On a dark and stormy night after a school football game, a teacher and three students take shelter at a cottage adjacent to a cemetery. If the cottage wasn’t creepy enough, the sole occupant owner surpassed the bar. She calls herself Miss Leslie, a middle aged woman with an ill-fated story of her friend and mother’s fiery demise from long past and a quirky penchant for making life-size female dolls that set inside an illuminating shrine. Though they feel uneasy about the creepy surroundings, the visitors stay and get cozy, especially with each other, but Miss Leslie has ulterior, deranged motives. Her dolls are not just lifelike, they once were vibrant lives of women Miss Leslie sorely wanted to inhabit their feminine confines of youth and beauty from over the years, but now they are an undecomposable shells, encase in Miss Leslie’s special doll making brew to timelessly capture their lovely physiques. They are also beautiful, yet painful reminders of her failed attempts to transfer her essence into their adolescent bodies.
Every so often you come across a film with a gigantically absurd hard shell cover with the gooey insides of eye-rolling cheesiness and you just have to ask yourself, how in the world did something like this ever come to fruition!? Yet, somehow, someway, these productions of an oddball variety always have an intense allure about them and end up being just one of the coolest rarities to grace the glazed-over irises. Joseph Prieto’s “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is the epitome of this very phenomena. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” is an exploitation, nearly softcore porn, horror with a deranged killers with severe mental issues that range from communication with dead to, what can be now construed as antiquated, complications of gender identity. One of the last directed films from Prieto, who also helmed “Shanty Tramp” and “Savages from Hell,” also penned the screenplay alongside longtime collaborator and producer Ralph Remy Jr. The script reads like an insatiable bedside thriller novel, an object of complete obsession through the entirety and well long after being completed; “Miss Leslie’s Dolls’” has a rich gothic lining, a strong sexual appetite, and a timely LGTB subject that involves debate on mental illness or inherited gender orientation.
Not many actors performed in drag. Sure, there was Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like It Hot” and there was even Anthony Perkins from “Psycho,” who some might go as far as saying that “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” might draw inspiration from with the whole mother fixation, but only a small faction of fans, especially in the genre, might know Salvador Ugarte. The Cuban born Ugarte has great poise as a woman imprisoned in a man’s body. Miss Leslie just isn’t a deranged killer in drag; the character has deep rooted issues stemming out of not only being a woman embodied incorrectly, but also seeded by an engulfing obsession with capturing beauty to obtain it for herself, an addition from a result of a permanent scarring left behind by Miss Leslie’s homicidal rampage in the character’s history. Ugarte has the mannerisms and the gait down so unerringly that’s the performance is downright creepy, but there was one aspect of womanhood that Ugarte’s masculinity couldn’t mask: his voice. The actor is horrendously dubbed, adding charm to the bizarre concept. Ugarte’s joined by “Little Laura and Big John’s” Terri Juston, Marchelle Bichette (“The Gruesome Twosome”), Kitty Lewis, and Charles Pitts of “Supervixens.”
Contrary to the above, “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” has some drawback. Though the characters might be entertaining and interesting, especially with the Bourbon obsessed and hot for teacher Roy and his terrible gangster accent or the fact that Ms. Alma Frost is a smoking hot, twenty-something year old prude teacher to her pupils who are practically the same age as her, they’re washed over with an aloof mentality, consequently looking past or just blatantly oblivious to Miss Leslie’s obvious male features, her inauspicious ramblings, and the fact she has a shrine of creepy and realistic dolls of women that fill the room with the smell like rot and death. Perhaps too busy running through the cemetery at night in skimpy bedroom garments. Yes, this does happen. On top of that, Miss Leslie harness of occult powers goes relatively unexplored, yet very much utilized as an important portion of the film near the last act. Despite being passively mentioned and rather undercut from more than most of the film, Miss Leslie’s occult mischief is plucked right from left field to further the enigmatic aurora of Prieto’s mystical exploitation.
Network proudly presents “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” on an UK 1080p Hi-Definition, region free Blu-ray home video, remastered from the original film elements once thought to be have been forever lost. The newly scanned transfer came from a surviving print and presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The restoration included detailed grain management, the automated and manual removal of dirt and damage, and the correction of major color instability, warp, and density fluctuations. (In full disclosure, Network sent me a DVD-R screener and that is what the following critique is based off of) Though in some frames there flares up some instability, from my perspective, the first act and half really came out well with the vivid, yet natural, coloring. However, once inside Miss Leslie’s basement, woozy blotchy moments of Leslie fiddling around makes the particular scene a bit off putting. The stereo mono track is fair for the 1973 film that has it’s share of distortions and editing pop faux pas, but the dialogue is fiercely prominent, despite the inherent awfully laid dub track, and equally well balanced with ambient tracks. There were no bonus material on the release. Transvestitism horror is quite a rare experience that always has a lasting impression, cerebrally popping visuals of grim visions commingling with the blood, the viscera, and the other supplementary violence. “Miss Leslie’s Dolls” deserved this Blu-ray release and Network did right by Prieto’s obscure grindhouse feature that will sear into your skull.
In the wake of losing their father and husband, Leah and her mother struggle to cope and are at their wits ends with each other. Leah, an impressionable and angst-filled teen, embraces the occult lifestyle after her father’s untimely death despite her mother’s distaste for it. Leah’s mother also battles the everyday familiar feelings of her constant surroundings that remind her of her dear husband and the sensations compel her to move her and Leah more than an hour away, away from Leah’s only friends including a boy she’s become fond of, but the constant and languishing heated disagreements invoke Leah to act impulsively, gathering her ritual articles, and while in the woods, naively summon a witch, named Pyewacket, to kill her mother. Regretting her actions almost immediately and fearful of what’s to come, Leah is cautiously ever attentive to her surroundings as each passing night a presence makes itself known and is eager to not only harm Leah’s mother, but also intends to rise it’s wickedness toward Leah.
“Pyewacket” is a 2017 Canadian horror-thriller from writer-director Adam MacDonald. The Montreal born MacDonald constructs an impressive and suspense-riddled sophomore film that offers a beautifully bleak atmosphere while touching upon layered themes that are relatable to anyone who grew up with an overbearing parent. “Pyewacket” succeeds as a stark melodrama of a hurting mother and daughter who are looking for some kind of pain relief and a fresh start. MacDonald takes it to the next level, churning out a cautionary tale, by implementing the theme of being careful for what you wish for because you just might get it. Oh, and there’s spine-tingling moments involving a ghoulish witch with an appetite for deception and have you squinting yours eyes in fearful anticipation of when she’ll strike.
Another Canadian, the Vancouver born Nicole Muñoz stars as the disquieted Leah. Muñoz dark assets heighten her disdain and resentment she evokes out from her character toward her mother, played by the former “The Walking Dead’s” Laurie Holden. Tall and blond with a more verbose attitude in putting her feelings outward, one would have difficulties placing Muñoz and the “Silent Hill” star as daughter and mother on screen. Holden manages to be the glue that keeps the story moving as Leah rarely has much to the say and is only reactive instead of proactive about her situation, making the two actresses dynamically challenging that purposefully sparks uneasiness in every scene. Leah’s friends serve as her lifelines to the world outside her new country home that her mother has unfairly displaced her to. Her best friend Janice, the Toronto born Chloe Rose, whose alternative appearance and nonchalant, cocky persona encourages her to be Leah’s confidant. Rose seemingly enjoys the role that offers vibrantly colorful stripes of hair with lots of gothic makeup that comes complete with leather and plaid outerwear. I was a little disappointed with Leah’s love interest that was Aaron, shoed by the tall and thin Eric Osborne. Aaron really wasn’t showcased much though MacDonald’s script attempts at hinting more to the character, but unfortunately for Osborne, Aaron falls the ranks of a back burner boyfriend trope.
What might be the undoing of “Pyewacket” is simply the timeliness. Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” and André Øvredal’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” completely overshadow the JoBro Production & Film Finance (which is kind of funny because the same production company also did some funding for “The Witch” so in essence, “Pyewacket” is “The Witch’s” little cousin) with two already fantastic tales of non-broom riding and mind tampering witches that share the same intense ferocity of pure hatred and dark magic on a much bigger and grander scale when considering production value that relies on a viewer relatable story. A story involving a mother-daughter warfare is inarguably human to us all, but in competition with that, MacDonald seems to embrace that side of the story with slight favoritism as the director is light with a slow burn of the catalytic turn of events that evokes the titular character despite it being the most gripping portion of the film; instead, the focus is more honed in on Leah’s experience that intimately distances her from each of those that are closest to her: Janice, Aaron, her mother. Left in the wind is much of the witch’s background and how the witch becomes familiar to Leah which goes relatively unknown. And, also, not to forget to mention that the witch, or familiar spirit, is screened through shadows, long shots, and quick takes so to get a shape or a image around the appearance, all I can suggest is that Pyewacket resembles Samara from “The Ring” with stringy, filthy hair, slender figure, and moves around like a spider. Aside from a popular teeny-bop occult novelist, Rowan Dove played by “Bitten’s” James McGowan, the only facts touched upon about “Pyewacket” are that the spirit is extremely malevolent and can deceive the perception of people and events.
From Signature Entertainment, the DVD and Digital release of Adam MacDonald’s “Pyewacket” hits retail shelves April 23rd and digital retail shelves even earlier on April 16th. Since a digital screener was provided for this review, an in-depth critique of the video, audio, and bonus material will not be covered. Though clutching to the money-bagged coattails of bigger, better witch films from the last three years, “Pyewacket” is still a mighty story with complex characters complete with sheer dread from an obscure and grievously sorcery crone pure with black heart that will definitely elicit shortness of breath and rapid heart palpitations if watched alone in the dark.
Journalists, and lovers, Amy and John are assigned to scope out a potential story about Earth’s first evil feminine. Before Eve was made from the rib of Adam and who was born from the soil, Lilith lived upon the Earth before being exiled as a demoness and the reporters search to hunt down the legends of her spawn, the Crossbreeds. Crossbreeds start out as twins in the mother’s womb, but only one can be born while the other whither and dies and the birthed child will either be good or evil. The folklores recently stem from an small, isolated village now made popular by Lilith’s ghastly tales, drawing the attention of tourists, acolytes, and the religious groups. The atheistic John shares his distaste for other’s devout beliefs and thinks the village is a scam attempting to lure money out of faith blinded followers, but Amy, a Catholic, feels it differently as she’s drawn to the village by indiscernible brief visions of the past. There’s also the fact that she just aborted her and John’s 14-week unborn twins without informing him of the radical decision, but the guilt burdens her immensely, and when she’s in the loins of the village, a wicked presence washes over her and enlightening her that the Devil’s spawn will soon be born and purge all of Adam and Eve’s kindred children, paving the path for the children of Hell to rule the Earth.
“The Crossbreed” is a 2018 released demonic baby and cult film that’s made in America, but crewed and funded by Turkish nationals including Biray Dalkiran, the film’s writer-director. Co-written with Safak Güçlü, Dalkiran, who has been credited into developing original horror films in Turkey, has extended even further the Turkey horror movement that’s now spilling into the States with his upcoming release distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures. The “Cennet” (“Heaven”) and “Cehennem 3D” director gets biblical with his spin on Jewish mysticism in the tale of Lilith by putting definitive, loyal, and deceitful acolytes around Adam’s first, and most fiendish, wife created by God from the same dirt as Adam and these followers seek to summon the devil through the love child of two of Lilith’s crossbreed children. Sounds interesting, right? Biray Dalkiran might have brought horror to Turkey, but in the States, the director is a single cell trying to make a statement in a melting pot of an overcrowded horror cinema organism.
Angela Durazo stars as Amy, the surrogate mother to Satan, and this is Durazo’s sophomore film, but her debut in a lead of a feature film. As a leading lady, the Nevada born former catalog model has a lot going for her: talented actresses, stunning beauty, and an overall multifaceted person. She only has one problem, she’s surrounded by an uncharismatic and unskilled American cast that unfortunately dilute her performance. One of the more important cast members is Nathan Schellerup in his first credit role and it shows. Schellerup is terribly unconvincing and stiff that his opposite Amy role of John is utterly, and unintentionally, hilarious whenever anything comes out of his mouth. It’s like trying to watch C-3PO try to act and that’s probably offensive to the gold plated droid. Amy’s friend Rose, played by Katy Benz, felt unnecessarily wasted that’s not entirely Benz’s doing as the character’s written into the story sporadically or referred to in past sequences that were never hinted or shot during linear storytelling. Benz has the dark, brooding features that these horror thrillers are built upon, yet Biray is unable to capitalize on the actress’s memorizing eyes or succulent succubus-like lips to really sell the character as an evil abiding force. Malinda Farrington, Danny Winn, and, Marqus Bobesich, and Lou Cariffe round out the remaining cast.
To be blunt, “The Crossbreed” is an unfocused effort by Biray Dalkiran. The concept premise is there, but the execution was sorely blundered in the worst possible way produced by not only the clunky performances, but also with a meandering story that just flounders with underdevelopment, super-cheesy digital effects (i.e. a crawling and crying cinder baby demon), and detrimental or kamikaze editing consisting of electrical interference flashbacks and/or visions complete with a slapped together and tepid soundtrack stuck on an endless loop. The digital manifesting demon crying baby crawling toward characters or the two aborted babies frying in a shallow cooking pan duly note how unintentionally campy “The Crossbreed” can be in Biray’s all too serious devil cult flick that won’t afflict any ounce of terror or suspense. Even the pre-credit opening scene is a detached segment, an island scene, that goes unexplained to pay it credit and feels just another waste of time.
Breaking Glass Pictures presents the BD America and DFGS Production produced “The Crossbreed” onto a not rated DVD. The 85 minute single-sided single-layer DVD9 is presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. The image quality varies from night and day sequences, pending on whether Dalkiran’s choice blue tint. The night shots are inarguably blotchy at times, especially on background walls and floors, resulting in less definition. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has zest behind it with clear dialogue quality. The soundtrack, though poorly timed and repetitive, maintains an above par level grade. There are times when the dialogue looses fidelity; an example would be during scene with John playing a round of solo darts and the quality notably differs during a phone conversation with another character. Bonus features include a look at Biray Dalkiran’s career in horror, a showreel of Biray Dalkiran’s films, a behind-the-scenes look (sans dialogue) of “The Crossbreed,” and the trailer. Breaking Glass Pictures conventionally pushes the limits with edgy independent filmmaking and “The Crossbreed” is a stray outside their cache that includes a great lineup of shocking gems like “Tick-off Trannies with Knives,” “Hanger,” and “Someone’s Knocking at the Door.” Yet, Dalkiran’s goreless demonic thriller has no bite and is so tame, with minimalistic explicit material, that whenever profanity is used it doesn’t settle well into the film’s biblical-riddle totality.
Julia Trent is left orphaned after the fatal accident of her parents that involved them falling to their fiery deaths when their car careens off a cliff attempting to drive their housekeeper home. The only family Julia has left is the Bryant family whom she hasn’t seen in over 15 years. The Bryants welcome their niece with consolation and open arms, inviting her to room with her cousin, Rachel. Rachel has the perfect life: a loving mother and father, a cute boyfriend, and the ability to ride and compete in horse competitions. However, Rachel’s world is upended when Julia enters her life and something just doesn’t seem right when Julia slowly begins to push Rachel out of her comfy position, bewitching the men in her life to turn against her and being the center of a number of considerable accidents. As Rachel suspicions grow and she becomes further attached from all those that surround her, an investigation ensues with Rachel at helm to retrieve what’s rightfully her’s from an underlying evil.
The late Wes Craven made for television movie “Summer of Fear,” also known as “Stranger in the House,” is a living relic; a time capsule type horror this generation will find difficult to grasp, like Nintendo’s Gameboy or music tape cassettes, with thrilling suspense unlike today’s cookie cutter product. After he shocked audiences with the controversial “The Last House on the Left” and crafted a shifty dream killer in “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” director Wes Craven embarked on a venture into the television movie scene that didn’t spur graphic content, but focused putting the supernatural in the forefront of reality with a similarity to that of “Tales of the Darkside” or “The Twilight Zone,” captivating audiences sitting in front of the boobtube with twists and thrills in a Halloween premiered NBC movie. Based on Lois Duncan’s novel of the same title and written for television by Glenn Benest (who also wrote another Craven directed picture “Deadly Blessings”) and Max Keller, Wes Craven greatly accepted the challenge of reaching a broad audience without being subversive and explicit, sharing his vision with another living horror icon in the starring role.
“The Exorcist’s” Linda Blair has a role that’s certainly a far cry from the possessed Reagan, but the 1978 “Summer of Fear” had opened up a sleuth-type role for Blair that made her more of the hunter than the victim. Blair’s raspy voice and spoiled girl attitude completes the privileged daughter of the household compared to her tall and charming rival, Julia Trent, in “Necromancy’s” Lee Purcell. Purcell compliments Blair all too well and, together, the on screen tension is ever present, even if slightly over exaggerated. From that point on, “Summer of Fear” was filled in by other great talent such as Jeremy Slate (“True Grit” ’69), Carol Lawrence, a very young Fran Drescher in the beginning of her career, Jeff McCracken, and Jeff East (“Pumpkinhead”), but the more fascinating role, that was hardly explored, is awarded to MacDonald Carey, the resident occult professor of the neighborhood. Carey’s has a very old school actor with a performance very familiar to Robert Mitchum and the veteran actor’s vast career felt very small here in the catalytic role as the confirming source for Rachel in her suspicions.
In addition to the withdrawal of the contentious content, “Summer of Fear” entertains on a minimalistic special effects stage that still pops with jaw-dropping suspense and still caters to an, even if slightly dated, story altering moment that rockets toward a maelstrom finish. All the while, Lee Purcell’s character has such glam and beauty that the bewitching sticks overpoweringly raw as a telling moment that beauty isn’t all that’s wrapped up to be and people can be ugly on the inside. Through brief glimpses into Julia Trent’s authentic past, including the mountainous Ozark retreats, one could conclude the story’s ultimate ending, but the fact that the actors embrace their rolls and Wes Craven connects himself enthusiastically to the project makes “Summer of Fear” a solid small box show of terror.
Doppelgänger Releasing releases the Wes Craven classic “Summer of Fear” for the first time onto Blu-ray home video. Transferred to a 1080p resolution, the presentation is certainly made from TV in the Academy, 4:3 or 1.33:1, aspect ratio. Image quality sporadically has moments of definition instability where the image goes fluffy or soft and amongst the duration’s entirety are a slew of white specks and noticeable grain, but the transfer remains solid over the decades that display a grandeur of vivid coloring despite some scenes of with an overburdening washed yellow tint. The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio cleanly presents the feature with not a lot of flashy audio moments and the dialogue is clean and clear suggesting that the audio track aged very well. Bonus material includes an audio commentary track by director Wes Craven, an exclusive interview with Linda Blair, photo and poster gallery, and concluding with the original 1978 trailer. “Summer of Fear” might be obsolete in modern ways of terror filmmaking, but Wes Craven imprints a searing cult classic that brandishes more than just guts and gore. Instead, the father of “Scream” continues to impress beyond the grave, thanks to distributors like Doppelgänger Releasing, with the filmmaker’s expansive range that debunks many popcorn horror goers’ assumptions about the director and his films. “Summer of Fear” simply showcases that Craven was a jack of all trades when coming down to brass tax in creating a terrifying story.
In 1968, former Nazi occult officer, Samuel Sears, runs a strict farm in rural America, restricting his only daughter Alice from the corruption of the outside world with an infinite workload, and Alice violently rebels against her tyrannical father, Samuel kills her with rage. Hidden deep in the dark basement of his plantation home, a powerful Nazi-occupied amulet, charged by fear and hate, feed on his rage and fear and curses him to do the unspeakable. In the present day, four college girlfriends retreat to a friend of the family’s recently purchased foreclosure farm house, the abandoned and forgotten Sears farm, for a relaxing weekend getaway, but after night of drinks and games, the amulet reignites an ominous and dark cloud, reviving long forgotten, evil spirits who search for an endless quantity of fear and hate and will stop at nothing to swallow the souls of each and everyone inside the Sears’ estate home.
“The Hatred” is the 2017 haunting thriller from writer-director and Brooklyn native Michael Kehoe and produced by long time “Halloween” franchise producer Malek Akkad. Kehoe tells the story in two parts with the first delving in the Sears family, getting a first hand look at the hardworking German mennonite character that is Samuel Sears whose a former war time Nazi that’s settled down and raised a family in America’s backcountry. From what can be gathered about Samuel Sears, the farmer protects his past identity and isn’t ashamed of yet, but rather proud of his accomplishments alongside the Führer. All of the attributes of a proud countryman come suddenly alive when he receives a mysterious package containing the amulet, a photo of him in full Nazi dress standing with Adolf Hitler, and a signed letter personally acknowledged by the Nazi leader himself offering him the amulet as a gift for his fine work during the War and that ultimately becomes his downfall, pitting him against his family. The second part of the film tells a more uncharismatic story of four young girls staying at the Sears farm in present day. One of the girls, Regan, just finished college and is about to start a new job and what’s her ideal getaway with her girlfriends? An old (haunted) farmhouse.
“Wishmaster” himself, Andrew Divoff, gives “The Hatred” much more life despite his joyless character Samuel by somehow giving the former Nazi, now American farmer personality traits that are haunting in an unforgettable performance during the first act. The same can not be said about the four girls – Regan (Sarah Davenport), Layan (Gabrielle Bourne), Samantha (Bayley Corman), and Betaine (Alisha Wainwright). There’s no comparison as Samuel is a superiorly written and finely performed character than those he stalks beyond the afterlife. The gaggle of women offer no substance in the face of adversity or just plain ole progression of their character. Numerous times does Regan’s sick grandmother have scenes and Regan passively forgets about her poor grandmother’s health or Samantha’s uncanny interesting in history that really goes no further than the random facts that she spews. Regan and Betaine seem to have this close knit relationship, yet it founders and is suddenly cut short when all hell breaks loose. There are no personal connections established, offering little-to-no worth to their lives when Samuel comes calling for their souls, and leaves “The Hatred” in the take-it or leave-it column in the second and third act. Darby Walker, Nina Siemaszko, and Shae Smolik complete the cast.
Kehoe does display intense, nail-biting visuals with the materialized embodiment of fear and hate as well as sly editing with a scene involving Shae Smolik’s Irene, a little girl whose friends with Regan, who asks Regan to check under her bed, for supposed shadowy figure. When Regan pulls back the skirt to look, she sees another Irene putting a finger to her mouth, hushing Regan, and saying, “that’s not me,” as she points upward toward Regan’s impending doom. The heart-stopping moment will tear eyes away from the screen in anticipation of what Regan will see atop of Irene’s bed. However, that’s the sad truth in the extent of Kehoe’s story; a story riddled with plot holes and underdeveloped subtexts in which one in particular pertains to the aforementioned subplot of Regan’s ill stricken grandmother that goes undercooked when attempted to connect with the supernatural portal that of the Sears farm home. Characters disappear to never be seen again, character motivations go unexplained, and backstories are like a hazy dream and the entire ensemble is a mismatched, muddled mess in a premise that should have continued with the motif of the Nazi infiltration into America and less about scaring the wit out of witless girls with the creepiness of an alternate dimension seeping out of an unholy amulet.
The Lionsgate Films’ “The Hatred” is presented by Anchor Bay Entertainment on Blu-ray and UltraViolet home video in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio from an encoded AVC 1080p transfer that’s sleek and well lit, especially capture Samuel’s earthly and grim nature. The overall atmosphere doesn’t particular hone in a horror palette design, but offers realistic ventures into brightly lit areas of dark scenes. Details are fine in more of the natural aspects of the film whereas the CGI goes soft at times, but still very well detailed. The English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 keeps Kehoe’s film buoyant with a leveled mix through and through with clear fidelity and good, if not great, surround sound output. Instilled with conventional horror schemes, burdened with design flaws, and unfocused in it’s inability to pin down an narrative identity, Malek Akkad and Michael Kehoe’s spook house feature “The Hatred” requires much tender loving care to uplift this unkempt cliche horror into a coherent thriller.