They Say There Are No Bad Children, But This is One “EVIL Boy” reviewed! (Well Go USA Entertainment / DVD)


Igor and Polina suffer through every parents’ worst nightmare; their son, Vanya, has gone missing. Three years later, Igor arranges an orphanage visit on the outskirts of Moscow to make Polina happy again by possibly adopting a young child, but their visit is cut short when Polina discovers the gruesome dead body of a basement keeper and a savage child barred away in a dungeon-like room. Polina is instantly imprinted by the child and convinces Igor to adopt him despite the difficult malnourishment and animal like behavior, but over the course of time, the child exhibits signs of behaving like their missing son and even starting to look like Vanya, their missing son’s name Polina has now bestowed upon the child against Igor’s wishes. As the feral child shows more signs of acclimating to his new life, Igor and Polina sense something more sinister from the child whose resembling more and more like Vanya every day and begin investigating into their adopted son’s origins, a well-kept dark secret guarded by the convent orphanage.

From examining horror films from our Northern neighbors in Canada to crossing the oceans and landing in Eastern Europe of the birthplace of Vodka, Russia, we’ll be taking a look at two recently released and storied dissimilar upcoming horror movies from Russia Federation, beginning with the belief that no country is exempt from the creepy kid genre in this Russian 2019 allegory entitled “Evil Boy” as the debut film from writer-director Olga Gorodetskaya. Also known as “Stray” world-wide or “Tvar” in the original dialect, “Evil Boy” is straight-forward, focus group approved, vanilla title of a story from one of Russia’s celebrated modern novelist and screenwriter, Anna Starobinets. Also dubbed as Russia’s “Queen of Horror,” Starobinets is a prolific adolescent thriller writer whose credits includes the compilation of short, chilling stories entitled “The Awkward Age” with the featured tale of a young boy’s life diary expressed through the voice of an ant colony living inside his body and the queen his brain as a conduit for her commands. “Evil Boy” is a production from a conglomeration of companies including Yandex Studio, Cinema Foundation of Russia, Dublab, and Reason 8 Films.

The titular character of Stray or Vanya allows no audience insight and we’re impelled into the perception of the grieved parents, Polina Belova (Elena Lyadova) and more so with the father, Igor Belov (Vladimir Vdovichenkov). While director Olga Gorodetskaya is new to the scene, the chemistry of Lyadova and Vdovichenkov have well been established from a baseline foundation set from their prominent collaborative roles in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s powerful small town corruption film, “Leviathan.” Their dynamic transcends a range of individual performances from crime into the horror realm with parents going through the stripping loss of a child that has compromised their marriage to the point of desperation to the eventual short term passion that has rekindled with the adoption of the Stray, a primal role befitting young Sevastian Bugsev in his introductory feature film. Giving Bugsev credit would be such an underwhelming praise as the eight year old not only nailed the savage child performance, but also endured an aggregation of makeup that gradually transforms his character over time. What’s interesting between the three actors is that they form this family love-triangle of sorts, where Polina embraces the child, but then is frightened of it and in a role reversal, Igor is skeptical of the child, but then tries to love him unconditionally. Just in that square footage, the amount of flux emotions and mindsets can favor one side over the other; yet, the actors pull it off, almost too well, creating a an unrest of feelings, conversations, and approaches to their characters. Key supporting roles include performances another fellow “Leviathan” thespian, Evgenly Tsyganov, as well as Roza Khayrullina, Konstantin Topolaga, Anna Ukolova, and Evgenly Antropov.

“Evil Boy” has some psychology behind it. Hell, even a few of the film’s posters are composited of Rorschach tests and what “Evil Boy” ultimately boils down to is how we interpret our grief of a loved one. Polina and Igor are written to exhibit multiple signs of the clinically coined Complicated Grief that follow the patterns of avoiding the reality of death, persisting nothing has changed, and a bleak numbness to the event. The motif of trying to replace something dear with something else, as a comforting mechanism, is consistently brought to attention and goes as far as leaving a forlorn image of the same motif as a finale twist to drop an atomic loop of melancholic isotopes on you. The psyche portion of the “Evil Boy” is as equally important as the evil boy himself as it’s only a representation of our characters’ will and grief, but whether it’s Starobinets story or Gorodetskaya’s script or both, “Evil Boy” has a yawning plot hole regarding the boy’s origins that’s briefly represented with a dialogue-less scene of cataclysmic and ritualistic images jumbled together for your mind to piece. This sort of passive logic translates equally to the unpalatable editing that plunges the story into a fit of turnaround key moments unable to linger and build upon and stress character developments and form audience relations. Much of the psychology the “Evil Boy” tries to impress is squandered by Gorodetskaya fleeting approach structure that can’t even be tied together by the genuine abstract creature itself when it’s grossly mutilated CGI blunder finally makes a grand entrance.

In the height of the “Sputnik” invasion that’s currently sweeping the Russian horror charts world-wide, explore into the inner space of an anguished mindset melded with conjured up changeling European folklore and you get “Evil Boy” on DVD courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment come September 8th. The DVD is presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, that renders Ilya Ovsenev’s eerie and shadowy atmospherics, distinct in their own rite, between the sterile urban Moscow and the wooded outlier town where the parenting couple has a home in each to be alien to not only the child but also to the inhabiting parents. Ovsenev’s framing is poignant and harrowing, adding dread much needed to stir into the creature child. The image quality is relatively sharp, but there are moments of obvious color banding, such as around headlights, that suggests a lower bit compression that comes and goes with the nature of the scene. The Russian language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound rollicks in an immense range of sounds from the primal animal snarls of the young boy to car wreckage to the soft cries of a whimpering mother despite seemingly having a even-keeled tone storyline that should simmer with tension rather than overflow with nonstop action. The dialogue is clear and forefront available and the soundtrack lulls as a sleepy version of standard genre fare. English subtitles and dub track are available with the former show no sign of asynchronous harmony and no sign of errors in spelling or in timing. The only bonus feature available in the static menu is the trailer amongst trailers for other Well Go USA Entertainment releases. Perhaps, what could be construed as the Russian equivalent to Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary,” “Evil Boy” buries to reanimate suppressed grief through inclinations of folklore and psychosomatic ringers embodied by one creepy as hell kid.

Pre-order “Evil Boy” on DVD!

To Be EVIL, You Must Capture EVIL! “Thir13en Ghosts” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Scream Factory)

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A maniacal and obsessed ghost hunter, Cyrus Kriticos, traps 12 tormented and violent spirits with the help of an avaricious, but anguished psychic, Dennis Rafkin, but when trapping the last ghost, the worst of the worst, a barbaric mass murder in life and in death named Juggernaut, Cyrus is killed in the process. His death leads to the inheritance of a one-of-a-kind house to his widowed nephew, Arthur, and his two children who are barely scraping by after the unexpected fiery death of their beloved wife and mother. When they enter what seemingly feels like a godsend house, immaculately structured entirely out of glass and metal, they find themselves trapped inside after tripping a series of mechanism that turn the isolated and elegant abode into a labyrinthic machine. Stuck inside with Arthur and his family are Dennis Rafkin and a ghost friendly liberator, Kalina Oretiza, who explain that the house is actually an evil machine with a goal of opening the eye to Hell and that the ghosts, imprisoned in the basement, are components that are being set free one-by-one in order to fulfill the ritual.
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In the world of remakes, only a select few ever surpass the original. In fact, on rare occasions, do remakes actually replace the original due in part to being beyond respectful as well as masterful amongst critics and genre fans that have bestowed the reimagining an untouchable rendition to which no one can find anything wrong with it; this films include John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” and Chuck Russell’s “The Blob,” with Zack Synder’s “Dawn of the Dead” and Tom Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead” receiving well-deserved honorable mentions, because let’s face it, topping George Romero’s original work can be said to be blasphemous slander. What about those remakes in between? Those just above the pile of awfulness that generally makeup remakes? I consider Steve Beck’s “Thir13en Ghosts” to be one of this mid-level remake films that registers well with fans, but on the flips side of that coin, doesn’t ascend to total prominence over its predecessor. Written by longtime Full Moon Entertainment writer Neal Marshall Stevens (“Hideous!” and “The Killer Eye”) and Richard D’Ovidio (“The Call”), “Thir13en Ghosts” is a 2001 near-total rework of the 1960 William Castle directed and Robb White scripted “13 Ghosts” that used gimmicks like 3D specter glasses to draw audiences into the theater. “Thir13en Ghosts” was the second film after another William Castle remake, “House on Haunted Hill,” of the newly formed, William Castle nod-to, Dark Castle Entertainment, a division of Joel Silver’s Silver Productions formed by Silver, Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”), and Gilbert Adler (“Bordello of Blood”) that honed initially on producing stylishly modern takes on classic gothic horror, such as “Ghost Ship,” the remake of “House of Wax,” and “Orphan.” What came out of this collaboration between Steve Beck and Dark Castle Entertainment is a complete dismantling of the wood paneling and lament flooring story for a modern marvel to emerge of unique terror that hasn’t been duplicated since.
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“Thir13en Ghosts” has an impressive, if not all-star, cast with diverse range of styles and experiences that it’s almost dumbfounding on how the filmmakers were able to contract some of these talents, including F. Murray Abraham, who has had an already eclectic credit list with “Amadeus,” “Surviving the Game,” and Mimic, and Tony Shalhoub who hand standout performances in “Addams Family Values,” “Men in Black,” and “Galaxy Quest.” Abraham and Shalhoub bring a sense of classical and methodological structure in a stark contrast between rationality and irrationality built upon an indifference of solitude and a sense of family. Then, there’s the comedic relief in the midst of danger, Matthew Lilliard (“Scream”) as the suffering psychic who uses his wit tongue to spur others and introducing hip-hop artist, Rah Digga, in one of her only motion picture performances to alleviate suspension with more tongue-and-cheek moments. Lilliard and Digga offer up two different comic styles while sustaining the underlying severity of being trapped inside an evil machine full of violent ghosts. Shannon Elizabeth, who we all know by now as the stunning “American Pie” girl, Nadia, or as I know her as the unfortunately raped and murder victim of a killer snowman in “Jack Frost,” plays Arthur Kriticos daughter, Kathy, who still a fresh faced newcomer to Hollywood despite being a hot commodity after her topless role in “American Pie.” The superb support roles don’t end there with notable roles from JR Bourne (“Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning”), Matthew Harrison, Alec Roberts, John DeSantis, and EmBeth Davidtz, Sheila from “Army of Darkness,” as the ghost liberator.
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It’s hard to believe that “Thir13en Ghosts” is nearly 20-years old. I still recall my 17 year old self sitting in for a theatrical showing, remembering the opening gargoyle growling as the Dark Castle Entertainment logo reveals itself during the opening title credits, and coming out of the maze-like, gory-ghost film having experienced something special, even if then I didn’t understand why, only to years later realize that I’ve never seen something like “Thir13en Ghosts” before in my life. How does a remake reinvent itself so much that it can separate itself from the original film while also beguile with fresh ideas and no take a slew of browbeating chirps from those who holdfast that the original is the one and only? Most remakes cheaply throw gore to the wind, adding buckets of blood in hopes to satisfy horror buffs, but what winds up happening is that we ultimately get bored, having experienced blood and guts from singular storied films. “Thir13n Ghosts’” premise isn’t the only worthwhile experience that deserves praise, but also the spectacular production design by Sean Hargraves that thrusts the glass house concept into new heights with the house actually becoming an interestingly steampunk character itself and the prosthetic effects from a team spearheaded by a trio of the best special makeup effects artists in horror today, such as Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Gregory Nicotero., turning ghoulish encounters to ghastly visions that convey truly a tormented soul in the 12 ghosts. Though the story itself isn’t perfect, flawed at times with static character development and a few plot holes involving the ghosts and sequences of events, “Thir13en Ghosts” remains a cult favorite gaslit by frightening imagery, a solid cast, and unforgetting production design that started 21st century horror off brazenly strong.
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Collect all “Thir13en Ghosts” on the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory sheathed in a cardboard slip cover and has a reverse artwork liner that has the original poster artwork and new vivid illustration by Joel Robinson. Presented in a 1080p, high definition widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, from the original 35mm negative, “Thir13en Ghosts” shares a consistent image and vibrancy layer with the DVD version with an enhanced color stability. No edge enhancement or cropping adjustments rendered or any other blemishes to speak of, but the softer details could have been sharpened to gave a hard edge around the non-spiritual energy. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 boosts the already hefty soundtrack that’s full of explosions and ghostly swooshes and moaning hums, finished off with grand, orchestra soundtrack by John Frizzell It’s been said that audience had to excuse themselves from the film due in part to the overbearing noise coupled with the strobe-like imagery, but the overall audio and visuals are a combined one-two punch of sensory power that works well. The Scream Factory release has new interviews in the bonus material, including sit downs with actors Shannon Elizabeth, Matthew Harrison, and John DeSantis and producer Gilbert Adler. There’s also a audio commentary with director’s Steve Beck, production designer Sean Hargraves, and special effects artist Howard Berger. There’s also an in-depth look at the creation of the thirteen ghosts in a small featurette, their backstory profiles, and the theatrical trailer. However you want to call it, whether it’s “Thir13en Ghosts,” “Thirteen Ghosts, or “13 Ghosts,” this new century remake still holds up to today’s horror lot with spellbinding phantom pandemonium in a glass box!

“Thir13en Ghosts” on Blu-ray on Amazon.com

Wan Conjures Evil! The Conjuring trailer is HERE!

James Wan

James Wan

When I see the name James Wan, I think Saw and thats about all that comes to mind. But I do know of, have seen of, and have enjoyed much of Wan’s work. Dead Silence was a solid sophomore film while Insidious gave Wan a second look by not only fans but by studios as well, proof is in the Insidious sequel. Death Sentence strays away from his horror roots yet still delivers a dark and gritty atmosphere and one of my favorite Kevin Bacon movies. Also, Wan is part of the R-rated, low-budget group of filmmakers called the “Spat Pack” which has pretty much dissolved now, but this group consists of Eli Roth, Alexander Aja, Rob Zombie, Darren Lynn Bousman, Neil Marshall, Greg McLean, Robert Rodriguez, and Leigh Whannell.

Today, Wan’s latest venture has been given a trailer and was released to us. The Conjuring which tells the story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who were hired to help a family against a terrorizing dark spirit in their farmhouse. Sounds simple enough, right? The trailer itself leaves a good taste in your mouth and doesn’t market itself as your run of the mill haunted house film. I, for one, am excited about The Conjuring and movies about hauntings are low on the totem poll for this guy. Lili Taylor, whom I haven’t seen in a movie since…well…1999’s remake of The Haunting, stars along side her on screen husband Ron Livingston (Office Space) and paranormal investigators played by Vera Farmiga (Orhpan) and Patrick Wilson (Insidious).

A scene from Insidious

A scene from Insidious

I’d like to say a little something about the spirit in the trailer; though too early to tell how the film will play out, the trailer makes the spirit seem playful yet personally dark. The trailer builds the suspense with long, still, and quiet scenes – which makes every scene on high tension terms.

Warner Brothers is behind James Wan and his film which is penned by Chad and Carey Hayes – the duo behind the remake of House of Wax so we have quite of bit of Vincent Price homagers behind The Conjuring. July 19th is the release date and I’m holding this film in high regard. Can’t wait! #theconjuring http://theconjuring.warnerbros.com/