Abbey Bell is extremely worried about her teenage son, Jacob. Worried that Jacob, an intelligent boy with good grades and is a social magnet, is plotting a mass shooting at his school. After countless preemptive attempts to warn authorities and medical professionals of her suspicions of his psychopathic tendencies, Abbey begins recording a diary and setting up spy cameras inside the family home hoping to catch Jacob’s unpredictable and dangerous suggestions and threats on tape. The videos will also serve as blog fodder for other desperate mothers experiencing similar disturbing behavioral issues with their children. As the single mother and her son continue their at home war of bickering words and distraught suspicions, the maternal bond once shared between mother and son begins to deteriorate and evolve into unsurmountable distrust between each other; a distrust that has been simmering ever since Jacob was a toddler stemmed by Abbey’s dark family secret sheathed for many years until Jacob weaponizes it for his utmost survival against his concerned mother.
Before the coronavirus pandemic transformed powerful sovereign nations into panic-induced introverts wetting their pants at the first spray of a sneeze hitting their skin, news medias around the globe delectably ate up headlines of mass shootings as there would seem, at least for a good stretch, to be a sad and unfortunate mass shooting every single day. Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” derives from that fearful climate while also purposing another sub-topical issue of a parent’s position in that circumstance. Lyman tackles one fictional woman’s tale of internal turmoil as her directorial debut and the sophomore script of a feature film not in a documentary format, pivoting away from the “Untold Stories of the ER” and “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” junk food that consumes about 2/3’s of television comatose Americans. The “found footage” 2020 released psychological thriller is produced by Elain White and Austin Porter whom both have collaborated with Lyman in the past.
While not as sexily depicted and as authoritative as Emilia Clarke is depicted to be the Mother of Dragons in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” New York City born Melinda Page Hamilton can surely sell a mother of a monster as Abbey Bell, vending sharply laid out doubts and uncertainties with a mountain of convincing circumstantial evidence against her only child. The “Not Forgotten” actress quietly folds into herself as the submissively passive Abbey on a histrionics mission to out her son as a danger to society. Bailey Edwards commands a subversive and rebellious teenage Jacob Bell that can use his millennial powers to steamroll over his mother’s lack-of-assertive powers. This film will be Bailey’s first substantial co-staring venture, along with minor performances in “My Dead Boyfriend” starring Heather Graham and Netflix’s “Bright” with Will Smith, and who will subtly introduce Jacob as some white nationalist, gun enthusiasts who has a gas mask with a swastika insignia, first person shooter gear and video games, and scenes of him walking in front of gun shops. While Hamilton and Edwards dominate the majority of screen time, the short cast list rounds out with Janet Ulrich Brooks, Julian de la Celle, and a special appearance from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” Ed Asner as a behavioral doctor Skyping perspective therapy with Abbey. Does anyone believe a 91-year-old knows how to use a video chat? It’s a bit of a stretch….
“M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” throws caution to the wind embarking on a viewpoint of how far a mother will go to expose her child’s dissident and, potentially, deadly behavior. Lyman also digs deeper into the psyche of the mother and the child, sticking them with a ticking time bomb that is the heredity factor. Mental illness is a huge underlined theme that Lyman slips into the fold as signs of one person’s erratic behavior can be stemmed from the secrets of little known relatives and their seemingly destined out of control path can no way be influenced externally without reserving counseling, extenuating the age-old debate of nurture versus nature. Lyman’s storytelling smartly preserves an obscured aspect, cloaked by selective denial and tremendous paranoia, that becomes a catalyzing game changer of disturbing consequences. The narrative isn’t at all flawless with weak spots in the character structure that pigeonhole the roles to be stuck inside this cat and mouse cycling mindset between Abbey and Jacob. For instance, Abbey’s an obsessive, 24-hour recording zealot whose documenting never reveals anything else happening in Abbeys life, like work, friends, etc., whereas Jacob’s intermixed recordings with a female friend outside the contentious home reveal a life beyond his skirmish with this mother and his videogame shut-in habitat, but these recordings stick out awkwardly as much of the story’s is from Abbey’s perspective so how did Jacob’s casual conversation videography become a part of Abbey’s cautionary tale for other distraught mothers? Whether intentional or not to exhibit the imbalanced social complexities between Jacob and Abbey’s personal lives or lack thereof, Jacob’s exterior scenes course out of bounds, penalizing portions of the plot.
Become submersed in dark thoughts and monomania with Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hitting the digital HD VOD platforms soon after premiering at the Los Angeles Arena Cinelounge this past Friday the 13th through Indie Rights distribution. Since this is a theatrical and VOD title, there is no home video release to provide technical specs and assessments; this also includes no special features. “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hammers down the sociopolitical hot topics of mental illness, gun violence, and presumptive fear teeming in America with a spitting image and climate aware psychological thriller bristled with family dysfunction.
Down in the relationship dumps, Carly and Rina struggle with sustaining the love between them. Carly recently dropped out of medical school to pursue a videography career, Rina, whose a battling bulimic, can’t secure a job, and, together, the financial strain and their respective personal issues is pushing them apart as they indolently work toward a seemingly futile plan for the future in a rundown motel recently purchased by a college friend named Wyatt. As if things can’t get any worse, an infectious pandemic turns the diseased into flesh hungry zombies and has quickly engulfed their area shortly after devouring Europe before anyone knew what hit them. With all communications down and surrounded by the infected, Carly and Rina rely on each other for survival, armed with only a couple of handheld cameras and a knife, but one Rina becomes sick, how far will Carly go to save the love of her life.
Love and zombies. Never has there been a more catalytic experience when the fate of an undead ravaged Earth becomes the tinder box for rekindling affection of a broken relationship. That’s the surmised premise of Michael Souder’s director debut, a found footage horror entitled “By Day’s End,” released onto DVD by the Philadelphian home video distributor, Breaking Glass Pictures. The LGBTQ aware zombie horror is based on Souder’s short marketing preview entitled “Hunger” that involved a man and woman couple rather than two women and was set at a motel site with Souder acting as narrator in explaining his vision. While “Hunger’s” financials didn’t gain footing through crowdfunding, Sounder was able rework his vision that incorporates a different breed of zombie that can learn at a rapid pace, shot his film in 2015, and finally hitting the retail markets in 2020. Sci-Fi-fantasy writer, Justin Calen-Chenn, co-writes the script with Sounder and serves as co-producer with the director along with another co-producer, Alicia Marie Agramonte, in her first feature produced production. Joe Wasem serves as executive producer for this complicated love story in the midst of a zombie Armageddon.
The rocky romance between Carly and Rina land praise for Lyndsey Lantz (“Lore”) and Andrea Nelson (“I Spit On Your Grave: Déjà vu”) in being a convincing complex couple with tons of baggage including relationship singeing secrets from one another and an underlying passion that has grown a little stale from a future strained of financial collapse. The chemistry between the blonde haired Carly and the dark browned Rina sizzles with tension that steams like when hot water hits a freezing cold surface. Lantz provides Carly’s bubbly optimism of a woman in love that finds climbing Rina’s colossally icy barrier a frustrating feat despite an immense amount of devout love and loyalism for her partner. The one character that isn’t very convincing is the former military turned motel host Wyatt Fremont played by Joshua Keller Katz. Katz’s rigid performance falls into the stereotype category of a bad script read, overplaying Wyatt’s previous life with a smug thinning effect on the whole zombie chaos and Wyatt sticking out of place like a giant sore thumb. Rounding out the cast is Diana Castrillion (“Godforsake”), Umberto Celisano (“First House on the Hill”), Devlin Wilder (“Grizzled”) and die-hard horror fixtures Maria Olsen (“Starry Eyes”) and Bill Oberst Jr. (“3 From Hell”) with the latter providing his voice only.
Rina’s unceasing eating disorder has staked a claim as one of the spurs affecting Carly and Rina’s declining relationship and, yet, when another eating disorder where mankind craves the taste of each other, the once quarreling lovers reignite the warmth that was once their bond in an amusing parallel of events. Character analogies are not the only nice touches provided by Souder who tweaks the zombie, extending upon George Romero’s evolutionary concept of a learning and pliant zombie while also creating a big world apocalyptic problem with small world capabilities, with the undead playing possum – how very “Resident Evil.” The 74 minute runtime offers ideal pace to not linger in exposition, which some horror love stories tend to do, balancing the backstory and the instantaneous chaos into a smooth transition of events. The camera POV style renders the same objective with also a bit of tranquility that’s like a calm before the storm rather, as some ambience is muted by security cameras. The effect results a frightening, breath holding silence which is a nice, eerie touch of cinematography and uncluttered audio.
“By Day’s End” is the motel mayhem zombie movie you’ve been hungry for and comes to you on a DVD home video being released March 17 courteously from Breaking Glass Pictures. The DVD9, region 1 release is presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, that splices together handheld camera and security cam footage. The image quality respectively shares the diverse filming tactics used to interlace a story. Handheld footage features a bright, natural appeal whereas the security footage purposefully instills as ashen approach and softer, fuzzier details with the horizontal lines created by direct light The English language 2.0 stereo mix has clean and forefront dialogue; the creature gutturals cast a more over-the-top and tawdry vocal disappointment that wasn’t fear invoking. Ambient depth and range are sizable and balanced. Special features include a behind-the-scenes, a quaint blooper reel, and Souder’s short film “Hunger.” “By Day’s End” marks the first indie horror success story of a 2020 release with a delicately modeled blend of romance and horror and a surge of lasting captivation on both of those fronts.
Among the outskirts of Berlin lies a vacant and dilapidated Heilstätten hospital once used by the World War II Nazis to conducted “mercy deaths” for tuberculosis patients. Over the years, the hospital has remained dormant in its subsequent closure after the war and infamous labeled cursed and haunted during daytime tours, becoming the sole connection between instances of madness and murder through the decades. When a pair of YouTube pranksters and social media influencer gamble against each other on spending 24 hours inside the hospital for viral stardom to gain more followers, they’ll put the hospital’s paranormal notoriety to the test with the help of Heilstätten tour guide Theo as their access onto the grounds. With all the cameras set up and the stage set for an all-nighter spook show, their viral glory campaign becomes a malevolent presence’s bloodbath welcoming.
“Heilstätten,” also known as “Haunted Hospital: Heilstätten” under the North American market, is the gruesomely supernatural found footage horror film from “Potato Salad” director Michael David Pate. Pate, who also co-wrote the script with Ecki Ziedrich, helms his own perspective on the sanatorium (English term for Heilstätten) horror that offers more than just a phantom in hospital wings. Deranged and soulless Nazis performed immoral experiments on not just the Jewish people, but also sought to eradicate the sick for their feverish impurities, such as those afflicted with tuberculosis. “Heilstätten” pits history against the present in a egregious tone of respecting the past and diminishing the importance young social media influencers without a peck of smarts or appreciation.
The 2018 film stars “Tape_13’s” Sonja Gerhardt as Marnie, a social media star who records and implores people to face their worst faces, catching up with the group of YouTubers before they dig themselves deeper into their own graves. Gerhardt’s hard sell of her character doesn’t quite shape the sincerity in stopping the carnage before it happens as Marnie is the proverbial monkey wrench in the overnight blood bath. Marnie is drawn to Theo, an ex-lover that hasn’t quite severed her interests in him, played by Tim Oliver Schultz. As the tour guide breaking all the rules, Theo’s compulsion to help wavers on the idea of being just as renowned on the internet as those he’s helping, but there is more to meet the eye with Theo than the surface level material. The more complex characters revolve around the pranksters, Charly and Finn, played by Emilio Sakraya and Timmi Trinks, who become wedged by social media influencer Betty, Nilam Farooq. Charly’s strive for world wide web fandom drives him blind to the circumstances around him, especially when Finn and Betty become romantically involved, and despite Finn’s willingness to be part of the prank, his conscious breaks beyond Charly’s gimmicky barrier where lives actually do matter over stardom when people end up missing or dead at the hands of an ominous force. “Heilstätten” cast rounds out with Farina Flebbe, Maxine Kazis, Lisa Marie-Koroll, and Davis Schulz.
The trick about “Heilstätten’s” allure is the moments that the ghost film isn’t afraid of the blood and flesh bits founded upon a nicely laid foundation with the Nazis’ extermination activities and all the notorious lore surrounding a hospital. The hospital itself, Heilstätten, wasn’t created out of thin air just for the story sake. Pate and Ziedrick used the withering Beelitz Heilstätten as their base, utilizing actual historical facts, such as Adolf Hilter was treated at the hospital during World War I, to even further demonize the setting, but in reality, Beelitz Heilstätten rehabilitated the war wounded rather than mercy death the Tuberculosis-stricken. Yes, the hospital was Nazi occupied, but so did the Russians after the war. “Heilstätten” has rich backstory that basically breeds itself into a horror film. However, one aspect about what discourages “Heilstättens” effectiveness is the use of soundtrack for a found footage horror film. No found footage horror film should ever have a soundtrack that doesn’t add to the realism and renders the film more closely to William Malone’s “House on Haunted Hill” in more than one similarity.
Well Go USA Entertainment admits proudly Michael David Pate’s 20th Century Fox International produced “Heilstätten” onto a dual format, DVD and 1080p Blu-ray, release. The Region 1 and A, not rated film is presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, that’s relatively free of problems. The second act shadows find definition hard to make out under the quick, stark edits, but the “Predator” heat vision is nice touch to liven things up when the darkness is as black as night. The German language DTS-HD Master Audio lives up to the supernatural maelstrom that cause the covers to be pulled up to your eyeballs with range and depth to personify the gloomy corridors and multi-level death snares. The hard-lined English subtitles are well synced and accurate and the release also offers up an English dub track. The DVD comes with an English language Dolby Digital track too. Bonus features a slim with a just a trailer to it’s name. “Heilstätten” is one effectively spooky, atmospherically creepy, and dreadfully engrossing good time with a full-bodied backstory topped with Blut und Eingeweide.
Maisy and her socially reclusive brother, Bo, venture on a mountain getaway trip with Maisy’s former college friends. With Bo documenting with a handheld video camera as part of his way in comforting his anxiety, he captures the dynamic of how each of Maisy’s friends have changed over years, especially with Asher and his recently High School graduated girlfriend, Pam. After breaking down on the side of the road, falling behind the rest of the caravan, they encounter a strange man with an axe, harshly warning them to not continue up the mountain pass. Shrugging of the warning and returning to their now working vehicle, the group resumes their drive, but makes a wrong turn and becomes lost in the mountains’ thicket of the Sierra Nevada. They decide to setup camp for the night and continue their way back the next morning, but the discovery an ominous, skull-riddled altar in the woods unleashes a frightening presence that won’t allow them to leave. As tensions rise and night falls, Bo keeps his camera running as a soul inhabiting evil has fallen upon them that seeks to destroy them one-by-one.
“Altar” is the 2016 found footage horror from writer-director Matthew Sconce. Sconce is actually able to harness a fraction of the mysticism and presence that made the found footage genre a thing back in 1999 with the ground breaking flick “The Blair Witch Project” and does a well enough job implementing it into his very own version of an allusive satanic cult ghoul, but with more specials effects and screen time. Despite being titled “Altar,” the story barely wraps itself around the titular object with only a handful of brief scenes, one of the scenes being the thinly-connected introduction that intensely catches the attention, while mostly focusing on the friends’ road trip chatter, breathtaking scenic gasps, and becoming lost on the mountain without much peril in-between. Even the creature, whom makes the scene approximately the last 10 minutes, has more of a presence than the altar itself.
The plot follows around Maisy Marks and her Aspergers labeled brother, Bo Marks, played by Stefanie Estes and Jesse Parr who pull off the socially awkward brother and the cutesy overprotective sister well enough to pass muster. Maisy’s other “beau” is Ravi, played by Deep Rai, and along for the ride as well is muscle head Asher, Tim Parrish, and his ditzy, teenage girlfriend, Pam, played by Jessica Strand. Rounding off the group is Chelsea, a communications graduate who could only find work as a bartender who seems to be stuck in life, and she’s catered to by Brittany Falardeau. Michael Wainwright, Tina Johnson, Master Dave Johnson, and Catherine Wilcox make up the rest of the cast. As a whole, the acting wasn’t terrible even if the script was conventionally kitschy and with a group of young actors, I’m fairly encouraged to see more of their work.
However, acting is only a third of the battle when critiquing a film and “Altar” has falters more in it’s own story and script that’s peppered with cliche after cliche. The scenes leading up to the mayhem constantly hyped that something bad is going to happen; Bo finds an online article of two newlyweds missing for six months (part of the introduction), characters kept comparing their scenarios like horror films, or a daunting man, named Ripper, sternly warns them with a very large axe in his hand. Moments like these try to build tension, but when overtly and grossly laid out for views, sustaining the substance behind them is lost and waters down the effect toward campy foreshadowing. Special effects weren’t overly cinematic nor where they similar to video nasties and kept simple, much like “The Blair Witch Project, with a little more padding to them. The Evil Spirit, as it’s credited in the film and portrayed by Nicole Osborne, is a black and white nightmare that’s effective on camera; slightly cheesy with a hint of gooeyness, but edited in nice and sporadically for those eye-clenching jump scares.
Production company Movie Hero Studios partners with Distribber for a VOD nationwide release of Matthew Sconce’s “Altar,” including platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, PlayStation Network, and on Hulu. A DVD-R screener was provided and so commenting on video and audio quality will not be critiqued and there were no extras on the reviewed disc. “Altar” is, disappointingly, just another found footage casualty with hasty slivers of hope of not falling into the muck that has become an over-tapped genre. What Sconce has done with “Altar” makes the film enjoyable enough for a single viewing with little-to-no repeat value as everything lays out in the open and the only subtly in the entire film is the altar itself.
Four dark and terrifying tapes tell tales of a petrifying horror through the camera lens of various found footage assets. Whether between the bleak, grim nature of disturbed mankind or the ominous, otherworldliness of menacing creatures, each story’s ultimate objective is to expose what lies behind the scenes, to shine a light upon what lives shrouded in shadows, and to unearth what lurks in the mind’s subconscious. At first glance, the dark tapes might seem uncorrelated, but at closer examination, the tapes share a deep rooted evil that connects every afflicted recorded event and makes one think twice about their perception on reality.
“The Dark Tapes” are a formidable found footage anthology that resembles a familiar “V/H/S” layout under the meticulously constructed eyes of co-directors Michael McQuown and special effects guru Vincent Guastini (Child’s Play 3). Scripted by the anthology creator, Michael McQuown, “The Dark Tapes'” four interlocking episodes will leave inside you a paralyzing case of nyctophobia as the genre-spliced anthology has no shortage of bone-chilling creepiness; in fact, “The Dark Tapes” epitomizes the very term and with an alternate universe mixture of ghastly ghouls, ghosts, and grisliness, the extremely exhausted found footage genre might have discovered some new, and much needed, life before being on the brink of a near death extinction in this quaint independent production from Michael McQuown.
The three internal tapes, directed by McQuown, are entitled, and in this order, “The Hunters and The Hunted,” “Cam Girls,” and “Amanda’s Revenge” with Vincent Guastini’s external wrap around segment, “How to Catch a Demon,” being broken into four parts between each tape and each tape should be viewed in complete and utter darkness to achieve maximum level of pants-pissing fright. Your overworked heart will skip with long deadly pauses in between, your lungs that keep you breathing will cease to provide breath, and your mind will warp to unfavorably play tricks on your eyes from an unrivaled nightmare witnessed on “The Dark Tapes.” The full body-stopping, comatose-inducing effect can’t be accomplished without the collaborating cast that includes Brittany Underwood, Tess Munro, Stephen Zimpel, Meredith Thomas, David Roundtree, “Sushia Girl’s” Cortney Palm, Anna Rose Moore, Shawn Lockie, Jo Galloway, and Michael Cotter to just name a few.
Much is right about Michael McQuown’s “The Dark Tapes.” Always welcoming practical effects are better than most indie ran features, especially in the anthology category, and the effects can best some lower-end Hollywood productions inside eye-glueing, on the edge of your seat narrative designs that are smart, gripping, and definitely heart-stopping scary, but to be somewhat of a devil’s advocate, the acting was overall a bit stiff across the plane with an awkward uneasiness in the vary of lackluster performances and overzealous deliveries that petered scenes from reaching full potentials. Production wise, “The Dark Tapes” impress inside the sets of bland reoccurring locations, but coincide them with a vast amount of timely, well placed special effects that quickly mutate the stark locations and the uninteresting backdrops turn into vivid portraits of hell.
The Thunder Road Incorporated produced, “The Dark Tapes,” has been slated for a worldwide video on demand distribution release come this mid-April after a theatrical stint this past March courtesy of the Epic Pictures Group. VOD platforms include Google Play, Vudu, iNDemand (Comcast- Xfinity, Time Warner, Cox, Bright House & more), Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity (Verizon Fios, Charter, Sudden Link, Media Com &more), Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV & Vimeo. Unfortunately, I was provided with an online screener of the festival favorite and can’t necessarily comment on the video or audio qualities nor any bonus features that might be available on a home entertainment release, but I can firmly state that, visually, “The Dark Tapes” is the Haribo of horror eye-candy with the different flavors of thrilling genres in a pint-sized package and while a little tame with the cherry red graphic content, director Michael McQuown seizes the opportunity to instill an open faucet of fear rather than tease with gore and sleaze with sex. If I had to recommend a horror anthology for 2017, “The Dark Tapes” would be on the very short list.