned reality to the point of no return that one day all unspoiled exuberance will simply be eaten into oblivion.

“Achoura” now available on Prime Video!

Unleashed, Nature Inspires the EVIL in All of Us! “In The Earth” reviewed (Neon / Digital Screener)

A deadly virus has ravaged the world, placing the inhabitants on a high alert edge of incessant sanitation and relentless paranoia. Martin, a scientist from the city, ventures to an ecological nature preserve to convey equipment for tests being conducted deep in the forest. Park Ranger, Alma, guides him on a two day trek toward a camp in total isolation supervised by Dr. Olivia Wendle, but during the second day of the journey, Martin and Alma are attacked in the middle of the night, left with no gear and a vague sense of what happened. The virus has yet to stake a claim on those living within the woods, but another malicious-driven presence, entombed by superstition and mental manipulation, enacts the forest to come alive around them, forcing them into a direction that presents a summoning of nature’s folkloric revenant.

COVID-19 has brought a tremendous amount of sorrow and an unforgiving plight upon the world, but for a few filmmakers, a global pandemic has been a source of inspiration that been a silver lining amongst the Earth’s population upheaval. Director Ben Wheatley tapped into that filament, you could say ,with his man versus nature mystery horror “In The Earth.” The filmmaker of “U is for Unearthed” short from the “ABCs of Death” and soon-to-be helming the follow up big screen sequel to novelist’s Steve Alten’s widely popular monster shark book series with “Meg 2: The Trench,” Wheatley writes and directs a quarantine start-to-finish feature that also incorporates the pandemic into the story, much to the same likes as Rob Savage’s “Host” that uses the virus as a means to drive the characters into doing something they normally wouldn’t be doing. The UK production is from Wheatley’s founded Rook Films and Neon, who last co-produced Brandon Cronenberg’s violent sci-fi thriller, “Possessor.”

With the pandemic resulting quarantine and a story set in the thicket of woods, “In The Earth” is innately slim around the casting waistline that concentrates the performance zest amongst a few, beginning with the introduction of Martin the scientist walking up to the sentry lodge located at the forest edge. Played by Joel Fry (“Game of Thrones”), the London born actor must endure as a hapless city boy taking woodland shots on the chin without much complaint, but definitely a grimace, a whimper, and a pass out. Guiding Martin through the woods is Alma, a seasoned park ranger under the eye of “Midsommar’s” Ellora Torchia who balances out her travel companion’s near ill-equipped, yet hazardously attempting, roughing the outdoors. Martin and Alma are nearly mirrored by the only other two people they come across in the forest – Zach and Dr. Wendle. Yet, Zach and Dr. Wendle’s similarities channel through how they instrument a link to the forest being, known as Parnag Fegg, that calls them to release it from the timber and foliage prison. Zach (Reece Shearsmith of “Shaun of the Dead”) honors Parnag Fegg with ritualistic images and symbols while Dr. Wendle (Hayley Squires) uses a combination of technological lights and experimental music to speak with the powerfully alluring presence. Shearsmith is devilishly certifiable with Squires backing up his character craziness with her own version that never places Martin and Alma into a safe haven’s circle. “In The Earth” rounds out the cast with Mark Monero and John Hollingworth.

“In The Earth’s” binary coding of nature versus urban, plus sublets of traditions versus technology, runs as a seamless motif to a bigger theme that nature has a global network web of personified communication and reason. I imagine Wheatley succeeded in what M. Night Shyamalan tried to accomplish in the Mark Walhberg’s headlining “The Happening” with bringing nature to the forefront stand against man who continuously seeks to destroy themselves and the world, forcing nature’s hand to take drastic measures, but Wheatley’s film more so tells not the story of a worldwide assault on mankind but rather as the resurrection of a single entity, an archaic necromancer of local legend, eager to walk the Earth once again after being driven to disembody their spirit to the forest. “In The Earth” also provokes a literal meaning toward an age old saying of “nature calling” by using the aforesaid network to unconsciously lure specific individuals into the woods and gather near a gateway relic or stone,. This act of intention calls for a sacrifice of purity and so one of the four individuals – Alma, Martin, Zach, and Olivia – will involuntary be the vessel of Parnag Fegg’s return while the others, under the persuasion of forest spirit, due it’s song-and-dance bidding. Ben Wheatley taps into a very John Carpenter archetype of people on the cusp of unleashing certain doom upon the world, invoking not only a spirit but also that very sense of last stand against damnation as epitomized in “The Thing” and “The Prince of Darkness.” “In The Earth,” however, isn’t so easy to see the forest through the trees with an first act setup that zips through the situation that leads Martin and Alma trekking through the woods and Parnag Fegg is only briefly dappled to be a dangled carrot for bigger things to come.

A chiseled, fey story with a dark, ominous cloud of impending doom lingering overhead, “In The Earth” is transcendence horror at it’s finest. Neon is set to release the R-rated, 107 minute film, “In The Earth,” in theaters on April 30th. The scaled down budget didn’t hinder Wheatley’s grand platform and with Nick Gillespie’s sophomore credit as feature film cinematographer, the playbook was unwritten for Gillespie to rework how to shoot a film under the confines of a pandemic with limited cast, a living forest, and still maintain safe social distant practices under strict mandated guidelines. Gillespie formulated wide-angles to capture an expanse of trees diminutively enshrouding the characters, almost like the forest was going to gulp them at any moment. A composition of artful imagery compiled together in a collage of intoxicating colors and feverish styles interprets nothing concrete in the heroines journey of an nearly unknowable presence only knowledgeable by world of mouth, leaving also the audience induced with a psychedelic vision at the whims of Wheatley’s direction. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits and the perfunctory ending opens the door for interpretation that can be more impacting than a firm resolution. Born and bred from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, “In The Earth” dispatches a diversion from the immediate, the real world, and the tumult of a virus with a bewilderingly diversion of troubling folk horror sown directly into Mother Nature herself.

All Hail the EVIL Slumbering One! “Sacrifice” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Years after being quickly whisked away to America as a small child from his remote Norwegian island birthplace, Isaac returns nearly 30-years later with his new, pregnant wife, Emma, after the death of his mother leaves the empty family home in his inheritance.  With their heart set on fixing up and selling the house before the birth of their child, Isaac and Emma learn that marketing the seaside and scenic estate comes with a tragic past when the local sheriff discloses the brutal murder of Isaac’s father inside the home.  The dreadful information and the bizarre locals with their customary traditions doesn’t alarm Isaac who, instead, feels a strong connection and is drawn to staying whereas Emma, plagued by terrifying nightmares ever since stepping onto the island, is eager to sell and return to American as soon as possible, fleeing a community that worships an aquatic deity beneath the water’s surface.   

Based off dark fantasy and science fiction writer Paul Kane’s short story, “Men of the Cloth,” found in the author’s “The Colour of Madness” collective works, “Sacrifice” is an alienating folklore horror bound by the influence of a Lovecraftian core under the direction of a filmmaking due in Andy Collier and Toor Mian.  As their sophomore film as collaborating directors, following their 2017 psychological cop horror “Charismata,” Collier and Mian tackle Kane’s short story head-on by changing only a few details, such as location, family structure, and the title from formally known as Kane’s “The Colour of Madness” to “Sacrifice”, but keep rooted the foremost principles of “Men of the Cloth’s” cultish discomfort that’s greatly inspired with the otherworldly sensation of an amiss atmosphere akin to Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man.”  Filmed around the idyllic and mountain enclosed shore town of Bjørk, Norway and in the town of Volda, Norway, the 2020 film seeks to plop strangers into a strange land as a production of the London-based companies, Loose Canon Films and Hydra Films RKM, in association with Dread.

Over two years ago was the last time we reviewed a Barbara Crampton movie with “Death House,” that included a plethoric cast of her all-star genre brethren with Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, Dee Wallace, and others, and, now, Crampton makes her glorious return to the Lovecraftian turf that nostalgically brings most of us horror fans back to the New York-born actress’s “From Beyond” and “Re-Animator” days.  “Sacrifice’s” Cthulhu spirit finds Crampton playing a small town Norwegian sheriff, Renate Lygard, in which Crampton, under the training of a dialect coach, surprises us with a fair Norway accent as she provides a quasi-warm hospitality set of manners upon island outliers in Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and Emma (Sophie Stevens) Pinkman. Hughes and Stevens nudge their way into a solid man-and-wife, but their dynamic density becomes crispy at times and pale from their initial arrival soon after rustling with the natives. The lack of vitality doesn’t stem from the wedge being driven between from the lure of Isaac being called by the natural phenomena of the Northern Lights, the drunken friendly benevolence of Gunnar (Lucas Loughran) and Ledvor (Jack Kristiansen), and the full frontal skinny dipping of Renate’s beautiful daughter, Astrid, an eye-opening film introduction from Johanna Adde Dahl; instead, the Pinkman’s bond held together about as tight as using kindergarten grade craft glue that bled into the performances as well that came off stiff and unnatural. Aside from Hughes and Stevens hailing from the United Kingdom and Crampton from the U.S., the remaining cast was curtailed to Norway nationals, as such with Loughran and Kristiansen, rounding out the cast with Erik Lundan, Dag Soerlie, and Ingeborg Mork Håskjold.

“Sacrifice’s” cult mania lays on a thick coating of grass roots that really set the tone for an foreboding outcome.  An idyllic Norway fishing village propped between the eclipsing mountain range and marine inlet intrinsically obscures an already unspoken secret that’s only been rendered on the faces and actions of the residents.  At the center of village’s idiosyncrasies are the two hapless protagonists venturing into unknown territory with only an inherited house in their back pocket and a vague sense of youthful recollection; this sets up for an obvious antagonism theme of locals with a sense of xenophobic nationalism, especially against two Americans.  The initial friction opens the flood gates for cultural customaries to be weaponized against Isaac, who wants to strongly embrace his heritage, and Emma, who can’t seem to grasp the village’s peculiar beliefs and even goes as far as being naïve of and mocking the village’s traditions and deity.  The tension is compounded by the ominous presence of the labeled slumbering one, sleeping beneath the glossy surface of the inlet waves, but conjuring up tangible and intense nightmares that plague the every island inhabitant, a mystery Emma can’t explain, won’t entertain, and ignores exploring that turns Emma floundering more into Isaac’s sudden disinterest in her albeit soon-to-be-parents.  “Sacrifice’s” climatic, tell all scene harbors more secrets regarding Isaac and Emma’s purpose on the island that are to be interpreted by the audience, but don’t connect back to any string along clues leading up to a poignant and sharply-shocking ending.  Instead, “Sacrifice” acutely wraps up not only the story but also the characters like a paper wrapped fish at the fish market ready for sale without any huff about where, why, and how that particular bug-eyed fish became the gutted victim of man’s delicacy.

“Sacrifice” shores folklore horror swelled with Lovecraftian roots and is docking digitally today, March 15th, in the UK courtesy of 101 Films. The film has a runtime of 87 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, shot on a Sony CineAlta Venice camera. Co-director Andy Collier tackles his first credit director of photography gig with interesting shots looking up through all different angles and vessels that hold water. Whether boiling eggs, taking a bath, or in small cove, Collier, and Mian, put eyes on the bottom surface, promoting all varieties of water within it a lurking presence and the imagery is done extremely well with depth and space to pull off the illusion. A fair amount of soft lighting, moments of bright primary color glow, and the specs of well-placed lighting to barely illuminate a scene is broodingly worthwhile. Tom Linden’s original score is fiercely compliment as a folklore staple, harsh-chord intensity that lingers well after the boiling blood levels drop to a mere tentacle dwelling simmer. There were no extra features or bonus scenes included with the digital screener. While the build up didn’t pay off at the bloody end, the two-tone terror of “Sacrifice” wrecks the nerves and frays warm pleasantries with wicked wallowing, slumbering, nearby in the shallows.