Evil Lurks in the Woods. You’ve Been Warned! “Altar” review!


Maisy and her socially reclusive brother, Bo, venture on a mountain getaway trip with Maisy’s former college friends. With Bo documenting with a handheld video camera as part of his way in comforting his anxiety, he captures the dynamic of how each of Maisy’s friends have changed over years, especially with Asher and his recently High School graduated girlfriend, Pam. After breaking down on the side of the road, falling behind the rest of the caravan, they encounter a strange man with an axe, harshly warning them to not continue up the mountain pass. Shrugging of the warning and returning to their now working vehicle, the group resumes their drive, but makes a wrong turn and becomes lost in the mountains’ thicket of the Sierra Nevada. They decide to setup camp for the night and continue their way back the next morning, but the discovery an ominous, skull-riddled altar in the woods unleashes a frightening presence that won’t allow them to leave. As tensions rise and night falls, Bo keeps his camera running as a soul inhabiting evil has fallen upon them that seeks to destroy them one-by-one.

“Altar” is the 2016 found footage horror from writer-director Matthew Sconce. Sconce is actually able to harness a fraction of the mysticism and presence that made the found footage genre a thing back in 1999 with the ground breaking flick “The Blair Witch Project” and does a well enough job implementing it into his very own version of an allusive satanic cult ghoul, but with more specials effects and screen time. Despite being titled “Altar,” the story barely wraps itself around the titular object with only a handful of brief scenes, one of the scenes being the thinly-connected introduction that intensely catches the attention, while mostly focusing on the friends’ road trip chatter, breathtaking scenic gasps, and becoming lost on the mountain without much peril in-between. Even the creature, whom makes the scene approximately the last 10 minutes, has more of a presence than the altar itself.

The plot follows around Maisy Marks and her Aspergers labeled brother, Bo Marks, played by Stefanie Estes and Jesse Parr who pull off the socially awkward brother and the cutesy overprotective sister well enough to pass muster. Maisy’s other “beau” is Ravi, played by Deep Rai, and along for the ride as well is muscle head Asher, Tim Parrish, and his ditzy, teenage girlfriend, Pam, played by Jessica Strand. Rounding off the group is Chelsea, a communications graduate who could only find work as a bartender who seems to be stuck in life, and she’s catered to by Brittany Falardeau. Michael Wainwright, Tina Johnson, Master Dave Johnson, and Catherine Wilcox make up the rest of the cast. As a whole, the acting wasn’t terrible even if the script was conventionally kitschy and with a group of young actors, I’m fairly encouraged to see more of their work.

However, acting is only a third of the battle when critiquing a film and “Altar” has falters more in it’s own story and script that’s peppered with cliche after cliche. The scenes leading up to the mayhem constantly hyped that something bad is going to happen; Bo finds an online article of two newlyweds missing for six months (part of the introduction), characters kept comparing their scenarios like horror films, or a daunting man, named Ripper, sternly warns them with a very large axe in his hand. Moments like these try to build tension, but when overtly and grossly laid out for views, sustaining the substance behind them is lost and waters down the effect toward campy foreshadowing. Special effects weren’t overly cinematic nor where they similar to video nasties and kept simple, much like “The Blair Witch Project, with a little more padding to them. The Evil Spirit, as it’s credited in the film and portrayed by Nicole Osborne, is a black and white nightmare that’s effective on camera; slightly cheesy with a hint of gooeyness, but edited in nice and sporadically for those eye-clenching jump scares.

Production company Movie Hero Studios partners with Distribber for a VOD nationwide release of Matthew Sconce’s “Altar,” including platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, PlayStation Network, and on Hulu. A DVD-R screener was provided and so commenting on video and audio quality will not be critiqued and there were no extras on the reviewed disc. “Altar” is, disappointingly, just another found footage casualty with hasty slivers of hope of not falling into the muck that has become an over-tapped genre. What Sconce has done with “Altar” makes the film enjoyable enough for a single viewing with little-to-no repeat value as everything lays out in the open and the only subtly in the entire film is the altar itself.

Watch “Altar” on Amazon.com!

Evil Who Kills Together, Doesn’t Necessarily Stay Together. “Capture Kill Release” review!


Fun-loving couple, Jen and Farhang, seem like your average young twosome. Underneath the common surface, they plot a sinister murder of a random stranger. Toying with hardware store supplies and dissecting the knowledge of the human anatomy, Jen and Farhang are well prepped to tackle the abduction, the murder, and the disposal of a human being, but when Jen’s obsessive nature can’t hold back her desire to kill any longer, the couple’s relationship will be harshly tested when a hesitant Farhang is unexpectedly confronted with Jen’s opportunity to kill a kind-hearted dinner guest and decides to pull out from their ghastly thought out preparations that results turning a potential grim bonding experience to a deadly relationship fallout.

“Capture Kill Release” is the 2016 Canadian film from co-directors Nick McAnulty and Brian Altan Stewart. McAnulty also penned the script. The handheld POV thriller has a story that places Jen and Farhang’s union in a familiar, yet deceiving manner, coupling routine relationship quibbles and desires with an unorthodox principles shared amongst them. While acting upon their romantic affair in the archetypes that include one-sided back rubs, jointly frustrating shopping adventures, and an infinite amount of trivial bickering, the dynamic between them feels no different from ours with their interaction with each other in their isolated internal pact being very relatable for audiences with partners or had the experiences with former partners. Enormous, thick tension sets the foundation for “Capture Kill Release” that continuously mounds an already pressurized and emotionally compromised partnership, strained to the brink of chaos that’s hard to dig out from under.

McAnulty and Stewart cast unknown Jennifer Fraser as Jen, much of the cast keep their namesakes with their respective characters, and Fraser, placing aside her remarkable beauty, inarguably locks in Jen’s sociopathic charm. Jen’s manic personality, jumping from conversation piece to conversation piece without smooth transitions and unable to focus without the determination to kill on the mind, contrasts sharply with the more reserved and constant Farhang, a role awarded to Farhang Ghajar who has worked on the directors’ prior film, “Uncle Brian.” Farhang’s conservativeness bares an ugly unconfident image that Jen wholeheartedly exploits, nearly forcing Farhang to go along, or play along, with Jen’s disturbed fantasy. Farhang Ghajar simply plants his character in a shot without much a change between appearance or delivery whereas Fraser frequents and embraces more everyday changes, including even minor ones like her hairstyles that seem to change every scene. Polar opposites, homeless guy Gary and ‘Rich guy’ jerk, round out the significant characters with actors Jon Gates and upcoming “Exorcism of the Dead” star, Rich Piatkowski.

In retrospect, “Capture Kill Release” feels rather depressing. The angst that’s imploding from within the Jen and Farhang bubble touches upon the everyday relationship attributes where couples fight or couples unite in not so extreme measures. Jen shows no empathy or sympathy for anybody with the exception of Farhang, a grappling, fleeting emotion to cling on someone who loves you for you. To further the depression, the recent hike in POV films beats into us the obsession with vanity. The camera, no matter the capacity, is a vain concept and McAnulty and Steward’s thriller spares no expense of arrogance when Jen can’t put down the camera, no matter how much Farhang pleads and persuades her, but If I were an amateur plotter toward killing an absolute stranger, I wouldn’t be a complete novice and record my handy work. This is where McAnulty builds in an unspoken caveat that Jen has a passion for filmmaking, dreaming big of directing, one day, her own feature, a notion that’s explored more during her rooting of her mother’s stored VHS collection from Jen’s childhood. The filmmaking approach to Jen’s obsession loosely bounds the implement of the handheld and feels forced like a last minute decision, especially when genuine home videos of Jennifer Fraser are cut into the story that’s out of place.

Midnight Releasing has released “Capture Release Kill” as a high definition online streaming video feature. I was supplied with a screener and can’t comment on quality or bonus features, but the co-directed film is available on these formats: iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, XBox, FlixFling and more. Even with the brief moments in gore, the blood runs extra thick with sickeningly realistic and shocking scenes of butchery. Gory found footage, such as “The House with 100 Eyes” or the more viscerally vigorous “The Butcher,” have been gaining momentum in their popularity with the handheld camera bringing a little authenticity to grisly murders that are on the other side of the spectrum of being a very anti-Hollywood concept that less sensationalized, but devilishly effective, on a budget. Throw in a handful of motivated and talented actors, such as Jennifer Fraser and Farhang Ghajar, in this semi-exploitation gore-thriller and you can strike gold with “Capture Kill Release” that’ll please even the harshest of found footage or handheld camera critics.

Get Caught In Evil’s “Flytrap” review!

vlcsnap-00001Newly hired UCLA astronomy professor James Pond becomes mixed up with peculiar behaving individuals when his car breaks down in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Held hostage in a small house, James reluctantly follows orders from an automaton man named Gilligan involved with a unusual plan for James to reproduce with the lovely Mary Ann. James’ ensnarement feel like a gag at first until he awakes bound to a bed and strapped with a shock collar; the once thought innocent fling with Mary Ann has taken a turn for the worse when he the realization that the whole human race could be in jeopardy. James becomes captivated by Mary Ann’s innocence, naivety, and beauty making his attempts to escape more difficult without her, but if he decides to stay, a ominous question mark will determine his fate.
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“Flytrap” is a micro sci-fi thriller production written-directed by 1995’s “The Mangler” screenwriter Stephen David Brooks and stars television series “Salem” Jeremy Crutchley as Jimmy Pond, Austrian born Ina-Alice Kopp as Mary Ann in ambivalence, and Jonah Blechman as the emotionless Gilligan. From the get-go, “Flytrap” slowly builds a momentum, but never really gains the full steam while revolving around Jimmy Pond’s detainee state. Ambiguity plagues the story with many unanswered questions, leaving more for the audiences’ imagination rather than to the exposition and that begs the question whether everything that did happen to the astronomer happened in reality or in just in his mind? For example, the voice in the air condition duct stays anonymous until, maybe or maybe not, the end and, perhaps instead, that was all just Jimmy’s subconscious informing him of his rational side opposed to what his heart desires such as, for instance, Mary Ann is not who she seems. Is Jimmy that much wrapped up in his paranoia?
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If you didn’t notice from the film’s synopsis, references from “Gilligan’s Island” are abundantly staged throughout, especially with the character names. Jason Duplissea has a minor role as the Skipper for only a brief moment and we never see Duplissea grace the screen with his presence again. Besides, Duplissea didn’t resemble his television show namesake as the others. Other pop culture references, such as Alfred Hitchcock, MTV’s Punk’d, and various others, are mentioned but the conveying of these felt as if the film didn’t have a single original thought starting with their characters, especially with the hip English astronomer and his vast knowledge of American and British pop culture. Yes, Jimmy Pond was struggling to humanize his captors, who supposedly hail from the planet Venus, with bad dancing, some romance, and an unquenchable yearning to be free, but the intention comes across technically clunky, delivered with no substantial soul. Other technicalities fair far better with great lighting to create an inauspicious atmosphere. Combine that with some solid performances from Jeremy Crutchley, Ina-Alice Kopp, and a frightening mechanical Jonah Blechman and the situation turns hopelessly weird.
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Aside from Jason Duplissea making little less than a cameo, other characters quickly pop in and pop out of the story. Billy “Sly” Williams involvement lacked girth when his character Rondell sits rather very patiently through the weekend, waiting for Jimmy to call or pickup his cell. There’s no motivation other than sit and wait and call the police where the inept police department uses a machine instructs to leave a message of a crime being committed. When Rondell finally has the opportunity to do big things in order to assist Jimmy, another moment is zapped away without a trace. Like Williams, Jonathan Erickson Eisley’s Azarias had a brief scene shunted even more quickly away once introduced chained tightly bound in the house’s basement and at that precise moment, a window of opportunity cracks open to help clear up the baffling enigmas giving much puzzlement to Venus’s plan to take over or destroy mankind. Given his incarceration, we can assume Azarias is Jimmy’s equal, a previous captive with a failed outcome. Omit Williams and Eisley roles and the Brooks’s film prospers into comprehension that much more.
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“Flytrap” is a festival winner – “Best Non-European Indie Feature at the European Independent Film Festival in France, Best Low Budget Feature at Worldfest Houston, Special Jury Prize at the Chelsea Film Festival as well as Best Feature, Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Blechman) and Best Ensemble at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival” – but falls to captivate and entertain even if chocked full of shadowy undertones of paranoia and loneliness. Pond, Jimmy Pond – a Bond reference “Flytrap” also made – needed more development to sauté an emotionally motley character until he’s well burnt to an cracked crisp. There will be no critiques on the audio and video as the disc provided was a screener. Check this psychological sci-fi thriller on digital HD through Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, and iTunes.

Buy “Flytrap” on DVD!

Watch “Flytrap” on Amazon Instant Video!


Mountain Hag Gets Evil! “Girl in Woods” review!

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Vividly haunted by the nightmares of her childhood, Grace Walker struggles with recouping from the brutal suicidal death of her father that has plagued her into adulthood.  Her boyfriend Jim plans a romantic getaway for just the two them in the remote region of the Smokey Mountains.  After a horrific accident fatally strikes down Jim, Grace is alone and lost in the thicket without her coping medication and without a basic knowledge of survival skills.  Battling with starvation, unequipped with survival supplies, and besieged with a mental breakdown, Grace combats against her inner and outer demons in order to stay alive.
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Eight years have passed since writer-director Jeremy Benson’s last film, the carnal exploitive “Live Animals,” and the filmmaker comes back strong with the upcoming deeply psychological horror “Girl in Woods.”  While the title seems unoriginally simple, the character Grace is anything but simple; however, primitive is a more suitable description of both title and character in the end.  Benson sets up the character by writing Grace as a woodsy no-nothing on the brink of insanity.  As Grace hikes behind Jim, whose carrying a rifle, she’s complaining about the possible dangers of bears and snakes while attempting to use her pink incased cellphone in a kill signal area to gossip about Jim’s engagement proposal the night before.  Immediately, Benson places an unstable, and the creature of comfort, Grace into panic and peril, the starting line of her laundry list of troubles.  From then on, the director relentlessly pounds Grace with hallucinations set within the Tennessee backwoods, torturing her from the mind with mental deterioration stemmed by hunger and onset psychosis to her body with physical pain from a deep gash wound in her hand.
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And who is this actress to which Benson mercilessly puts through the meat grinder?  Veteran actress Juliet Reeves (“Automaton Transfusion”) fills Grace’s disturbed shoes with a formidable solo performance for much of the duration.  The then 36 year old actress was pregnant with her second child during various filming shoots.  The father of the child is with none other than her co-star, now husband, Jeremy London (“Alien Opponent”) who portrays Jim.  Reeves is able to maintain a convincing lunatic lost in the woods despite the non-liner storyline where dream sequences and, supposedly, flashbacks intercut to build upon Grace’s tragic and unfortunate background.  Reeves commits herself to the stages of psychosis, slowly transforming from a manageable, calm medicated state to severely severing all ties from external reality.  Even when performing with her angel and devil conscious in the form of herself, Reeves doesn’t flinch, fashioning a frightening internal dynamic that’s damn realistic.
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“Girl in Woods” ultimately becomes a collaboration between the subgenres of psychological horror and man versus nature.  Benson’s story explores the possibilities of what might happen if a mental case like Grace is put into a dire predicament and the non-linear narrative simultaneously attempts to display how Grace is destined to be molded.  Interestingly enough as a tidbit of analytical comparisons, “Girl in Woods” marginally parallels with a few popular scenes from the 1987 John McTiernan film “Predator.”  When Mac, played by Bill Duke, chases down the extraterrestrial game hunter, he notes to Carl Weather’s Dillion, whispering, “I see you” toward the cloaked alien, which feels similar to when Grace spots the forest “demon” and chases after it, yelling, “I saw you” over and over.  Other scenes sport the same similar inkling from Grace whittling makeshift weapons to going full blown guerilla attack commando on the “demon,” who oddly enough also makes similar vocal  gutturals like the Predator.
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As far as production value is concerned, “Girl in Woods” has an ambitious approach with a infinitely engulfing forest that lurks like an antagonistic villain and an in-your-face motif of self-inflicted suicides that’s extremely graphic and hard to absorb with the brain-splattering, wrist-slashing overdose potency.  The CGI is kept at a minimum, but have one hell of a nasty bite that spurs the heart to a sudden pounding.  The practical effects reign supreme over CGI and within the confines of a warped mind, the possibilities are endless and Benson exploits the potentials.  Overall, fine performances by the rest of the cast:  Jeremy London, John Still (“Live Animals”), Lee Perkins (Slime City Massacre), and the stunning Charisma Carpenter (“Angel” television series) as Grace’s mother.

Produced by GIW in association with Yield Entertainment and distributed by Candy Factory Films, “Girl in Woods” is an upcoming film you don’t want to skip over.  Jeremy Benson has the talented eye of capture beauty within the horror and has the talented pen to wield craziness on paper.  I’m not at liberty to critique the audio and video quality as I was provided an online screener, but “Girl in Woods” is being released on iTunes, VOD, DirectTV, Cable, Dish, Amazon Instant, Google Play, and Vudu so there are plenty of formats to choose from on June 3rd.

Judgment of Evil Looks: “Blackbird” review!

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Columbine. Your first thought? I bet your first thought is a Columbine high school massacre of 15 students and teachers in April of 1999. Two armed to the teeth individuals walk into a school wearing trench coats and black clothing giving the look of Goth a bad name and forever giving the once questionably fashionable outfit of the early nineties stigma of hate, anger, revenge, and murderous intentions. The film “Blackbird” explores what happens when fear takes over a community because a Goth 15 year old boy makes insubstantial threats among his peers. His life is forever changed because he dresses the part of historical mass murders and lives in a cycle of despair because his right to freedom of speech is revoked by just a few expressive words written on a blog.
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Sean is an outcast. His black, satanic laden clothing, thrash metal music, and pacifist persona make him an easy target for popular kids, say the entire hockey all star team. When popular hottie Deanne shows interest in Sean’s life, the angst of high school becomes more of a burden upon Sean’s shoulders Deanne’s boyfriend threatens him. Sean’s counter threats go public and he is thrown into youth detention center by a community who fears a school-shooting massacre. From then on, Sean is force to conform and lie about who he really is and tries to regain his dignity and self from in and out of jail and in a community that fears him.
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Bravo writer-director Jason Buxton for producing a freshman film that is powerfully anecdotal, well performed by young actors, and well down in a production sense. Lead actor Connor Jessup serves as a force driven by his bottle emotions in the character of Sean. Jessup, who might remember as from TNT’s sci-fi series Falling Skies, harks up being a gothic pacifist as if he was one himself. Another stand out actor is Alex Ozerov as the relentless youth detention center bully Trevor. These two actors, plus a just as equivalently strong cast with Alexia Fast and Michael Bule, represent a strong contingency of intermediate Canadian actors that need more international exposure.
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While Blackbird doesn’t rely on major effects, the captivating storytelling is worth the price of admission. There are numerous underlying issues in Blackbird that are current in today’s world which makes this film so compelling and interesting. Topics like bullying, being true to yourself, high school shootings, parenting, and the broken court system are just a few of many touched upon and exploited for our own good. We, as people, can learn a lot from Blackbird. We can all relate to being bullied and being the bully and facing all the consequences in between.
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This multiple festival award winner is being released on VOD platforms and on DVD home entertainment by Breaking Glass Pictures on October 21st here in the States. This release should be a big win for Breaking Glass and a big win for whomever goes and grabs a copy.