Caribbean EVIL is No Vacation. “Zombie Island Massacre” reviewed! (Troma Films / Blu-ray)

“Zombie Island Massacre” on Blu-ray here at Amazon.com

American vacationers in Jamaica book tickets to tour guide Chumlee Jones’s Sunshine Tours. Their destination is Santa Maria Island for a rarely seen religious voodoo ritual. After the unsettling experience involving live goat sacrifices and the necromancing of the dead, the tourists become stranded when the bus driver has vanished from his post. With no transportation to the seaport, a menace lurks amongst the darkness and is picking them off by-one-by. With no other options, the afeared excursionists trek through island thicket in search for a passed remote house but will they survive the perilous journey with an unseen murderous predator or predators camouflaged in the dense foliage?

Jamaica isn’t all about rum punch and ganja, mon. Voodoo is a big part of Jamaican culture. It’s so much a part of the Caribbean Island culture, the practice is a certified religion complete with voodoo priests and public ceremonies to exact a range of obeah spells – most for good, few for spiritual bedlam. For “Zombie Island Massacre,” a theme of mystic voodoo pitches the tale of two sides of every coin as the unknown and the usual differ from one’s own customs begins to swirl unnatural thoughts of fear, trepidation, and censure while other malevolent forces behind the veil may be at work. Also known under the working title of “The Last Picnic,” “Zombie Island Massacre,” a rather arbitrary and common structured title of choice, is the released Jamaican-shot inchmeal killer thriller from director John N. Carter, an industry editor with his one and only directorial credit to his name. The script is penned by Logan O’Neill and William Stoddard based off the O’Neill and David Broadnax concept story. Broadnax serves as producer alongside executive producers Abraham Dabdoub and Dennis Stephenson on a feature that undoubtedly was inspired by the 1982, George Romero influenced, Marion Girolami directed “Zombi Holocaust” in what is arguably influenced by title only as a marketing cash-in of the early 80’s Zombie success.

Stories that progress with a group of unfortunate souls trapped in a dire straits situation and there’s no way out but unwisely toward the path of danger in hope of salvation are some of my favorite types of threatening circumstances.  Think “Poseidon Adventure.”  Think “Predator.”  Think “Deep Rising.”  Any movie where a desperate group of diversified dog chow characters have to move from point A to point B without being swallowed by the darkness around them is great fun in its pick off pattern.  Archetypes of this linear lap through hell can be fairly conventional with its persona of characters where you have the strong hero type, the gorgeous level-headed love interest, the angry shmuck, the slower-downer, and there might even be a cultural token character to round the group out plus a red-shirted body or two for good carnage measure.  By design, there’s a need for these stereotypes and “Zombie Island Massacre” has a hit-and-miss, middle-of-the-road batting average with its cast of characters, beginning with a shared lead man role for Tom Cantrell and David Broadnax.  With his idea for the story and serving as producer, it makes a lot of sense why Broadnax co-ops the lead as a lone wolf, tough as nails photojournalist.  Cantrell, on the other hand, is just another pretty tall boy who becomes more-or-less a babysitter of the group while Broadnax stays behind to leave directional notes for lag behinds and to keep the retirees company when their tickers go South in the heat of turmoil and walking uphill.  This turns the co-op into more of a dog and pony show where the pony just stands there and dog runs around doing most of the entertaining.   Diane Clayre Holub is Cantrell’s love interest as a painter on holiday in Jamaica and the character is more than just reasonable and a pretty face that comes unexpectedly apparent in the third act of attacks.  Broadnax, Cantrell, and Clayre do not bring the star power to “Zombie Island Massacre” and that trend continues with the fourth top billed Rita Jenrette who brings more than just her pretty face to the table too in more of a full-bodied contextualized kind of way who ends up sliding into, if not encroaching into, Clayre’s assigned love interest role without a lick of love.  “Zombie Island Massacre’s” cast fills out with Ian McMillan, Harriet Rawlings, Emmett Murphy, Bruce Sterman, Deborah Jason, Tom Fitzsimmons, Christopher Ferris, Kristina Marie Wetzel, Debbie Ewing, Dennis Stephenson, George Peters, and the “Ghostbusters II” “The Titanic Just Arrived”-guy Ralph Monaco. 

Big kudos to story creators David Broadnax and Logan O’Neill for delivering a narrative with an unpredictable twist that immerses you deep into the voodooist rituals and gets your blood pumped for the monikered title to deliver flesh-eating, blood-thirsty zombies only to be hoodwinked into a genre trap and a good one at that too.  Sneaky and subtle are the hints that not everything is what it seems on the island that hits you like a flashbang grenade when the truth is revealed, shocking the sensory system with a welcome voltage of sleight of hand.  I never saw it coming though I will say that the creature or creatures roaming the woods initially looked shoddy draped in blue trash bags with patchwork foliage sticking out but remaining relatively obscure from view that implored more of a slasher design than one of the undead one. However, “Zombie Island Massacre” is too by far a good film with precarious burlesques that result in a tacky feigning of thrills and chills hubbub. Only a handful of kills rendered a golden touch, such as the slow-motion bashing in of a man’s head with a large stick is effectively gruesome, but yet lots of the kills are done off screen and implied which can be a deficit for a slasher-like story that takes pleasure in and makes whoopee of the big bloody death scene. Some kills are even half-hearted in their execution. For example, one unlucky tourist has his head chopped off with a machete in slow-motion and audience has full view of the entire act; yet the machete snags on the initial slice point into the neck but the head still severs cleanly. The scene, likely needed to be done in one take, makes the cut…pun intended. “Zombie Island Massacre” wiggles peacockishly into the realm of island horror with a mawkish audacity but the wild pragmatic pivot is worth every second of humble hoodooism.

Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz presents a Troma team release with “Zombie Island Massacre” on a new region free, uncut, director’s cut Blu-ray. The HD 1.78:1 aspect presented John N. Carter film has favorable surface arrayal with natural grain off the 35mm film stock that comes with very little, yet still noticeable unobtrusively, vertical scratches and white dust specks. Skin hues appear natural, island bush backgrounds are lush despite some contrast issues deep into the background, and no blatant touchup enhancements awkward stand out, confirming that the transfer was in good shape to begin with and compression upon the BD25, churning out an average of 30Mbps, didn’t cause a technical gaff. The English language mirrors the Vinegar Syndrome release with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 and the audio isn’t as near flawlessly fortunate as the image transfer with voice trailing hissing and lots of noticeable crackling and white noise interference which can eat into the already soft and muted dialogue from time-to-time and downsize the details of audio clarity. Plenty of range of sound effects to go around in the story but the depth just isn’t there to elevate it. Harry Manfredini’s score is essentially a reworked composition of “Friday the 13th” and if you close your eyes and listen, you’ll nearly hear the ch ch ch, ha ha ah and have visions of a headless Mrs. Voorhees and a hockey mask stuck in your head. Special features are mostly Troma-related as expected with any Troma Team release. There’s Toxie and Uncle Lloyd smoking ganja introduction at the beginning of the feature. In sectionalized bonus menu option, the film’s theatrical trailer, a promo reel of all the kills under Harry Manfredini’s original “Friday the 13th” score, a 3-part special effects tutorial plucked from various Troma videos through the years, a super-short film “Blood Stab,” and other Troma feature trailers. “Zombie Island Massacre” is an excursion to remember lined and studded with Caribbean macabre that sink tapered teeth into the skin only to have just barely missed the pulsating vein for the kill.

“Zombie Island Massacre” on Blu-ray here at Amazon.com

Meir Zarchi Returns With Another Round of EVIL Exploitation! “I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu” reviewed! (Ronin Flix / Blu-ray)

Forty long years have passed since the sexual assaulting atrocities of Johnny Stillman and his gang were committed on the young and beautiful Jennifer Hills.  Empowered by her horrific tale of survival with the release of a new tell all book of how she outwitted and took homicidal revenge on her rapists by luring them in with her sexual persuasions, Hills finds herself back in familiar terrorizing territory being kidnapped by Johnny’s devoutly vindictive widow and three living relatives of the gang that once ganged raped and brutally beat her, but she’s not alone.  Captive with her as collateral damage is her famous supermodel daughter, Christy.  Both are caught up in an eye-for-an-eye revenge plot where being lethal is the only means of survival and with a long history of resentment, rooted deep inside Johnny’s kin, fighting back will take every ounce of resilience and strength against a community of hellbent sociopaths. 

Circa 2005-2006 is around the time I first bared witness to Meir Zarchi’s 1978 controversial exploitation shocker, “I Spit on Your Grave.”  Popping in the DVD popped open my eyes to the world of graphic vengeance and the submission to primal, carnal whims inside the human-on-human violence context.  Before Zarchi’s film, which is also known as “Day of the Woman,” and even Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left,” this neophyte’s description and knowledge of horror was limited to the stymies of broadcast television that only aired edited and censored slashers like the “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” series or supernatural presences of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Poltergeist.”  Never has the likes of “I Spit on Your Grave” been a red pill option into the vast horror matrix for this then college kid who glazed over with the façade of sleeping through studies and worrying over trivial matters involving the opposite sex.  In a way, Zarchi was a kind of Morpheus to me when I started purchasing physical media that opened my eyes and my mind to the rape and revenge facet in horror hidden behind the commercial veil.  In 2010, a Zarchi produced reboot saw more light in the commerciality and spawned two sequels in its wake, but not until 2019 did Zarchi get back to writing and sit back in his director’s chair to helm an official, yet less commercial, sequel entitled “I Spit On Your Grave Déjà Vu” or “Day of the Woman Déjà vu” that was produced by his limited company banner, Déjà Vu LLC with son Terry Zarchi and Jan O’Connell producing.

The long-awaited sequel reteamed Zarchi with original lead actress, and also ex-wife, Camille Keaton, distant relative of the famed comedy and stunt actor, Buster Keaton.  Camille Keaton, who looks phenomenal in her 70s during production, steps back into the infamous Jennifer Mills role that made her a household name amongst grindhouse-horror community.  Though completely nude for most of the 1978 film, that part of her performance takes a step back for a new actress to pave a new path in the saga.  Obscure indie scream queen Jamie Bernadette (“Axeman,” “The Bunnyman Massacre”) is ceremoniously passed the torched as the new riches to ragdoll as the Jennifer Mill’s unhappy supermodel daughter, Christy, who becomes haplessly snagged into her mother’s unforgotten past.  Bernadette offers a variable beauty and a diverse poise that doesn’t make Christy a carbon copy of Jennifer Hills, but the actresses deliver the same apathetic venom of a woman scorn.  More of a carbon copy is the four backwoods bumpkins fuming over Jennifer Mills’ vindictive dissecting of their dead relatives.  The gang is spearheaded by Beck, played by Maria Olsen who, like Bernadette, has made a name for herself in low-budget horror having roles in films such as “To Jennifer,” “Starry Eyes,” and “Gore Orphanage.”  Olsen projects Becky as the gas station attendant from Hell, someone you don’t want to interact too long with as you’re pumping gas in the middle of nowhere, but Becky is not a woman of a few words who constantly has to remind us, to the blistering point of annoying, that she must avenge her late husband’s sinful murderess.  The rest of the gang didn’t impress much after that.  Jonathan Peacy has a chance to shine from out of the extra and bit part shadows as the crazed and hyperactive Kevin, brother of Stanley from the original film, and while Peacy channels his best Al Leong look, Kevin is ultimate a big detrimental goof with small dog syndrome than actual menace.    The last two aren’t any better with a lackluster act by Jeremy Ferdman as Andy’s cousin and “Tales of Frankenstein’s” Jim Tavaré’s rather befuddling downplay of Matthew’s mentally disordered father, Herman, who teeters back and forth between morals with a jumbled underlay of piety.  There are not many sane performances in a rather loose and unbridled Zarchi follow up with a cast that rounds out with Alexandra Kenworthy, Roy Allen III, and Holgie Forrester.

Performances aside, “I Spit on Your Grave Déjà vu” is also a cacophony of yelling as the script, from paper to pronunciation, reaches top of the lung levels with every bit of dialogue from every player in this tussle of who’s right and who’s wrong when it comes down to justifications of killing.  Zarchi’s sequel lacks the tact his first film achieves so delicately with Mills post-assault softer approach to lay waste her assailants.  “Déjà vu” satisfies its own revenge kicks with little subtly in trying to be outrageous, outlandish, and off its rocker as the confrontation between Christy and the gang becomes a rancorous grudge match.  What concerns me most about “Déjà vu” is the year in which this sequel takes place.  Between the 1978 original and the 2019 follow up, 40 years have passed, but the characters don’t fit any of Father Time’s natural aging characteristics on the surface.  Becky looks okay as an early to mid-60s woman despite Maria Olsen’s actual age being early 50s at the time of filming and release.  Herman is another one that sneaks into fathomable constructs as a character living a farmer’s life in the latter half of middle age, but I question whether Kevin and Scotty were even born yet.  The two youngsters barely seem to be out of their 30s and the same can be said for Christy where much more of her life is revealed as the story progresses.   If following the script logic, I would assume the story takes place in the 90s, but certain technologic advances, like modern day touchscreen phones, suggests no earlier than late 2000s.  As a whole, time and space don’t appear to exist on any reasonable plane for the film with characters able to bump into each at random intervals despite being a densely wooded and rural location and, for all you cinematographers out there, if your location is supposed to be rural, don’t shoot in at a cemetery with a massive grave footprint with a stream of cars speeding down a busy suburban street.  You instantly lose the illusion.  Zarchi’s intentions were clear to only echo the original while allowing for individuality with a brasher onslaught of right versus wrong, eye for an eye, and misguided righteousness for injustice, but the execution crumbles with excruciating results, never reaching the same poetic justice the first film accomplishes so graphically grafted. 

As far as rape and revenge exploitation is considered, “I Spit on Your Grave Déjà vu” gets about as down and dirty and ugly as they come.  Cult movie curator, Ronin Flix, delivers the Meir Zarchi sequel onto Blu-ray home video, presented in 1080p, full high definition, with a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  A+ for natural lighting, skin tones, and overall appeal, Pedja Radenkovic’s cinematography is about as uninspiring as they come artistically, but, as a personal preference, the shots are more organic, raw, and less distracting from the content that’s much more abrasive and interesting.  A more natural framework also more time for Russell FX’s practical effects to be showcased without enhanced imagery.  As long as the details are there (they are), no damage is concerning (there wasn’t), and the framing made sense (for the most part), “Déjà vu” can be considered a win for Radenkovic.  The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack for “Déjà vu” is a blessing and a curse.  Dialogue clarity is excellent and there’s a wide range to exploit, forgive the punned term, each channel with great balance, but remember what I said about all the character yelling?  Also, with the higher bitrate DTS, the quality is too good for some of the applied ambient effects like the exhaust sputtering of an old Ford pickup that sounds way too fake and way too close despite its positioning in the scene. The region A, not rated Blu-ray is stored on a BD50 due in part to the film’s massive 148 runtime and the inclusion of special features that include a new audio commentary with film critic and “The Last Drive-In” host Joe Bob Briggs, select cast interviews, the making of the film, behind the scenes footage from producer Terry Zarchi, and the theatrical trailer. Is “I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu” the long-awaited sequel to Meir Zarchi’s first film? I’d say they’re two totally different exploitation entities cut from the same cloth with ties only in names and some flashbacks alone, but both films would make for a great double bill that starts with a harrowing, nothing-to-lose, woebegone toned, revenge thriller complimented with a lukewarm and unfocused follow up to help come down off the original’s gripping ultra-violence high.

Ronin Flix’s “I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu” Blu-ray available at Amazon.com!

In the S.H.U., The EVIL Comes From Within. “Caged” reviewed! (Shout! Studios / Digital Screener)

Psychiatrist Dr. Harlow Reid is sentence to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife.  With his assets frozen and his legal representation dropping him as a client, Reid is forced into being his own legal counsel.  To make matters worse, a female prison guard’s perverse pleasure is to slowly torture him while in her custody at solitary confinement.  His only means to enter general population is to behave and confess to the crime he contests, but he continues to maintain his innocence by refusing to sign the confession, remaining alone and withstanding abuse until he can write a formal plea to a judge to reconsider the facts in his case.  As the days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, the usually stable minded Dr. Reid, alone with his thoughts, has his fortress of reality buckle under the heavy burden of isolation compounded with the maltreatment and his personal demons that struggle with the actual events in his wife’s sudden death, questioning himself that her death might have been at his hand.

Inside the clink is a maelstrom set in a pressure cooker. Ready to explode at any moment are cons of, mostly, unsavory personalities simmering with pent up anger, desperation, and ill-will positioned by equally fraught guards harried by timebomb temperaments and undervalued in training and payment. In Aaron Fjellman’s written and directed debut feature film, “Caged,” the strain festers toward being hell behind bars in a ruthless determination of survival. Also once known as the working title, “The S.H.U,” Fjellman constrains his American-made, and inspired, big house thriller with a minimalist approach set with a backdrop of chiefly the solitary housing unit to lock up viewers in, as witnessing accomplices, with a protagonist’s downtrodden path of mental degradation as well as being humanly degraded. Aaron Fjellman produces his film for production company Panic House Films and Shifty Eye Productions with the latter a company created by the film’s star, Edi Gathegi, serving on the board as executive producer.

It’s no big surprise that Edi Gathegi dons the prison house jumper and clanking shackles in this social commentary thriller. The “Blacklist” and “X-Men: First Class” actor knows a good role when he sees with, especially inside the body and mind of one Dr. Harlow Reid. Gathegi regularly has to battle with himself filtered through the madness of the S.H.U. mind-breaking solitary with a little fanning of the flames from sadistic prison guard, Officer Sacks. In an extremely ghastly transformation, Melora Hardin goes from a classic beauty with a big smile and high cheek bones to baring an unflattering lumpy posture with hair pulled back in a tight, short ponytail overtop a demonizing trope of a scar down the left side of her face and an assured cockiness symbolized by the gum smacking that’s sometimes becomes the only thing in the camera frame. As Gathegi masters the ideals of a convict presuming himself innocent, Hardin lurks beyond his cell door as the devilish guard over his shoulder. Officer Sacks defines a face with a story and her story has a hard on for power over prisoners, especially affluent ones or, maybe, those of African American descent in a tinge of racist undertones as Fjellman notes on the racial injustices in the prison system. A smidgen of that notion is supported shown in Officer Sacks behind-the-back passive aggressiveness toward Warden Perez. “Annabelle’s” Tony Amendola truly delivers being a heartfelt ally, yet sturdy firm handed warden with Reid. Perez, an expressed Catholic, seeks Reid’s redemption through the admittance of wrongdoing and that becomes the steadfast barrier Reid has to hurtle that will test his convictions and his sanity. “Caged” rounds out with Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger, as Reid’s unhinged S.H.U. bedfellow who speaks in hyperbole of inmate hauntings in an opaque analogy of guilt mixed with madness, and “Westworld’s” Angela Sarafyan told through flashbacks and supernatural induced psychosis as Reid’s wife, Amber.

To tell an inmate’s nearly yearlong story succumbing to the brutal and segregating abuses surrounding him in solitary confinement is a tremendous feat working into the mental cracks and exploring the fallacies. Yet, Aaron Fjellman made his fictional interpretation look easy by relating a surreal, but telling story in just 80 minutes, gripping with metaphorical concepts of an overcrowded prison system preying on uncontested obedience, even if the lengths taken to obtain complete compliance is trauma exacting torture of draconian policy, by primarily privately funded institutions with little-to-no funding or resources to manage. “Caged” is very fleeting with montage upon montage of Harlow Reid’s day-to-day, but never becomes a monotonous roundabout vivarium of Reid sitting hopelessly-looking in his cell. Gathegi’s put to work as a man determined to challenge the system that engages Reid to keep sharp and in shape by working out in various exercises, entertain an unhinged neighboring inmate with his ramblings and blurbs of crazy talk truths, and feverishly work on his legal case by any extraordinary measures, including using his own blood as ink. Yes, “Caged” can elicit a genuine sense of horror, a perspective on psychological terror, and be an eye-opening gasp of real life prison dread when good versus evil is mirrored in reverse with the good guys not being the prison guards. Fjellman imprisons us all in “Caged” by culminating the fact that no matter your social circumstances, the S.H.U. breaks everyone.

Orange may be the new black, but Aaron Fjellman’s bleak fretting “Caged” jars with somber authoritarian power. The new thriller released by Shout! Studios premiers unrated on VOD and digital January 26th. “Caged” is film by director of photography, Jessica Young, with an Arri Amira camera and presented in a widescreen format, 16×9 aspect ratio, and, typically, the Amira camera versatility is in the use for low-budget films, perfect for “Caged” in it’s nearly singular setting and two-tone, steely gray and black, atmospherics that naturally have devoid color vibrancy. CJ Johnson, who will soon see his musical scores in a pair of upcoming Friday the 13th fan films, lines “Caged” with a soft, building industrial score that tunes the disquiet in Reid’s racked inner conflict. With this digital screener, there were no bonus materials or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Through the use of visual and audible horror tropes and with potent performances from Edi Gathegi and Melora Hardin, “Caged” is a ghost story told for the unspoken voices victim to long-term confinement.

Click the poster to pre-order “Caged” at Amazon!

Pass or Fail Weekend is Evil’s Playground. “Camp Twilight” reviewed! (DarkCoast / Digital Screener)

On the verge of failing and having to repeat a grade, six students are given the opportunity to spend one technology free weekend at Camp Twilight with their homeroom teacher, Ms. Bloom, and principal, Mr. Warner, as chaperones.    Planned with a series of outdoorsy, bonding activities, the weekend will serve to boost their grades to the cutoff line for graduating and, for some, maintaining their spot on the high school sports teams.  A local urban myth has haunted the camp’s reputation based off a grisly scene of murders a few years back, but the revamped park now serves as a community safe zone overseen by three dedicated, and also quirky, park rangers:  Art, Bob, and Chief Tom.  On a weekend where none of the students wanted to attend, forced by the threat of academic failure, an ominous figure revives the camp’s notorious past as one-by-one campers, teachers, and park rangers fall victim to a hooded killer’s impulse for blood.

Summer camps and masked serial killers are as synonymous as the vast ocean is with the dreadful thought of man-eating sharks.  “Friday the 13th, “Camp Blood,” and “Sleepaway Camp” have made a fortune and a franchise off the backs of the hapless summer campers, hacking and slashing away at the pre-martial sex crazed, the love struck wimps, and the overconfident jocks to build a flawless, ultimate killing machine series.  Will director Brandon Amelotte’s debut slasher, a horror-comedy entitled “Camp Twilight,” claim stake in the genre being the next persevering serial killer franchise?  For starters, the USA-made, indie feature releasing later this month has a leg up with “Sleepaway Camp” scream queen Felissa Rose headlining a cast that also includes a few other genre favorites as well as co-written the script with Amelotte.  Shot on the grounds of the palm tree lined Markham Park, “Camp Twilight” trades in mountain bike trails, disc golf, and it’s outdoor weapons range for machetes, lots of machetes, and is a product of Rick Finkelstein and Brandon Amelotte’s Florida based Entertainment Factory productions and, also Amelotte’s, Pelican Films.

As mentioned, genre icon Felissa Rose ditches the awkward teenage camper from the finale traumatizing “Sleepaway Camp” for a hyped-up, goody two shoes high school teacher in Ms. Bloom.  The top billed Rose brings the energetic know-how of her fully present, larger than life, broad range persona who audiences will never know exactly where her character stands until it’s lethally too late!  Rose is joined by more fresh faced, incredibly automaton co-stars in the roles of the six students and principal, played by the executive producer Barry Jay Minoff.  Minoff and Rose are supposed to be a couple concealing an affair, hiding their lustful courtship very poorly around the students, but both roles are completely under written, unexplored, and unfulfilling in the grand scheme of their pivotal plot point.  Little can be said differently about the students with a range of interrelationship intricacies that tried to be fleshed out as psychological terror triggers in lieu of their already conventional teenage sensitivity struggles.  There are other cult genre vets alongside Rose but in minor, more cameo-esque roles.  Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”), Camille Keaton (“I Spit On Your Grave”), and Vernon Wells (“Innerspace”) add more or less star power to the fold, supplementing virtually nothing to the narrative but campy slasher fodder for fans to gobble up.  More impressively is Dave Sheridan bringing forth a version of “Scary Movie’s” loveable dimwitted cop, Doofus, with Ranger Bob, adding a great deal of the substantiated comedy toward “Camp Twilight’s” campy ebb and flow.  Cougar MacDowall, Thomas Haley, Hayleigh Hopkins, Harris Sebastian, Dondre Tuck, Brooklyn Haley, and Steven Chase, with “Truth or Dare’s” Jessica Cameron and Sport’s Illustrated model-turned-film producer, Tracy Lear, filling out the troupe lineup.

I wish I could say that “Camp Twilight” is a campsite of entertainment, a paradisal slasher of genius design, offering up a new breed of deranged psychopathy to the likes we’ve never seen.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of Brandon Amelotte’s derivative and tired trope-laden slasher rippled with loose and forgotten subplots and characters while at the same time being a heap of longwinded exposition that still way after viewing can’t fully explain the turbulent core of the story.  I hate to knock anything Felissa Rose touches, but I would be doing an injustice and a disservice if I tried to play up a slack script that starts off picturizing a campy horror-comedy but plays out the third act with critical revelations without a hint of funny bone material. The kills follow the trend of a lighthearted horror comedy, albeit the pelting of F-bombs, with “Camp Twilight’s” holdall of off screen deaths, barely scratching the surface with on screen kills rendered only by closeups, and not particularly bloody, intense, or nearly as menacing by a black hooded killer in jeans creeping up on prey in a well-lit campground with lots of room to run. The same company, Entertainment Factory, behind the horror icon drenched disappointment, “Death House,” should have been a clue into “Camp Twilight” critical success, but much like the “Death House,” both films are a totality of mess.

Not a fan of the outdoors? Hate bugs, snakes, and all things that go bump in the night? Does your fear of an unclear, inaccessible toilet seize you up? DarkCoast has you covered with their digital release of “Camp Twilight,” arriving onto digital platforms come November 1st, 2020 – Day of the Dead. The release platforms will include InDemand, DirecTV, FlixFling, Vudu & Fandango. The A/V qualities will not be reviewed due to the digital screener provided for this new film release, but I will say much of the soundtrack sounds stock file-ish (and there is no composer listed which would be a dead giveaway) and the Adam Beck cinematography is too well-lit, benumbing any kind of intense emotions that would correlate with the action. There were no bonus features included with the release nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Camp Twilight” plays into it’s own title as a dim denticulated slasher that’s far too breathy and far less spirited and so the question stands, will “Camp Twilight” be the next slasher hit to spawn a lengthy, decade spanning franchise? The answer is no.

EVIL Watches from the Shadows. “The Lurker” reviewed! (Indican Pictures / Screener)


A gruesome murder has brought a looming shadow over a high school. However, the shadow is not great enough to thwart the spirits of a group of thespian high school seniors in the throes of their last Shakespearian performances of the year of Romeo and Juliet. Determined to excel, the peer admired Taylor Wilson keeps her college acceptance hopes high on her well-received nightly performances as Juliet, but when a terrible secret involving Taylor begins to circulate through the school body, friendship and enemy ties begin become taut with tension. Simultaneously, those with knowledge of Taylor’s secret are being killed off one-by-one by a deranged killer in a black, long nose masquerade mask.

“The Lurker” is a 2019 American slasher film from the first attempt at horror-director Eric Liberacki, whose legs have been grounded in short film cinematography work over the past 2010 decade with “The Pale Man” being his sole feature length credit. Liberacki’s sophomore directorial is written by the “The Pale Man” screenwriter and short film director, John Lerchen, who’s scribes the slasher version of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” starring hormone-driven and backstabbing high school seniors on a thespian high. “The Lurker” re-imagines the high school dramatics to further dig into taboo subtexts worthy of a Jerry Springer talk show episode and interweaves a non-linear narrative, filled with flashback mystery, due suspicion, and the utmost desire to know what secret Taylor Wilson is being exploited against her preservability. “The Lurker” is a joint venture between John Lerchen’s production company, Forever Safe Productions, and Silva Shots.

One thing, right off the bat, that heedlessly seems erroneous for the story is casting Scout Taylor-Compton in the lead role of Taylor Wilson. And here’s why. From 2007 to 2019, the now 30-year-old actress has played a high school student in Rob Zombie’s remake of “Halloween” and in “The Lurker.” While Taylor-Compton is a natural beauty who seemingly defies all physics of aging and her performance is solid, the once Laurie Strode portraying actress from Long Beach, California emits a now mature glow in life and rehashing another character in a high school slasher is ultimately beneath and behind her. Aside from her counterpart co-star Michael Emery being roughly the same age, the rest of Taylor Wilson’s entourage are in their internship-status, post-college years of the early 20s, including Kali Skatchke, Casey Tutton, Isabel Thompson, Emmaline Skillicorn, and Marissa Banker. Juxtaposing against a young cast, as a sort of out with the old and in with new or to brighten with short strands of genre highlights, is the minor roles and cameos of recognizable faces and film royalty, such as Ari Lehman (“Friday the 13th), Naomi Grossman (“American Horror Story: Asylum”), and, most surprisingly, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, the daughter of Martin Scorsese, playing Taylor’s mother. The cast rounds out with Charles Johnston, Rikki Lee Travolta, Eddie Huchro, Bruce Spielbauer, Roy Rainey, Josh Morris, and Walter S. Bernard.

“The Lurker” has textbook aspects going for it in the case of an above par production value of fancy editing and set locations, a cache of young and seasoned talented actors, and a story with a twist ending, but that nagging itch gnawing from the back of my skull, slowly inching one molecule at a time, toward the core of my brain informs me that the Liberacki’s slasher misses the intended mark if only by a fingertip attached to a severed pinky. The story tries to sell an alternate version of itself that becomes inane from predictability at the very starting gate and continues trucking an exemplum despite giving away too much, too early. Surrounding the conundrum of calamity building to the potential proverb of shit hitting the fan is a paradigmatic slasher flick with a masked killer murdering toward the technique of a final girl narrative. Yet, “The Lurker’s” kills weren’t terribly flashy and were really met with an uninspired creativity to assist in drawing and sustaining captivation of a ruthless assailant over an abundance the teenage melodramatics, which essentially ran amok. We really shouldn’t have been surprised at the narrative’s untroubled tone because the first kill in the opening scene was inside the school and the school was open the very next day; in today’s day and age, school would have been closed for the rest of the week, if not the rest of the academic year, for bereavement and investigation.

Come down with a serious case of stage fright with “The Lurker” coming to DVD home video and now out on various digital platforms, including renting and buying options on Amazon, distributed by Indican Pictures. The visual and audio review portion for this release will not be covered since a screener copy was provided; however, the DVD will be presented in the original widescreen presentation of an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. With a check disc, there were also no bonus material to review as well as no bonus material before the credits and before or after the credits. John Lerchen and Eric Liberacki’s first crack at full length horror is a win in my book with a complex web streamed of lies, deceits, and snuff, but, with a little fine tuning, “The Lurker” could have sheered to a bigger, better 80 minutes.

Rent or Buy “The Lurker” on Prime Video!!!