An ambitious physics professor Hiram Otis obtains a research grant that requires him to study in England, pulling his wife, daughter, and two young boys from their Indiana home into a strange new world. In an age of obsolete aristocracy, the Otis family is able to afford rent at the grand Canterville Hall, a legendary castle with an infamous tale of death and suspicion that also might have resulted in being an affordable estate for the American family. Legend records have it that the lord of the castle, Sir Simon de Canterville, had subsequently killed his wife due to his obsessions and became the victim of his wife’s family spiteful vengeance by being chained to a dungeon cell. For 400 years, Sir Simon remained in that cell and his ghost haunts Canterville Hall, but despite their beliefs in the supernatural, the physics professor and his wife can’t see the ghost and only their teenage daughter and two young boys are able to witness him roam the halls, haunting those who live within the castle walls.
Every once and awhile, we’ll thoroughly review a light-hearted fantasy, horror, or sci-fi film and since we’re hot off the heels of the review for Wes Craven’s “Summer of Fear,” the made-for-television train might as well keep chug-chug-chugging alone with the 1996 TV movie adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novella, “The Canterville Ghost.” Distributed by ABC, the Sydney Macartney (as Syd Macartney) directed and Robert Benedetti teleplay written installment tries to differentiate itself and standout amongst a plethora of adaptations that span across the globe, but the American Broadcast Company, a subsidiary of the great and powerful Disney, aimed to separate from the masses by adding star studded power and the result brought a rejuvenation to the ye old tale over two decades ago.
The big name headliner is none other than Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, two years after his 7-year stint on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Stewart, who co-produced the film, adds his theatrical flair and is absolutely brilliant shaping drama monologues into dense thickets that define Sir Simon de Canterville’s ghost, but there’s an issue; the problem doesn’t lie with Patrick Stewart, but with how Benedetti’s teleplay expos from the story as a continuous, if not slightly jumbled, stream of old English that just feels like rambling. To alleviate that strain is Stewart’s co-star Neve Campbell to add a softer, glassy-eyed touch to the story with a pinch of plain jane American girl insecurities, characterized in Wilde’s story as Virginia Otis. Perhaps in the beginning portion of the height of her career, Campbell finds herself between “Party of Five” and hitting scream queen status as Sydney Prescott in “Scream,” but the “Wild Things” actress wasn’t that sultry or that chased in “The Canterville Ghost” who only took upon an annoyed teenage girl persona, wishing her life was back in America up until the mysterious spirit of Sir Simon de Canterville allured a spark into her dull life. Alongside Stewart and Campbell, Daniel Betts, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Raymond Pickard, Cherie Lunghi, Donald Sinden, Joan Sims, and the late Edward Wiley, who died shortly before the film’s premiere, costar.
Going into “The Canterville Ghost” was nothing short of knowing nothing other than the fact the Patrick Stewart and Neve Campbell were in the lead roles of a Disney backed, family film and to be completely honest, Macartney’s vision completely underwhelms. Along with the verbose nature of the script-to-teleplay alterations, the magical supernatural portions are inarguably cheap, even for television. The simple superimposing of Sir Simon de Canterville offered no stimulation as the the two scenes just didn’t splice together well to seamlessly make the grade. Firecracker explosions and party store cobwebs dilute even thinner the already slim pickings of special effects that top when Virginia Otis crosses over into a dense fogged ghostly realm thats chopped, cropped, and edited with such disorganization, the entire scene feels more lost than Virginia trying to escape the other side back to the living.
Sydney Macartney’s “The Canterville Ghost” is presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray courtesy of the U.K. distributor Second Sight Films. The Blu-ray is presented in the Academy ratio of 1.33:1 with 1080p resolution on a MPEG-4 AVC BD 25. Second Sight’s release will have the best looking version of this film, if the quality is anything like the screener sent to me, with a strong color palette, minor digital noise, and rich in great detail; so detailed in fact that the blemishes on Neve Campbell and Daniel Betts can be seen. The English DTS-HD audio track is lively, but not entirely boastful with more thematic and dramatic elements. Dialogue track is clean and clear and the score by “Dead Heat” and “Tremors” composer Ernest Troost augments his fairy tale rendition into the mix. Bonus material includes new interviews with director Sydney Macartney and producer-writer Robert Benedetti. Second Sight’s presentation of Hallmark Entertainment’s “The Canterville Ghost” has strong Blu-ray technical potential, but despite the big names of that time period and a visually stimulating setting, the fantastic adventure through a cursed ghost’s melodrama and a bored young girl’s tenure of self discovery unfortunately didn’t rivet with excitement or wonder, losing steam with it’s important message that life is more than being in a bubble of stagnant disappointment and guilt.
Just off the rough stormy shores of Nova Scotia is a remote island where American Tom Doherty becomes the newly hired lighthouse caretaker in search for good money. Already overwhelmingly cloaked with the lighthouse’s creepy adjacent housing and being forewarned by the island’s infamous legends, an isolated Tom experiences the abilities of dark force first hand and doesn’t know whether the forces are real or madness has swallowed him from the extreme isolation. As Tom continues the work, he discovers clues along the way that suggest the island holds a nefarious past involving murder, suicide, and cannibalism, but an old bible with a list of names is the key that has the potential to unlock all the island’s mysterious doors and can also be Tom’s unfortunate undoing if he maintains being the lighthouse caretaker.
Based off the Angela Townsend book with the same title, “The Forlorned” is the 2017 silver screen adaptation of Townsend’s mystery-thriller from “Dead Noon” director Andrew Wiest who has helmed a jolting, supernaturally visual and auditory accompaniment to Townsend’s literary work. To maintain authenticity, Townsend co-wrote a script alongside Wiest and Ryan Reed that’s riddle with an ill-omened story leading audiences down a path of insanity-ladened darkness. But what exactly is “The Forlorned?” Forlorn has two definitions: 1) pitifully sad and abandoned or lonely 2) unlikely to succeed; hopelessness. Either of the disparaging definitions, if not both, can be used to described “The Forlorned’s” eerily gloomy story that’s saturated in a motif of burdensome loneliness and relentlessly bashes the concept into our heads in a constant reminder that no one can ever escape the island even in postmortem. The character Tom is the very definition of the forlorned. Whether because of due diligence or a dark force, his role of caretaker is a permanent position allotted to him unwillingly by a sadistic, secret-keeping demon that seeks to swallow more unfortunate souls.
Colton Christensen inarguably shapes the role of Tom Doherty into his own with a solid solitary performance for more than half the film. Christensen also, for much of the last ten minutes of the story, had to systematically break away from his character in order to forge a combative persona to Tom and while Christensen does the job well for one character, shouldering a second didn’t suite the actor’s abilities despite a total embrace of character and a few jabs at his own humility. Wiest has worked with Christensen prior to “The Forlorned” and has seemed to continue the trend of using his own entourage of actors with the casting of Elizabeth Mouton (also from “Dead Noon”). Mouton’s character is briefly mentioned near the beginning as a little girl of a previous caretaker, but her adult version only makes the scene in the latter portion of the story to provide a better clarification and exposition into the demon’s background. Also serving exposition as story bookends and peppered through as emotional support is Cory Dangerfield’s “Murphy,” a sea-salty old bar owner who liaisons with the lighthouse committee and can make a mean clam chowder. Murphy hires Tom to do the restoration and caretaker work and while Murphy initiates Tom existence into the fold, Murphy, for the rest of the film, serves as slight comic relief and, in a bit of disappointment, an unfortunate waste of a character. I also wanted Benjamin Gray, Shawn Nottingham’s priest character, to be built upon and expanded more because the character is a key portion that, in the end, felt rushed with quick, messy brush strokes in order to finish painting the picture.
At first glance, Townsend, Wiest, and Reed’s script screens like a typical, if not slightly above par level, haunting where Tom encounters sportive spirits, ghastly visions, and a slew of ominous noises inside a time-honored lighthouse home, but then a twist is written into play, pitting Tom against a masterminding demon whose conquered many other bygone caretakers and whose the epicenter of all that is sinisterly wrong with the island. The demon, who has taken the form of a man hungry hog, lives only vicariously through the camera’s point of view, never bestowing an appearance upon to Tom or even the audience, but referenced numerous times by island locals and boisterously given hog attributes whenever the demon is near. The concept fascinates with this demon-hog thing kept stowed away deep inside the isle’s bedrock even if the dark entity never makes a materializing appearance, but where that aspect thrives in “The Forlorned,” a pancake thin backstory for the demon goes simply construed with a slapped together account of its languished two-century long past and wilts the demonic character wastefully down with backdropped uncertainly, powerlessness, and puzzlement that’s forlornly misfired. There’s no deal with the devil, no selling of the soul, no medieval rite that gives the demon-hog it’s power; it just turns into an evil spirit out of greed.
Andrew Wiest’s production company, Good Outlaw Studios, presents “The Forlorned” that found a distribution home in Midnight Releasing, the fine folks who released “Blood Punch” and “WTF!” “The Forlorned” is available on DVD and multiple VOD formats such as iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu, Xbox Video, and Google Play. Since a screener was used for this critique, a full review rundown of the technical specs will not be provided and no bonus materials were featured on the disc. Director Andrew Wiest and his cast and crew entourage are able bodied participants in assembling a good, entertaining, and sufficient indie mystery-thriller brought to fruition out of Angela Townsend’s story with the author’s pen ship assistance. With a little tweak here and there on the antagonistic demon-hog, “The Forlorned” might have necessarily escalated into a richly dark territory of a more volatile, blood thirsty spirit that’s scribed to have racked up body after body, century after century; however, the fleeting chronicle of how the demon-hog came to be a malevolent being leaves a bittersweet aftertaste on a premise that started out spooky and strong.
Dr. Chris Carpenter aims to assemble a team of grad students to search for lost idol artifacts from one of the last, and deadliest, known South American native tribes who were thought to be exterminated by a military force. Despite her severe objections, her ex-husband and anthropologist, Dr. Josh Carpenter, is hired by the university department head to lead the expedition to the infamous Palace Hotel, a proclaimed millionaire’s playground overtook by the jungle after the natives beheaded guests and staffed. Unequipped and ill-prepared, the team journey to the most remote parts of South America, winging the entire trip with their haphazard ambitions, and seek means of transportation any way possible even if that means flying in a cramped plane with an alcoholic pilot. Upon their arrival at the Palace Hotel, hotel manager Madam Trudea and her odd bellhop Obie welcome them to the incredulously pristine resort grounds where one-by-one the team ends up dead with their heads chopped clean off and shrunken to fulfill an vengeful oath of retribution.
twenty-seven years. twenty-seven long years since director James Bryan’s film “Jungle Trap” saw the light of viewership day. “The Executioner, Part II” and “Don’t Go Into the Woods” director interlaced his cult filmography with also notable adult features that starred recognizable talent with Ron Jeremy, Peter North, Kitten Natividad, and Kristara Barrington helmed under a pair of monikers Emil Hightower and Morris Deal that Bryan used to separate his classes of work. Unfortunately, Bryan’s colorful career came to a complete and sudden halt right before the decade turn into the 1990’s until Bleeding Skull! Video unearthed haunted hotel in the deep jungle film “Jungle Trap.” Filmed in 1990, Bryan and his co-writer/female lead, Renee Harmon, use the latest and greatest technology of the time, tape. “Jungle Trap’s” shot-on-video, aka VHS, appeal is an exuberance of maddening creativity only bested by the “Troll 2” style bad acting.
Co-writer Renee Harmon stars as Dr. Chris Carpenter, marking the sixth collaboration between Harmon and Bryan along with “Run Coyote Run,” “Hell Riders,” “The Executioner, Part II,” “Lady Street Fighter, and “Boogievision.” Harmon’s relationship to her character, Chris Carpenter, mimics that of Eva Gabor if she had somehow wound up in the thick Jungle instead of that farm on Green Acres. “Night of Terror’s” Frank Neuhaus had more appropriately succumb to the distressed anthropological victim accustomed with this horror and Neuhaus opposite of Harmon, performance wise, is night and day making their former relationship hard to fathom. If there’s one character that was genuinely creepy in “Jungle Trap,” Jan Vanderberg’s bell hopping Obie wins the prize. THe elderly Vanderberg has spry movements, wide-wild eyes, and a sinister smile that mingles around in the grey area of friend or foe. The remaining cast, including Heidi Ahn, Tim de Haas, Valerie Smith, Rhonda Collier, Glen Serebian, Bill Luce, and Bette Bena, share the same remarkably and overly dramatic bad performances that make “Jungle Trap” hard to skip.
I’m sure the picture is starting to materialize. “Jungle Trap” is nowhere near a good movie. However, vast improvements to render the “Jungle Trap” enjoyable, as well as to scrape by finishing the Bryan project, was courteously contributed by Bleeding Skull! Video’s kickstarter initiative. The company has a history of gathering unreleased film’s loose ends, tying them together, and creating a fetching film; in this case, “Jungle Trap” didn’t have a score, wasn’t edited, and was shelved for decades. Now, “Jungle Trap” isn’t a mystery in the public eye, has a semicoherent storyline with an edited in arbitrary opening, and, thanks to the synth-heavy Euro-trashy sounds of Taken by Savages, a gloriously catchy soundtrack has been laid down. The entire package puts more girth and more value into Bryan’s shamefully quaint horror.
Bleeding Skull! Video presents “Jungle Trap” on DVD, VHS, and VOD for the first time! Since provided with a streaming copy, critiquing the audio and video won’t be solid, but the shot-on-video image keeps the obsolete VHS quality attributes with tracking lines galore, blurry-soft quality, and a slew of inconsistent coloring that works under the maestros of Joey Ziemba and Annie Choi, high ranking members of Bleeding Skull! Video, synthesizing a score under the Taken by Savages moniker! There were no extras with the streaming screener, but the 72 minutes feature includes with the VHS and DVD a fold-out poster, making-of documentary, and Bleeding Skull! Video trailers. “Jungle Trap” is a mondo masterpiece, a terrific terrible, with a heart of gold (skull) and a kickass soundtrack from a colorfully careered director who now has this blast from a past as his legacy film.
London’s infamous 19th century serial killer, Jack the Ripper, was never caught and the specialty knives he used to fillet his victims were never recovered, but in the darkly lit maze of an abandoned Victorian warehouse located in present day London, the spirit of the mysterious murderer of prostitutes lingers within the bricked up walls or so goes the urban legend. Six aspiring writers are invited to a screenwriters workshop at the Victorian warehouse for inspiration and orchestrating the event is an eccentric arts professor Richard Wise. The goal is write the most horrifying, potentially box-office busting horror story for a chance at penning a major movie deal. One of the six writers, Ruth, had received an enigmatic case full of old knives prior to her invitation, placing inspiration in her to write a terrifying script involving Jack the Ripper. When the knives go missing, the writers become trapped inside the warehouse as their involuntarily actions result in the return of Jack the Ripper to continue his unholy work of slaughter and the only way to stop him from carving his way into their ill-fated story is to solve the mystery of why they were specifically chosen to attend this particular workshop.
“Razors: The Return of Jack the Ripper” is the interesting first installment of a British horror movie franchise from writer-directors Ian Powell and Karl Ward. The co-filmmakers reach into the 19th century to bring Jack the Ripper into the present day, but Jack’s not the same; He’s a variant of him old self that involves the murderer being a pissed off malicious ghost in a concoctive tale that blends the modern-day remakes of “House on Haunted Hill” and “13 Ghosts” from near the turn of the century. Other than a physically present, if not more of a flickering presence, manifestation with a link to his prey of frightened writers, I won’t delve too much into details of Jack’s return and what he means to accomplish in hopes of not spoiling the story for you, but I have a sneaking suspicion that that won’t be a problem. The independent film attempts very little to bring the Victorian era swag into the fold. Even Jack the Ripper solely dons a dark wide brim hat and cape, that loosely associates him with the time period. Powell and Ward focus more on the group of bewildered writers and their conflicting dynamics on how they deal with their predicament – i.e. one character is very poignant on the dangers while one other brushes off superstitions and unnatural occurrences – but the pair of filmmakers fail to work the character Professor Wise into the mayhem and by not attributing purpose to the character, the professor inarguably becomes one of the many loose ends of a sunk horror franchise before it’s even set afloat.
The 2016 film stars Kelby Keenan as Ruth, the only character to have any damn sense, but won’t just leave even though she repeatedly states how much danger their in. Kelby’s the lead actress with Josh Myers (“Zombie Diaries 2”), Georgia Mcguire, Kunjue Li (who oddly enough have a bit part on an unrelated Jack the Ripper television series entitled “Ripper Street”), Jack Brown, and Ian Weichardt (“Freak of Nature”) to round out the group of writers. Together, their plight doesn’t come across potently enough; instead, Thomas Thoroe’s Professor Richard Wise strew them through the warehouse corridors in an unbelievable performance of the professor not having a clue about the turmoil that’s afoot. Jack the Ripper goes virtually silent, much like a ghost should, under the unkempt performance of Andrew Shire. In short, the cast haphazardly walks through the storyboards, overkilling reactions and not reacting enough during called upon scenes to the relative cause of action.
So far, in this review, you might conclude that Powell’s and Ward’s inaugural franchise film may be a dud and not spawn sequels. Honestly, I personally would like to see closer for the open ended characters and story; however, I preferably would not like Powell and Karl in the director chairs. Their style could only be described as spastic with way too many edited in interjections of arbitrary spook house filler. The body of work has the sheer tenacity of being more like a 92-minute music video that’s abundantly chorused with haunted house ambiance. Literally, interlaced cuts made more than half the film, barely leaving any story for the actors, and the back-and-forth edits could crisscross your eyes into a strabismus.
Breaking Glass Pictures and Magic Mask Pictures Limited present “Razors: The Return of Jack the Ripper” on DVD home vide. Usually the pride of indie LGBTQ films, Breaking Glass Pictures has a fair share of horror as well and, typically, do right by the release. In this one particular, the DVD is presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio that’s very detailed. The color hues are a bit dull, more so grey, than hoped. The English language stereo dual channel stereo track had no part in being saved. Layers upon layers of unfinished audio snippets run rampart throughout to the point where you can pick out the flaws at will. Dialogue is wish-washy with the full power of the voice being reduced to no more than a mumble of hearing every other third word from every character. The DVD does come with some special features, such as clips and interviews in a segment entitled “Lights, Camera, Speed!,” “Behind the Walls” is a short featurette about the film, and you can also play the film with commentary from the directors and cast. The film is dedicated to the late Khan Bonfils, who had a minor part in the introduction, after his untimely death on a separate project. “Razors: The Return of Jack the Ripper” is clunky at best. Poor Jack couldn’t rise from the dead to reclaim his infamy in this ghost show of scatterbrained storytelling.
Joanna and her fiance, Geoff, enter a sublet agreement sight unseen. With her fiance being a struggling actor with gigs teetering on the line and domineering most of his time, Joanna struggles to find ways to pass the day alone in her apartment on unpaid maternity leave. The creepy, unwelcoming apartment doesn’t feel like home when Joanna has yet see another living soul in the building, but hears footsteps on the next floor above, violent wall banging thumps next door, and extremely unpleasant dreams that seem to cause her to lose time in reality. When Geoff neglects her pleads to leave the sublet, Joanna becomes enthralled with a newfound journal from an off limits room and as soon as she starts to read from the pages, her life in the apartment strangely follows a parallel path of the journal’s previous owner, a house wife named Margaret, that leads to jeopardizing everything Joanna knows: her sanity, her husband, and her baby.
“The Resident,” aka “The Sublet” as known in other parts of the world, is the debut psychological horror directed by the writer of “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer,” John Ainslie, who also co-wrote the script with Alyson Richards. The 2015 film is also produced by Chad Archibald, whose name might sound familiar if you’re a regular reader of this review website where you can read about interesting horror feature films like “The Resident.” Archibald helmed the body horror delicacy “Bite” the same year. Together, the qualified credential crew steps up to a challenge with “The Resident” that, on the surface, appears to be another run-of-the-mill tired premise of a young couple coping with a malevolent presence and with a common subplot involving a stay-at-home mom being the unfortunate victim. Ainslie and Richards, obviously, go through the stages of that realm, knocking down the expected pillars of conventionalism, but the duo do touch upon a couple of things. For one, they make “The Resident” very interesting and entertaining by seriously messing with Joanna’s state of mind, forcing her to question every little aspect of her mundane existence in that small sublet. The second thing is is that the whole story can be seen a metaphor for postpartum depression that’s driving psychosis right into the thick of Joanna’s unhappiness. More than once, Joanna mentions how ugly she feels and she becomes overly jealous of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, even if rightfully so.
“Bite’s” Tianna Nori gluttonously takes on Joanna’s dwelling punishment. Nori’s par performance sells sufficiently, but doesn’t completely enthrall Joanna into the depths of madness, leaving a rather tame aftertaste. The same can be said for Mark Matechuk, who plays opposite to Nori with Geoff. His struggling actor shoes fit his two-bit stiff and starchy outfit, but Matechuk and Nori do work well together even if some scenes feel forced and scripted. By far, Rachel Sellan was my least favorite of the three main actors with her portrayal of a snobby, yet beautiful, ex-girlfriend of Geoff’s. A world built solely on the inner walls of the apartment, literally 95% of the film is inside this constructed sublet, has more personality and life than the organic material composing an orchestrated dialogue and I personally don’t blame the cast. I believe the sublet, the construed presence, subversively overshadows the intended characters. Krista Madison, James Murray, Mark Ettlinger, and Jeff Sinasac make up the supporting cast.
“The Resident” has modest effects that spur mostly off screen, but on the rate instance when mise-en-scene effects happened, they didn’t go unnoticed. “The Resident” brought and delivered the appropriate psychological nightmares associated with brain-warping spirits, shelling out an introverted dreaminess in Joanna that only she could experience with those unfortunate family and foes surrounding her witnessing only the outer chaos. Sometimes the story gets lost in itself when attempting to further Joanna’s skewed circumstances. Is Joanna dead already? The answer is possibly. Every external scene of the apartment building or even the brief scenes of Joanna with the stroller sets the moments in dreary rain and when going further into the film, Joanna is no longer able to leave the apartment. She even becomes a part of her own missing person’s investigation conducted by two belligerent cops, played venomously by Mark Ettlinger and Jeff Sinasac, who inform Joanna that her family hasn’t heard from her in days. It’s the final scene that sets the whole rest of the film in stone, that solidifies Joanna’s mental state, and yet the simple moment still leaves questions and reflection. That’s a considerable tall tell sign of good story telling from Ainslie and Richards.
Canadian production company, Black Fawn Films, headed by Chad Archibald have another successful odious anecdote in their arsenal of horror and the company has quickly gained momentum in becoming a juggernaut in sustainable low-budget horror. Second Sight will be heading the home distribution portion of the title with a May 22nd release onto DVD and On Demand. Unfortunately, a press DVD-R was provided and the audio and video qualities can’t be commented on nor can any critique on the bonus material. John Anislie has the tools and the means to labor a chilling trap of supernatural spookiness. With a cast of similar caliber, “The Resident” would have made it higher on the list, but manages to keep a solid bleep on the radar when the next scene always begged the question – what’s going to happen next?