One Night in an EVIL Sanatorium. What Could Go Wrong? “Haunted Hospital: Heilstätten” review!


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.

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Evil Lurks in the Woods. You’ve Been Warned! “Altar” review!


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.

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Where There is Darkness, There is Evil. “The Dark Tapes” review!


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.

Evil Who Kills Together, Doesn’t Necessarily Stay Together. “Capture Kill Release” review!


Fun-loving couple, Jen and Farhang, seem like your average young twosome. Underneath the common surface, they plot a sinister murder of a random stranger. Toying with hardware store supplies and dissecting the knowledge of the human anatomy, Jen and Farhang are well prepped to tackle the abduction, the murder, and the disposal of a human being, but when Jen’s obsessive nature can’t hold back her desire to kill any longer, the couple’s relationship will be harshly tested when a hesitant Farhang is unexpectedly confronted with Jen’s opportunity to kill a kind-hearted dinner guest and decides to pull out from their ghastly thought out preparations that results turning a potential grim bonding experience to a deadly relationship fallout.

“Capture Kill Release” is the 2016 Canadian film from co-directors Nick McAnulty and Brian Altan Stewart. McAnulty also penned the script. The handheld POV thriller has a story that places Jen and Farhang’s union in a familiar, yet deceiving manner, coupling routine relationship quibbles and desires with an unorthodox principles shared amongst them. While acting upon their romantic affair in the archetypes that include one-sided back rubs, jointly frustrating shopping adventures, and an infinite amount of trivial bickering, the dynamic between them feels no different from ours with their interaction with each other in their isolated internal pact being very relatable for audiences with partners or had the experiences with former partners. Enormous, thick tension sets the foundation for “Capture Kill Release” that continuously mounds an already pressurized and emotionally compromised partnership, strained to the brink of chaos that’s hard to dig out from under.

McAnulty and Stewart cast unknown Jennifer Fraser as Jen, much of the cast keep their namesakes with their respective characters, and Fraser, placing aside her remarkable beauty, inarguably locks in Jen’s sociopathic charm. Jen’s manic personality, jumping from conversation piece to conversation piece without smooth transitions and unable to focus without the determination to kill on the mind, contrasts sharply with the more reserved and constant Farhang, a role awarded to Farhang Ghajar who has worked on the directors’ prior film, “Uncle Brian.” Farhang’s conservativeness bares an ugly unconfident image that Jen wholeheartedly exploits, nearly forcing Farhang to go along, or play along, with Jen’s disturbed fantasy. Farhang Ghajar simply plants his character in a shot without much a change between appearance or delivery whereas Fraser frequents and embraces more everyday changes, including even minor ones like her hairstyles that seem to change every scene. Polar opposites, homeless guy Gary and ‘Rich guy’ jerk, round out the significant characters with actors Jon Gates and upcoming “Exorcism of the Dead” star, Rich Piatkowski.

In retrospect, “Capture Kill Release” feels rather depressing. The angst that’s imploding from within the Jen and Farhang bubble touches upon the everyday relationship attributes where couples fight or couples unite in not so extreme measures. Jen shows no empathy or sympathy for anybody with the exception of Farhang, a grappling, fleeting emotion to cling on someone who loves you for you. To further the depression, the recent hike in POV films beats into us the obsession with vanity. The camera, no matter the capacity, is a vain concept and McAnulty and Steward’s thriller spares no expense of arrogance when Jen can’t put down the camera, no matter how much Farhang pleads and persuades her, but If I were an amateur plotter toward killing an absolute stranger, I wouldn’t be a complete novice and record my handy work. This is where McAnulty builds in an unspoken caveat that Jen has a passion for filmmaking, dreaming big of directing, one day, her own feature, a notion that’s explored more during her rooting of her mother’s stored VHS collection from Jen’s childhood. The filmmaking approach to Jen’s obsession loosely bounds the implement of the handheld and feels forced like a last minute decision, especially when genuine home videos of Jennifer Fraser are cut into the story that’s out of place.

Midnight Releasing has released “Capture Release Kill” as a high definition online streaming video feature. I was supplied with a screener and can’t comment on quality or bonus features, but the co-directed film is available on these formats: iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, XBox, FlixFling and more. Even with the brief moments in gore, the blood runs extra thick with sickeningly realistic and shocking scenes of butchery. Gory found footage, such as “The House with 100 Eyes” or the more viscerally vigorous “The Butcher,” have been gaining momentum in their popularity with the handheld camera bringing a little authenticity to grisly murders that are on the other side of the spectrum of being a very anti-Hollywood concept that less sensationalized, but devilishly effective, on a budget. Throw in a handful of motivated and talented actors, such as Jennifer Fraser and Farhang Ghajar, in this semi-exploitation gore-thriller and you can strike gold with “Capture Kill Release” that’ll please even the harshest of found footage or handheld camera critics.

Family’s First Night in an Evil House! “The Purging Hour” review!

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Providing his dysfunctional family with new hope of rekindling, Bruce Diaz ditches the hectic grind of the city for the quiet surroundings of a mountainous Californian resort town. As they settle into their new abode, Bruce tries his hardest to piece together a shattered family. From his scared younger son Manny, to his angst-filled teenager daughter Kacie, to his distraught wife Jennifer, Bruce can only find solace in his daughter’s coasting through life boyfriend Mark. After the first 24 hours, nobody really knows what had happened to the Diaz family until an anonymous source leaks a distorted and violence recorded video tape from the dark corners of the world wide web. With new evidence at the table, a documentarian interviews family and friends of the Diaz family, local residents, and officials associated with the case in hopes to determine the whereabouts of the Diaz family that seemingly went through a violent disappearance and expose that disappearances like these can’t just be quickly covered up.
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Vicious Apple Productions and Ruthless Studios add their entry amongst an overcrowded found footage market. More recently in the golden age of independent cinema, found footage films have incorporated faux interviews to add upon an artificial authenticity, but, in reality, these one-on-ones with the closest people to the victims just fill the voids to compensate for a lack of story and “The Purging Hour” plays right into that shortfall story mold. Director Emmanuel Sandoval’s sophomore 2015 feature leads into being a first time venture into horror for the young California director and Sandoval’s potential needs refinement from his also co-authored feature with Robert Trezza and Zaidal Obagi.
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Developmental pacing puts the hurt on the story. I’m not sure how much more Steve Jacques moving of Bruce’s lowbrow attempt to lightheartedly get this family to bind together over this new home I could stomach. If I was Bruce with all of Jacques’ beefiness, not one smart and ugly remark from his ungrateful daughter Kacie would be taken lightly. Kacie’s family trampling is the biggest elephant in the room to the point that’s an exploited archetype in many independent projects. On top of Kacie’s entrenched battle with her family, she’s able to sustain a firm grip over her weak parents by letting her boyfriend Mark stay with them way after the move was completed. Through the muffled sidebar conversations, Mark’s fixture status amongst the family, and an unclear picture of a the family between their personas on the video tape and the their personas through the eyes of the interviewees, which creates a totally different family, speculations fly wildly toward the next steps into what happens next.
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About a little over an hour after being subjected to interviews and multi fits of family bickering, Sandoval begins his HI-8 fright flight and thats where the director soars slightly by casting a muddled look into the family’s last known status. Purge, by the very definition, is to physically remove completely and “The Purging Hour” stays true to that moniker with one hour of purging and 23 hours of family turmoil and in the midst of that hour of purging, either a supernatural force or a violent bunch of heathens do the so said purge. One theory for the latter, a loose one at that, falls upon the introduction of a local resident spooking upon one of Kacie and Mark’s muddled conversations in the outside darkness. The local proceeds to explain that he’s meeting up with friends, which he does every year, and to do what, is not explained. Could this be part of a purging group? Perhaps, but there’s more of an malicious supernatural force at work upon the Diaz family that includes no physical body ever in the scene with the main characters who become main victims.
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Ruthless Studios is the same production studio that also delivered “All Hallows Eve” and, frankly, nothing has tickled the distinctive quality from either film. “The Purging Hour” is a low end rental that fails to blend suspenseful drama with suspenseful thriller. Dabbled with touches of key fear elements that does not rendition a bold new of horror, “The Purging Hour” waits until the very last hour to divulge into the subject matter with anything prior to being a waste of reel. The MVDVisual distributed widescreen 1.78:1 presentation has great retro coloring through the purposefully installed Hi8 format while being clear, with little electronic interference, through the interviews and the 2.0 audio mix is muddle through the Hi8 experience, but should be cleaner for more subversive effect. No bonus material included on the static menu. The DVD cover makes you believe the film centers a supernatural entity with a dead cold hand with razor fingertips upon gnarled fingers grasping a door through the jamb. “The Purging Hour” raises too many questions to satisfy a complete and coherent story that relies too much on fake interviews to provide infamy amongst the characters and instead of letting the characters conjure a force reconstructed through their imbalance, an unknown entity, human or otherwise, randomly select their residence to even more obliterate their family coherency.


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