Sonar Radiation is Music to the EVIL’s Ears! “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” reviewed! (Synapse / Blu-ray)



Don’t Let the Sleeping Corpses Just Lie!  Grab a copy of “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” at Amazon!

After having a run-in with a beautiful woman, Edna, at a gas station who accidently wrecking his motorbike, Manchester antique dealer George offers to drive her car to her destination in the country, her sister’s place in Southgate, and then borrow the car to continue on toward his appointment in Windermere.  However, upon their arrival in Southgate, Edna’s husband Martin has been brutally murdered and the police immediately suspect the two urbanite out-of-towners George and Edna of coming the heinous crime.  In reality, the recently dead in a mile radius has their nervous system reactivated and directed to kill the living by a new sonar radiation technology aimed to destroy crop pests.  With the police and the dead on their heels, George and Edna seek to expose the truth to the world before its too late and the experimental new pesticide’s range is extended to cover more ground. 

Hitting the stop button here before we dive into our review of “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue.”  If you’ve never seen the Jorge Grau directed 1974 flesh eating zombie film then drop everything – you’re work, your kids, your winning lottery ticket worth millions – and take the next one hour and 33 minutes to enjoy the graphically gory, social commentary horror that not only cashes in on the George Romero “Night of the Living Dead” gamechanger undead horror but also rivals Romero’s film in story and in full, gorgeous color.  “The Legend of Blood Castle” director Jorge Grau helms the Spanish-Italiano co-produced script penned by Sandro Continenza (“Uncle Was a Vampire”) and Marcello Coscia (“Teenage Emmanuelle”) and was provided to Grau by “The Eroticist” and “Don’t Torture the Duckling” producer Edmundo Amati who wanted to make a Romero-esque flesh-eating zombie film of his own.  Also more widely known as “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie,” “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” is co-produced by Manuel Pérez and is a co-production between Star Films and Flaminia Produzioni Cinematografiche.

Hot off the presses of Italian action-crime dramas, Ray Lovelock (“Emergency Squad,” “Almost Human”) finds himself playing an antique merchant holding up shop in the metropolitan area of Manchester, England and as George Meaning, the relatively undisclosed personal experience as an antique merchant, Lovelock gets into character not on the business end but when the shopkeeper goes on holiday in the country, riding his motorcycle Windermere where he has arranged a meeting with some very important people that never flesh out in the end. Speaking of flesh, don’t expect the leading lady Cristina Galbó (“The House that Screamed”) to provide any as the panicky Edna Simmonds on her way to her sisters (Jeannine Mestre, “Count Dracula”) for an intervention toward her sister’s severe heroin use. Much of the only flesh to be hand in “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” is that is which ripped from the bodies and stuffed into rotten, undead mouths. In itself, the entire scenario between Edna and her druggie sister is a compelling enough story to warrant attention in accumulating a sense of sisterly betrayal and a sacrificial compassion to do the right thing despite the consequences. However, that pathway, no matter how distressingly prominent it may seem, does not carry over into the main plot points of an experimental pesticide treatment involving sonar inadvertently raising the dead to be superhuman zombies. Between an Italiano (Lovelock) and a Spainard (Galbó), who not throw in an American while we’re at it with Massachusetts born Arthur Kennedy (“The Antichrist”) to be the aging local inspector keen on pinning every murder on youthful urbanites with their hippie ways and satanists beliefs. “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” fills out the cast with José Lifante (“Night of the Walking Dead”), Vincente Vega (“Historias para no dormir“), and “Flesh+Blood’s” Fernando Hilbeck as the foremost feared zombie.

What makes Jorge Grau’s take on the living dead canon so impressive is not only the social commentary story that seeks to deconstruct ecological progression as an ironic destructive poison to the Earth and its inhabitants and the striking moments in gore effects from the team of Juan Antonio Balandin, Luciano Byrd, and Giannetto De Rossi (of Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi”) that have remained timeless in holding up and rivaling against many of today’s gruesome effects, but also the terror-inducing sound design that combines Giuliano Sorgini’s funky-spook with Antonio Cárdenas zombie-vision resonances of heavy breathing and resonating heart thuds that cues the lurking of an undead lurker.  The effect is potent and full of imminent danger when included into Grau and cinematographer Francisco Sempere’s (“Death Will Have Your Eyes”) perfectly framed shots of the Romero-esque zombie lumbering toward their prey in an unstoppable hunger to kill and eat and, sometimes, convert to their infant-legion inside-and-out of the zombie perspective.  Along the lines of “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue’s” environmental theme is the juxtaposition of big city and countryside in regards to their pollution levels in the opening credit scene where George rides out of Manchester through the degradation of the masses who are popping pills, wearing face masks (like in today’s COVID climate), numb to shock (in the scene where a naked protestor runs in front of stalled traffic for peace and the motorists are blank to the moment), passing by death and polluted nuclear smoke stacks.  Once the lead George reaches the countryside, he removes the scarf covering his nose and mouth and breathes in fresh air with a smirk on his face.  From then on, the story moves forward with a cautionary tale of ill-fated modern progression, such as urbanism, seeping into a natural landscape and causing death and destruction, leaving an poignant aftertaste in the inevitably of man’s ignorance will kill us all.  Grau’s film is a good candidate to be a promotional movie for the dramatic effects of climate change in today’s campaign for ecological change to reduce our carbon footprint.

Synapse brings “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” home onto a Blu-ray home video, restored in 4K from the original camera 35mm negative that includes the authentic and intact opening and closing credit sequences. The region free, AVC encoded release is presented in 1080p high definition of a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the picture is the gold standard of presentation with a vivid and stable color palette, controlled DNR without any posterization, and greatly detailed without an inkling of lossy image quality. Two audio mix come with the release – a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound remix and the distinctive to the Synapse release the original English theatrical mono mix. Though nice and nostalgic in the original English mono mix, the clarity and robustness of the channels on the DTS-HD track is by far superior with its reformulated by Synapse lossless quality and fidelity, especially in that aforementioned sound design by Antonio Cárdenas. The English dub on Ray Lovelock can be off-putting at times but the track is still beyond the best of the two available audio options. English SDH subtitles are available. Extras include two audio commentaries by author and film scholars Troy Howarth, Nathaniel Thompson, and Bruce Holescheck, a feature length (89 min) documentary Jorge Grau – Catolonia’s Cult Film King that explores the lift and films of director Jorge Grau, The Scene of the Crime is special effects and makeup artist Gionnetto de Rossi discussion on the film, another de Rossi feature of the SFX artist at a Q&A at the Festival of Fantastic Films in the UK (43 minutes), the theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, and a sleek black snapper case that wouldn’t be complete with a Synapse catalogue booklet. If you’re a diehard zombie genre fiend, Jorge Grau’s “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” must be at the top of your personal video collection. If it isn’t, kick yourself in the shin really hard and then check out Synapse’s gorgeous release of the Spanish-Italiano production that’s worth every second of your life viewing.

Don’t Let the Sleeping Corpses Just Lie!  Grab a copy of “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” at Amazon!

Let EVIL Free You! “Jakob’s Wife” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)



Anne is a minister’s wife living in a dying small town where the only thing left for the residents is their faith.  Once inspired to travel and do something meaningful with her life, Anne has found that the last 30 years of marriage to Jakob has robbed her of her self-empowerment, diminishing her as nothing more as than just Jakob’s wife.  When the opportunity to impress an old fling during a business trip turns into a nightmare with an attack by a shrouded figure in a rundown, vacant mill, the disorienting days after having provided Anne with a sense of expressive freedom, a chance to be bold, and to feel more alive than she has felt in years.  Her new lease on life comes with a ghastly cost, a severe hunger for blood.  With the help of Jakob, they realize the dark forces of a vampire has infected Anne and their road back to normal life, a life where Anne is dull and drab, will the paved in blood. 

Horror is such a versatile and malleable medium to convey allegorical messages, drawing audiences into the writer’s or director’s world of the fantastic and the horrific while laying down a subfloor of real world truth most passionate to them in a social, religious, or political context.  To point out a few examples (most of us already know), George Romero was renowned for his multiple social commentaries throughout his “Living Dead” series and a slew of vampire films construct the bloodsuckers as metaphors for an addict going through the ugly turmoil of addiction.  “Jakob’s Wife” is a different kind of vampiric allegory film that bites into feminism values.  The “Girl on the Third Floor” writer and director Travis Stevens follows up his introductory haunted house film with an inverted Nosferatu-esque dark comedy co-written alongside “The Special” screenwriter, Mark Steensland, and the “Castle Freak” remake’s Kathy Charles.  The Canton, Mississippi location evokes the dried up, small Southern town aimed to build a depression enclosure around the titular character.  Barbara Crampton’s Alliance Media Partners, whose spearheaded creative and imaginative films such as Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Sci-Fi cult looper, “The Endless,” and the Romola Garai demonizing guilt film, “Amulet,” presents “Jakob’s Wife” in association with executive producer Rick Moore’s Eyevox Entertainment (“Purgatory Road”) at one of the banner’s production studio locations in Canton, Mississippi.

In concurrence as a producer of “Jakob’s Wife,” scream queen of horror legend, Barbara Crampton (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” and most recently, “Sacrifice”), steps into the torn role of the titular character.  In Stevens’ direction, as well as Crampton’s portrayal, Anne is so diminutively overlooked in the first act, you’ll hardly notice her even though Anne is practically in every scene.  Between Jakob’s interruptions, meek output, and overall quiet behavior, Crampton’s able to exact the very essence of the idiomatic phrase the calm before the storm.  Also, I must mention, just like I’m sure others have already pointed out, the early 60s Barbara Crampton looks smokin’.  She must have been bitten by an actual vampire in order to seemingly de-age right before our eyes.   Larry Fessenden, who does age accordingly but also very handsomely in his genre characters, is the God-fearing minister playing opposite Crampton.  The “Habit” and “Jug Face” actor has always been quite the character actor and as husband Jakob, that beneficial streak continues as an old ways man of God with an innately built-in chauvinistic ritual of keeping everything the same day in and day out.  Jakob’s absentminded blinders suppresses Anne into a depressive submissive state until she comes across The Master, the sorely underutilized and shamefully absent from more screen time chieftain vampire played superbly by Bonnie Aarons in an unexpected female version of Nosferatu.  Aarons gives her best Max Schreck performance while commanding a distinctive mentorship that’s unusual for the vampire race; The Master is greatly highlighted in the most subtle of ways as being a repressed liberator and Aarons understood that compulsion to educate, revitalize, and blossom others by offering a new kind of death, the burgeoning power and desires of a vampire, from their previous one, a rather dull life stuck in a no-win circumstance.  “Jakob’s Wife” rounds out the cast with Jay DeVon Johnson, Phillip “CM Punk” Brooks (“Girl on the Third Floor”), Robert Rusler (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2:  Freddy’s Revenge”), Angelie Simone, Mark Kelly (“Dead & Breakfast”), Sarah Lind (“The Exorcism of Molly Hartley”), Omar Salazar, and Nyisha Bell.

“Jakob’s Wife” is a treasure trove of feminism and lesbianism undertones that stands on higher ground without pulverizing masculism to a pulp.  There’s seemingly little-to-no ill will against the minister Jakob Fredder previous inattentive and subservient expectations of his wife Anne.  Anne even becomes conflicted by her newfound self, a rebirth of life that sheds the shackles of monotony and, as it were, it’s overstepping masculinity, and she questions the power, she questions her choices, and she maintains the unity of marriage despite a little taste of tantalizing freedom from it all.  The Master becomes the allegorical test of faithfulness to another in a bored housewife scenario and I’m not talking about Anne’s old high school fling Tow Low, played by Robert Rusler.  I’m speaking of the lesbian undertones involving The Master, a female vampire who stood in Anne’s shoes and was turned, in more ways than one, toward a new path.   The Master sparks a long-lost fire in what is now only a shell of an unhappy woman and Travis’ scenes of Anne touching herself, mimicking The Master’s moves, plays into theme of fantasizing about that other woman and what secret they share, being perhaps symbolically the intimate nature of the attack that puts Anne into The Master’s craving sites.  The innuendo is rich and robust and coupled with fire hose sprays and gallons upon gallons of an unquantifiable amount of blood and gratuitous violence, “Jakob’s Wife” is the vital vampire film of 2021. 

Darker powers answered the call of Anne’s internalized prayers. I don’t even think Jakob’s God even picked up the receiver. In any case, pick up your copy of the RLJE Films and Shudder exclusive, “Jakob’s Wife,” on a full high-definition Blu-ray releasing next year, January 17th, 2022, courtesy of Acorn Media International. The PAL encoded, region 2 BD25 is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Compression issues have never really been a problem for the Acorn Media releases that detail and texture greatly under “Jakob’s Wife’s” austere color palette that favors more of a nature fixture than a stylish one. Darker color tones, such as the blood, are viscosity rich looking and, perhaps, the most color the film plays to its strength. The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track bares no complaints either in the distinctive and effective channels that isolate each output neatly, cleanly, and blemish free. Prominent is the discernible dialogue, that in due course becomes more pivotal to the story, while giving way to an original score from Tara Bush. Special features include the making of the film with clip interviews with the film’s stars – Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, and Bonnie Aarons – and deleted scenes that provide more insight and background on the finished cut’s bit characters. The Blu-ray is rated UK 15 for strong bloody violence, sex, and language (there’s also brief nudity for all you puritans in the U.S.). With the duo of Crampton and Fessenden in the middle of matrimony-macabre, “Jakob’s Wife” is a no-brainer success.

Don’t Mind the Glowing, Ominous Hole in the Wall. That’s Just a Gateway to Evil. “Beyond Darkness” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

A witch acolyte of Ameth, an underworld demon, is executed on multiple counts of child murder.  The priest who oversaw the witch’s last rites came in with a doubtful heart and upon researching Ameth through an unholy book, disavowed his own religion only to fall into a near drunken stupor of atheism.  Months later, a new priest and his family move into a home arranged by the archdiocese, but soon after settling into the old house, a series of disturbances point to a closed in wall behind a door that’s uncovered to be a gateway to another plane of existence; an existence where the child killing witch is granted access to seek the souls of the priest’s young children.  Fighting with his own struggles of faith, the ex-Jesuit assists the priest and his family in an attempt to cast out evil once and for all. 

Perhaps common knowledge amongst diehard horror fans, but not so much among the casual curiosities of an oblique coursed moviegoer is the fact that “Beyond Darkness” and Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” share a cinematic series connection.  Well, not one in any official capacity one at least.  Drained from the same bloody vain that unofficially corrals Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2” as a sequel to George Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” retitled in Italy as “Zombi,” the American-made, Italian-orchestrated “Beyond Darkness” too fell upon the slew of Italian title changes sword with a rechristening into the “La Casa” series.  With the success of “The Evil Dead” in the U.S., Raimi’s video nasty was renamed to “La Case” and “Beyond Darkness” became the fifth “sequel” in the series as “La Casa 5.”  Since Italy has no copywrite laws, a light breeze can easily change any filmic title.  Even the director, Clyde Anderson, dons a false pretense as the Americanized alter ego of Italian director Claudio Fragasso.  The “Scalps” and “Troll 2” Fragasso pens “Beyond Darkness” with longtime script confederate Rossella Drudi, under the Sarah Asproon pseudonym.  “Beyond Darkness” is shot in the deep American South of Louisiana under the Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi) founded Filmirage (“Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper,” “Deep Blood”), produced by D’Amato, as the Filmirage Production Group.

While behind the camera is mostly an Italian production team, in front of the camera is a cast of American and English actors with an opening Louisiana penitentiary pre-execution theology debate between Bette the witch, played by Mary Coulson, and Father George, a priest having a crisis of faith, played by one of D’Amato’s regulars in English actor David Brandon (“StageFright,” “The Emperor Caligula:  The Untold Story”).  Coulson’s role may be punitively small as the “Beyond Darkness’” lead witch and predominant face of the core evil, but the actress puts all into the Bette character comprised of a maniacal laugh and a lots of very European skin-tag makeup effects whereas the classically trained David Brandon has an array of lively emotions and facial expressions sized to fit Father George’s clerical shirt and white tab collar when he’s not sloshed with doubt.  Both characters interweave into the life of a new-to-the-area priest, his wife, and two kids who move into an old house, built on unholy ground, to start his new chapter in priesthood.  Days later, as the kids become instantly okay with a giant black swam rocking horse in the middle of their bedroom, the family is terrorized by flying kitchenware, flooded with a bayou mist, and frightened by figures in black, tattered shrouds seeking to steal their children’s souls.  Christopher Reeve’s lookalike Gene LeBrock (“Night of the Beast”) fails at double father duty in his poorly lit excuse of a worried father with his children being lured to the realm of the spirit side and as a grounded in faith Father combating the forces of evil without a solid sense of what to do.  Both parents are equally written off as incompetents who continue to stay in the house despite on the continuous threat of Baba Yaga wannabes knocking at every door in the house.  As the mother, Barbara Bingham felt as if she had a little more skin the game.  Perhaps having just come off the legacy success of a “Friday the 13th” sequel (“Jason Takes Manhatten”) she felt the responsibility of maintaining a more diligent approach toward being a mother coursing through occult’s dire straits.   Michael Paul Stephenson (“Trolls 2) and Theresa Walker excel much better in their roles as the two kids, Martin and Carole, who’ve become the centerpiece of Bette’s maliceful desires. 

“Beyond Darkness” will come across as very familiar amongst both horror fans and fans of movies in general with a story pulling inspiration from films like William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” and Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist.”  Fragasso picks and chooses a blanket of trope elements to rework with great malleably in order to not be a total copy.  However, for those who know anything about low-budget Italian horror, Fragasso’s rousing similarities to major and independent hits should come as no surprise.  Notoriously renowned schlock horror directors Joe D’Amato and Bruno Mattei, amongst a sea of others, use to fabricate out of fame at every opportunity by gobbling up successful films, chewing them up, and spitting out their Italian produced counterparts without a second thought just to cash in on just a fraction of the original narrative’s success.  The way I see it, the method was (and still is) an honorable form of flattery. Yet, flattery doesn’t cure sloppiness and “Beyond Darkness” is about as sloppy as sloppy joes. Plot hole after plot hole stack up on Fragasso’s inability to amalgamate elements in an entirely coherent way. There are underwhelming revelations to anticipating character build ups that fizzle; such as a thick-tension mystery behind the local archdiocese and their involvement to place a good Christian family in a house built on evil land or what precisely convinced Father George of Ameth’s power to sink him into an alcoholic pit of despair? I already mentioned Martin and Carole’s inept parents on not fleeing the house at first sign of poltergeist activity or any activity since then so don’t get me started. The story needs some fine tuning but not after is amiss. The acting is not entirely a humdrum of monotony, Carlo M. Cordio’s eclectic synthesizer riff and haunting keynotes score is on another level akin to a composition pulled right out of a survival horror video game, and Larry J. Fraser, another one of Joe D’Amato’s pseudonyms, has an honesty about his scenes unlike we’ve ever seen before in a D’Amato production as the cinematographer captures the fog luminously and effervescently surrounding and chasing the family from out to in.

“Beyond Darkness” is no “The Evil Dead” but is a solid demon and ghost dog and pony show from 1990. Now, the Claudio Fragasso (or is it, Clyde Anderson?) classic is heading straight to your level room television set with a new 2-disc Blu-ray. The hardcoded Region A is presented in widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio in a full high definition and 1080p resolution. With only a possible color touch up here or there, I would venture to say the transfer used is the most pristine copy with hardly any damage or any age deterioration. The grain looks amply checked and no cropping or edge enhancing at work in an attempt to correct any issues, if any ever existed. Severin offers two audio options: an English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 and an Italian dub of the same spec. With dual channels, there retains an always room for growth inkling and with the film’s broad range in sounds, a difficult to swallow lossy audio pill plays the aftertaste tune of, man, this could have been way better. Yet, the track is solid enough, if not more so, with virtually zilch damage. Dialogue comes across clean and clear, but there tails some minor hissing. Like with many Severin releases, new interviews are the star of the special feature show with one-side, talking head interviews with writer-director Claudio Fragrasso Beyond Possession, co-writer Rossella Drudi The Devil in Mrs. Drudi, and actor David Brandon Sign of the Cross. Though the theatrical trailer rounds out the first disc special features, Severin also includes Carlo M. Cordio’s superb soundtrack as disc number two along with a two-page booklet with an introduction to the ingredients of a horror score and to Cordio himself as well as a listing of all 17 tracks. “Beyond Darkness” is Claudio Fragrasso’s unbridled mutt, a motley of motion picture royalties rolled up into an adulating and piggybacking horror beyond comparison.

“Beyond Darkness” 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray Available on Amazon

EVIL Strikes at the Stroke of “Midnight” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Severin)

Teenager Nancy searches for forgiveness through reestablishing her faith in God after being dumped by her sexually active boyfriend.  When her alcoholic, police officer stepfather learns of the relationship’s abrupt ending, he moves in quickly to take advantage of Nancy while under the heavy influence of the bottle.  Escaping his grasp, she flles home and hitchhikes a ride with two men travelling South on a getaway from Pennsylvania to sunny Fort Lauderdale, but when facing trouble with small town local law enforcement after attempting to steal groceries, the three find themselves right in the middle of a Satanic cult’s sacrificial ritual that requires the killing of three women for eternal life, one a night at midnight for three days.  Held in a dog cage, Nancy anxiously awaits her turn at the bloodletting alter surrounded by the cloaked-cladded cult and their decomposing mother’s corpse  Praying to God to save her soul, little does Nancy know that her stepfather has tracked down her whereabouts, leading to a bloody showdown of one cop pitted against a family of satanic psychopaths. 

Based of his 1980 novel of the same title, “Midnight” is known to be John Russo’s heart-and-soul project that ended up suffering one mishap after another in the two years of its production and post-production until it’s final release in 1982.  Also known as “Backwoods Massacre,” the “Night of the Living Dead” co-writer Russo helms the low-budget occult slasher out from his usual stomping grounds in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  “Midnight” showcases a story themed with a depraved sense of race intolerance for African Americans and all varieties of religious convictions to be innately false in an atheistic Russo viewpoint amongst a glorified surface level of enrapturing inhumane violence seasoned by brainwashing.  This West Pennsylvanian born and bred grindhouse exploitation found producers in  Sam Sherman and Daniel Q. Kennis of “Blazing Stewardesses” and “Blood of Ghastly Horror”) along with Donald Redinger under the now defunct Independent-International Picture Corp.

In a sea of smaller fish of Pittsburgh actors in “Midnight’s” casting tow is a larger and rougher around the gills grouper embodied by the singular Lawrence Tierney (“Reservoir Dogs,” “The Prowler”) in the Officer Bert Johnson role. Tierney’s no stranger to the horror genre, flaunting his thick New York tough guy accent that typically typecasts the veteran actor into authoritative roles. In being no exception, “Midnight” has Tierney playing a sleazy, alcoholic, police officer who winds up more-or-less unearthing sense in his old age and utilizing his skills for good to fully satisfy his character’s arc, but Tierney alone is wonderful to behold and easy to be disgusted by as he solicits his underage teenage stepdaughter with a perverted proposition. That stepdaughter, Nancy (Melanie Verlin), is the face of “Midnight’s” protagonist whose attempting to get back on track with God after a sinful bedroom relationship with an ex-boyfriend, but her plans are slighted by a brood of young Satanists keen on keeping their now long deceased mother’s irreligious convictions intact. David Marchick, George Romero regular Ted Amplas (“Day of the Dead” 1978, “Martin”), Robin Walsh, and the face of “Midnight” on many of the posters, Greg Besnack, size up as the Satanic terrible and merciless foursome. The cast fills out with Charles Johnson, John Hall, Bob Johnson, Lachele Carl, Jackie Nicoll, Doris Hackney, and Ellie Wyler.

After the success of a collaborated run with George Romero on a handful of projects, John Russo ultimately branches off to do his own creative output after their production company, Latent Image, brought on newcomers’ and the shared ideas on the direction of their company didn’t sit well with Russo – an irk that Russo still harps upon to this day, according to the special features’ new interview from the latest Severin Film’s release.  Yet, I digress into the review of “Midnight” that has feral narrative with an irregular plotted blueprint of teenager exploitation, racial injustice, and backwoods barbarians.  Somehow, Russo’s able to juggle his jotted down on a budget scrambler with a threadbare satanic family baseline that unsettlingly feels snagged in a randomizing generator spitting out scenes to see if they cohesively connect into the next.  Nancy’s traversing into the thicket of terror story cuts into and undermines more of the sibling’s unholy ritual, which the title “Midnight” becomes an important piece to the ceremony, with a subplot of the teen running away from a handsy stepfather and into the Mystery Machine modeled van-driving hands of a pair of cavalier friends on a road trip and then find themselves in an endgame of rotten luck with bad company.  The whole lead up to the two groups running into each other is suddenly dropped like a bad habit, forgoing much of the racial tensions, the youthful subverts, and even the attempt at pedophilia when the main, overarching theme of cult mayhem and religion inadequacies come to the forefront.  “Midnight” inarguably a gargantuan piece of good ole American hicksville victimization with some underappreciated manic performances by John Amplas and Greg Besnak, but there’s difficulty in shaking “Midnight’s” stark story division that leaves much to be desired.

“Midnight” is the particular video nasty that’s surpassing all of it’s other formatted counterparts with a Severin Film’s 4K scanned Blu-ray of the full uncut negative.  The 1080p Full High Definition, region free BD50 is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a respectable color correction, but the correction sees unstable moments regressing near the cuts revealing the lifeless yellow tinge of unmastered quality. A right amount of grain, a great amount of detail, and hardly any damage to the thought-lost uncut negative proves Severin found buried treasure of the John Russo shocker. Two audio options grace the release with an English language DTS-HD 5.1 surround and an English 2.0 Stereo. While the 5.1 offers a more robust audio option of funneling individual tracks through their respective channels, I wouldn’t necessarily say “Midnight” has an overwhelming yield for audiophiles. Soundtrack comes across just enough to know it’s there, the dialogue is clean and unimpeded, but what unfolds out of clarity is the wonky foley ambience that just render solemn scenes silly. Severin offers up a new interviews under “Midnight’s” mediocre cult status with director John Russo – Making Midnight – as top bill in a lengthy discussion about his long career, his acquaintances including George Romero, and, of course, his recollections about “Midnight.” Other interviews include producer Samuel Sherman – Producing Midnight, actor John Amplas – The Midnight Killer, and special makeup effects artist Tom Savini – Small Favors – who barely remembers working very little on this film by providing pre-fabricated headshots and sliced throat prosthetics. An isolated score selection with audio interview with Mike Mazzei, an alternate title card for “Backwoods Massacre,” the trailer, and radio spot round out the bonus content inside the blackout snapcase. Prolific as John Russo may be in horror literature, filmmaking, and in legendary regards with his work alongside Romero, “Midnight” reflects poorly on his cinematic vocation and while many problems plagued production and post-production, Russo somehow managed to root out a passable working cut of crazed satanic panic.

“MIDNIGHT” available on Blu-ray from Severin!

EVIL is in the Waiting Room. “Host” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)

Six friends, locked down due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, hold a séance with a medium over a video chat platform.  With some skeptical of the astral plane practice and connivingly mock the ritual without aware of the consequences, they unwittingly call forth a false spirit under the guise of their seemingly harmless mockery.  In short, a malevolent demon crosses over their spiritual internet connection plane, attaching itself to their domicile surroundings.  Unable to break the connection to the spirit world, surviving a night that was supposed to shoulder quarantine boredom with excitement and booze has beleaguered the friends with a night of undisclosed deadly terror.

When online game night during quarantine life goes horribly wrong in Rob Savage’s “Host.”  The UK bred survival tech-horror is the sophomore feature length film from Savage who co-wrote the cast sundered script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, who has previously collaborated with Savage on the director’s short films, “Salt” and “Dawn of the Deaf.”  “Host” plays into being a film of the moment, shot entirely over the pandemic lockdown with unconventional production direction conducted through video chat platforms with each actor pent-up performing in their own personal abode and being subjected to wear multiple crew hats to avoid spreading COVID-19 from face-to-face interactions.  Despite the severe limited enforced by the threat of infection and the local governmental mandates, the film received hefty financial backing from horror’s most prolific streaming service Shudder after director Rob Savage pulls off a video chat prank with colleagues and friends of him checking out a mysterious sound in his antic and seamlessly interlacing a jump scare clip from Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s “REC” that scared the bejesus out of the unsuspecting participants to his prank.  “Host” is a production of Shadowhouse Films. 

“Host” stars five real life friends, aspiring actresses in the London area looking for work that has become frighteningly scarce in the pandemic’s wake, and they’re joined by a sixth, the outlier male to join the virtual hangout session.  To add authenticity to the circumstances, each actress has their parent-given (or stage-made?) names incorporated into the film, heightening the illusion of a friend being ripped apart by a demonic entity, especially if a sly Rob Savage redacts much of the script to keep his actors in the dark in certain scenes to garner real reactions.  Haley Bishop, who has worked previously with Savage on “Dawn of the Dead,” spearheads the nighttime gathering for a little séance fun, to stave boredom with her closest friends, with prearranged invitations to Jemma Moore (“Doom:  Annihiliation”), Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, and Edward Linard, who is the only one of the six not to use his actual name and goes by Teddy.  Each character provides a slight unique viewpoint that integrates into the story nicely, such as Jemme’s jokester and cavalier attitude, Caroline’s bracing for the supernatural consequences, Radina’s distracted relationship troubles, and Teddy’s wild and carefree persona.  “Host” rounds out with minor co-stars enveloped into the séance chaos, including Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Jinny Lofthouse, and “Double Date’s” James Swanton as the malevolent spirit.

Cyber and social media horror has no leverage to be groundbreaking horror anymore as a handful of these subgenre jaunts slip into our visual feeds every year in the last decade and “Host,” on the surface, might perpetuate the long line of outputted tech horror in an overcrowded market.  However, “Host” has a beauty about it that doesn’t reach into capitalistic territories like the ill-conceived “Corona Zombies” from Full Moon or the Michael Bay-produced “Songbird” about sustaining love in the time of dystopian pandemic and, instead, redefines how tech horror not only uses innovated methods in creating movies during lockdown but how the knuckle white and teeth chattering terror is perceived in the reinvention of the ominous presence that has found its way through the fiber optic cables and into our cyber lives not in the context of a social media obsessed society but in a quarantine-forced one that brings a whole unique set of isolation fears and complications.  While the characters try to form a much desired human interaction the best way that they can through internet video chats, they’re also connected by the spiritual circle that has engulfed the apart, but together, connection, sparking a palpable atmosphere of mass fear together.  Audiences will be pulled into this fear being visually privy to Haley desktop screen, that’s not quite tipping into the found footage field, as she helms control of the video chat that quickly spirals into a Zoom-screen of death as one-by-one each friend succumbs to the unwittily summoned demon.  Rob Savage has reformed the tech horror genre much like George Romero had revamped the zombie on not so much a social commentary level, but vitalizing new life into it, making “Host” a game-changer in horror. 

While I wasn’t lucky enough to review Second Sight Film’s Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset of Rob Savage’s “Host,” dropping today, February 22nd in the United Kingdom, housed in a rigid slipcase with illustrated artwork from Thomas Walker with an original story outline booklet, new essays from Ella Kemp and Rich Johnson, and 6 collectible art cards inside, I was graciously provided a BD-R that included the film as well as the bonus content.  The region B, PAL encoded, just under an hour runtime film, clocking at 57 minutes, is nearly shot entirely on Zoom that melds in the position of negative space inside tightly confined camera optics and plays right into the hands of dark spots that the optics can’t entirely define, leaving the space void in a blanket of inky black.  From video to audio, the sound design meshes the natural auditory blights that would conventionally spoil audio tracks for the sound department, but Savage and Calum Sample found the mic static or the distorted or near cancelation of sound during a high pitched screams added elements of grounded fear rooted by technology to where people can relate to when having their own video chat technical difficulties during meetings or such while also playing into the theme with funny face filters, augmented backgrounds, and the bells and whistles of the platform. Second Sight’s slew of special features for this limited edition boxset includes exclusive commentaries with director Rob Savage, producer Douglas Cox, and the cast, cast interviews about their individual takes on the film, a behind-the-scenes feature, Rob Savage’s group prank video that sowed the seed for the film, the same prank done on a single individual, Kate, Rob Savage’s short films – “Dawn of the Deaf” and “Salt,” the actual Séance held by the cast, crew, and a real life medium, a British Film Institute Q&A with the director, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd, Douglas Cox, Haley Bishop, Brenna Rangott, and Caroline Ward, and an evolution of horror interview with cast and crew. The best horror movie of 2020 now has the best release of 2021 from Second Sight Films; “Host” logons to be the heart clutching video call from hell.

Own “Host” on Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset from Second Sight Films by clicking the poster!