Those Little EVIL Buggers Ruin Everything! “Ankle Biters” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Digital Screener)



Injured hockey goon Sean Chase has severe on-ice anger issues but leave from the game curbs his temper for the better after meeting an internally distraught Laura Haywood.  Enamored by the mother of four who enjoys rough sex as much as he does, Sean decides to willingly plunge into marriage by asking Laura for her hand against his friends and family passive advise him of the hefty, multi-kid baggage in Laura’s tow.  To set the romantic mood, Sean takes Laura and her young kids to his family’s lakeside cabin where all the locals know him, personally and professionally, but when the girls discover cell phone footage of Sean and Laura’s bedroom exploits and interpret them as Sean hurting their mother, they devise mischievous retribution on Sean in order to protect mommy. 

From being a bare knuckler enforcer using the rink as his boxing ring to becoming the haplessly smitten and blind to four little girls’ perception of him as the bad guy, the once penalty box denizen Sean Chase is now the penalized good guy in the Canadian dark-comedy “Ankle Biters” from writer-director Bennet De Brabandere.  Also known as “Cherrypicker,” the title used in the film, the film is Brabandere’s first feature length film based off a story by lead actor, Zion Forrest Lee (“Hit It”), who oft puts delicate notes of misperception as the main theme in his tale.  Shot primarily in the harbor village of Ontario’s Tobermory “Ankle Biters” is produced by Michael Flax of Flax Films, director Bennet De Brabandere, long time makeup artist Sean Sansom with credits from “Land of the Dead” and “eXistenZ, and special effects company, Mindwarp Productions’, Francois Dagenais (“Saw” franchise, “Chucky” SyFy series).  The film is presented in part by APL Films.

As if seeking some sort of self-punishment, story originator Zion Forrest Lee takes the form of a punching bag for four overprotective little girls; four real life sisters, in fact, played by Rosalee, Dahlia, Violet (“Bad Santa 2”), and Lily Reid, the latter Reid having played a significant role in Johannes Roberts’ recent “Resident Evil” reboot as young Claire Redfield and will be involved in another Lee and Brabandere collaboration in the upcoming apocalypse thriller, “Salvation.”  As a father of three girls myself, the Reid girls are nothing short of genuine, killing their roles with tweaked difference in each of their individual personalities as cute and morbidly curious children and siblings.  Lee offers up a rather over-the-top approach toward Chase’s Mr. Perfect in a way that doesn’t come across naturally as the performance is stuck somewhere between Phil Hartman in “Jingle All the Way” and Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” (I’m in the Christmas spirit with my films, if you can’t tell) with a suave sexy toward the women who swallow it up and dorky goofball toward kids who don’t understand it. Chase’s legendary hockey status has been interweaved into the community surrounding his family’s lakeside cabin, such as the local cops with Officer Brian (Gareth Moyse), local shopkeepers like Jordy (Jordan Mills), and even other vacationers, a pair of lakeside neighbors in Anthony (Doru Bandol) and Caprice Gaddis (Maria Sant’Angelo) with their blossoming teenage daughter Matia (Matia Jackett, “Crimson Peak”). By far one of the more interesting characters, Matia doesn’t actually progress the story with her flirtatious crush on Chase as she’s used as more of a device to propel the Haywood girls into full-blown psycho-kiddies as Matia bites off more than she can chew on a what should have been a routine babysitting gig. The biggest name in the film is the “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” comic Colin Mochrie in an unfunny role as the town’s police chief. “Ankle Biters” houses many curious characters come and go, adding little to story or not adding enough, with select bit performances from Evert Houston, Michael Copeman, and Jani Lauzon amongst the Canadian cast.

Not one single member the cast had that it factor that sparks allurement, intrigue, laughter, hate, or any other kind of emotion they’re trained to extract from you or intent on to make you feel in certain crucial points in the story. As a dark comedy, “Ankle Biters” lacked, well, comedy with an overreaching and flat satire on the innocence of mistaken circumstances. When the opening credits roll with the Gary Glitter “Rock and Roll” sampling “The Hey Song,” a track used for decades at sporting events, and we’re immediately exposed to a confrontational and bearded hockey player punching the eye out of an opposing team player into the title sequence, investing myself was easy as the synch of melodious Jock Jams and brutality is promised for the horizon; however, quickly skating from the ice is our beloved bloody-knuckled goon gone in a matter of oddly edited and sequenced scenes and is rarely seen again, even in flashbacks, as we’re dumped into post-hockey career, clean shaven, and on the behavior mend of Sean Chase trying to quickly nail down a woman with four kids who obviously dislike him a whole lot. I fail to see the transition, I don’t want to see the transition, and I’m angry “Ankle Biters” ended up in this transition whereas having Chase continue to be the injured, but still a fisticuffing and bearded enforcer, going toe-to-toe with brats would have been much more (Canadian) of an amusing watch. The better side of this genre blending coin is the darkness portion that really elevates during the latter half of the lakeside trip. Dead bodies, baby spiders crawling out of an ear, open wound fractured skull, a knife to the eye are just a few of the effective practical and composite applications from Francois Dagenais’s special effects company, MindWarp Productions, that keeps the story grounded with destroying the human anatomy as well as keeping up with the human fallibly in order to not have the film fall completely on its face with everything else erroneous.

Released back in mid-November, “Ankle Biters” landed onto On Demand platforms and DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. Even though I’m unable to fully cover the audio and video details from any digital screener, I don’t think what was provided was even a finished version of the film that came complete with top left corner running timestamps and some obvious missing special effects, such as the missing prop knife tip when removed from the eye socket and then the tip is back whole on the next shot. No information on the DVD specs was given to me either. Brabandere and Lee do tease with a follow up sequel involving the “Son of Cherrypicker,” named after the lakeside penned “Cherrypicker murders” in the film which, again, was never made a solidifying connection to other than a brief news report ticker on television. If comparing a film close to “Ankle Biters,” Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things” fits that gruesome bill with one gross misstep in front of another that eventually culminates to a shocking and even deadlier kill or be killed ending with a grown man versus four little girls.

Watch “Ankle Biters” On Amazon Prime Video

EVIL Doesn’t Joke Around. “Let’s Scare Julie” reviewed! (Shout Studios! / Digital Screener)


After the sudden passing of her father, Emma stays with her cousin, Taylor, along with her aunt and drunkard uncle. Taylor pressures Emma to be part of her prank habitual group of friends, trying to convince Emma how this is how things will be from now on while also trying to be a compassionate shoulder to her reserved cousin. With Taylor’s uncle passed on the sofa downstairs and her mother flying in from out of town, an impromptu sleepover encourages the group of girls to connive a break-and-entering prank to scare a new neighbor, a teenage girl named Julie, across the street. Emma half-heartedly participates by producing a way into the house, allowing her cousin and her heedless new friends onward on their scaring scheme, but when only two of the four girls return, the prank has turned terribly wrong as an urban legend about the house across the street might actually be true.

Breaking out from helming television documentaries and into the genre feature realm is filmmaker Jud Cremata debuting with his written and directed bloodcurdling slumber party, “Let’s Scare Julie,” premiering on in home theaters on digital and VOD come October 2nd, 2020. Starting off Halloween with an innovative filming structure and a good ole fashion horror tale, Cremata never eases on the reins of terror from nearly a single, continuous take of his mischievous teenage girls meet malevolent ghost story that occurs over a single night, condensed further to a time frame that’s almost parallel to the film’s runtime. Formerly known as “Let’s Scare Julie to Death,” the Santa Clara filmed, real time hijinks gone awry spook show is the first horror production from the Los Angeles and Moscow based Blitz Films in association with “Becky’s” Buffalo 8 Productions. Jud Cremata and Marc Wolloff produce the feature alongside Blitz Films’ Eryl Cochran and Nick Sarkisov.

Comprised with a small cast of new talent, “Let’s Scare Julie” focuses around a group of five teenage girls and one elementary grade school girl concentrated more so around a life rebounding Emma played by Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, making her introduction into feature length films. What makes this a phenomenal role and performance for Johnson is the fact that the young actress has to maintain in-character for the entire length of the film with the camera rarely parting away from her in every moment of the nearly continuous take and she has to adjust her dynamics with a variety volume of characters ranging in temperament from meek, to obnoxious, to terrifying, to drunk, and to the perpetuance of adolescence behavior from her protective, yet peer pressuring cousin Taylor (Isabel May), the obnoxious goof Madison (“Ladyworld’s” Odessa A’zion), the unassertive duddy Paige (Jessica Sarah Flaum), and the confident showoff Jess (“Unearth’s” Brooke Sorenson). Individually, the characters are well developed, hinting more towards unravelling their true selves with each progressive moment their on screen, but not overly enough to have each figured out and that leaves their hopeful futures in ruin, offering more substance to their potential demise. Rounding out “Let’s Scare Julie” cast is Dakota Baccelli, Blake Robbins (“Rubber,” “Martyrs”), and Valorie Hubbard (“Resident Evil: Extinction”) as the evil spirit, Ms. Durer.

Uncomplicated with less fancy footwork adorned, “Let’s Scare Julie” is all about the story and less about the effects hoopla usually associated with vindictive phantasma creepers, especially ones like Ms. Durer who like to seep into her victim’s personal bubble using voodoo black magic dolls while wearing nothing more than her dirty nightgown and scathing glare on her face. The simplicity of the movie is almost refreshing in the inherent campiness of the anecdotal urban legend spieled by the girl living next to the house of ill repute, but one thing about the story that irks me is the marketing of “Let’s Scare Julie” being shot in one continuous take; yet, there are a few edits that not necessarily cut to a different scene, but rather just jump seconds of a frame and continue the moment. Whether the edit’s intent was because of timing, reducing frames in a scene to meet a certain runtime, or to give the actors a slight break, the expectation wasn’t fully met when the handful of edits are slipped in condemning that anticipated single take to just a still impressive compilation of long takes. Chuck Ozea’s maneuvering cinematography seamlessly tells the tale without so much of a hiccup as the veteran music video DP choreographs somewhat of a dance around Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson to capture her slow simmer into terror. “Let’s Scare Julie” does more with less as a round about ghost story, building up suspense above the guise of guilt-riddled themes without placing the perspective in the middle of the supernatural action.

Sometimes, pranks backfire and, in this case, this prank is to die for in the Shout Studios distributed “Let’s Scare Julie,” scaring up into home theaters on Digital and On Demand at the beginning of Halloween season on October 2, 2020. Being a brand new film, there were no psychical media specs to report nor would there would be any A/V if specs were available since this review copy is a digital screener of the film. As a digitally recorded production in this day and age, expect the found footage-like video and sound as faultless as expected, but the quality will be determined by your internet connection and streaming platforms. There were no bonus material with the screener nor were there any additional scenes during or after the credits. Five teens’ prank spree ends on a dark and stormy night of terror where urban legend trounces cruelty over shenanigans in the crafty and solid shiver-inducing “Let’s Scare Julie.”

Pre-order “Let’s Scare Julie” on Prime Video.