Frontman Bobby Gray and his Southern rock band, Dark Roads, were supposed to be next big hit next to The Rolling Stones, but there fame and fortune started dwindling after some short-lived success. Barely surviving on a here-and-there gig in 1979, Dark Roads manager, Grace King, secures a secluded cabin in the woods for them to find their new sound before being dropped by their record label. Along with their female companions, chatty coach driver, their sensible roadie named Cash, and a handful of some hallucinogenic drugs, the trouble band members continue to squabble amongst themselves, especially more so against the vain and alcoholic Bobby Gray. Gray holds a terrible secret from his bandmates, a secret involving a pact he made with the Devil ten years ago and, now, the debt is due, placing the entire group in mortal danger…the price for fame and fortune.
Based loosely surrounding the tragic circumstances of the infamous 27 Club mythos, a moniker given for a collection of up and coming talented musicians who die unexpectedly and prematurely at the ripe young age of 27, “Dark Roads 79” incorporates into the fold the legendary tale of Blues musician, a 27 club victim named Robert (Bobby) Leroy Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at a Georgia crossroads during midnight for to be the greatest blues musician, or so the story is told. The 2017 film is the fifth macabre picture from writer-director Chase Smith who co-wrote the film with documentarian filmmaker, Richard Krevolin, who no doubt kept the script on a historical accuracy path, as much as one supernatural storyline can stay on. “Dark Roads 79” is a production from Smith’s Georgia based independent filmmaking company, Spirit World Productions, and brought to viewers by “Old 37” executive producer “Jason Anderson” and co-executive producer Nicholas Frank Auger.
Already donning many hats, Chase Smith slips on one more broad brim and trashy cowboy mesh hat with Ian Cash, the level-headed, good natured roadie with a voice like an angel, but built like a Mack truck. Cash serves as narrator who sets up the story that swerves across the dotted line into spoiler territory just a tad, but Cash becomes the vehicle that brings the viewers up to speed on the legend of Bobby Johnson and the rise and fall of the Dark Roads, like a cowboy quick connect in case you needed help in establishing that Dark Roads’ success hinges on a fatal pact with the Devil himself. While Cash may seem like the focal point of the story, there’s a split with lead singer Bobby Gray (David A. Flannery, co-star from a few of the homoerotic thriller series “1313”) whose vanity flushes Dark Roads’s stardom down the toilet. Cash and Gray go toe-to-toe many times and Smith’s emits formidable tough guy appearance on screen while Flannery impresses with a complete loathsome veneer. Neither Smith or Flannery make top bill however as long as “Devil’s Rejects” Bill Moseley has a show stealing bit role as the wicked tongue Christian, Caretaker Williams. Moseley’s short, catchy tune of “Boys and Girls they’ll make some noise. They’ll all be burning in Hell” is a classic, archetypal Bill Moseley character idiosyncrasy. Though Moseley’s scenes are short, they’re definitely sweet and rememberable. “Dark Roads 79” rounds out with “Creature Feature’s” Austin Freeman, Lance Paul, Libby Blanton, and Chance Kelley alongside April Bogenshutz (“Attack of the Morningside Monster”), Jessica Sonneborn (“Never Open the Door”), Jennifer Masty (“Rabid”), Eddie George, Ramona Mallory (“Piranha Sharks”), and co-writer Richard Krevolin as the bands’ chatty driver, Thomas ‘Motormouth’ Jones.
“Dark Roads 79” is categorically a a mystery slasher with a supernatural edge that tinkers with blending lore and the theme of lost good times and friendships despite how unfriendly and uncouth they might be, but Smith and Krevolin purely tiptoe around the keynote of terrible, yet sense of family, camaraderie, failing to capture the coherency of the melancholic essence due to loss and despair built upon years of cathartic criticism, distrust, loathing, and continuous bickering between best buds. In fact, the band and it’s entourage displayed little love if it wasn’t under the influence of some drug, but we must remember that the narrative is told through the perspective of roadie Ian Cash who believed in the band, and, in so, believed in each band member albeit their merciless fair share of busting his balls. The editing, cuts, and transitions are, perhaps, some of the most interesting with “Star Wars”-like wipe transitions that effectively heightened as a hallmark of the swanky 1970s era and the emotion-extracting lingering shots, such as with the handheld super 8 cam that roams the room of an abiding jovial moment in time, capture more of the tender times between the group of bitter and weary druggies, alcoholics, and vain temperaments. Unfortunately, the positives do not outweigh the negatives with a scatterbrained and predictable story that comes off as another failed spawn of the 27 Club urban legend and shaves off the emotional baggage with cheap kills and too many unfulfilling characters.
Make a pact with the Devil himself by watching Chase Smith’s “Dark Roads 79” that’ll debut on stage with a wide digital release by the end of May from genre distributor, Terror Films. No set date has been announced. The film will be hosted on multiple digital platforms, such as TUBI TV, Google Play, Prime Video, ITunes, and various other streaming options. Since “Dark Roads 79” will be a digital release, the video and audio specifications will not be reviewed as it’ll be different for all personal devices, but I will note that some minor portions of the dialogue elements were echoey at times. The original soundtrack has strength behind it with Southern Rock tracks by Black Mountain Shine, Mark Cook, Benton Blount, and HK Jenkins, who composes the single “The Road You’re Going Down,” written by Chase Smith, for the film’s official music video. There were no bonus features with the digital screener. “Dark Roads 79” has the necessary ingredients of a backwoods-frat party gone awry slasher except with Southern Rock, but this Georgia based production is tuneless and tone deaf as it stutters through the Devil’s network of deadly deals.
Set in Talbot County Georgia of 1986, six university students are assigned a write a 25-page report on a moment in history. The subject for the report was ultimately based off of local lore, a haunting story from a century old newspaper clipping that told legend of Emily Burt who was the prime suspect of being the notorious wild animal that tore through the local sheep herds. Ill-prepared and flippant for the report’s hot Georgia weathered journey into the woods, the students ride horseback through a labyrinth of trails on the Burt property and come under attack by a lurking bloodthirsty presence hellbent on separating them and tearing them to pieces. Desperation sets in when tensions flare, sides are taken, and perceptions are misled in a time of grave crisis, leaving the schooled students being taught a lesson in isolation and confusion in a classroom of ill-fated situations.
“Lycan” is the 2017 released survival horror thriller from co-writer and director Bev Land, making his inaugural feature film debut. Michael Mordler co-wrote the script that’s been described as “Hitchockian” and resembles a backdoor twist much to the similitude of M. Night Shayamalan films. Like Shaymalan’s earlier work, “Lycan’s” horror is extremely effective without having to bare witness an antagonistic beast and by leaving the girth of the killer’s destructive path to the imagination, our minds begin to formulate diegesis theories and build hypotheticals to the killer’s characteristics. The use of wolf-o-vision is a past time tool that flashes all it’s teeth to bring life to an unseen threat, but Land and Mordler pen a breadcrumb trail of hints that compound to a head in the midst of the chaos, unveiling the true threat in a full frontal way that’s a silver screen rarity, but nearly takes the fun out of the mystery.
Starring in “Lycan” is Bev Land’s wife, Dania Ramirez (“Quarantine”), in the lead role of the mysterious Isabella Cruz. Ramirez’s has to accomplish multiple feats with Isabella Cruz whose a bit of an awkward loner who then has to reintegrate herself into the social realm of a group of variously distinguished characters. Parker Croft portrays as pot smoking, wise-cracking, pervert named Kenny McKenzie who documents the trip with an 8mm camera, Rebekah Graf is the stuck up and prissy Blair Gordon who only accompanies the group on this trip because of Jake Lockett’s baseball jock Blake Simpson. Craig Tate, unfortunately, falls into the stereotypical ‘token black guy’ Irving Robinson while Blair’s sorority pledge, Kalia Prescott’s Chrissy Miller, opts to the gal to get laid. Aside from Ramirez, the rest of the cast of characters fall into formulaic limbo, stuck in their own devices, and never really elevate into more than just surface level characters. Two of the more eyebrow raising actors that never saw the character development light of day were that of Gail O’Grady (“Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2”) and Vanessa Angel (television’s “Weird Science”). O’Grady’s Ms. Fields warranted more background into how the ranch owner came to have Isabella Cruz enter her life and much more unopened mysteries about their dynamic.
While “Lycan” offers an up-to-snuff survival horror, the story’s bookends fall short of fully completing the story. The opening puts big man Presley Melson’s lonely farm boy stuffing lady of the night Anna, played by Alina Puscau (“Dracuala: The Dark Prince”), full of his pork roll. As the wolf-o-vision circles the lovemaking barn setting, Melson and Puscau trot out with only their skivvies to check out the outside racket and become, uh, victims of the antagonist? Not really sure because the scene starts from afar and the wolf-o-vision glides right up to Melson’s face without much of a peep from either Puscau or Melson. The ending is just as enigmatic with a brief present day scene (the story is set in Georgia 1986) of an unknown little girl picking up a razor sharp object from the leaf strewn ground and then there’s a cut to black to roll credits. Before this useless segment, the pinnacle moment of the third act springs too many leaks to plug. Combined with the stagnant and underdeveloped characters, “Lycan” is an unkempt story left wide open becoming a victim by it’s own scripted structure.
MVD Visual presents onto a region one, unrated DVD, the 1 Bullet in the Gun production, “Lycan.” Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, MVD’s DVD image is beyond spectacular with immense details in every scene, even in the production illuminated night scenes. Digital noise is completely absent and the coloring is naturally vibrant. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound has an effective ambient track with clarity and range in the wolf howls and the cracks and snaps of outdoor living. The original soundtrack by Devine Adams and score by Jason Pelsey revel in distortion free perceptible measures. An audio downside would be the dialogue track that suffers from unfortunate mic placement, leaving major story affected parts of the dialogue left muddled and indiscernible. Bonus material includes interviews with director and co-writer Bev Land, along with co-writer Michael Mordler, the cast including with Dania Ramirez, Rebekah Graf and Vanessa Angel, and Crystal Hunt (Executive Producer) and Steven C. Pitts (2nd Unit Director). A panel discussion with the Lycan producers and the original theatrical trailer round out of the extras. Land and Mordler’s “Lycan” disperses moments of original horror with snap-witty dialogue, but as a whole, the story trends toward a paint-by-the-numbers route without breaking the mold as a low tier “Hitchockian” thriller.
Three backpacking American tourists and good friends Daniel, Alicia, and Chris tour through the Georgian countryside, looking for that one last hurrah before Daniel and Alicia tie the knot. When the trip seems to be going well, Chris steps on an old landmine, leaving him grounded and motionless to the spot. The next series of events will determine their fate as an psychopathic local and his Rottweiler happen upon the frightened and helpless Americans. Caught in a maniac’s twisted game, their only chance for survival is to play by the local’s Machiavellian rules or otherwise take their own life-risking chances by stepping off the a shrapnel-exploding, flesh-piercing, life-ending mine.
“Landmine Goes Click” bares no one identity. The Georgian thriller from director Levan Bakhia cleverly abridges four genres together, resulting in one intensely merciless story of unfortunate and deadly circumstance intently set to destroy one’s emotions. Bakhia teams up again with writer Lloyd Wagner, both who’ve previously worked on heated horror chiller “247°F,” and are joined by Adrian Colussi to substantiate a story that’s dices through a range of plot subdivisions from thrilling and exploitive to revengeful and tragic.
Kote Tolordava, the late Georgian actor who tragically died of a heart attack shortly after filming, defines the look and the manner of a sleazeball psychopath. A straggly comb over laid upon unkempt shoulder length hair with a stubbly five o’clock shadow that rests beneath a bushy Georgian bred mustache combined with an over extended gut stretching a bulbous silhouette in a white under shirt that’s covered with a breast opened, military-like navy colored coat sizes up Tolordava’s Iiya character as a harmless human joke, but pair that look with a loaded Remington, a muscle-laden Rottweiler, and a taste for taking advantage of the situation and you have a maniacal genius ready to reap the benefits of your misfortune. Tolordava’s wears Ilya’s clammy skin as if it’s his own, playing the local kook with a sadistic hard-on.
But Sterling Knight, as Chris, carried the film to a jarring conclusion, especially in the last acts. My initial reception of Chris was a big question, why does Chris, whose unable to move from the landmine, severely antagonize a creature like Ilya? Once the characters progress to a level of no return, to a level of depravity and maliciousness, understanding Chris was no longer an enigma and how Chris follows up with Ilya begs, absolutely begs, for retribution. Knight’s day and night performance tells tales of his acting talent. Don’t let the youthful face, the deep blue-eyes, or the Justin Beiber vocals fool you, Sterling Knight demonizes handsomeness.
With Tolordava and Knight, Spencer Locke, K-Mart from “Resident Evil: Extinction” and “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” had the toughest role to be burdened with as Alicia being an object of affection for not one, not two, but three characters and, in two of characters’ cases, in a malevolent way. Locke’s scenes were the most difficult to gape at, but her character ends up being the driving force behind almost everything that happens, even to divulged information prior to the beginning of this film to which we are not privy. Alicia is essentially the epicenter that crumbles the foundations of lives around Daniel, Chris, and even Ilya and like an epicenter, Alicia becomes the butterfly effect that ripples devastation from a single event. Like I said, a role that bares a heavy burden.
Bakhia utilizes effects that can be easily overlooked. His use of miniatures of the Georgian countryside, compositing them with the live action motor vehicles, is a stunning visual, alluring to our minuscule selves in the world. Also, the director, I noticed, does many long takes by swerving the camera from side-to-side that may consist of a stationary position or even tailing to characters, obtaining individual reactions and letting the scene play out without as much as a single edit for a lengthy period of filming. My first experience with Bakhia at the helm isn’t spoiled with gaudy gore or an outlandish unrealistic script; “Landmine Goes Click” thoughtfully provokes our inner animal and is constructed and edited similar to the style of Oscar winner Martin Scorsese. No film goes without flaws as I thought some of the fade to black editing was oddly placed and the overlapping during genre transition didn’t settle with the mood at the time. However, I’m not a big fan of exposition, but I thought there was enough exposition to get us through on how Chris managed to step on a landmine and also to what really happened to Alicia. Any more footage would have been overkill, making the 110 minute runtime that much smoother.
“Landmine Goes Click” rightfully found a home as an Icon Home Entertainment Frightfest Presents. Spurred with volatile tension and a dynamically charged cast, “Landmine Goes Click” is the tip of the Levan Bakhia ice berg and watch out for more films from Sterling Knight, an actor that can steal a scene, or in this case, a movie right from under another talented actor Kote Tolordava. Since the disc sent to me was a screener, I am unable to review the audio and video qualities, but I can say that there wasn’t much bonus material aside from an introduction of the film by Frightfest’s Alan Jones and Paul McEvoy and the other Frightfest film trailers. Like a good concealed explosive device, “Landmine Goes Click” exploitatively shreds through your soul, cleaving barbed shrapnel to linger and rot in the confined spaces of psyche.