A Birthday Bash Festers with an Evil Infestation! “What’s Eating Todd?” reviewed!


Todd’s birthday starts out fun with a birthday cookout that includes family, friends, and his girlfriend Valerie. Afterwards, his easy going uncle Carl drives Todd, his friends, and cases of beer to an abandoned factory in the woods where Todd has planned a one-night, underaged boozing, camping trip. The infamous factory has a manifold of ghost stories that circle around a single common piece – a cannibalistic maniac. When night falls, Todd suddenly disappears and his friends, including Valerie, believe Todd and his uncle Carl are revving up a good scare after Carl’s creepy campfire story earlier in the day, but when a dead, mutilated body is discovered, something sinister is hunting them and those stories about a cannibal killer no longer seem farfetched in an all-nighter fight for survival.

“What’s Eating Todd?” is a Here and Now production from a duo of women filmmakers with director Renata Green-Gabor making her directorial feature film debut from a story penned by first time screenwriter Brandi Centeno. The 2016 horror-thriller is a spun take on the weary zombie genre without necessarily going the full-fledged slow shuffle and moan zombie route from a story involving an antagonistic infected metamorphosing from an infestation strain of flies. The parasitoid concept is a closely related to a sensationalized man versus nature horror tale seen with a fair amount of anonymity attached and, the film, perhaps, could be an indie homage version of the George Langelaan’s short story, “The Fly.” Almost for certain that Green-Gabor received some sort of influence for “What’s Eating Todd?,” which she shot through the summer of 2013, from her thespian mentor Jeff Goldblum, the face of David Cronenberg’s remake of “The Fly” released 1986, and thus answered the call to chance her first steps into feature films that had this connect to her mentor while providing and retaining her own originality into incubational horror or even a small minute into body horror, releasing the film three years later.

The marketing and selling points for “What’s Eating Todd?” is not the humble acting talent. It’s not a criticism. It’s the truth, as the cast is constructed of unknown names and unrecognizable faces. However, what is also true for a film written by female writer and quarterbacked by a female director is a leading role arising for an aspiring or established female actress. In this case, the role of Valerie goes to a modestly versed Madison Lawlor (“The Axe Murders of Villisca”) who not only becomes the strong and adaptive survivalist protagonist painted against a backdrop of coarse and flawed men who are either exposed of their short comings, involved in illegalities, or anguished to reveal their true nature. Lawlor maintains Valerie’s unwavering love and faithfulness to Todd, being the voice of reason amongst a naïve and obnoxious crowd that are mostly consisted of her cousin Alex (“Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark’s Phil Biedron) and his friend Duane (“The Zombinator’s” Scott Alin). Alex and Duane are a couple of super frivolous “bros” primarily integrated into the story to raise the body count. Cousins Valerie and Alex do attempt some kind of meaningful connection regarding identity and status in the hierarchy of high school, but was meagerly written and comes to be more a bickering battle of perspectives. Biedron and Alin sufficiently exact the right amount of goofball, oversexed, and dumb-wit to pull off a surface level duo. Todd (“The Z’s” Adam Michael Gold) is certainly the biggest failure out of the group of friends. The birthday boy’s upheaval from being the luckiest guy in the world to the world’s biggest problem goes into squandered territory that floods more questions than answers into Todd’s from baseline growth relationship with Valerie to his revamped mentality and accomplishments from ambiguous, circumstantial backstory of flesh eating and conspiracies. The weight of Todd and Valerie’s connection is only expositional rather than shown and the groundless Todd absorbs the downfall during an anti-climactic finale of internal struggle with Valerie as the source material. The film rounds out with Danny Rio and Carlos Antonio.

Though the cast won’t draw in an audience, the snappy “What’s Eating Todd?” title might turn some heads in it’s direction. However, “What’s Eating Todd?” inherently sounds like a farce and if you’re expecting humor, disappointment will rear its ugly, funny-less head as Green-Gabor had no intentions for a comedy element. Another misleading of marketing is the Indican Pictures’ DVD cover, which I’m assuming is also the film’s actual poster, of a woman in a cutoff sleeve jersey t-shirt with “Zombie Killer” in the name field and holding a sword (katana, maybe?) while blurry silhouettes of lumbering undead move at an unknown pace toward her in the background. Let’s analyze the comparison between cover art and actuality. As mentioned, the story’s female heroine is appropriate to the cover, but isn’t contextually accurate to the film. Valerie, the supposed character on the cover, isn’t holding a sword nor is she dressed in a “Zombie Killer” jersey t-shirt. As for the zombies, the term zombie is only made in jest by one of the bros and there is some undead moments of gore including gnawing and ripping out the jugular, but no tearing out of intestines, no munching on fingers, nor are there any instances where eating people like finger-licking fried chicken is happening here. Plus, there is only one adversarial fiend and not more as the cover suggests.

Indican Pictures distributes a Here and Now Production of “What’s Eating Todd?” onto a not rated DVD home video. The region 1 release has a runtime of 89 minutes and is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, 1.85:1 flat aspect ratio, on a 35mm, hand held camera. The digitally shot image renders brightly and clean with hardly any flaws worth disclosing. The night scenes are slightly tinted blue with a higher contrast to lighten up the image without being overly dark in the middle of the woods without much natural lighting and the digital noise has little intrusiveness despite the budget constraints of an indie production. The English language Dolby Digital surround sound has adequate range and depth and, for the most part, a dominating dialogue presence. Brief moments of Revenge of the Bimbot Zombie Killers’ Andy George’s original score would drown out dialogue during imperative, but happened too far and few in between. Other than a typical static menu and preview trailers from Indican Pictures, no other bonus materials reside on the release. “What’s Eating Todd?” is not a zombie movie despite the hoodwinking cover. What Renata Green-Gabor did direct can be categorized as a branch of the undead, an infestation altering DNA that mounts to destruction on and around of the affected that, technically, no longer makes them a part of the living human race. In short, expect a sheep in wolf’s clothing in this roughly run-of-the-mill horror that aims high, but misses low by offering too little to sanction a good story.

Rent. Own. What’s Eating Todd? Do you know?

The Lord Examines the Righteous, but the EVIL, Those Who Love Violence, He Hates with a Passion! “Holy Hell” reviewed!


Father Augustus Bane is a go-by-the-book type priest and through his unlimited optimism and passion, grudgingly turns the other cheek when life’s bitterly cold callousness bends him over a barrel and pulls his hair until bruised and raw on that very same turned cheek. When the God dedicated man of the cloth is pushed too far after the merciless slaughter of God worshipping parishioners and he is left for dead by a gang of demented family members, the surviving Father Bane is reborn and becomes destined to a vindictive life path with a six-shooting revolver he baptizes as The Lord. Hell hath no wrath like a priest scorned to obliterate all sinners from every walk of life in a blaze of the almighty glory (and gory) of The Lord and those explicitly responsible for the death of his congregational followers and much of the city’s crime and corruption will have nowhere to hide from their lethal penance.

What could be considered as the pious Punisher on steroids, Ryan LaPlante’s offensive-laden, satirical grindhouse exploitation feature, “Holy Hell,” is a confirmation of that films like LaPlante’s are sorely needed and pleasingly free in speech inside the dominion of today’s sensitive and politically correct cultural society. Surely not a product of the U.S. and will certainly piss some viewers off (especially zealots), this Canadian made production could only exist outside a conservative dome, looking inward for a weakness to seep and taint the sometimes too wholesome American cinema market that’s tiptoeing around what should expressively blunt and in your face. Let’s face it, folks, it’s a movie! LaPlante writes, directs, and stars in this movie of comedy, action, and exploitation that’s even too controversial for some of the supporting cast who used pseudonyms, such as punned Yennifer Lawrence and Zooey Deschansmell, as their stage names because of the deviant material.

The man with many hats, Ryan LaPlante stars as Father Augustus Bane, a cheerful priest with a firm belief of charity instead of violence, and as LaPlante’s first and only feature as a writer and director, “Holy Hell” snuggly fits the filmmaker’s contemning, vindictive, “autistic rage monger,” as another character described accurately. Satirically stoic, Bane reminisces the days of yore when severely slighted protagonist broke and the endured trauma became a journey of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. LaPlante, whose career pivoted to the video game world and could so seamlessly, understood the mentality of once was with harden, good men turned relentlessly anti-heroic. Father Bane’s opposition had parallel penchants of aggressive stamina, but in a more deplorable and deviant calling. The MacFarlane family is about as coarse and as ruthless as they come ran unflinchingly by Dokes, the head of the family, with his wild eyes and skull earring atop his fishnet undershirt and open Hawaiian button down. Dokes is truly satanic as a ravishing villain from in co-producer’s Michael Rawley’s in his sardonic performance of the father of three. The “Disco Pigs” actor revels as Dokes in not only being the kingpin, but also a special daddy to his three rotten and just as maniacal kids – Trisha (Rachel Ann Little), Buddy (“Red Spring’s” Reece Presley), and, the more flagrant of the trio, Sissy, a labeled sadistic he/she of boundless perversion and a flair for the theatric played vivaciously by Shane Patrick McClurg and McClurg’s Sissy MacFarlane is difficult to dislike and is favorably one of the best and best portrayed characters alongside Father Bane and Dokes MacFarlane. The entire “Holy Hell” cast amazes as deviant delectation and round out with love interest Amy Bonner played by Alysa King (“Slasher” television series), Luke LaPlante, and Austin Schaefer.

While “Holy Hell” trails the established trope about a vindictive good man, a thrilling theme consisting inside half the grindhouse genre films of 70’s to 80’s, Ryan LaPlante doesn’t really offer much new to audiences whom are well versed; however, since “Holy Hell” is one big punch-to-the-face nod toward grindhouse and the filmmaker constructs a complete caricature picture, the shocking, the disgusting, and the hilarity mold almost an entirely new brand of grindhouse or, as I’ve coined, mockhouse. A mock-grindhouse film have natural degrading quality where filmmakers remain on the fray of getting the right look and feel of a grindhouse film, but LaPlante accomplishes the task, echoing the effect while adding his own brand of comedy. Also LaPlante’s bludgeoning of taboo is no holds barred comedy, especially on surface level narratives such as with Father Bane who has a tremendous arch to hurdle as a priest fueled with guilt and rage against an army of inhuman and derange psychopaths, plus all the other miscellaneous miscreants roaming the streets at all hours of the day, but the script is penned like the Divine retribution as the priest endures, almost in a supernaturally reborn or resurrected kind of way, after being shot six times in the form of a cross by Dokes that, ironically, acts as a blessing for Bane to declare war on evil.

Indican Pictures presents a Rogus Gallery production with “Holy Hell” onto a not rated DVD home video. The widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, has a warm toned coloring grading from digital grader Defiant and also embellishes the natural grain and blemishes to assimilate into the grindhouse collective. “Holy Hell” is intent only appealing to a comic book illustration that makes definition fuzzy, but not totally cleared from the playing field. The closes up of the gore is nicely displayed with a drenching and gruesome effect. I couldn’t detect a lot of girth from the Englih language 2.0 stereo track which makes me think LaPlante intended on suppressing much of the ambiance and up the soundtrack quality from composer Adrian Ellis, whose upbeat, synch-rock has killer intentions whenever the MacFarlane’s are rolling heads. DVD extras include a director’s commentary and a blooper reel. Chockfull with affronting one liners, “Holy Hell” is utterly sound being well-rounded with the best intentions paved in hooker blood and indecent exposure, as well as being highly entertaining, in one holy redeemable package of horror exploitation blessed by Ryan LaPlante himself.