EVIL Says, Victor Crowley Who? “Freak” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / DVD)

Get Freaky with “Freak” on DVD at Amazon.com

Arthur Crenshaw – the name of a terrifying urban legend.  The story has it that the religious small town-born Arthur was malformed unlike anything anyone has ever seen and that the God-fearing townsfolk didn’t take kindly to his existed as Arthur was looked down upon as an abominable creation of Satan.  His parents, giving into constant community pressure, casted him out into the nearby woods to die alone.  Years later, campers would record that their food and supplies would go missing.  Some campers even went into the woods and never came out.  Present day, a group of campers reserve a campsite, seeking the thrill of the woods’ notorious backstory and for a little R&R on a quick weekend getaway, but the stories of the misshapen, monstrous Arthur Crenshaw are not just tarradiddles to give people the willies and for the youthful campers, a night under the stars has become a night of survival.

Looking for something different, unusual, and still carnage drunk in a disfigured, backwoods killer of a campy slasher?  Look no further!  Lucky Cerruti’s very own misunderstood reject Arthur Crenshaw is the type of “Freak” we’ve all been craving.  The 2020 American indie feature is the sophomore production from writer-director Cerruti who oversaw all the pre-, principle, and post- in the height of pandemic time.  The “Kindness of Strangers” filmmaker films “Freak” in New York’s picturesque Adirondack mountains surrounding the community of Ochiota and Cerruti’s able to capture a slither of the landscape beauty with the majority of shots constrained to closeups due to puppetry.  Yes!  Arthur Crenshaw is but a mere puppet with more than frightening features that makes him appear more alien than human.  “Freak’s” indie crew consists of James Bell on special effects with producers Matthew Sorensen, Kegan Rice, Jessica Fisher, Leslie Dame, and Robin Cerruti serving under multiple hats with cinematography, puppetry control, and creature design under directors Dead Vision Productions.

Consisting of mostly Adirondack local artists and actors, “Freak’s” casts yips with little bite to make Arthur Crenshaw’s wretched, hillbilly kill-monger. Unimpressive and uninspiring character buildups coupled with so-so first-time acting doesn’t exactly put one on edge for these unlucky campers’ survival. I realize that Cerruti attempts to parallel Crenshaw with the awkward tag-a-long little sister Jenna, played by independent painting artist Sasha Van Cott, by focusing on both of them being an outcast and misunderstood. Cott’s meek performance aligns with that element but the character, like the others, is terribly bland. Her brother Ryan, performed by independent musician Dorran Boucher, is portrayed as seemingly have little to do with Jenna in a big brother role that can be described as neither sympathetic or apathetic to his sibling and treats her more like just one of the friends, but encouraged by their parents to bring Jenna to socialize her into having…I don’t know what. Jenna does manage to have a spark with or soft spot for Ryan’s best friend Henry as she constantly sides with his oddball interest in the legend of Arthur Crenshaw. Her fascination keeps Henry interesting in a subconscious kind of way but the two are a mismatch from the start as he appears to be the cool kid or the jock trope of the group. “Freak” sacrifices up a platter of kill-fodder with throwaway roles by more feature film first timers in Annachristi Cordes, Hunter Wilson, Leslie Dame, Hope Stamper, and Lucky Currati in an intense introductory opener and Kent Streed as Arthur’s old man who gave a damn and one of the only principals to receive a proper personal history that provides depth and understanding.

“Freak” might have low marks in acting, but the self-labeled C-movie has straight up, grade-A kills. We’re not talking about a simple knife to the gut or a slice across the throat here. Arthur Crenshaw doesn’t quite know when to stop as that single slice turns into two slices, three slices, four slices, and on and on until the who head hangs barely on the sinew attaching the head to the rest of the body. You know when you’re dicing up chicken breast and that white tendon streaking through the raw white meat is so damn hard to cut through, it’s like that. There’s blood everywhere and then some. “Freak” is surprisingly and pleasantly gore-laden and that goes hand-in-hand with the antagonist’s physical existence as a rod puppet worked from behind under the guise of a green screen by creature designer and executive producer Matthew Sorenson. Sorenson’s visualization is quite the abstract concept in reality with reverse knee flamingo legs, essentially no torso, and a head with one big blue eyeball and snaggle teeth. Arthur reminds me a little of the aliens from the 1996 David Twohy alien conspiracy film “The Arrival.” Hell, he could have very well been a stand in. The puppet and the puppetry are quite crude but are profoundly effective, welcomely campy, and an ingenious way to make a horror film during pandemic pandemonium.

Wild Eye Releasing, along with distributor MVD Visual, get in bed with the “Freak” on region free DVD home video. The big question is is “Freak” considered a feature film since the runtime is only 52 minutes? Some would argue the not rated Lucky Cerruti production doesn’t make the cut. I would say so what? But I did find the short runtime does hurt the storyline that’s unable to beef up portions that severely lack substance, such as the campers. The DVD is presented in a widescreen format that doesn’t list the ratio on the cover but if I was a betting man, 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The digitally recorded video’s data decompresses are varying levels between from a high 4 to a low 7 Mbps as banding and digital noise inference sneak into on the low-lit scenes negligibly. The DVD lists the audio as stereo, but the release actually has an English Dolby Digital 5.1. In fact, for some reason, there are two of the same Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks without any metric differences available. Despite some crackling during the more intense audio moments, the audio tracks are pretty well balanced and keep most of the blights at bay. The bonus features include a nifty behind the scenes featurette that dives deep into creating “Freak” in a wholistic view, a directory’s commentary, and Wild Eye trailers. We want more of the “Freak,” more of Arthur Crenshaw, as the Lucky Cerruti and Matthew Sorenson have a goldmine of a cult slasher right at their fingertips as the potential next big backwoods franchise that’ll breathe new life into horror and provide the genre what it sorely needs and deserves. Now…where’s Part II: The Return of Arthur Crenshaw?!?

Get Freaky with “Freak” on DVD at Amazon.com

Mama’s EVIL Little Boy. “Mother” reviewed! (SRS Cinema / DVD)

A boy’s best friend…is his “Mother.”  DVD at Amazon.com

In the deep pocket of rural America, a son is born in a country home and over the years, the baby of the house lives a cossetted life by his mother.  Warped by her mollycoddling ways and unaffected by the death of his father, the now young man apathetically bends to his mother will whether she’s conscious of it or not.  He responds in unkind to overprotect his mother when an envious older brother derides their special son and mother bond and is murdered in cold bold.  As more years pass and his mother succumbs to her health deterioration, the son, now the last of his family, remains in solitary at the family home and the absence of his beloved mother haunts him as he processes his unnurtured and unhealthy sexuality onto the unwilling living and the unresponsive dead. 

In 2003, the NY-based indie horror filmmaker Michael P. DiPaolo gave us “Daddy,” an undead rape-revenge zombie-thriller that brought the corpse of an abusive father back from the grave to exact a fate far worse than death on his daughter and her friends who put an end to drunken state defiling of his little girl.   Three years later, DiPaolo releases to us “Mother.”  However, don’t expect this to a companion film connected to “Daddy.”  Instead, “Mother” is a whole new story with a whole new stylistic approach, including zero dialogue in a black and white frame – much like a silent movie but with more Foley and no corresponding continuous piano tunes. Ed Gein became the core inspiration for DiPaolo who retells the Plainfield, Wisconsin described Ghoul‘s horrifying deeds of exhuming corpses, creating trophies out of the remains, and even the slaying of two women, a tavern owner and a general hardware store clerk. DiPaolo self-produces the film under this Black Cat Cinema productions along with associate producer Zachary Balog and shoots the film most of the homestead around Cropseyville, New York, near Albany, and the surrounding area.

Comes no surprise that the actor who once portrayed the former Republican Vice President, Dick Chaney, for Damon Packard’s Fatal Pulse also plays the details likes of one of America’s most notorious murderers. The Buffalo, New York born John Karyus, who had a minor role in “Daddy,” reteams with DiPaolo to present a dialogue-less version of the life and death of Ed Gein by stepping into virtually his skin – that’s an Ed Gein joke in case you were paying attention. Karyus and DiPaolo don’t hold anything back in the peculiar biopic that dives deep into dismemberment madness, fascination killings, and the loss of motherly love. Half of the praise should be awarded to Nina Sobell as the son’s mother. Sobell not only plays mommy dearest but also the hardware store clerk and the tavern owner in an unrecognizable fashion. The up-in-age actress’s comfort level was high enough even for a nude scene in which Karyus has to dress her approaching older age and invalid body. Karyus might be on centerstage as the star of the show, but Sobell’s in the backstage manipulating the pullies, curtains, and supporting Karyus with different angles that give way to the avenues of an aggressor’s cloistered milieu. Other minor characters quickly come and go amongst the silence feature with costars in Jason McCrea as the bigger brother, Phil Sawyer Jr. as the best friend, Adam Zaretsky as the father, and Svetlana as the exhumed corpses brutally hacked away for her bone-afied trophies.

The distorted mind of Ed Gein must have been a surreal inverted world. I think Michael DiPaolo encapsulates a similar essence of the upside-down perspective seen through the eyes of a killer with what can be said to be his woven auteur’s arthouse tapestry. You would think no dialogue would drag the film through the monotonous much and show signs of repetitive tiresome, especially dressed in a colorless monochrome but the crafty cinematography and grisly gestures never waver interests as we’re along for the fall of man beheld as not only mother’s baby boy but also as her ardent admirer. Her presence was a tattered thin tether that kept him secure to reality and once she checked out, the abnormal fascinations that always laid dormant now flourishing with full force like an unchecked weed in an immaculate garden of prize-winning roses. The son goes from a chaperoned teetering-maligned individual to full-fledged grave robber and skin suit tailor, raping and ripping the flesh from dead bodies over the course of years, denoting just how psychologically paramount a mother’s care is for a boy in the balance of good and evil. DiPaolo more-or-less hits every note in the book in regard to Ed Gein’s past, tweaking a few historical moments for dramatization or budgetary limits, while still maintaining a professional code of conduct despite constructing the film on the cheap. DiPaolo definitely knows and understands what he’s doing and how to work the system as clearly seen between the tone and expression differences of 2003’s “Daddy” to 2006’s “Mother.”

First, there’s was the back form the dead “Daddy.” Now, there’s the spoiling to sociopathic “Mother.” A match made in Hell and both available on a region free home video DVD from SRS Cinema. The “Mother” release is presented in black and white on SOV 1.33:1 aspect ratio, reconstructed in an impressive 6-7 megabytes per second due partly because there is nothing to decode from a RGB color signal. Contrasting is good as you can greatly appreciate the spectrum between light and dark patches. Sporting no dialogue, the LPCM 2.0 stereo features slightly exaggerated Foley and a dissonant vocal score, some in the Russian language nonetheless, from the Moscow born, New York residing folk instrumental artist LJova (Lev Zhurbin). There’s clarity over ambiguity to the action-destined soundbites being conveyed even if a bit over-the-top as if to compensate for the no dialogue. The 76-minute film is coupled with a DiPaolo short film “Brutal Ardor” about a woman trapped inside her small apartment and an immense amount of despair living with a sexually overbearing and jealous husband. Also included in the bonus material is a making of featurette voiced over by DiPaolo as he goes through his creative process and techniques (and is also somewhat of a comedy track), a director’s commentary, the feature trailer, Michael DiPaolo film trailers, and other SRS trailers. Perfect for a double bill with DiPaolo’s “Daddy,” “Mother” is a cynical and desolation ark of biblical proportions adapted from a horrid torrent of truth.

A boy’s best friend…is his “Mother.”  DVD at Amazon.com

Even After Death, EVIL Fathers Can Still Be Punitive! “Daddy” reviewed! (SRS Cinema / DVD)

Come to “Daddy” now on DVD at Amazon.com

In a small lakeside, mountain town, a violent rape of a young woman paralyzes her into complete shock, shutting down her power to speak, and spiraling her into a withdraw.  Newly appointed Sheriff Sylvia Carlsen has a personal stake in the case as the woman is a close and dear childhood friend.  The nature of the rape puzzles law enforcement and frightens the small community after evidence of soil and worms are discovered around the scene of the crime and inside the victim.  When another of her close friends is violently rape the same way, Carlsen’s painful recollection of a dark secret involving her and her friends reagitates a dormant fear and familiarities between her past and the rapes appear to me more than just coincidences.  As the attacks continue, the toll on her mounds and a series of erratic behavior incidents put into question her judgement but that won’t stop her digging into her own case of issues.

Have you ever come across a zombie revenge thriller where the decomposing undead, recently fresh from a risen unmarked grave, stuck his worm (no, that isn’t an euphemism) into a hapless female victim?  While not explicitly depicted in what sounds like a niche fetish of the subfloor adult film industry, the image of soil and creepy crawlers inside the vaginal cavity is very real in director Michael P. DiPaolo’s “Daddy” where daddy issues can be extremely violating and gruesomely decaying all in the same rotten breath.  The “Requiem for a Whore” and “Transgression” filmmaker writes and directs the 2003 SOV-shot style, back from the grave indie production, at one point in time was called under the working title of “Rigor Mortis,” hailing from the Albany proximate Averill Park, New York and was self-funded and produced by DiPaolo and Christopher K. Philippo (“Motor Home Massacre”) under DiPaolo’s production label, Black Cat Cinema.

The actresses to be symbolically lubricated with the Earth’s muck are played by four friends, who just happen to be all blonde as if blondes run together like a pack of wino Golden Retrievers. In her first feature film, not a television role, is principal blonde number one Selia Hansen as the frequently boozing, causal sex engaging, newly appointed sheriff, Sylvia Carlsen. Hansen plays the hot-headed Sheriff eager to prove herself but is shredded emotionally by the violent sexual assault against her friends – Leslie (Katherine Petty), Jamie (Cynthia Polakovich, “Date with a Vampire”), and Allison (Bevin McGraw, “Arachnid”). Other than BFF Leslie, there isn’t too much discourse between the good friends and if is conversing between them, the topic of conversation is about the rapes, leaving the groups’ tightly knit friendship barely tethered to Carlsen’s burdened shoulders. Ravaging the community’s blond population is the titular rapist and to avoid obvious spoilers, I will refrain from divulging the attacker’s reason for stalking Sheriff Carlsen and her male unaccompanied friends. In what is perhaps the biggest role of his scarcely career, Aaron Renning lurks around like deviant, tongue-wagging Uncle Fester complete with chrome dome and a dirty dinner jacket grimed with earth and wiggly worms. Renning’s performance has it easy with zip for dialogue and a penchant for being a raving manic with a libido in hyperdrive. The performance bares no crass crudeness as it’s very to the point without revealing the point – if you get my point. Actors following up from Michael P. DiPaolo’s “Transgression” is David Shepherd as the town’s Doctor Vance and Marc St. Camille as the pushover Deputy Richie Dagg. Yet, the most interesting casted member is John Karyus. The “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead” to “Big Freaking Rat” B-horror Karyus plays the Sheriff’s ex-husband who’s always peeping and is eager to inform his ex-wife something important but doesn’t ever receive the chance to, marking his scenes utterly pointless.

“Daddy” issues is right. DiPaolo strikes up grave retribution with a zombie degenerate harboring a message, one that I can only hope is accurate, is suppressed emotional trauma can be haunting, if not deadly, when not dealt with its beleaguering demons. However, “Daddy’s” undercurrent is more grossly sweeping and pungent with corrosive, misguided outcomes. Instead of battling trauma, DiPaolo’s depiction of Carlsen’s alcoholic abuse and fleeting affairs coupled with nightmares of the past also speaks illy toward guilt and feeling guilty over an irreversible criminal act done for the right reasons, in self-defense, nonetheless, sets the wrong tone. The finale also doesn’t set well with the fact that DiPaolo inflicts no escape from one’s rapist, no comfort in the knowledge of their death, and that their lives hang in the very balance, targeted by a demented vision. Demented, that’s definitely how I would describe DiPaolo’s serial rapist zombie flick that’s not terribly terrifying as it is one’s twisted filmic folly into incest and inevitable topple of repossession of oneself. “Daddy’s” acting is often stiff and forced, on the cheap effects offer up fake and live worms and a gray palette zombie perv, and the handheld SOV-style camera work from DiPaolo himself is like a fly buzzing around the room at times. “Daddy’s” beyond the dead vindictive nature is only abated by the number of topless blondes being subjected to dry humping in this ill-judged, undead-to-bed fiasco.

Of course, it only makes sense that SRS Cinema would release something to the likes of “Daddy” onto DVD home video. SRS Cinema loves nearly everything shot-on-video, nihilistic, zany, and unconscionable content. Sex and death sells and SRS Cinema has a long history of delivering good on that brand of promise while also luring unsuspected victims, I mean viewers, with exceptional retro-cover art that’s vibrant and detailed in all things macabre. The region free DVD has an aspect ratio of 4:3 and a runtime of 83-minutes. Shot with a videotape camcorder, image quality is about what you expect with an immense amount of interference during night shots and compression artefact issues rampant throughout, especially during black and white flashbacks, but the image is essentially discernible which makes DiPaolo’s use of only natural light more impressive. The English language mono track is hit-or-miss depending on the camcorder’s mic placement with faded hissing to throw another curve back at you. There are moments when the ambience is exquisitely sharp in fidelity and edit, such as the blaring police siren or a car suddenly passing into frame for jump scare effect. Bonus features include a commentary track with Michael P. DiPaolo, a behind-the-scenes featurette with DiPaolo narrating upon how he accomplished more of the difficult and complicated scenes, the feature trailer, and SRS film trailers. Interesting concept piledriven by its creepy subtext, “Daddy” continues to be aversive with a tagline “He comes after bad little girls!” splayed on the front cover that leaves cringed induced wrinkles on my face every time I cerebrate the underground film. In the same breath, I know and love SRS Cinema’s unwavering nihilism, standing admirably behind Michael DiPoalo’s incestuous and rapey, unfatherly film without second guessing commitment.

Come to “Daddy” now on DVD at Amazon.com

Being Dismissed is EVIL That’s Hard to Choke Down. “Swallow” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / BD-R Screener)

Newly pregnant housewife, Hunter, putters around the house while her workaholic husband enjoys the fruits of success and friendship with colleagues.  When she’s not cleaning the house or preparing a meal for herself, Hunter stares into the oblivion of her isolating environment.  The country girl who really had nothing to her name has fortunately found an opportunity to never be worried about financial insecurities and with every material thing a person could want in their right at her fingertips.  All Hunter has to sacrifice is her control.  Feeling lonely, powerless, and trapped, Hunter discovers swallowing inedible, dangerous objects gives her great joy and something she can control.  As she goes deeper into this obsession and her perfect world begins to crumble, she’s confronted with reexamining her dark past that stems her unusual eating habit.

Sometimes it’s our strange quirks, our self-destruction behaviors, and our subconscious need to be noticed, or in control, or out of the pockets of others that can deliver horrid outcomes that, ironically enough, can be also our incognito liberator.  As such displayed in Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ written and directed introductory feature film, a blend of family melodrama and interior body horror, with “Swallow.”  The 2019 released psychological thriller is difficult to digest, literally, as the protagonist struggles coping with external control issues in a seemingly perfect life, a life that has never quite felt like her own, while also encouraging an alarming new physiological appetite for what is known in the eating disorder circles as Pica.  Set in upstate New York, shot around the idyllic Hudson Valley area, “Swallow” is produced by the award-winning “Nomadland’s” Mollye Asher and “Black Box’s” Mynette Louie, who have a long history in investing into bold and interesting emotional depth tales, and is a production of the France based companies, Charades and Logical Pictures.

Undertaking the daunting task of Pica emulating is Haley Bennett.  “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” and “Hardcore Henry” actress tethers a line to the core basis of her character Hunter who has to gradually chip away portions of her blank exterior of a person subconsciously suffering from similar symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.  Hunter very much believes in the social saturation of wifely duties at an attempt to please her bread-winning husband Ritchie (Austin Stowell, “Colossal”), constantly gathering reassurances and happiness from him.  I also like the play on words with the husband name Ritchie that speaks to his haughty behavior.  Bennett, in great detail, captures Hunter’s disfigured, uncertain happiness and wholehearted attempts to join the ranks of a proud housewife, an area mirrored by silent authority from her mother-in-law Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel, “All the Little Things We Kill”).  As soon as Hunter swallows that very first foreign object, Bennett derives true delight from the bizarre action.  From then on, blistering is away is being a slave to Ritchie’s wealthy ties as that little object, that spherical inkling of hope, gets the marble rolling down the gullet of taking back what’s hers, her life.  Bennett and Stowell finesse their characters’ relationship with a teetertotter of genuine sympathy and ingenuine gratification in what’s a blurry line of compassion or a total fake façade for the allusion of appearances.  The weakest character, for me, is Luay, the Syrian expat who fled the turmoil of homeland war and has become something of a caretaker to Hunter.  Played by Laith Nakli, Luay’s sympathy for Hunter runs deeper than her psychological disorder, and Nakli can dish out awkward, slow burn compassion with the best of them, but that connection between Luay and Hunter misses the timely mark with a blank and acute switching of allegiances gone unspoken and with inaction.  Luna Lauren Velez (“Dexter”), David Rasche (“Cobra”), Babak Tafti, Nichole Kang (“Ten Minutes to Midnight”), Zabryna Guevara, and “American Horror Story’s” Denis O’Hare rounds out the cast.

Hunter’s fixation can be compared to the likes of any other vice and soul-swallowing addiction – gambling , drugs, sex – but the very fact that it’s Pica, and on a certain level of the OCD spectrum, makes Mirabella-Davis’ script somewhat of a curious oddity as the filmmaker builds a story around a dysfunctional family and one’s own personal grasp on destiny.  Though set in modern times, “Swallow” very much has a 1950s-1960s vibe with the dynamic of the working husband and the wife stays home to spruce up the house; there’s even a particular scene of Hunter vacuuming in a 50’s-ish tea length swing dress.  Despite the story’s curious and odd nature and the stuck in time antiquated gender inequality veneer, Mirabella-Davis utilizes these aspects to shape and shed light on the more diabolical of inner detriments with Hunter’s lack of confidence and autonomy stemmed from a difficult to swallow past and a financially affluent relationship that actually disallows personal freedom.  “Swallow” is oppressive in ways as Ritchie and his family and friends attempt to squeeze every ounce of value out of Hunter with value being the unborn child amongst other things.   The psychology of “Swallow” melds past and present together to form Hunter’s dangerous method of taking over the reigns of a life she never steered and Mirabella-Davis crafts an exquisite niche thriller to encourage us to gobble up.

Second Sight Films, a label known for it’s substantial and lavish re-releases, snacks on another high profile film with their profound limited edition Blu-ray of Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ “Swallow.” The single disc, PAL encoded, region B BD-25 is presented in the original aspect ratio of a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Since a BD-R was provided for review purposes, I am unable to comment on the true characteristics and qualities of the audio and video, but do note Katelin Arizmendi’s stunning cinematography that’s full of palpable texture to every minute piece of inedible edibles Hunter puts down her throat and the gorgeous long shots of Hunter being engulfed by the depth with the isolating forest setting that looks to be lurking in the background. The limited edition release hit shelves this past Tuesday, the 22nd, and has a ton of features to check out, including a new audio commentary by director Mirabella-Davis and producers Moilye Asher and Mynette Louie, A Personal Story exclusive interview with the director that’s seriously in-depth and passionate about his work on “Swallow,” Something Bubbling Underneath exclusive interview with producer Moilye Asher, The Process exclusive interview with editor Joe Murphy, Metal and Glass exclusive interview with composer Nathan Halpern, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’s take on “Swallow” A Room of One’s Own, Mirabella-Davis’ short film “Knife Party,” and a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Haley Turnbull along with a soft cover booklet with an introduction by the director and containing essays by Anne Billson, Jordan Crucchiola, and Ella Kemp. Lastly, at the tail of the special features are 6 beautiful collectors’ art cards. “Swallow” is rated UK 18 and runs for 94 minutes. Bennett wins the prize for making “Swallow” a throat-clearing success and bravo to Mirabella-Davis for being brave enough with an unusual story set around an uncommon eating disorder and directing the hell out of it.

Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films Available at Amazon.com

Little Book of EVILs. “The Last Thing Mary Saw” reviewed! (Arachnid Films / Digital Screener)



Southold, New York, 1843.  A young, once-proper, daughter, Mary, of a puritanical family sits before an investigator as suspect of the brutal massacre of her family.  Her eyes having been gouged and plucked from her skull, Mary can’t see the musket rifles pointed straight at her as she’s assumed to be practicing dark dealings being the sole survivor.  She must recount the exact details of story that begins with the family’s severe punishments imposed upon her and the house maid whose practically publicized intimate relationship was seen as wicked, sinful, and embarrassing.  Unable to be discouraged by disapproval and cruel corrections, Mary and the maid continue to sneak their forbidden affair but did she and her lover commit the heinous crime or was there more behind the veil involving an infinite evil, bound by a mysterious book, pulling at the marionette strings that has cursed Mary and her bigoted family?

Tackling themes of homosexuality in the 1800s in the time of itchy-trigger-finger heresy pointing and dogmatic ideologies comes the debut horror film of writer-direct Edoardo Vitaletti entitled “The Last Thing Mary Saw.”  The Northeastern Americana thriller is a fermenting tale of a remote extended family, of some wealth and stature, trying to remedy the eldest daughter’s uninhibited rendezvous with an equal in age young house maid by subjecting them both to torturous corrections aka kneeling on uncooked rice while reciting a specific passage regarding sin from scripture.  Vitaletti’s first feature length film is from executive producers Joseph Michael Lagana (“Actress Apocalypse”), Mike Nichols (Eli Roth’s “Fin”), Keryn Redstone, and Scoop Wasserstein and from New York based production companies Arachnid Films and Intrinsic Value Films. 

“The Last Thing Mary Saw” has an intriguing cast as well as a cast, at least I think, everyone should love.  When this Washington, D.C. born actress is not pretending to be a creepy psychotic child, “Orphan’s” Isabelle Fuhrman finds other ways to slip into tightknit family structures.  The now 24-year old Fuhrman plays house maid Eleanor who continues to fight for Mary’s affection despite Mary’s closed minded and religiously persecuting large, all-in-one-house family.  Mary, the titular character played by “Insidious:  The Last Key’s” Stefanie Scott, has stars in her eyes as she’s hot for the maid, but I couldn’t find that deeper connection between Fuhrman and Scott whose characters even further themselves from each other by being more intent on beating the system rather than being romantically and consummately intimate.  It’s almost as if Vitaletti starts beyond the point of building up the relationship, having prefabricated Eleanor and Mary’s love, and is only thirsty for the consequences that follow.  The lovers become embroiled into the family’s personal problem with their daughter’s relationship and at the helm of it all is the matriarch at the hands of Judith Roberts.  The “Dead Silence” and “Orange is the New Black” actress embodies coldly an unyielding crone that eager wants to keep the so-called troublesome maid with the family, even if that means passing her skillset to uncle Eustace (Tommy Black) and his wife and adolescent child (Dawn McGee and  “Starry Eyes’” Shane Coffey).  The crux of the problem starts with the father (Michael Laurence) who brings a book filled of peculiar, teratology-related storiettes that might not be odd today, but were damn near witchcraft in the mid-19th century, and that’s when things begin to spiral bleakly with manipulation and suffering in various ways.  “The Last Thing Mary Saw” rounds out the cast with Carolyn McCormick, P.J. Sosko, Daniel Pearce, Stephen Lee Anderson, and “Scream 4’s” Rory Culkin as credited “The Intruder.” 

What intrigues most about Vitaletti’s script is no character is inherently labeled as a conventional genre trope.  The chapter-storied narrative plays out in three parts with the title paralleling the contents of the mysterious red book as well as the action in each plotted chapter.  What seems orthodox for the film’s set period in punishing those in same-sex relations alluded “The Last Thing Mary saw” to be a tale of sordid, Godless misconceptions and yearning attraction between two young women, but then the catalyst  happens, a supernatural being is revealed, and then the tide turns from the sinister misguided to the sinister malevolent.  Another Vitaletti explores another theme: hate.  Mary hates her own family to the point of setting out revenge upon them; she would do anything to not separated from Eleanor, but yet Eleanor remains in the house, not dismissed, or reassigned to another house.  Hate festers into everything, boils closely at the edge, not just for Mary and Eleanor but for the family who hates secular unions, hate embitters in the grounds security guard after his leg was purposefully crippled for running away, and hate also tears are Rory Culkin’s The Intruder whose monstrous birth has left him with no family or respect amongst his peers so he must take away from others.  Without production designer Charlie Chaspooley and costume designer Sofija Mesicek, there wouldn’t be this resurrection of early 1800s resemblance that’s essential for the story’s period and the acting also smooths out the dialogue of a yonder-forgotten dialect of a lingering British-English set in area of Long Island.  Though I like where the story progresses and how climactically ends, following along with Vitaletti’s script falls nearly deaf on a coherent understanding.  Plot points do come out of nowhere at times that don’t segue neatly enough for comfort and we’re left with a mountain of enigma that somehow ties Mary, the book, and an unconventional Matriarch together into a dysfunctional family affair; yet, the sullen atmosphere makes for good unbenevolent folkloric horror coupled with Vitaletti’s incredible patience the scenes with immense anticipation and dread.

Premiering worldwide at the virtual rendition of the Fantasia Film Festival, “The Last Thing Mary Saw” will be a part of the festival’s first wave of films for attendees. No digital, on demand, or physical release dates have been set for this occult horror drama from first time feature director Edoardo Vitaletti, so you will have something to look forward to in the coming days of new releases! Director of photography, David Kruta, has come along way since the unfinished mess with the discarded survival-slasher “Old 37” by maintaining Vitaletti’s natural rustic scheme of the early 1800s and then toil with the phantasmal occult in one or two scenes with an airy, dreamy, and, if not, an ethereally beauty in it’s parlous context. Situational context is also key when a scene with a long stretch of no dialogue becomes the means to an end and Kruta has to capture culmination of storytelling through the facial emotions and body gestures coordinating in light charade as well as a more hefty depressed language. “The Last Thing Mary Saw” is unpretentious horror done right with a melancholic reflection of a bygone past mixed with obscure occult elements wresting life from already blinded grips consumed by hate and arrogance is pure bread and butter for a director just getting warmed up.