Keep the EVIL Family Drama for Your Mama. “Abigail Haunting” reviewed (High Fliers Films / Digital Screener)

While searching for a life in Reno, Katie reluctantly becomes an accomplice in a heist job with her abusive boyfriend, scoring a small brown paper bag packed with stolen money.  In the middle of post-heist uncertainty, an opportunity to escape a troubled relationship presents itself and Katie hightails it to her hometown of Prescott with the loot, leaving the dark life behind her in Reno.  Unsure of her next steps, she hides away by moving back into her childhood trailer home with foster mother, Marge, who has nearly deteriorated into a completely catatonic state over the last few years.  As the days pass and Katie catches up with Brian, rekindling a relationship with a high school crush, her secretive past becomes plaited into Marge’s sinister skeleton in the cupboard that pulls both of them into the supernatural wrath of a tormented spirit haunting the trailer home, merging the past and present with a shocking conclusion.

Cursed.  No, not the vengeful spirit who resurrects to plague havoc on the still breathing, flesh and boned to set their tortured, spiritual planed souls to rest.  The curse I speak of involves putting Haunting into the title of any ghost film that has been released in, oh let’s say, the last 20 or so years culminating into being one mediocre release after another of mainstream and independent films that has, frankly the lack of a better word, cursed the subgenre.  Type haunting in the IMDB search field and just glaze over as hundreds of films crash over you in a tsunami of stale capitalism ever since the remake of Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  “The Haunting of Connecticut.”  “An American Haunting.”  “23:59:  The Haunting Hour.”  Being one step behind the hackneyed “possession” in nearly every title about, well, possession, these post-2000 ghost films are just morsels of the bigger crapola pie that investors love to sink as little of their money into as possible because the return is greater because ghost film don’t necessarily a R rating unlike other subgenres and, sometimes, piggyback off a successful film with the parlance.  PG-13 in slashers is an oxymoron, if you ask me, but in with ghosts, fear of mysticism and the unknown has enough power to scare if done correctly, i.e. the original “Poltergeist.”  This unbecoming setup leads us to the 2020 release of the revenant thriller “Abigail Haunting,” the latest Kelly Schwarze written and directed full length film after tackling an Area 51 inspired bloody battle beyond the stars set in our backyard with “Alien Domicile, and before we go into whether the Schwarze film, co-written alongside Charisma Manualt, can tame an unbridled use of title-exploitation with a first rate story, the Indie Film Factory production will receive full benefit of the doubt until the end of the review.


The story follows a small town girl, Katie, from Prescott, Nevada who falls into small time crime with a lowlife boyfriend that quickly turns sour and deadly after an armed cash grab, presumably from a Reno casino.  Chelsea Jurkiewicz fits that small description recipe of stuck in a rut local girl without much cause for disbelief.  As Katie, Jurkiewicz’s able to be the part of a young, harried woman running from a checkered past and into the flames of a paranormal bombardment.  The then early 20-something, “Stalker” actress kept Katie balanced between her cash stealing time in Reno, integrating back into what was a rough patch with an unreasonable and abusive foster mother, and dealing with unexplainable occurrences of nightlights turning on by themselves, her room being ransacked, and succumbing to disturbing visions while reminiscing of being a scared child hidden behind a makeshift potato sack mask that becomes a reoccurring object throughout.   While Schwarze loosely ties all the facets together in a nice, tight bow that leads to a climatic unraveling of Katie’s past, the visually assaulted Katie suffers as the centerpiece punching bag that connects them altogether.  To top Katie’s mounting pressure, a face from the past tries to pry his way into her life.  A lost fling in Katie’s fleeting existence is Brian, played by Austin Collazo in his debut film performance, forcing himself into her life in what reeks of single parent desperation.  A moment involving Katie looking through a photo scrap book shows the two smiling together in a lone picture, as if she’s reflecting upon a previous romance or friendship that has since fizzled, but that’s about the extent of their history that doesn’t dive deeper into the reflection or explain the spark from the sudden interest from Brian.  At the crux of the story is Marge (Brenda Daly), a dirtied, nightgown wearing middle-aged woman who fostered abandoned at 4 months old Katie in what only has been, in Katie’s sole exposition, a terrible experience.  Schwarze instinctively ties the trailer home and Marge together as a single entity, enacting as one to push Katie around in a fit of unmotivated hysteria.  Katie doesn’t seem too eager to lift an investigated finger any of phenomena that has plagued her in the home, in the back shed, or even follows her out on a date with Brian.  Instead, Brian initiates digging into her past that sends Katie down Marge’s rabbit hole of hidden secrets in an off kilter directional take where a protagonist stands indifferent or remains stagnant after multiple Abigail encounters that would seemingly rouse up curiosity or for the sake of proving sanity.  Rounding out “Abigail Haunting” is Michael Monteiro, Christopher Brown, and Taylor May as the titular ghost.

Not a positive start with flat, often time dunce, characters in “Abigail Haunting.”  The mindset behind Katie’s involvement with the Reno robbery and a scoundrel lover strains to play a bigger role into the eerie defense she’s positionally locked into at Marge’s dreary trailer home.  Schwarze remains on the fringes around the preoccupations that descend Katie into this dark place in her life between searching for her real mother that abandoned her as an infant, the deadly robbery in Reno, and the abusive ex that all seem to be weighing less on Katie’s shoulders than the duffle bag of a couple thousand dollars that would typical skewer one’s psyche, manifesting more than just the typical side effects of pressure.  Instead, Schwarz doesn’t fold in well enough the incorporation of our angry spirit, Abigail, whose unexplained appearance out of the Nevada blue sky in between Katie’s leaving and returning to Marge’s home denotes not one single explanation of when and why Abigail chooses to be a resurrected, phantasmal spite.  More jeopardizing toward Katie’s past and present life is her obsession with the stolen money versus living a decent life with possibly Brian and his dissociable, divorce struck kid, who the former is clearly obsessed with her, but the story more so saturates with a free floating, full torso phantasm, as the Ghostbusters would say, that undermines the subterranean psychology at work here and clouds the ghost foundation built on deceits, lies, and ugly truths. What “Abigail Haunting” succumbs to is being about as rudimentary as they come with a climax too riddles with plot holes that squish much of good establishing camera work and some decently laid jump scares. Haunting, as in a title, still curses the horror subgenre with middle-of-the-road dynamism.

Death clings to us all. In “Abigail Haunting,” death clings to vengeance in this supernatural thriller dropping on DVD in the UK on February 8th courtesy of High Flier Films and ITN Distribution. The region 2, PAL encoded DVD will be presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of approx. 85 minutes. I initially had high hopes for Abigail to be at least be a derivative carbon copy of “The Conjuring” as “Scare Me’s” Michael TusHaus’s shows off impressive camera work that organically flows through Marge’s tight quartered trailer, as well as in other scenes when applicable outside the trailer location, with generous use of a stepping in-stepping out steady cam. TusHaus’s hard lighting also creates stern atmospherics with full bodied shadows that symbolically keep secrets and spirits in the dark. The digital release had no extra bonus feature available with none displayed on High Flier Film’s website. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Solid cinematography and palatable performances couldn’t plug up all the plot holes that stiffen “Abigail Haunting” into a two-bit carnival attraction that looks cool upon entry but not worth the money on exit.

 

Run And Hid When Yuletide EVIL Comes A Calling! “Pagan Warrior” reviewed! (ITN Distribution / DVD)


In Medieval times of Sussex, England, a powerful English king, who has kept the seething Viking savages at bay for decades, has died, vacating the throne to his son, Rollo. The Vikings seize the opportunity during this time of transition and storm the Saxon Castle, nearly killing the monarchy and all of throne’s subjects left to oppose them. With their daughter Avery kidnapped and themselves on the brink of death, King Rollo and Queen Silvia are revived by two women of the woods, a pair of witch sisters known as Constance and Millicent, who use their mystical healing powers and offer the king retribution by summoning the Yuletide monster, Krampus. In return for slaughtering the Viking usurpers, the Krampus will collect his debt in exactly 10 years, taking whatever is precious and dear as payment from the vengeful King Rollo.

Krampus has become a major media trend over the last decade, popping up in all forms of popular culture that compounded lore inside the leafy pages of books and magazines to the beast’s frighteningly half-goat, half-man exterior making for great big screen monster entertainment. The inverse icon of jolly Saint Nicholas offers punitive measures for bad little girls and boys and is sometimes referred as a companion to Saint Nicholas who probably turned a decisive blind eye to little brat Johnny’s enjoyably thievery and torture of chickens from a neighboring farm. “Pagan Warrior” is yet another narrative of the Christmas creature spun with different fabric and woven into a bitter feud of two contending enemies told modestly by director Louisa Warren (“Tooth Fairy”), produced by Warren’s London, UK based production company, ChampDog Films, a creative outlet for independent film ventures that are mostly in the horror genre and are sometimes inferior versions of bigger budget films, in the same vein as Asylum Entertainment. The script comes from Shannon Holiday (“Bride of Scarecrow”) that conveys an ageless theme of beware of what you wish for and the price of blind vengeance.

“Pagan Warrior” hones in on numerous character stories, never clearly defining a single perspective. King Rollo, played by “Escape from Cannibal Farm’s Peter Cosgrove, becomes the royal fate sealer as what he deems necessary and right is, in fact, the worst possible scenario a mad king could bestow upon himself by calling upon the supernatural death dealers for revenge. Cosgrove cleans up nicely as an English blue blood whose bequest incorporates a lineage of fighting kings with Cosgrove taking his role with due importance despite a humbling filmmaking production. King Rollo’s counterpart, the merciless Viking Ubbe fitted for Carey Thring (“Scarecrow’s Revenge”), combats a war on two fronts – the contentious bout with King Rollo and an internal family squabble that beleaguer the bond between him and his wife (Kate Milner Evans, “Pet Graveyard”) and child (Adam Sugawara, “Virtual Death Match”) as he tries to court princess Avery with a crude sexual advances. Thring’s vision of Ubbe is a classically depicted villain whose stronger with allies and a whimpering coward when alone in a fight, especially when the Krampus comes calling for his head. Darrell Griggs dons the makeup, prosthetics, and wardrobe of the horned beast, becoming the folklore of a cursed death who not only pursues the 12 month progression of horrible children, but also the appointed damned when conjured for a hit. Krampus’ outward appearance is pleasing and Griggs provides the lumbering and slight preternatural motions that give Krampus that dreaded paranormal mysticism. “Pagan Warrior” rounds out with Sarah T. Cohen (“ClownDoll”), Jessica O’Toole (“Pet Graveyard”), Mike Kelson (“Scarecrow’s Revenge”), Hattie Willow (“The Mermaid’s Curse”), Will Todd (“Mummy Reborn”), and Tara MacGowran (“Mother Krampus”) and director Louisa Warren as the women of the woods.

ChampDog Films uses a tightknit group of actors and filmmakers to sell archaic swordplay action fastened against demonic folklore and despite the underwhelming band of Vikings versus an equally small English contingent squaring off in front of a historic English castle with virtually no ample practical or CGI era enhanced presentations, the production just barely eeks by with Feudal times. Wisely, Warren shoots a number of character closeup shots, avoiding much of the surrounding modern elements and forcing audiences to focus just on the characters who are dolled up for Medieval times roleplay. Where the battle scenes and smart camera work flourish, the Shannon Holiday script becomes the ultimate weak link in the chain with a predictable plot storied with terribly cliched and uninteresting characters that couldn’t grip a sword let alone one’s attention. The story begins with its most shocking ending scene, thwarting any possibility of surprise for even the most dense and cinematically uneducated individual for the ruse play out. There is also this millennium goof in the opening backstory credits indicating events take place in 812 AD and in the same breath, mentioned also is the three days of December 1812 that this episode occurs. Since 1812 England was all about redcoats, guns, and war with America colonies, I would assume 812 AD would be the correct time period against a Viking invasion.

In what is not exactly a Christmas holiday horror movie, the malediction of the “Pagan Warrior” spread little holiday cheer and more yesterday fear onto an ITN Distribution and Mill Creek Entertainment DVD. Presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ration, on a single layer DVD, sheathed inside a DVD cover that looks cooler than the actual movie itself, the lower end production avoids stylizing a historical based feature with tinted mattes, computer imagery, or any other miscellaneous camera effects seeking more toward a naturalistic cinematography that utilizes the hues at hand. Pastel blacks jump with noise and posterization from the electronic interference whereas the existing hues exhibit a less than rich approach of a more vapid green, brown, and stonewall beige. The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio mix maintains a level of consistency. Sometimes, Krampus’ dialogue is murky because of the extra gnarling effect parroting an LFE emitting voice; however, dialogue is mainly clear and prominent. English SDH is an available option. For a time period action-horror, the lack of rudimentary range and depth troubles with little sense into the effort of adding skirmishing swords and Krampus’ reverberating growls always seem to be right next to the camera. The only bonus feature available is the trailer. With conventional means of dispatching people, “Pagan Warrior” shadows more of the slasher concept conjured by the breath of the desperate who misfires judgment rather than being an omnipotent being summoned like a djinn for total annihilation in exchange for a debt in this good faith effort by Louisa Warren of Krampus diabolism.

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“Pagan Warrior” is also included with Amazon Prime!

Follow EVIL’s Design! “A Psycho’s Path” reviewed!


In the sleepy Californian desert town of Brownsville, the peaceful way of life has been upended and thrown into chaos when a savage murderer embarks on a path of a seemingly random killing spree. Previously apprehended and transferred to a psychiatric hospital by court order, the psychopath’s easy and violent escape places him back into an already frightened society to the likes the town has never seen. With no leads to pursue and the townsfolk fearfully blaming the ill-equipped police force, Captain Peters and his squad of deputies must establish a pattern of slaying in order to track his next move, but all kill sites lead to being arbitrary – a motel on the outskirts of town, a isolated gas station, and a suburban home. Are these killings at random or is there a path the killer is following?

Mixed martial artist Quinton “Rampage” Jackson lives up to his professional epithet in Rocky Costanzo’s “A Psycho’s Path.” The credited writer and director filmmaker from Huntington Beach, California follows up his 2016 germane, American social, malignancy teenage thriller, “Ditch Party,” with the 2019 horror-slasher birthed from the spirit of independent filmmaking and produced by Noel Gugliemi, Matthew King-Ringo, and David Ramak. Despite the title’s wordplay on A Psychopath,”A Psycho’s Path’s” gritty and dark tone is anything but a pun-wit delineation as should be presupposed judged by the Mill Creek Entertainment DVD cover of a bloodied and wild-haired Jackson garnishing a blank death stare in the foreground of a moon and neon-lit ominous motel that just screams the trope scenario of nothing ever good is going to happen to that lady standing just inside her motel room’s doorway and wrapped in wet bathroom towels.

The former UFC lightweight Champion Jackson is no neophyte when concerned with the acting world. The big screen’s “The A-Team” adaptation proves just that with his break through rendition of the rogue militant, B.A. Baracus, famously portrayed by Mr. T in the early 80’s series of the same title and established the kind of role types Jackson’s built for outside the ring – large and in charge. In “A Psycho’s Path,” Jackson just has to appear like a 6’1″, 270lb monster without so much of one word of dialogue; it’s a role without a name other than John Doe and it’s a role Jackson was born to play as his physical attributes are naturally inherited and, dare I say it, scary. Character linked on the opposite side of the behavior spectrum is Captain Peters, played by Steve De Forest in one of the few prominent performances of his career, but Captain Peters doesn’t have enough oomph as a character to size up to John Doe. Thus, enters Noel Gugliemi, also known as Noel G., one of the most famous support character faces in all of the film industry from “Training Day” to “Bruce Almighty,” “The Purge: Anarchy” to “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, Gugliemi has the big name and personality in a joint forces operation with Steve De Forest as his on-screen right hand deputy, sergeant Torres. Barely recognizable with a bad wig and without his trademark facial hair, co-producer Gugliemi spits the snake tongued, whip-cracking lines of a jaded officer, lines that have solidified him as an all time fan favorite in his credentials. “A Pyscho’s Path” rounds out with Steve Louis Villegas (also in a bad wig), Kassim Osgood, Derrick Redford, Rowan Smyth, and with a lighthearted cameo from “Different Strokes'” Todd Bridges.

For fans of Michael Myers and the “Halloween” franchise, “A Psycho’s Path” has starkly obtained familiarities to The Shape’s universe with Jackson’s stoic performance of pure, unstoppable evil escaping a psychiatric setting intending to kill, kill, and kill and in also Costanzo’s ambitious direction, especially the track and follow camerawork that’s complimented by the cold tone cinematography of Dylan Martinez (“Ditch Party”), but that’s where the positives seemingly part ways with the rest of the film as a schlocky and campy shadow looming over what could possibly drive all these lunatics to the prospect of committing mass murder. Throw aside the already aforesaid production wardrobes with bad wigs and also ill-fitting deputy uniforms, “A Psycho Path’s” has lost more at stake with little string to yarn a strong woven story together that necessarily elevates John Doe’s affixed obsession to follow a blood-shedding zig-zag path loosely in a little-to-nothing conveyed context. “A Psycho’s Path” becomes a shell of other film’s former selves.

No One is Safe as the tagline warns on the DVD and digital download release of “A Psycho’s Path,” a production from Entangled Entertainment, Hourglass Pictures, and Stroboscope Studios, and distributed ITN Studios and Mill Creek Entertainment, a division of Alliance Entertainment. Presented in it’s original aspect ratio, an anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1, the image can be lost in a shadow-heavy contrast. Though praising his dark tone earlier alongside some well framed shots, Dylan Martinez, at times, goes full midnight at moments that hide events and eventualities from being discernible. The uplighting motif helps with cutting the overly dark picture and creates a sinister mood as slithers of shadows give a hard edged appearance. There’s also a menagerie of tint that doesn’t hone a theme. The English language Dolby Digital audio track renders palpable with clarity in dialogue and a decent range of ambience; however, the lack of depth throws some shade as characters, no matter whether in the background or foreground, live on an equal degree of volume. The release clocks in at 84 minutes, is not rated, and includes option English SDH subtitles. “A Psycho’s Path” has adequate acting, indie charisma, and one hell of a kill scene with a head in a vice like death grip and squeezed to pop like a ripe tomato in one’s hand, but can’t reproduce the slasher mystique well enough to earn it the trait.

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