To Death Do Us EVILLY Part! “Savage Vows” reviewed! (SRS Cinema / DVD)

“Savage Vows” on DVD at Amazon.com

A fatal car crash claims the life of Mark’s wife.  Plagued by vivid nightmares of death and grief-stricken by the loss, Mark finds comfort in his closest friends who have come to console and stay with him after the funeral.  Slowly, Mark’s friends begin to thin out.  Thinking they’ve gone home or stepped out briefly, Mark continues to spend time with his remaining friends, watching horror movies, and eating fast-food hamburgers while contemplating how to handle the sorrow for the rest of his life without his wife by his side.  Other than a select few of his friends attempt to take advantage of his vulnerability, what’s really happening behind the scenes is a crazed killer is taking out his friends one at a time and while Mark continues to sink deeper into self-pity and become contentious with the greed of others, the killer mercilessly works closer to him by wiping out his entire friend network before he even comprehends what’s going on.

Let me take you back in time to the archaic and fashion disreputable (or maybe just plain questionable) year of 1995 where the hair was bigger, the cars were more manual, and where Blu-rays, DVDs, and those godawful streaming services were a futuristic glimmer in the eye as cassette videotapes were stocked the shelves. One of those physical retail locations was a brick-and-mortar store owned by Robert (Bob) Dennis who became enticed to stick his hand into the movie making machine and convinced to direct his one and only full length feature film, a shot-on-video slasher indie entitled “Savage Vows.” Bob Dennis’s then wife-now-ex, Carol Dennis, co-wrote the 80-minute script of an obscured death dealer racking up a body toll of Mark’s disputable friends who secretly despise each other and have sub rosa intentions. Shot in and around Wilkes-Barre, PA, where Dennis operated and shared ownership alongside brother Michael J. Dennis his video store, Full Moon Video (no relationship that I can deduce to Charles Band’s Full Moon aside from selling his hot horror commodities on tape), “Savage Vows” retains a two-location shoot encompassing Mark’s house and an always tight budget cinema staple cemetery for full blown low-budget honors. Gage Productions funds the project under another Dennis relation, executive producer Gage Dennis, along Carol Dennis wearing the dual hat of producer.

“Savage Vows” transposes the family affair from behind the camera into the forefront of the camera as Bob and Carol Dennis not only nurture widowed-slasher concept into a full-fledged video feature but also take on principal, yet ill-fated roles themselves while also employing Bob’s brother, Mike Dennis, and Jamiece Dennis into the background and extra fatality-fodder to fill in where needed. The scene interactions transcend through naturally as suspected with having family members mimic being mincemeat for the grotesque grinder and to put forth their best foot in the dialogue despite the rather cliched and trite rap. Though Bob Dennis and his cohort crew of closely related cast member might not be the marquee glowing luminaries of low-budget lore, there is one name, a singular cast member, that sticks out as a present-day household name in rinkydink D-movie horror. The filmmaker who has made a notorious name for himself for his schlocky and shoddy sharksploitation films, has trespassed and exploited the property of Amityville on more than one occasion, and continues to be an unfazed direct-to-video deity amongst the bedrock in the bottom of the barrel genre pool is none other than Mark Polonia, the director, who often collaborated with his late twin brother John Polonia, brought us “Splatter Farm” and has also a defacing sharksploitation rut-rack with the so-bad-it’s-drinking game good grievousness of “Land Shark,” “Virus Shark,” and, most recently, “Sharkula.” Mark Polonia has more than just the role of Adam, Mark’s best friend, in this story as the then just hitting his stride Polonia encouraged Bob Dennis to expand beyond his wishful thinking of creating a horror movie and also provided creative notes during principal photography. Just being this far down in the character-cast paragraph section, you know “Savage Vows” Armando Sposto (“Night Crawlers”) barely makes a blip on the radar as the widowed Mark, but the shame of it all is that Sposto provides fathoms of depth when juxtaposed to any other in the cast. Having just lost his beloved, Mark’s up against the wall of grief and Sposto does his damnedest to convey that without flinching as the young actor has to teeter between misery and another self-conscious emotion pivotal to the endgame. Kelly Ashton, Adam Bialek, Jackie Hergen, Grand Kratz, and Sally Gabriele make up the rest of the “Savage Vows.”

To death do us part” is the ceremonious idiom that signifies an everlasting commitment to one another. For Bob Dennis, it’s the marginally grim phrase that also drives the plot, but “Savage Vows” wanes nearly entirely from matrimony motifs, never really genetically incorporating the sacred act of bonding two people itself into its slasher anatomy.  Instead, Bob Dennis (and Mark Polonia) land on the ghastly side, or rather the latter side, of a marital life span with the untimely splitting of a union and this particular union, Mark’s marriage, ends in tragedy and therefore a gothic-cladded funeral of gloom and despair are rooted and entrenched into the story.  Though perfectly suitable to drown oneself woes, “Savage Vows” reaches further into that dispirited nature with Mark having fallen into negativism and his friends lend their sympathy with a sleepover offer of consolation. That’s where the comradeship becomes icky at best with friends who disguise their underhanded true intentions with a show of spurious sympathy and that kind of malevolence benevolence within the closeness of others mirrors itself, in a foreshadowing type of way, in the heart of the plot that lacks the pith of solid slasher kills. The kills scenes are of the run-of-the-mill stratification that slowly ascend to a not so bigger or better rehashed versions of themselves. The finale cap sets the bar a little too late in my book with a deserved kneecapping kill that simultaneously sums up “Savage Vows” skin-deep concept.

A longtime leader in resurrecting obscure SOV horror back from the 80s and 90’s analog grave, SRS Cinema does what SRS Cinema does best with a supremely graphic and retro-approached DVD of Bob Dennis’ “Savage Vows.” The NTSC encoded, region free DVD5 presents the film in the original aspect ratio of a matted 1.33:1 with a shot on video quality that’s high on fuchsia hue in what’s a warm, inflamed, infrared color palette that obtrudes in a non-stylistic choice. Certain trope-filled nightmare scenes have a catered good synth score and stay ablaze with visual terror fuel in which the hot pink-purple palette would have worked to the scenes advantage. As expected, as these imperfections add that wonderful je ne sais quoi to the shot-on-video epoch, the subpicture white noise and tracking lines are a welcome treasure trove for trashy rare cinema albeit the gargling of quality. The English Mono track never flushes or levels out with any promise due to a lack of a boom recording and far-removed mic placement. The dialogue remains boggled down also by e-interference with a slog of hissing issues, but still manages to be intelligible. Bonus features includes an 80-minute, feature length, commentary track with supporting star Mark Polonia on the phone with writer-director Bob Dennis, a bloopers reel, and theatrical trailer. Say, I do to “Savage Vows,” a love-it or hate-it, little known, SOV slasher with a can-do attitude of stab-happiness of the unprincipled so-called nearest and dearest.

“Savage Vows” on DVD at Amazon.com

HELLelujah! God Does Not Deliver Us From EVIL! “We Still Say Grace” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)



A family living in deliberate solitude looks to God to provide them with everything they need to sustain.  Harold’s two teenage daughters have never experienced beyond the 14 acres of land their father and mother own, but the youngest, Maggie, can’t help but think of the wonders outside her father’s god-fearing, draconian sheltering.   When three teenage boys travelling to California suddenly break down on Harold’s remote land, an eager Maggie can’t wait to taste a mere glimpse of their perception of the outside world.  Being a good Christian man, Harold welcomes the hapless travelers into his home and convinces them to follow the rules and stay the night, but the boys’ seemingly happenstance car troubles is manipulated into an unavoidable sign of God’s will, or at least so in Harold’s eyes, and he decides to carry out a predetermined family suicide pact for him and his family to be welcomed into the gates of Heaven.

The one think learned, or maybe had shed more light on, out of this pandemic is the unstable relationship people have with God.  Religious extremist have weaponized the Powerful and Almighty against every day people like you and myself with contentious, hate-filled vocabulary such as damnation, burning, hell, etc., for those who do not seek his glory the way asininely seek it.  “We Still Say Grace” epitomizes that very lifestyle of devout fanaticism that has also been highlighted with buffoonery as the very same people who verbally condemn others usually don’t walk-the-walk but only talk-the-talk or are a charlatan involved in a more sinister plan.  “The Lodge’s” Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach write and direct the film that has become their second feature horror film produced by the filmmakers under their Brothers Shamus Pictures, Mark Sonoda of Dauntless Studios, Room in the Sky Films, and Lexicon Entertainment. 

Now, I’m not a religious man or spread the word of the divine in my reviews, but God love Bruce Davison as the “Dahmer” and “X-Men” actor is a silver fox crazy man of God living rurally with his wife and two teenage daughters.  Davison relentlessly rallies Harold’s madness and is having a good old time performing as a man with a hidden agenda.  Harold is an intriguing character with little-to-no information about the character’s background or reasoning for being unreasonable, but that doesn’t seem to faze the legendary actor who had cut his teeth into horror 50 years ago as the original rat-speaking avenger, “Willard,” as Davion trots down a path of deceitful radicalism and manipulative exploitation.  Those he unscrupulously cons with pious smoke and mirrors are his own family in wife Betty (Arianne Zucker, “Days of Our Lives” daytime soap opera), Sarah (Rita Volk), and Maggie (Holly Taylor, FX’s “The Americans”).  As a viewer who is currently, at this very moment, chin deep in catching up on FX’s Cold War espionage thriller series of Soviet spies living as ordinary Americans in Washington, D.C. as they carry out missions in the name of Communism, I found difficult in separating Holly Taylor from her the 2018 series that ended its successful run in 2018 when she was a teenager.  Taylor’s roll in “We Still Say Grace” typecast the actress as another teen though having filmed the movie as a young adult woman, but the lighting is different and I don’t mean in a literal illuminating sense.  Taylor steps out from “The Americans’” 80’s setting and into, what I presume, is the 1990’s based off some wardrobe choices, car models, and the time frames that fit into those constructs and while she still has this inkling of suspicion that her parents are up to something, a parallel that has carried over, there hasn’t been this much ill-fitting reverence of a man hellbent on belting those he breaks bread with on a daily basis.  There is hesitancy and fear in Taylor eyes and that’s breaks up her from a reoccurring teenager role.  When the three teens (Dallas Hart, Frankie Wolf, and Xavier J. Watson) show up at the front door, that’s when things go, more than usual for Maggie, terribly awry. 

Aside from Bruce Davison, the other performances muster little faith in their roles with overplayed tropes, especially the stranded teens who could be plucked out as the Three Stooges of horror they’re so easily identifiable across the genre.  The premise itself isn’t exactly novel of a Bible thumping person teaching and preaching self-sacrifice, aka suicide, as a way to transcend beyond the heathens of this Earth but marketable and attainable as a small independent production with a California desert location, minor but effective special effects, and a handful of actors where much of the money is spent on talent.  “We Still Say Grace” is structurally very loose with character development and plot points, leaking continues dribbles of minor shifts that never patch themselves up on the backend.  For example, Harold’s not the black and white evangelical nut he seems to be but that is where his arc pauses and doesn’t backtrack into reasoning.   Helmink and Rauschelbach do better on the scene setups and interiors that make Harold uncomfortably fearsome and hostile in any context as he sometimes looms in the shadows of his farm chic house or toys with people, even his own family, like rats in a maze as he guides them along to their doom.

Premiering for the first time in the UK courtesy of 101 Films, “We Still Say Grace’s” penitent themed horror-thriller releases digitally this month of May.  As for the imagery presentation, and take this with a grain of salt with any digitally released film, the nearly 94 minute runtime seems to be filmed with a sun derived dust and light haze that I would compare the appearance more akin to trying to look through the bottom of a hard water stained glass.  Under the cinematography of Douglas Quill, the haziness plays into the rustic and dusty atmospherics that give age to the story and Quill frames Harold as a dominant and isolated figure, especially amongst the holy trinity ablaze in human flesh, as if he was the sole antagonist against the world.  The moment for shattered lives remains intent on the very edge of our corneas with the holy hell of “We Still Say Grace’s” patience brittle villain ready to gaslight and sacrifice anyone resisting against the grain of God’s good graces.