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.

When You’re Jilted and You Contemptuously Summon an EVIL Succubus! “Lillith” reviewed (Terror Films / Digital Screener)



Jenna’s been dating Brad for 5 years and when she catches him red-handed with another woman, learning that he’s been with multiple women over the span of their relationship, blood boiling revenge seems like the only course of action.  Jenna’s wiccan friend, Emma, has a radical strategy to summon a succubus to sleep with Brad and give him heartbreaking Satanic STDs.  Warned about the dangers of black magic that could backfire 3 times the affliction upon them, Jenna and Emma go through the summoning ritual, calling forth the sex-crazed succubus named Lillith.  Quickly making short work of Brad, tearing him open like a gift on Christmas day, the friend soon realize they’ve unleashed an unstoppable, man-eating killing machine and they have no idea how to stop her. 

In Jewish theology, the she-demon Lilith has been weaves into popular culture and literature time after time again with tweaks, alterations, and revamps to capitalize on the first wife of Adam’s infamous name in various outlets.  Amongst being one of the first female demons, the figure, in name only, has been broaden across numerous religious texts and  pop culture mediums from vampires, to a wild beast, and to a source of lustful dreams.  For Lee Esposito, Lillith sticks to the demoness basics, luring gullible and randy men to sex and death as a ritual beckoned succubus, in the 2019 horror-comedy, merely titled “Lillith.”   The indie picture cautions revenge as a hasty, reckless option that tows disastrous, deadly consequences.  Based off Esposito’s 2016 7-minute concept short of the same name, the 93 minute feature length film levels up the concept’s sound department crew member, Luke Stannard, to cowriter and was the genesis of Esposito’s New Jersey-based production company, Ritterhaus Productions, with executive producers Joey Esposito and Mike Arpala footing the bill. 

To pull off a slimmer version of “Jennifer’s Body,” “Lillith’s” cast had to be indispensably funny and well-versed with their characters.  For the most part, the cast stick the landing, running away with their character ticks that fully engulf the colorful performances and making them certifiably memorable.  Savannah Whitten most notably showcases her amusement playing the titular character decked out as an alternative-cladded woman with promiscuous purpose.   Whitten also doesn’t look too shabby in full body lime green attire that requires the actress to don a protruding head prosthetic, bulky mouthpiece, and vibrant yellow contacts as the Lillith shifts, in edited scene transitions, back and forth from alt-girl to full blown succubus.  The snazzy redhead, NYC based actress is opposite Nell Kessler and Robin Carolyn Parent in their respective roles, who spell besties as demon summoning chaos, Jenna and Emma.  Kessler and Parent equally have fun in being the vindictively scorned, jilted lover and her eccentric best friend who just wants to see if she can conjure up evil for the hell of it.  The female-led cast deliver timely, funny bits of dialogue individual wrapped like their very own personal skits, but then the attitudes change and the range stretches more meaningful when circumstances become dire and that’s when the cast of ladies really do shine as actors.  “Lillith” wouldn’t be as half as successful if it wasn’t aslo for the supporting cast, even in the small roles, to add a smooth ebb and flow of macabre comedy with Langston Fishburne (yes, that iconic surname is related to Laurence Fishburne), Taylor Turner, Lily Telford, and Michael Finnigan.

“Lillith” very much appeals to the feminist esteemed without beating you over the head with the crusading theme.  Cornerstones like a succubus snacking on sexually-charged males, Emma’s astute quips and enthusiasms about the historical and religious rises and victories over men while also in an unabashed lesbian relationship, and the vagina being held as a live or die power source of extraordinary consequences all reflect feminized filmmaking, but then Esposito, who is a man and identifies as a male, makes a sharp criticism that isn’t exclusive to feminism but can be said about most subjects if slipped into an oversaturated abundance.  What if the actions of feminism goes too far?   What if drilling an ideology beyond the point of no return causes more corrosive damage than actual good?  That’s what Esposito’s “Lillith” explores inside the “uh-oh, we made a mistake and must fix it” latter acts with great attention to how a woman’s genitals becomes key to saving all of mankind.   The irony is unbelievably hilarious, smart, and provocative, whether intentional or not.  What kills most of “Lillith’s” boutique vibe is the fluidity of the A/V technical quality that often approaches homemade movie levels of inconsistent sound design.  I’m frequently adjusting up and down the volume and trying to discern dialogue out of stronger ambience and noise the boom captures in an unfortunate leaky blockade of decent script dialogue. 

July saw the release of Lee Esposito’s “Lillith” rip through the hormonal student body pool with a laid back and snarky she-demon from Hell on Demand and Digital courtesy of indie genre distributor, Terror Films.  “Lillith” is shot over the course of 33 consecutive days from New Jersey to New York with director of photography Vincent Caffarello behind the camera and though making any sort of judgement on the A/V aspects for a streaming link might as well be akin to chucking my words right into the trash, I do firmly believe a considerable amount of budget went into casting solid actors and eye-catching makeup work as sound design guerilla notches into Lillith’s smoother interior like a throwing small river rocks at a pristine car. Maybe the shooting equipment lacked high definition properties or maybe post-production could have cleaned up Caffarello’s basic standard efforted shots but, either way, the DP’s stationary and steady cam of mediums and closeups, with occasional slight POV or over the shoulder, gather enough information about what’s happening in the scene in a still interesting perspective. With any digital screener, special feature content is at a zilch and there are also no bonus scenes during or after the credits; however, let “Lillith” speak for itself without the glamour of extra goodies. There’s hell to pay but paying hell with lives is what the sultry death-dealer “Lillith” does best between the sheets…just watch out for her teeth, gentlemen.

“Lillith” is right now included with Prime Video!  

The Dying Baltic Traditions Live in the Ashes of EVIL. “Cult Girls” (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

The pagan Cult, the Golden Path, remains nearly all that is left of the ancient practice as Lithuania becomes one of the last countries to be converted to Christianity in the late 14th century.  Led by an archaic, yet powerful, goddess named Ragana, the Golden Path promises to flourish once again with the power of death, reincarnation, and control through sordid misdeeds.  When Dalia and her two young sisters become prepped for a ritual of an important role in the cult, potentially leading them down the path of sex and sacrifice, a traitorous follower helps the sisters attempt to escape their emmeshing fate as the police raid the Golden Path compound ensuing a firefight that leads to the death Ragana and Dalia’s getaway, but her sisters are kidnapped and held captive by the remaining cult members.  Years later and riddled with guilt, Dalia must know what happened to her sisters and she tracks down a death metal cultist, Moloch, who seemingly has a connection to Golden Path, with the help of Samoth, a black metal fanatic, but Moloch forestry hermit lifestyle cuts off Dalia and Samoth from the rest of the world and the convicted arsonist against all things Christianity may have more up his sleeve than what meets the eye.

With a title that sounds like an all-girl goth band from the grunge era of the 1990’s, or maybe even more so from the “Scooby Doo” franchise (Hex Girls anyone?), “Cult Girls” summons the actuality of being an acute quasi-historical and dark fantasy thriller hailing from the Ozploitation capital of the world, Australia.  “Cult girls” is the second, non-documentary film from “The Matrix’ inspired “Narcosys” director, Mark Bakaitis, who directed, wrote, and edited his the multi-location sophomore film that has on location scenes from not only in Australia, but also in Lithuania, at the notable Hill of Crosses landmark, and in the indiscernible urban locations of Germany.  Bakaitis serves as producer alongside executive producer Douglas Kaplan of the diverse arts platform production company, All Edge Entertainment, based in Santa Monica, California. 

The Australian production casts an American to star as Ragana, the brood matriarch destined to rejuvenate Golden Path’s permanence, with “V’s” very own Jane Badler.  Badler brings an international presence to the feature and isn’t a stranger to films from the down under.  With the actress’s soul-seducing cutting eyes and demonic empress allure, the New York born Badler exacts Ragana’s clutching strength as an underground Pagan seeking unlimited decadent power.  However, Badler is overshadowed by the timorousness of Dalia whose polar opposite presence is granted a more favorable chunk of screen time.  Finnish born Saara Lamberg plays the humbled Dalia, living her life out of a covenant while searching out the cult that once almost stitched her into the sew of sleazy affairs to unearth the whereabouts of her younger sisters.  Dalia’s a bit of a dull principle with no substantiated efforts in finding her siblings and it isn’t until Samoth stalks her one night, recognizing the Golden Path’s symbol tattooed on her wrist and offering his manhunt services to find the expelled Moloch, an exaggerated black metal anti-Christianity anarchist in a saturating performance by Albert Goikhman.  In the middle, masked brutes, half naked women, and, fallen by the waist side, Dalia’s sisters in standalone plot point narratives that, as far as story structure goes, does nothing to motivate the narrative other than be an ostentatious aesthetic of locations and debauchery.  “Cult Girls” rounds out the cast with Tony Markulin (“MurderDrome”), Algias Karazija, Dean Kirkright, a handful of Bakaitis’s family, and Simay Argento, a distant relative to Dario Argeno playing a Cult Auntie in the film.

“Cult Girls” borders being avant-garde of an unfiltered auteur’s will in a mesh of artistic polishes and prose dialogue, but the film slides into being more of an 83 minute music video over staying it’s welcome and drudges through a repetitive stylistic cycle to an almost nearly unwatchable extent.  Yet, “Cult Girls” somehow manages to retain attention despite the chewy acting and it’s ambling story that hits a dam wall of uncertainly of where the script should head. Bakaitis shoulders the story for modern Gothicism tapped with half naked occultist, sometimes bathing in blood, and a plague of nightmare imagery that director of photography Trent Schneider tunes into well with noir vitality despite being the cinematographer’s debut feature film, but through the shiny exterior of a handful of solid mise-en-scene work, “Cult Girls” numbs the impact of the soul corrupting Pagan syndicate, that may or may not be shrouded with supernatural foundations, and the anti-Christian propaganda with half-baked violence from geriatric men, masked with Dia de los Muertos style masks, able to be kingpins of an untouchable prostitution ring façade for their occult sacrifices in broad public without a bat of an eyelash.  Granted, prostitution is likely legal in Germany and Lithuania so authorities might turn a blind eye, but brothels are a convenient opportunity for police investigations. “Cult Girls” treasures the fact of Lithuania’s languishing heritage without being overly filmic heresy by blending in shaded sleaze and death, but there lies no story in Dalia’s unenthusiastic search for her sisters in a much more preacherly themed death metal horror that confuses cult with religion.

 

Apocalyptic reincarnations and traditional folklores collide in Mark Bakaitis’s “Cult Girls” on DVD now from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian release is a single layer DVD with region 4, PAL encoded format, presented in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Trent Schneider’s keen eye captures a grim fairytale surface of black magic masochism and, at the same time, breathtaking in the pure nature scenes, but the imagery is mostly in devoid of richer color that lingers around a bluish-gray monochrome tone and struggles with hazy details, especially around facial features, that smoothly fuzz over. The English, German, and Lithuanian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix battens down with shiplap genres of traditional Lithuania folk and modern metal from composing sound designer Erin McKimm, implementing the traditional songs of Lithuania sung by the Melbourne-Lithuania community singers, The Lost Clogs. Industrial action fills in every nook and cranny of the remaining score with decent range and depth of ambiance. While the dialogue is prominent and clear, there are spelling errors and tiny text issues with the English subtitles when the narrative lands in Germany and Lithuania. The DVD’s bonus features includes audio commentary, making of featurettes with cast and crew interviews, Bakaitis’s short film, “Mercy Kill” that serves one of the founding themes for “Cult Girls,” and music videos directed by Mark Bakaitis. For an Australian film, “Cult Girls” will feel more worldly, unlike anything else that comes out of Australia, and have partisan propaganda against Christianity, but in the end, the insidious Pagan evil, on the precipice of resurrecting, wearies on, like a tireless sermon of doom.