EVIL is Only in Your Nightmares. Or is it? “Retribution” reviewed! (Severin / Blu-ray)

Severely depressed artist George Miller attempts suicide by jumping off from his apartment building.  During the exact same time, a low-end gangster is brutally killed by cruel loan sharks.  Being both born on Aril 1st and dying at the same time, the tortured spirit of the gangster possesses the meek artist’s body right before being resuscitated by EMTs.  After a long recovery filled with horrific nightmares, the affable artist returns to his apartment building where he’s welcomed by fellow tenants and an overly warm landlord.  Still plagued by nightmares that have seeped into his awake conscious state, George medicates himself to sleep but the nightmares continue as he sees himself using psychokinetic powers to kill random individuals with extreme malice.  The nightmares are so real he wakes up in a sweaty panic to find out that that exact person was killed the night before the very way it played in his dreams.  When George realizes the gangster has inhabited his body for revenge, he and his friends take measures to put an end to the vindictive carnage. 

Santa Maria.  Mother of God.  Help me!!!  That phrase, attached to the very last seconds before a gruesome death and announced blankly from fiery, dagger eyes, has forever been seared into the recessed corners of my eardrums as the death cry that echoes throughout Guy Magar’s 1987 gory and visceral possession identity crisis, “Retribution.”  Magar’s ultra-violent and super-chromatic film is the filmmaker’s grand inaugural entrance as a full-length director following up behind a string of director chaired television episodes, including episodes from “The A-Team,” “Blue Thunder,” and “The Powers of Matthew Star” that regularly contained quickly charged, action packed sequences.  The Egyptian-born director translates those intense moments of frenzied disturbance into his mean-spirited and unforgiving vindicator of a script cowritten with then first time screenwriter, Lee Wasserman.  Shot in Los Angeles, “Retribution” is a virtual tour of the city, using the streets of L.A. and real locations, such as the Don Hotel for George’s residence and the nearby House of Neon Art, as a lively, eclectic, and wallet-saving convenient giftwrap for the film’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde complexion that feels totally normal compared to L.A.’s divergent glamour.  Magar and Wasserman produce the film with Renegade and Unicorn Motion Pictures serving as the production companies and presented by Taurus Entertainment, formerly connected with United Artists. 

There are probably many actors that could been imagined for the role of George Miller, the suicidal artist plagued with visions of him committing murder, but it’s hard to imagine that venomous stare of complete satisfaction in madness spread across the face of anyone else other than Dennis Lipscomb.  No disrespect to the “Eyes of Fire” and “Wargames” actor but Lipscomb isn’t a chiseled-jawed and muscular leading man; in fact, Lipscomb is quite the opposite, but his range into mild-manner, all around nice guy George Miller into the lust for hatred and murderous revenge George Miller hangs on with complete chasmic permanence.  However, George’s love interest with the street working prostitute and fellow Don Hotel resident, Angel (Suzanne Snyder, “Return of the Living Dead II,” “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”), hardly ever seems natural in not only in the characters’ surreal age-yawning dalliance but also the chemistry looks and feels flat between Lipscomb and Snyder.  Magar and Wesserman neglect diving more into that bond between them but their enamored gleamy eyes for one another is apparent and strong without the context to back it up.  “The Dungeonmaster’s” Leslie Wing also is placed as a George Miller sympathetic advocate in her role as hospital psychologist Dr. Jennifer Curtis, but Dr. Curtis has more background to contend with in comparison to the suddenly conjured fondness from Angel as Curtis is a mental health professional caring for a suicidal patient from at his rock bottom worst to a complete positive turnaround in his mental transformation.  Curtis has more skin in the game with George’s supposed delusions of actually killing people in his nightmares as she defends not only George’s unique supernatural circumstances, but, in a way, herself as a licensed medical profession following HIPAA laws.  “Retribution” holds many dear and unforgettable characters that essentially captures the entire 1980’s spectrum of personalities and, even for a brief scene, the cast gives each role their all, including performances from Susan Peretz (“Dog Day Afternoon”), Clare Peck (“Teen Wolf”), Chris Caputo (“Ghost Warrior”), Danny Daniels (“Voodoo Blood Bath”), Ralph Manza (“Godzilla”), George Murdock (“The Sword and the Sorcerer”), Mike Muscat (“Hunter’s Blood”), and Hoyt Axton who doesn’t stray too far from his good intentions, but naïve, father role in “Gremlins” to being a detective tracking down suspect George Miller. 

I’m in total awe of Guy Magar’s “Retribution.” That opening scene of the suicide attempt with Alan Howarth’s building tension score drops not a single piece of dialogue yet opens with a gripping life and death situation, musically synced to progress toward a harrowing climax, and every frame is dripping with vintage 80’s appeal. Magar definitely knew what strings to pull to get the blood pumping, to get you excited, and to drop an excellent mystery right in the lap, or the middle of the street in this case with George Miller’s body after it flops off the car it just smashed onto. From that point on, “Retribution” peddles forward following the recovery, recouping, and ruination of George Miller’s life at the unseen hands of an exploiting, malevolent spirit that seeks to track down the top-tiered gangsters that shot and burned him alive and exact his own brand of harsh psychokinetic justice. Does it matter how George and this gangster, both born on the same day and both nearly died at the same time, came to fuse transcendently together? Don’t worry. Magar didn’t think it was important either and he’s right! “Retribution” snags all the attention for the sole purpose of the ride and that ride being a beautiful, color-coded daymare. The one aspect that ultimately retracts the buzzing high, stemmed from most 80’s films, is the sluggish love interest subplot between George and Angel stutter stepping into an awkward phase of interactions that hard stops much of core plot and though the plot is neurotically nonsensical to begin with, George and Angel’s desires for each other are about as cringeworthy as they come. Stick with the gore by honing in on Miller’s subconscious alter ego of a gangster serving his killers their just desserts via Kevin Yagher (“Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) and his highly effective special effects on a low end budget that, along with a brilliant showing of cinematography by Gary Thieltges, tips into the categorical likes of “The Evil Dead” or “The Exorcist.”

“Retribution” delivers a fervency unlike ever seen in one of the utmost, must-see, shamefully overlooked horrors films of the 80’s.  Now, with a deserved boost and in style, “Retribution” gets the royal restoration treatment with a jammed-packed and sleek 3-disc Blu-ray set from Severin Films and distributed by MVD Visual.  Disc one’s theatrical cut, clocking in at 107 minutes, comes from the recently discovered 35mm pre-print elements, shot on an Arriflex 35 BL3 per IMDB, and has been digitally scanned in 2K, presenting the region free film in 1080p Full High Definition inside the original widescreen 1:85:1 aspect ratio.  “Retribution’s” image pleasingly pops with fine delineating attention to the details that reach out to the point where they’re nearly tactile textures.  Every single setup of Robb Wilson King’s production designs are rich to begin with but are even figuratively injected with a smoother compression growth enhancing hormone, adding more layers of surface level details that personify and personalize the space.  Magar’s chromatically fluorescent vision is a literal tilt-a-whirl palette blast of phantasmagoria.  Disc tow is the extended Dutch video version that adds back in the extended seconds on the longer, gorier kill scenes.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is the sole mix on the release and, honestly, sates the need with the dual channels.  You obviously don’t get the surround sound, which considering this release would have been ideal, but the stereo mix, as well as the dialogue track, is still full-bodied, identifiable, and spotless of blemishes.  John Carpenter understudy Alan Howarth scores his solo synth-laden story on tenterhooks with a tinge of a Miami Vice theme as well as setting tonal moods that add depth to character layers.  If you want the entire OST, you’re in luck!  The third disc is a compact disc of the entire soundtrack.  Special features includes over two hours of content with Severin exclusive looking back at the experiences with the late director Guy Magar and the ins-and-outs of making “Retribution” interviews with co-writer Les Wasserman Writing Wrongs, actress Leslie Wing Shock Therapy, actress Suzanne Snyder Angel’s Heart, actor Mike Muscat Santa Maria, Mother of God, Help Me!, soundtrack composer Alan Howarth Settling the Score, special effects artist John Eggett Visions of Vengeance, artist Barry Fahr The Art of Getting Even, production designer Robb Wilson King Living in Oblivion.  Other special features include Guy Magar’s student film “Bingo,” stills and poster galley, and the theatrical trailer all packaged under a cardboard slipcover and a reversible snap case cover. Severin Film’s “Retribution” release is a triumph, a proper regenerarcy of revenge cinema, with all the gory details being the star of the show.

Own this Amazing 3-Disc set of “Retribution” from Severin Films!

Tune Into EVIL’s Overnight Radio Programming! “Ten Minutes to Midnight” reviewed! (MVD Visual / Blu-ray)



Veteran night shift disc jockey, Amy Marlowe, has hosted her own renowned punk rock show for the last 30 years.  On the night of a major hurricane rolling through town, the broadcast must go on as radio never sleeps, but Amy is bitten on the neck by flying bat prior to arriving into the station.  If things couldn’t get any worse, she’s trapped inside the station with the sleazy station executive who surprisingly introduces the disc jockey’s much younger and beautiful replacement.  As Amy deals with the sudden aftershock of forced retirement, she slowly descends into a topsy-turvy reality full of unannounced secrets, movements through her own past and present, and the unusually strange staff transforming into monsters inside the station walls.  To top it off, Amy craves blood.  Between the possibilities of unexpected grief and anger, rabies, or becoming something far more evil, Amy Marlowe, either way, is losing her grip on the real world.

The amount of thought and expression on blunt force change, numb appreciation, and profound existentialism worked into the allegorical dark vampire comedy, “10 Minutes to Midnight,” never steals from the narrative’s basic element, a breed of classically fed undead horror.  Writer-director, Erik Bloomquist, helms his sophomore feature film directorial that is also the second film written collaboratively with brother, Carson Bloomquist, following their 2019 debut thriller, “Long Lost.”  The Connecticut based siblings shoot “!0 Minutes to Midnight” at the ABC affiliated WILI radio station in Willimantic over the course of seven week nights, self-producing under the Bloomquist Mainframe Pictures banner alongside the third “Long Lost” screenwriter-turned producer, Adam Weppler, who also has a major role in the film. 

A soulful, applause-all-around performance by headlining scream queen Caroline Williams who makes her return to the DJ booth 35-years later after going face-to-face with Leatherface’s chainsaw in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” and, by God, Williams still has the cold-cocking charisma of her 1986 self.  Pinned to be discarded by station exec Robert (William Youmans), Amy Marlow loses control of her on-air persona for the first time in 30-years of broadcast radio.  Williams is on target with Marlow’s salacious-pointing meltdown rant with a viperous, quick-witted tongue spurred by the very news of her canning that started the hamster wheeling rolling, putting the pieces together of how much backstabbing, ungratefulness, and all-for-nothing hard work (and her younger days’ sexual servitude) becomes a deafening cacophony of noise before her Ten Minutes Before Midnight broadcast segment airtime.  Watching Williams work never gets dull from the one moment she’s rightfully screaming and ripping someone a new one to being overwhelmingly fractured by the venom that courses through her veins in a transformative and stunning performance.  Accompanying Marlow on her sudden career nosedive are a trio of dividing personalities that pull a different versions of the radio star.  Marlow’s seemingly only workplace friend and confidant, Aaron (Adam Weppler), has been a fan of hers ever since he was little, even providing a touching anecdote about him listening to her broadcast when he was a little boy, and there’s something between them, but teeters between admiration and desire that doesn’t flesh out because, again, it’s another problematic thematical item being circled around.  The other two characters rile up Marlow’s inner angst with their threatening postures or their maddening babble.  Nicole Kang (“Swallow”) and the late Nicholas Tucci (“You’re Next”), in their roles of hotshot millennial newcomer, Sienna, and the quirky and rambling security guard, Ernie, achieve just those respective levels of kicking someone when they’re already down with a flurry of annoyance.  Kang and Tucci deliver concentrated performances.  The acting is so entrenched into their characters, as well as with Weppler and Youmans’,” that when Marlow enters a status interchangeable, role-reversal, and nightmarish last stage of her existence coming to a conclusion, “Ten Minutes to Midnight” reups another thought-provoking scenario; one that has you frantically rewiring the tightly woven profiles your brain has determined about the characters to keep up with Bloomquist who is clearly three steps ahead.

Martin Scorsese once compared certain films to theme parks, noting their cinematic worth only in their high octane action entertainment and special effects that draw audiences in like moths to a flame and never letting the actors do the meaningful work themselves.  “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is a blue-chip, character driven vampire story rare to these parks.  Bloomquist’s themes on ageism, sexism, regret, change, grief, millennials, and more, snake through Marlow’s multifaceted transitional experience in a stylishly cynical fantasy.  Much of Marlowe’s perception isn’t tenaciously reliant on the consequences of the vampire bat bite to her neck.  Reoccurring as an example of perception throughout the film, whenever the camera hovers over a clock displaying 11:50 P.M., is the fading disc jockey finding herself stuck in a timeless rut, eternally clinging to her show in a disparate attempt to be relevant despite the inevitability of change as often noted by each idiosyncratic character – Aaron changing up her normal broadcast set start to call-ins, Robert axing her for younger talent, Ernie incessantly pointing out her symptomatic changes after the bite, and Sienna embodying the very epitome of change.  Marlow’s mind melds with her physical transformation as she goes through the seven stages of grief to at which one point she talks to who might be her younger self over the phone.  Marlow, initially hesitant, does not guide change, but to rather embrace it in a moment of accepting her own checkered past.  However, the dialogue I found to be most poignant was during the retirement party with sunken-eyed celebrators who just randomly show up for the event and Marlow turns to Aaron and comments on not exactly knowing who these people are.  There’s depth and soul in that comment for someone going through the process of retirement who sees unacquainted, new faces and perceiving them with only a tinge of familiarity and a lot of isolating loneliness.

If looking for wildly crafted and superbly acted vampire celluloid, I highly recommend Erik Bloomquist’s “Ten Minutes to Midnight” to sate your thirst now on Blu-ray home video from MVD Visual in associations with Jinga Films and Danse Macabre. The region free Hi-Def 1080p Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 on a BD25 and has a runtime of 73 minutes. Shot in a shadows of hard lighting, the picture quality is relatively sharp in the lack of natural light, but that sharpness scatters like roaches when a spectrum wave of neon hues or a bathe of vivid tint casts a psychotomimetic inducing trip through Thomas Nguyen’s tightly quartered medium and close up angles. The overall coloring on the location and characters falls into a matte flatness that works to the lightings advantage when using rich exterior color sources. The atmospherics are Amsterdam sultry under the heat of a carnal fluorescent red and Nguyen’s lofty present steady cam endues a nostalgic flame of eerie dreamscapes similar to early John Carpenter, such as in “The Fog” or “Prince of Darkness.” The English language audio tracks come with two options, a 5.1 surround sound and a stereo 2.0. “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is an audio-visual probe into the mind and senses and so the obvious choice here is the 5.1 surround sound; however, the lossy dialogue track becomes quickly overwhelmed by the behemoth sound design and soundtrack, the latter being original music by Gyom Amphoux. Musically, not my cup of tea, but will find an audience and fits into the narrative perfectly. Bonus materials include a behind the scenes entitled “Take One,” audio commentaries by director Erik and Carson Bloomquist as well as star Caroline Williams, multiple featurettes, a Grimmfest interview with the Bloomquists, Williams, WIlliam Youmans, and Thomas Nguyen, Grimmoire Academy and Popcorn Frights intros, and a festival teaser trailer. “Ten Minutes to Midnight” is a dusk till dawn decimator of sanity, a wickedly fun vampire oddity, and has an unforgettable, batty performance from Caroline Williams.

Recommended!  “Ten Minutes to Midnight” now on Blu-ray!

Unleashed, Nature Inspires the EVIL in All of Us! “In The Earth” reviewed (Neon / Digital Screener)

A deadly virus has ravaged the world, placing the inhabitants on a high alert edge of incessant sanitation and relentless paranoia. Martin, a scientist from the city, ventures to an ecological nature preserve to convey equipment for tests being conducted deep in the forest. Park Ranger, Alma, guides him on a two day trek toward a camp in total isolation supervised by Dr. Olivia Wendle, but during the second day of the journey, Martin and Alma are attacked in the middle of the night, left with no gear and a vague sense of what happened. The virus has yet to stake a claim on those living within the woods, but another malicious-driven presence, entombed by superstition and mental manipulation, enacts the forest to come alive around them, forcing them into a direction that presents a summoning of nature’s folkloric revenant.

COVID-19 has brought a tremendous amount of sorrow and an unforgiving plight upon the world, but for a few filmmakers, a global pandemic has been a source of inspiration that been a silver lining amongst the Earth’s population upheaval. Director Ben Wheatley tapped into that filament, you could say ,with his man versus nature mystery horror “In The Earth.” The filmmaker of “U is for Unearthed” short from the “ABCs of Death” and soon-to-be helming the follow up big screen sequel to novelist’s Steve Alten’s widely popular monster shark book series with “Meg 2: The Trench,” Wheatley writes and directs a quarantine start-to-finish feature that also incorporates the pandemic into the story, much to the same likes as Rob Savage’s “Host” that uses the virus as a means to drive the characters into doing something they normally wouldn’t be doing. The UK production is from Wheatley’s founded Rook Films and Neon, who last co-produced Brandon Cronenberg’s violent sci-fi thriller, “Possessor.”

With the pandemic resulting quarantine and a story set in the thicket of woods, “In The Earth” is innately slim around the casting waistline that concentrates the performance zest amongst a few, beginning with the introduction of Martin the scientist walking up to the sentry lodge located at the forest edge. Played by Joel Fry (“Game of Thrones”), the London born actor must endure as a hapless city boy taking woodland shots on the chin without much complaint, but definitely a grimace, a whimper, and a pass out. Guiding Martin through the woods is Alma, a seasoned park ranger under the eye of “Midsommar’s” Ellora Torchia who balances out her travel companion’s near ill-equipped, yet hazardously attempting, roughing the outdoors. Martin and Alma are nearly mirrored by the only other two people they come across in the forest – Zach and Dr. Wendle. Yet, Zach and Dr. Wendle’s similarities channel through how they instrument a link to the forest being, known as Parnag Fegg, that calls them to release it from the timber and foliage prison. Zach (Reece Shearsmith of “Shaun of the Dead”) honors Parnag Fegg with ritualistic images and symbols while Dr. Wendle (Hayley Squires) uses a combination of technological lights and experimental music to speak with the powerfully alluring presence. Shearsmith is devilishly certifiable with Squires backing up his character craziness with her own version that never places Martin and Alma into a safe haven’s circle. “In The Earth” rounds out the cast with Mark Monero and John Hollingworth.

“In The Earth’s” binary coding of nature versus urban, plus sublets of traditions versus technology, runs as a seamless motif to a bigger theme that nature has a global network web of personified communication and reason. I imagine Wheatley succeeded in what M. Night Shyamalan tried to accomplish in the Mark Walhberg’s headlining “The Happening” with bringing nature to the forefront stand against man who continuously seeks to destroy themselves and the world, forcing nature’s hand to take drastic measures, but Wheatley’s film more so tells not the story of a worldwide assault on mankind but rather as the resurrection of a single entity, an archaic necromancer of local legend, eager to walk the Earth once again after being driven to disembody their spirit to the forest. “In The Earth” also provokes a literal meaning toward an age old saying of “nature calling” by using the aforesaid network to unconsciously lure specific individuals into the woods and gather near a gateway relic or stone,. This act of intention calls for a sacrifice of purity and so one of the four individuals – Alma, Martin, Zach, and Olivia – will involuntary be the vessel of Parnag Fegg’s return while the others, under the persuasion of forest spirit, due it’s song-and-dance bidding. Ben Wheatley taps into a very John Carpenter archetype of people on the cusp of unleashing certain doom upon the world, invoking not only a spirit but also that very sense of last stand against damnation as epitomized in “The Thing” and “The Prince of Darkness.” “In The Earth,” however, isn’t so easy to see the forest through the trees with an first act setup that zips through the situation that leads Martin and Alma trekking through the woods and Parnag Fegg is only briefly dappled to be a dangled carrot for bigger things to come.

A chiseled, fey story with a dark, ominous cloud of impending doom lingering overhead, “In The Earth” is transcendence horror at it’s finest. Neon is set to release the R-rated, 107 minute film, “In The Earth,” in theaters on April 30th. The scaled down budget didn’t hinder Wheatley’s grand platform and with Nick Gillespie’s sophomore credit as feature film cinematographer, the playbook was unwritten for Gillespie to rework how to shoot a film under the confines of a pandemic with limited cast, a living forest, and still maintain safe social distant practices under strict mandated guidelines. Gillespie formulated wide-angles to capture an expanse of trees diminutively enshrouding the characters, almost like the forest was going to gulp them at any moment. A composition of artful imagery compiled together in a collage of intoxicating colors and feverish styles interprets nothing concrete in the heroines journey of an nearly unknowable presence only knowledgeable by world of mouth, leaving also the audience induced with a psychedelic vision at the whims of Wheatley’s direction. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits and the perfunctory ending opens the door for interpretation that can be more impacting than a firm resolution. Born and bred from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, “In The Earth” dispatches a diversion from the immediate, the real world, and the tumult of a virus with a bewilderingly diversion of troubling folk horror sown directly into Mother Nature herself.

Never Poke Isolated EVIL. “Darkness in Tenement 45” reviewed! (Wood Entertainment / Digital Screener)

In an alternate reality of the 1950s, the Soviet Union has obtained components for long range biological weapons that threaten United States’ borders.  New York City has been declared as a tangible target and the city is evacuated of all residents, but one tenement, number 45, remains occupied, boarded up by the frightened tenants to shield themselves from the biological threat and from a possible USSR invasion.  Cut off from the outside world and running low on food and supplies, the building’s owner, Felix, ventures outdoors to forage what’s left on the streets of NYC, leaving Martha in charge of the dilapidated building, the anxious children and the terrified adults.  Martha’s adolescent niece, Joanna, arrived just before the evacuation; a measure taken by Joanna’s mother due to her daughter’s “darkness” of violent outbursts, but Joanna’s darkness conflicts with Martha’s authoritarian leadership leading up to a faceoff between children and adults in already tense surroundings.

In August 2017, production finished on “Darkness in Tenement 45.”  In 2019, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to complete the post-production of the Nicole Groton written and directed psychological thriller based off fear and intimidation in the context of a Red Scare backdrop.  As her breakthrough feature film, Groton probably couldn’t have imagined that the release of her quarantine isolating and germ warfare agog could have coincided right in the middle of a current pandemic climate of self-quarantining anxiety and globally enforced lockdowns.  Yet, “Darkness in Tenement 45” can be viewed a sentiment of triumph in a time of actual worldwide darkness for a film with a crew that is comprised of primarily women and with a cast that favors the majority of dialogue roles also for women.  Groton supports her own cause by contributing as producer under her production label, A Flying Woman Productions, a North Hollywood, California based indie picture production company.

While there might be a contingent of characters that could easily be in the vying for lead, Nicole Tompkins is the discernible “darkness” descriptor in the “Darkness in Tenement 45” title.  The Texas-born actress has developed a little darkness of her own in her career corner being a principle lead in the 2018’s nightmares of the netherworld, “Antrum:  The Deadliest Film Ever Made” and also landing a voice role of one of survival horror’s most renowned heroines, Jill Valentine, in the remake of “Resident Evil 3” video game released this year.  Now, Tompkins scales the identity range as a damaged young woman sheltered in place from the elements of war only to be stuck as an afterthought amidst toxic authority that could endanger all tenants, creating a boiling tension culminating into a volatile climax with Martha, a role drenched with an unapathetic interest in children’s opinions, especially from the unstable ones.  Martha is played sardonically by “Blood of Drago’s” Casey Kramer with a seething disdain for anything that isn’t in her interest.  Overall, the performances and characters are grounded enough to development the story along it’s simple narrative lines, but not everything support character, who are supplemented with individual portions of the story pie, are well bloomed to sate their character.  For instance, Tomas, the youngest child of the building owner, Felix, has an undisclosed autistic side him and becomes obsessive with the breast of one of his older sisters, and while that plays out in Groton’s themes of partisan power when Tomas is given authority over his sisters from his venturing father, because of their innate Latina patriarchal culture, Tomas’s motivations fall short of really being dug out from the undercurrent context as an individual arc.  Same kind of broke off development can be said with Emmy Greene and Joseph Culliton’s characters as fellow adults who blindly follow Martha’s do-as-I-say mentality like lemmings toward their self-destructions.  The cast rounds out with a wide range assortment of children and adult actors that include David Labiosa (“The Entity”), Melissa Macedo (“Blood Heist”), Keyon Bowman, Marla Martinez (“Blood of Ballet”), and Anthony Marciona (“Invasion U.S.A.) who provides more of a 1950’s white man NYC accent true to the era.

Revolving around the theme of isolation, “Darkness in Tenement 45” operates under the similar structure of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” by establishing a group of people cutoff from the rest of the world trying to survive a different kind of infection and the antagonist alien, represented as the darkness in Groton’s film, is the villain that tears the remaining survivors apart from the inside, metaphorically in the house instead of their bodies in this case.  “Darkness in Tenement 45” is by no means on tenterhooks or as a molecularly gruesome as John Carpenter’s classic re-imagining of an actual 1950s film, but the basic principles of the story present plenty of suspicion, hegemony, and stir craziness to go around, fueling the dreams and anxiety to Joanna’s snowballing psychosis redlining toward critical.  While I feel that the performances and wardrobe are not the best representation of the 1950s time period, the Caitlin Nicole Williams’ production design shoulders much of that responsibility.  Williams, who worked as the second unit production designer on the satirical-slasher “Dude Bro Massacre III”, creates a delineable vividness out of a bare bone lined tenement setting, appropriate for the depicted social class and period, while exuding the crude shiplap finish that fits the narrative, adding confinement and angst to the space.  “Darkness in Tenement 45” is Groton’s groundbreaking effort that dishes out this disorder of a safe haven in dismay; yet, the story pulls plot point punches that should have landed to knockout a more effective thriller that touches importantly upon the very livelihood and fate of each individual tenant in an alternate universe wartime backdrop.

On the biggest day of every four years, as anxiety-riddled clouds loom over the entire nation as we all wait in the shadows with bated breath of who will be the next President of the United States of Election Day, Wood Entertainment has embraced another kind of tense darkness with their release of “Darkness in Tenement 45” onto various digital platforms, including iTunes; Amazon; Vimeo, Xbox, Google Play, iNDEMAND, FandangoNOW, and more. Continuing the praise of the female-led thriller is with the Carissa Dorson cinematography that deposits two shot styles of the conscious and subconscious. When awake, Joanna and the others are engulfed in a hefty, deep dark and light wood brown scheme that compliments the slummy environment of their tenement. When asleep, Joanna is rendered in a softer image to resemble the hazy or airy atmosphere of her dreams. This style is also complete with a medium scaled purple-pink tint often associated with the hallmark callings of a 1970s-1980’s foreign supernatural horror. Dorson never intertwines the two styles, giving clarity to Joanna’s conscious and subconscious state without going deeper into the character’s easily agitated and short fuse temperament, while also setting up some neatly framed shots that make things look bigger or more menacing than they appear, such as the overly boarded up entrance door or the candle lit supper table that becomes a point of contention. Flashes of incubus imagery and the dissonance of gearworks clanking around an unhinged mind give “Darkness in Tenement 45” a morsel of allure amongst the thematical discord of breaking the chains of restrained individualism and overprotecting those with a firm hand from self-harm and while the film might not be pitch perfect, the spirit is strong in the vanguard of female-driven filmmaking.

“Darkness in Tenement 45” now available for rent on Amazon Prime!

EVIL Gets Loopy in “Welcome to The Circle” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Blu-ray)

Greg and his young daughter Samantha are turning out the lights on a camping trip in the woods.  When a bear attacks in the middle of the night, Greg awakens in the care of a commune-like camp.  Injured but alive, Greg is given the grand tour of the encampment of a cult known as The Circle where he rejoins with his happy-go-lucky daughter and meets a few other strange and unusual members who worship the legacy and the omnipotent existentialism of The Circle’s creator, Percy Stephens.  What the father-daughter combo don’t realize is that The Circle is a demon worshipping cult bidding on the whimsical demands of Percy Stephen’s rancor and malice.  A group of outsiders led by Grady, a former cult member in his youth, are determined to rescue and reprogram one of the followers close to them, but step into an upside-down world, demonized with smoke and mirrors, set on swallowing their souls for the sake of Percy Stephens delight. 

A diabolical drip of disorienting deception, “Welcome to The Circle” is a roundabout from Hell, cordially ostracizing the love and blessings ideology for more sinister, soul-sucking profit of an unconventional demon film.  “Welcome to the Circle” is a Canadian-made debut independent feature from write-director David Fowler and Fowler, better known for his work on documentaries, knocks on the door of insanity with a tailspin narrative that collides John Carpenter’s “In the Mouth of Madness” with Clive Barker’s “Lord of Illusions” with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s “The Endless” rapping at the door and the results are an enigmatic nightmare full of stone faced mannequins, body inhabiting occupations, a series of blackhole peculiarities, and being eaten alive by crazed acolytes.  The Vancouver, British Columbia based Canadian company, High Deaf Productions, embarks into the feature film bazaar, with Mack Benz and Michael Khazen serving as company producers, with co-production association from Corvid Arts and Upfront Films.

Broken into two parts, the narrative opens the first portion up to familiarize with the cultist sheep in the stark white attire of wolves’ clothing that throws Greg and his daughter Samantha’s kismet into the uncertain pit of a demon’s impish thirst for souls.  When introduced to Greg (“Dragged Against Concrete’s” Matthew MacCaull), much of the character falls below the waist side as a single father detached from his own child and surrounded by conniving zealots that funnels into becoming weak, if not also immaterial when MacCaull is unable to explore Greg more in depth.  Nothing against MacCaull who performs well enough with an unsympathetic character that has a cold shoulder connection with his insubordinate child and no real background fuel a feed into Greg’s worth as one of the mainstay roles.  I also thought a little more on The Circle’s followers would be constructive to The Circle’s reason for fervor and appeal, but instead, Sky (“Supergirl” television series’” Andrea Brooks), Lotus Cloud (“Pacific Rim’s” Heather Doerksen), Rebekah (“The Wrong Daughter’s” Cindy Busby), and Matthew (“The Unspoken’s” Michael J. Rogers) are members developed only inside a crumbling hierarchy structure obtaining cryptic messages from a demon, Percy Stephens, from beyond their plane of existence.  Percy Stephens is perhaps the best complex character in the fold without having a stable foundational actor in his shoes and is played by various faces of the film’s cast able to reach back toward an immense and mysterious backstory that involves a slew of daring and impressive accomplishments and a demonic tiger shark that may or may not be Stephen’s aquatic damnation to Hell.  The second portion moves greatly away from Greg and his daughter and into a rescue operation, led by the unfiltered and unorthodox Grady, a former The Circle youth who landed in a psyche ward only to be hired to infiltrate the cult to extract Rebekah, paralleling his motives to understand the mechanics of the cult that led to the disappearance of his mother.  “Stan Helsing’s” Ben Cotton delivers a performance that is anything but vanilla as the sharp wit and cool as a cucumber Grady, dominating each and every scene in a disheveled and aloof veneer that becomes Grady’s best defense against Percy Stephen’s engaging entanglements.  The cast rounds out with Taylor Dianne Robinson (The Twilight Saga:  Breaking Dawn Part 2), Hilary Jardine (“Teen Lust”), Matt Bellefleur (“In Their Skin”), Christian Tessier (“Night of the Demons III”) and Jordana Largy (“Rememory”). 

It suffices to say that David Fowler’s topsy-turvy and boundless the fake-fake, a descriptor of the story’s in-between existences, is an alternate universe complete with hope chest portals and wraith approaches that will disrupt the audio and visual perceptions, disconnecting the straightforward wiring only to cross the stepping stones of normalized story structures to fissure what we know into a fractured reality.  The foyer to oblivion, the fake-fake, isn’t an easy one to digest and Fowler is very much aware of the real-real consequences of traversing into the world of the fake-fake.  Fowler forces you to pay a penance for crossing the threshold that will cause dizziness and nausea, the same affects the characters sometimes experience through the compressed spaces of time and planes of The Circle, soldering an unintentionally immersive experience with the combination of simple and natural cinematography infused effects that spun, tilted, and corralled acute fear and isolation from under the DP supervision of Sterling Bancroft. In regards to Fowler’s darkly imaginative story, the script a lively progression of diverse ideas and concepts that construct a little world within a bigger world, especially on a modestly tight budget that can’t afford mind-blowing special effects, but the cohesiveness is heavily reliant on the character’s to explain the actions that are occurring to progress an outline and much of that explanation falls into poetic prose and riddles. Characters Percy Stephens and Grady to much of the grunt work in vocalizing the visuals, but the course is a rocky road and with every bump there’s a meaning within a meaning and to know the meaning is to meaning to know. See what I mean? “Welcome to the Circle” chips away the substantial concrete barrier with a bombardment of incorporeal flak that comes in wave-after-wave of full blown auteur creativity.

 

To get caught in the loop is to loop in getting caught and that’s what Artsploitation Films has done by acquiring and distributing “Welcome to The Circle” on a Blu-ray home entertainment release. Presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the digitally recorded picture is about as immaculate as they come nowadays with tactile textures of grainy log of the cabins, the floral of the forest, and the scruff of Matthew’s bristly beard all looking particular sharply detailed albeit some minor fluctuations of softness seeping into the brush and into more dreamlike sequences and though flat, the colors due run unbridled with the forestry green and the eggshell color of mannequin “skin” that renders subtle differences more distinct. Darker scenes render nicely and smoothly without as much of a flicker of interference and Bancroft’s use of depth forces audiences to focus only on what’s extremely close up or what’s faraway by way of adjusting the focal length. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio also has little-to-no complains with a well rounded discernible platter of clear, forefront dialogue, depth and range of vocals and ambience, and a combination score and soundtrack by Reid Hendry with original and haunting folk tracks by Jo Krasevich do an insidious one-two punch that bruises the soul. The not rated, 93-minute film comes with only a theatrical trailer in the bonus features. Despite the dense ambiguity that surrounds the film, the demonic ensnaring doom that accompanies “Welcome to The Circle” is, simply put, psychosis in a bottle that director David Fowler just effortlessly uncorked.

Own “Welcome to the Circle” on Blu-ray!