Superpowers Can Be Just as EVIL as They are Good. “The Unhealer” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

“The Unhealer” on Blu-ray home video from Scream Factory!

An old graverobber unearths the supernatural powers of an ancient Native American burial ground that gives him the ability to heal as well as to be resilient against injury with self-restoring powers.  When exploiting the local residents of his newfound “Godly” gift, a botched healing of a bullied teenage Kelly with severe pica disorder transfers the powers to him, curing his disorders and restoring his health while also leaving the old graverobber to die.  With a new lease on life, Kelly pursues his dreams, standing up to his relentless tormenters, and even finding the courage to ask out a girl, but when the powers prove to be addiction beyond control and the bullies never let up on their aggression on him, Kelly uses his newfound gifts to exact a deadly course of revenge. 

“Pet Sematary” meets “Christine” – a Stephen King-esque bully-revenge, supernatural thriller “The Unhealer” from the Argentinean born director Martin Guigui.  The music video and feature film director returns to American horror nearly a decade later after helming the 2011 “Beneath the Darkness,” starring Dennis Quaid, with a thrilling teen angsty script penned by first time screenwriters Kevin E. Moore and J. Shawn Harris that recalls a narrative very familiar to the late 80’s to early 90’s with oppressive high school bullying by the jocks and the turning point revenge by the receiving end pipsqueak.  Originally scripted under the title “Pica Boy,” “The Unhealer” reveals the dangers of severe polarities between one disorder to the next with the humbling fragilities trapped inside one’s own psychological disorder to the over-confidence of feeling invincible due to physical anomalies that result in no pain being suffered, losing one’s empathetic reasoning.  “The Unhealer” is produced by writer J. Shawn Harris and his sibling actress, “Night of the Demons 2” and “Night of the Scarecrow’s” Cristi Harris along with star Natasha Henstridge and “Why?” filmmakers Corbin Timbrook and Galen Walker with Horror Business Films and 7 Ideas serving as production companies.

Headlined with three big and recognizable names inside the genre circles and out, the film stars Lance Henriksen (“Pumpkinhead,” “Aliens”), Natasha Henstridge (“Species,” “Ghost of Mars”) and Adam Beach (“Windtalkers,” “New Mutants”) playing variable degrees in their roles important to “The Unhealer’s” story progression and each performance never overlaps prominent personalities that can sometimes stall out and unbalance a production.   Henriksen plays a long in the tooth snakeoil salesman named Pflueger who exploits the locals with his newfound healing powers and when he’s hired by Kelly’s desperate mother, Natasha Henstridge, the scene becomes a passing of the torch as Pflueger unintentionally transfers his powers to Kelly (Elijah Nelson, “Chain of Death”) that magically heals him of his longtime psychological Pica disorder. Not so much a youthful soul anymore, Henriksen has tall tell signs of showing his age, but the 81-year-old New York City born actor can still sear memorable performances into our psyche with a wisecracking charlatan conman in Pflueger, dressed from head to toe in a shabby white suit and tossing up awkward hand gestures when deriding burial ground protecting Shaman Red Elk, played by long time serial supporting man Branscombe Richmond (“Commando,” “Hard to Kill”). More awkward in his reaction to receiving an unexplainable supernatural gift is Elijah Nelson who goes from deaths door to want to join the Navy Seals in a matter of minutes after the Pflueger plot point passes. The writing doesn’t exactly assist in Kelly’s transition with an acceptance of power without an inkling of trying to comprehend is as Kelly tries to hurt himself and tries to encourage being pounded by bullies as if he already fully understands the immense reality of his abilities. Even his mother, who under the understanding that she has tried everything possible scientific medicine man has to offer to cure her only child, is instantly okay with Kelly’s rushing into the unknown. A nearly unrecognizable Natasha Henstridge from her “Species” franchise days after a thyroid autoimmune disease diagnosis doesn’t stop the late 40’s blond beauty from being just that – a beauty – in an overly protective mother role desired by the local single men from the house visiting doctor to the Adam Beach’s Native American Sheriff Adler. Beach becomes the absent father figure for Kelly and a person who has a foot in both the Native American spiritual world and in the Anglo-Saxon realities and melodramatics. Beach proceeds as the main lead of the third act, following Henriksen and Henstridge to keep a constant, recognizable presence throughout and providing his own stamp as the voice of reason whereas the first two culminated extreme biases toward Kelly. Kayla Carlson, Angeline Appel, Gavin Casalegno, David Gridley, Mike Gray, Thomas Archer, Will Ropp, and one my new personal favorite actors in Chris Browning (“Agnes”) fills out the remaining cast.

Very early on initial reactions toward “The Unhealer” were poor mainly because of the luridly unflattering dialogue and perplexing transitions between scenes that don’t exactly hit the mark matching up character intentions, but the more I watched, the more an optimistic sensation started to arise in me. Starting small in the recesses of my cerebral film database then growing until metastasizing fully into my mind and, eventually, into my nostalgic-detecting ticker is “The Unhealer’s” robust recollection toward how fun bully-revenge-thrillers from two to three decades ago can be with a carbon copy simulation ingrained with a novel narrative surrounding Midwest Native American mysticisms carrying with it that age old “Spiderman” insinuation that with great power, comes great responsibility, but in “The Unhealer’s case, as the tagline suggests, comes great pain. Screenwriters Moore and Harris burden Kelly with a King Midas touch that no matter how hard the character tries to contain his nearly invincible power, outside forces influences and unforeseen happenstances steer Kelly toward self-destructing disaster. Between a group of buffed up and obnoxious high school jocks as unyielding tormenters, Kelly pushed into a self-protecting corner despite a generous passive attitude, especially being run over with car at one point, and the unpredictable and limitless avenues built as substory awry to make “The Unhealer” a joyful hidden gem, the Martin Guigui film on the outside appears to be a cheap, indistinguishable, B-movie, but if you dig deeper, dig until you unearth a medicine man’s ancient dusty bones, and you’ll discover deep seeded veneration, a gripping story, and dark magic carnage.

“The Unhealer” will undoubtedly fly under many viewers’ radars but is a must watch from (Shout!) Scream Factory’s distribution label in a cooperation release with VMI Worldwide (“Orphan Killer”). The full HD, 1080p Blu-ray of the 2020 production is an encoded region A release with unrated certification and a runtime of 93 minutes, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Generally nothing to swing image quality from one spectrum to the next with a RED Weapon Dragon digital shot. Already decent at compression, the RED camera provides a crisp demarcating image in the forefront and capture the textures in a literal closeup with focus precision. “The Unhealer’s” lighting and set dresses cater less to the supernatural phantasmagoria with Massimo Zeri’s realistic Arizona landscapes and suburbia venues that don’t excite the camera with its cold truth realism rather than the mise-en-scene tropes of horror atmospherics. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 also has zip to complain about with high resolution quality with a surprising ample range of effects. Dialogue is prominent and clear as well. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Special features include one-sided individual cast/character behind-the scenes interviews which is basically cut and edited footage of the actors describing their characters in footnote fashion. The gag reel is a better feature that takes the same interview format, intertwines it with music, and lines up the gags with an instrumental soundtrack in one seamless show of goofs and hijinks throughout production. Deleted scenes and extended/alternate scenes, surrounding mostly around Kelly and Dominique’s coy love interest, cap the features. At first glance of the final package, “The Unhealer” looks totally like a rip off inside and out of the cardboard slipcover with a “Star Wars'” lightsaber color scheme and a character illustrated design underneath the title dressed in “Stranger Things” font, but don’t let parroting cover fool you as “The Unhealer’s” dark journey from being the bullied to the bully is an unabated and inescapable catch-22.

“The Unhealer” on Blu-ray home video from Scream Factory!

When the Girl of Your Dreams Thinks Like an EVIL Robot! “Deadly Friend” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Shout Factory)



Whiz kid Paul Conway, along with his mother and artificial intelligence robot creation called BB, move to a new house to be close to Poly Tech where the teenage prodigy begins research study on the human brain.  Paul quickly befriends Tom, the local paperboy, and cute neighbor Samantha, aka Sam, that evolves into more than just friendship, but when Sam’s abusive father kills her and BB is blow to smithereens by a cruel, paranoid neighbor over the holiday season, a distraught Paul begs his friend Tom to assist him in a radical resurrection to save Sam by implanting BB’s A.I. chip into Samantha’s brain.  The long shot surgery pays off and Sam is awake and moving around automatonlike, but the thoughts and feelings of Sam and BB blend and the hatred toward their killers feeds into the need of grisly revenge.

Wes Craven.  Every genre fan upon hearing his name goes through an euphoric reliving in seeing one of his films for the first time.  For most that film is “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with Robert Englund starring as the fedora-sporting, dream killer Freddy Krueger  who wears a glove with finger knives.  Krueger has been and still is one of the most iconic and memorable villains ever in horror since Krueger’s from Craven’s nightmare-to-cinema creation in 1984.  Fast forward two years later, Craven hops at the chance to make a studio film with Warner Bros.  A film that’s polar different from “ANOES” with a touching, PG-rated macabre, science fiction coming of age story based off the Diana Henstell novel entitled “Friend” with an adapted script by Bruce Joel Rubin who went on to pen “Ghost” and “Jacob’s Ladder” a few years later.  After test screenings, the studio began to meddle, urging, if not demanding, Craven add horrific violence to the intensity lighter story thus turning “Friend” into “Deadly Friend” with a blender hacked story that failed at the box office during the Halloween season nonetheless.  Pan Arts/Layton serves as the production companies with Warner Bros presenting “Deadly Friend” under the studio’s banner.

At the center of the story are two star-crossed teens in the midst of adolescent flirtation.  Eyes glued to one another, but separated by the cruel whims of a drunken father, are Paul, “The Little House on the Prairie” star Matthew Labyorteaux and Samantha, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” feature star Kristy Swanson.  While not overly smoochy between Paul and Sam, the then teenage youngsters sell the affectionate tension between them with depth in their performances.  Yet, the Swanson’s post-surgery mechanical movements are terribly rudimentary and cheesy, turning the studio warranted violent exploration of youth and morbid Sci-Fi cybernetics story into the laughing stock of the already inanely entertaining killer robotic subgenre.  Without the studio intervened violence and gory edits, I could not envision Craven and Rubin’s touching story between Paul and his desperation creation to cure his broken-hearted affection for both his robot and the girl next door.  By far the best principle role is Tom, played by Michael Sharrett (“Savage Dawn”) who really plays into that Craven and Rubin softer vision with a bit of well-timed comedy.  As a character, Tom’s always falling or fainting in some capacity and deliveries some great one-liners that jazz up the lightheartedness of “Deadly Friend’s” more macabre stance.  Big names and distinguish faces fill rather unexpected cameos, such as “The Goonies” Anne Ramsey as a paranoid recluse who blows away BB in a Halloween mischief gone wrong, as well as Roger Rabbit voice actor Charles Fleisher as BB.  “Deadly Friend” routs out with Anne Twomey (“The Imagemaker”), Richard Marcus (“Tremors”), Lee Paul, and Russ Marin (“The Dark”).

I know Warner Bros. swallowed the original intent of “Friend,” chewed it with the purpose to add crowd-pleasing violence and gore, and spat out an game-changing “Deadly Friend” totally going against the wishes of the cast and crew, but losing that more tender creativity of an undead romance narrative wasn’t put out to pasture in vain.  Infamy and a semi-cult status long after release came out of the hellish mixed-bag of critically panning spitfire and the disownment of the film’s creators.  One particular scene, involving a basketball and an explosion of head goo, is definitely one of the more rememberable and well executed kill scenes of the era.  As a whole, “Deadly Friend” rests in ridiculous peace as many viewers will watch, digest, and come to some kind of self-compromising understanding on Craven’s misadventure and will relinquish to the fact that the film has a place in his repertoire of work.  Yet, dicey editing and pacing issues suggests a heavily edited film and trying to surmise how “Friend” would have been perceived in studio unmolested form is nearly impossible given the already bizarre sci-fi narrative subject matter.  What I found more interesting is Craven essentially sticking it to the studio’s request for violence and gore by rehashing much of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” into “Deadly Friend’s” framework with the intense dream sequences, a giant furnace-boiler room, a severely burned man’s face, and even a few shots of a blond Kristy Swanson garbed in white has a familiar Amanda Weise skin.  Overly compressed and subsequently reworked to appease audiences, “Deadly Friend” is no friend at all on a “Re-Animator” or insert man-in-machine horror parallel dipped into a “Short Circuit” coating that plainly suffers from outside interference resulting in a neutralized effect.   

You’ll never have a friend like “Deadly Friend” now on a collector’s edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory, a subsidiary of Shout Factory!  The rated R film has a runtime of 90 minutes and is presented on a 1080p High-Definition, region A Blu-ray in a widescreen 1.85: aspect ratio from a new 2K scan of the interpositive 35mm film.  Without much criticism, the virtually undamaged transfer refreshes previous releases for high-definition aficionados with a palatable amount of grain and the details are clearly discernable.  Colors looks good too between the natural skin tones and the range in contrasts, providing new life into Philip H. Lathrop’s (“Lolly-Madonna XXX”) two-toned atmospheric cinematography.  The English language DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track is equally as pleasant with clear and clean soundtrack unobstructed by damage or static.  No issues with the dialogue as well in another testament to Shout Factory’s attention to the audiophile-appreciated fidelity.  Optional English SDH subtitles are available.  Special features include new interviews with Kristy Swanson and writer Bruce Joel Rubin who go into rigorous details about the Studio’s interception as well as working with their cast and crew mates.  There are also new interviews with composer Charles Bernstein and special make up effects artist Lance Anderson.  The theatrical trailer rounds out the special features.  “Deadly Friend’s” tech-horror with a twist is about as deep as the brain of a toaster oven replacing your girlfriend’s father submissive and overly meek brain, but the new Scream Factory collector’s edition is absolute perfection.

Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” now on a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray!

A Disciple of EVIL! “The Brides of Dracula” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

Marianne Danielle travels alone on the mucky and fog-riddled roads of Transylvania, traversing from France to be a student-teacher at a prestigious dance school for girls. When her coachmen departs without warning, leaving her stranded at a village inn, the Baroness Meister extends an invitation for Marianne to stay with her an the illustrious manor house, but the sign of compassionate hospitality turns into a near deadly encounter as Marianne discovers the Baroness’ son, the Baron Meister, chained against his will in an isolated room. As Marianne is tricked into removing his shackle, she unwittingly releases a conniving vampire into the surrounding village who prays on young women, but, nearby, Dr. Van Helsing has been summoned the Transylvania countryside by the local priest to hunt down the disciples of Dracula, the most powerful vampire Van Helsing had fought and prevailed. In order for the vampire plague to not spread like a virus, Van Helsing will stop at nothing from slaying the Baron Meister to stop the metastasizing of Dracula’s curse against mankind.

Let’s take a step back into time, 1960 to be exact, when Hammer Horror brought a flair for the dramatic to iconic monsters, lush with not only vibrant color schemes, but also in elaborate production designs that scaled the imagination while evoking fear of Satan’s most prolific profaner, the vampire, in Terence Fisher’s “The Brides of Dracula.” The sequel to “Horror of Dracula,” starring Christopher Lee as the titular character, staked vitality two years after the first film’s success and sought to return Peter Cushing back into the good doctor’s shoes once again to battle evil. Shot on lot at Bray Studios and with the grand house exteriors of the nearby Oak Court, “The Brides of Dracula” had greatly masqueraded the elegance and sophistication of the gothic design, bringing settings to life with monumental attention to detail. Before the shooting draft was ready, the script saw numerous rewrites which caused the narrative to fall into numerous hands and, so, the script is built on an overlapping composition of writers, such as Jimmy Sangster (“Horror of Dracula”), Peter Bryan (“The Plague of the Zombies”), Anthony Hinds (“The Curse of the Werewolf”), and Edward Percy. Hinds financed the film under Hammer Film Productions in association with Universal International.

In stark contrast to Christopher Lee’s dark veneer that ennobled Dracula’s arcane and evil presence, David Peel brought a different kind of vampire stemmed off of Lee’s main bole as a disciple of the Prince of Darkness turned because of the Baron Meister’s uninhibited living the life of Riley. With blonde hair and a lighter complexion, Baron Meister became something of a pretty boy vampire that definitely propelled Peel into something of a sex symbol after the film’s initial release. While Peel’s terrific performance goes without wane, Baron Meister sticks out like a sore thumb with the lighter hair color and babyface dermis. The Meister is hunted down by the one and only legendary vampire hunter, Dr. Van Helsing, from Bram Stoker’s novel. Peter Cushing revives his performance from “Horror of Dracula” with a another meticulous and defining act that epitomizes the character’s nature as a knowledgeable and dignified combatant against the dark arts. Cushing versus Lee is the epic King Kong versus Godzilla faceoff that doesn’t leave much room for David Peel in a fight that’s more like King Kong versus King Koopa. The leading role went to French actress Yvonne Monlaur who, at the time, spoke really good English with a thick accent. The “Circus of Horrors'” Monlaur added beauty and innocence being ruthlessly taken advantage of as the hapless Marianne Danielle. With striking red hair and definitely a sex symbol, Monlaur was paraded as one of Hammer Horror’s finest leading ladies to ever grace their terrorizing tenure in genre. “The Brides of Dracula” has a supporting cast like none other with performances from Martita Hunt as the Baroness Meister, Freda Jackson as Baron Meister’s Renfield-like caretaker, Andree Melly as Marianne’s colleague, Gina, Miles Malleson as a greedy blowhard physician, and Mona Washbourne and Fred Johnson as the dance school’s proprietors.

“The Brides of Dracula” has lush, expensive looking production designs from Bernard Robinson that delicately acknowledge a 19th century coach and buggy society and creates a gothic tincture to brood in the bat-flying, eye-catching, blond-haired vampire sinking his canine’s into the untarnished flesh of young women. Yet, Fisher’s follow-up doesn’t add anything to the vampire etymology nor does it tack onto the mythos and, instead, clings barely to a compelling good versus evil narrative closely suited more toward one of the working titles, Disciple of Dracula. “The Brides of Dracula” bewilders as a final title that not once broaches the women stalked by the bloodsucker who seems to attack the random village virginals and, also, barely references Dracula, whom the harem of titular vampires are not at the crook of his pale elbow, but the now 60-year-old film, which I can still remember seeing on television back 30-year-ago, remains as one of the most memorable Hammer productions. Was it because of the enriched looking, old-fashion look? I’d say yes. Was it because of the soap opera designed performances that lavished in melodrama? I’d say yes. Was it because of the undertones of lesbianism, rape, and other taboo-esque themes? I’d say it was all of the above that drove “The Brides of Dracula” in not only being an opening day success but also encapsulating the legacy of Hammer Horror.

“The Brides of Dracula” is the unholy, unceremonious matrimony from hell and has come far from its run on the television with a new high definition Blu-ray collectors edition from Scream Factory, the horror sublabel of Shout Factory! Presented in two formats, a widescreen 1.85:1 and standard 1.66:1, the Blu-ray sustains the deluxe technicolor through the high-res, 1080p, video image that went through a new 2k scan from the interpositive master and absolutely appeals to the visual cortexes with an extensive color palette and very miniscule film imperfections from a super preserved 35mm stock. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is a resounding success with a grand big band score from debuting composer Malcolm Williams that juxtaposes significantly with the dialogue to only be a support device rather than be a main stage act. With many Scream Factory releases, “The Brides of Dracula” comes with exclusive and previously recorded special features included a new audio commentary with film historian Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, a making-of the film that includes a graveyard introduction goes into interviews with the late Yvonne Monlaur, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, assistant director Hugh Harlow, continuity supervisor Pauline Harlow, art director Don Mingaye, model maker Margaret Robinson, and producer Anthony Hinds, and rounds out with a still gallery and theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray is sheathed in a cardboard slipcover with a cover illustration by Mark Maddox and inside is a reversible front cover. Irrefutably a classic, despite some quirks, “The Brides of Dracula” is vintage vampire stock, a pedigree of it’s time, of hallmarking the classical villain in a different, blonder light.

Own the collector’s edition of “The Brides of Dracula” on Blu-ray!

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.

Slavic Folklore EVIL Goes Full Amber Alert in “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” reviewed! (Digital Screener / Shout! Studios)


Still reeling over the loss of his mother, a disheartened Egor has moved to a new apartment on the forested outskirts of the city with his father, step mother, and infant half-sister. A nanny is hired for house upkeep and to look after him and his sister, but the nanny’s strange behavior borders hostility toward him while also bewitching his father with her beauty and charm. Since her hire, the nanny cameras alert Egor of movement in the nursey, projecting an unknown and disfigured woman in the room hovering over the baby. When his parents don’t believe him, there’s nothing more the older boy can do until his baby sister goes missing and his parents don’t remember her, as if she never existed. Egor, along with his friends, track down a man living in the woods who seems to have an inkling about the mysterious disappearances of children and why everyone forgets about them as he has experienced the loss of his daughter and can barely remember her. Based off the man’s ramblings, their search for Egor’s baby sister leads them to an old and abandoned power shack that serves as conduit to the world of Baba Yaga, a Slavic witch with the influencing ability in kidnapping and devouring children’s souls for power and Egor’s sister, along with the rest of the nearby children population, have been abducted to lure in the pivotal pure child to set her free into their world.

“Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” is the second part of this unintentional two part Russian horror film appraisal following our extrospective look into Olga Gorodetskaya’s psyche serrating “Evil Boy” that just happens to have another protagonist by the name of Igor, but in this case, the spelling is Egor and, instead of a middle-aged doctor, Egor is a pre-teen boy with pre-teen issues – just to jazz it up a little. Also originally known as “Yaga. Koshmar tyomongo lesa,” the supernaturally Slavic folklore tale, directed by Snyatoslav Podgaevskiy (“Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead”), was released February in motherland Russia and is making a distributive second coming toward the States on September 1st courtesy of a collaboration between Shout! Studios and Leda Films. Penned by Podgaevskiey as well as Ivan Kapitonov and Natalya Dubovaya, the scribing trio pickup right where the wrote off form the gritty mysticism of fabled creatures beginning with “Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead” and into a classically frightening and morose villain salivating for juvenile souls spurred from one of the numerous variations of one of the more popular, if not grotesque, Russian mythological being. “Baba Yaga” is a production of the Cinema Foundation of Russia, Central Partnership Productions, Non-Stop Productions, and QS Films.

In much of the reverse from “Evil Boy,” Podgaevskiy’s “Baba Yaga” rocks the cradle in a “Goonies” approach with a condiment and courageous group of pre-teen, developmentally spongy, angsty, and hormonal driven children to solve the big bad witch mystery that not only afflicts the very lives of their brethren age group, but also the parental halfwits who have their minds erased like a chalkboard with nothing more than tiny dust particles to cling to to keep their missing children alive in their memories. From the visually powerful alien invasion thriller “The Blackout” (ItsBlogginEvil review here), Oleg Chugunov spearheads a trio of adolescents on the cusp of being witch-fodder. Chugunov plays Egor, a dispirited youth unhappy with his father’s remarriage to another woman and the target of bullies at his new school before becoming the chosen meal plan for Baba Yaga’s unholy escape for an ethereal world. Egor’s experience of an afterthought to a savior of child-kind isn’t represented well through Chugunov and how the character is written as Egor just falls into the “pure” child role without much explanation to why, staying flat on the personal growth scale for 113 minute runtime. Egor’s followed by a love interested in Dasha (Glafira Golubeva) and lead bully Anton (Artyom Zhigulin) who both have bouts with their parental caretakers; Dasha’s mother is a scorned beauty hellbent on controlling Dasha’s life form outside influences while Anton is a parentless brute with a guardian who is equally as callous as him, if not more. Svetlana Ustinova (“Hardcore Henry”) has two roles in this film and both are bad guys: Baba Yaga and Baba Yaga’s half-bird, half-human hench-thing. Ustinova shows immense range by fielding human to hybrid to full out witch qualities, inching the insidious intentions through the storyline that requires varying degrees of discourse with other characters along the way. The cast list rounds out with Aleksey Rozin (“Leviathan”), Maryana Spivak (“The Outbreak” TV series), Igor Khripunov (“The Bride”) and Marta Timofeeva (“Welcome to Mercy”).

Out of the two terror inducers from Russia, “Baba Yaga” inches out “Evil Boy” on the supernatural spectrum. Between Anton Zenkovich’s colorfully prismatic photography, Vlad Ogay’s sleek-straight and modernally tight architectural designs juxtaposed against a vastly rustic and chaotic woodland lore, and topped off with Podgaevskiy’s highly effective misdirection jump scares, “Baba Yaga” inveigles to a palatable lore horror invigorated by a two-timing enchantress with a sweet tooth for kid blood. Despite not being exact to the Baba Yaga’s tale, as the creature’s house is supposed to erected by actual chicken legs, Podgaesvkiy shoots a fear-laden heartstopper where anything can happen in any scene at any moment. Yet, something is indubitably missing from “Baba Yaga.” Perhaps, what’s missing is that meaningful message about rekindling that spark between parent and child, patching up the tears in the relationship that’s been strained by XYZ reason. Perhaps, what’s missing is the unsatisfactory ending of easily dethroning of a powerful and mighty mage. Perhaps, what’s missing is the explanation on why Egor is the key to Baba Yaga’s tyrannical freedom from cursed exile. I’d say all three contribute to the cause and not much, not even a wonderfully animated s storybook prologue depicting the phantasmal enterprise and downfall of Baba Yaga, could save the heartache in wanting more substance from the already loaded story but, then, we would be looking at another hour of runtime though its sorely warranted. In sum, “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” slips in a variant version dispersing a tingling tale of Russian folklore with stunning visuals and dutiful scares that ends deficiently and mediocrely.

Hide your children! “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” will be unleashed on VOD, digital, and on Blu-ray and DVD September 1st from Shout! Studios and Leda Films. You can look for it digitally or on-demand from the following providers: AppleTV, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, PlayStation®, XBOX, hoopla, Fandango Now, DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, Charter, and AT&T U-verse. Since the review is based off a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be examined but the Scream Factory Blu-ray and DVD release will be region A/1, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and will include a powerful Russian language Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix with English subtitles and will also include a dubbed English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Unlucky for me, I had to screen the movie with the dubbed version. Lucky for you, I can confirm that though obvious, the dubbing isn’t horrendously overly-hyperbolized or too asynchronous. There were no bonus features or bonus scenes included nor none announced on the press release. Grab a bottle of Vodka, pop some Zefir candies, turn off the lights, and sink into an Eastern European mythos horror with Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy’s “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” that’ll scare the Ushanka right off your head.

Pre-order “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” on DVD or Blu-ray for Sept 1st release!