Everything is EVILLER in Texas. “The Hoot Owl” reviewed! (Brink Vision / Blu-ray)

“The Hoot Owl” on Blu-ray is Slasher-iffic! Available at Amazon.com!

Blind buying a house is never good idea.  Blind buying a murder house in the middle of nowhere should be on the list of if you bought it, you deserve what’s coming to you.  Scott and April do just that as the recently troubled couple start afresh with a purchase of a fixer upper after suffering a late term miscarriage.  Deciding to not have Chip and Joanna Gains to rehab the dilapidated new residence set deep in the woods, the couple invite a small group of friends and family to assist in the much-needed repair and cleanup.  Interrupting their pass-the-doobie high and their positive high spirits while renewing an old house into a home, death and destruction erupts as a pair of demented squatters don’t take too kindly to the new homeowners. 

As far as debut feature films go, “The Hoot Owl” is a gory practical effect driven, true-to-form independent slasher film born and bred out of the great state of Texas.  The co-directing, co-writing Jasons, Jason Rader and Jason Von Godi, are the masterminds behind the cow head-boned masked killer and the very pregnant and very inbred wild woman lying in wait for the naive trespassers to drop their guard and thin out before the slaughter.  Having worked together for years making short films together, the 2022 released slasher was setup by Rader and Godi as a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, but out of the filmmakers’ flexible 20K goal, “The Howl Owl” concept received a measly $275 from four backers.  That roadblock was only temporary and didn’t stop the aspiring retro-slasher artists to complete their foot-in to the passion project that took over 9 years to complete from pre-production-to-post-production under their co-created company banner, Vanishing Twin Productions, in association with Rise Above Productions and producer Raymond Carter Cantrell.

If you’re going all out to make a slasher film, then you’re going to need victims to slash! Most indie slashers nowadays have a synopsis that begins something like this, “a group of teens go into the woods…,” and just by those few key introductory words, we know perfectly well what to expect as the drinking, smoking, and sex-crazed youth meet the homicidal maniac with a bloody machete in one hand and a decapitated head in the other. There’s a rhythmic comfort in that classic symbiosis. The downside to the structure always boils down to the shot in the dark cast and cast of characters that can make or break a slasher film’s success. Scott (Jason Skeen, “By the Devil’s Hands”) and wife April (Augustine Frizzell) bring along Scott’s longtime good friend Drew (J.D. Brown, “Cross Bearer”) and April’s estranged sister Suzy (Katharine Franco, “The Inflicted”) offer a little bit of everything in a hodgepodge of backstories that don’t quite become reinforced in the end with the exception of April whose miscarriage and loss transcends into twisted maternal madness. Frizzell’s glow for the first two acts doesn’t really yell grief but when the ardency takes over, stemmed by her vivid gruesome dreams of her miscarriage, the Texas-born actress steps up to the plate of a psychotic break. Suzy’s also interesting enough character to spark curiosity with the enigmatic contentiousness in a heartfelt scene of two sisters rekindling their bond while actually actioning those same emotions on screen; instead, Franco enjoys the blithe nature of Suzy’s indecisiveness about school and about her family but discovers a quick and sudden fascination with Drew, the least interesting principal that hires two colorful buddies: Hank (Carl Bailey, “A Ship of Human Skin”), a father of two who a penchant for sexual harassment, and an obvious long hair wig-wearing oddball Bugs (Roger Schwermer Jr.). Bailey resembles pure Texan posture but is stiff as a board in his sleazy contractor role. “The Hoot Owl” rounds out the cast with Joshua Ian Steinburg playing the boned-face killer and Johnny Wright reaching inside to extract his inner Neanderthal-like wild woman ready to emulate a putridly picturesque birth.

“The Hoot Owl” is a by-the-numbers man-in-a-mask slasher riddled with familiar tropes and conventional clichés.  Baseline fact is that the film is not breaking any molds here and won’t be a contender for horror picture of the year.  With that said, and as harsh as that may sound, what “The Hoot Owl” represents is pure spirit and appreciation for what the film ultimately represents – a love for the heyday horror. Rader and Godi firmly believe in their film with a sincere attempt at a feature and pulling all the material together during a near decade-long process to get the film released out into the world. Far from perfect, “The Hoot Owl” relies heavily on the gruesome practical effects and there are some good gory terminations with a piledriving beartrap, a split-head decapitation with a large chain, and a long, rusty drill bit through the eye socket that ends in a spurting splatter of blood. The expo is an impressive effort from Allan David Caroll in his first go-round with the effects trade that could rival the early works of Tom Savini or Greg Nicotero. What breaks up the story most of all are the secondary shoots used to swell and cut into the first-round material shots to beef up a feature production. For instance, the opening credit chase sequence of a maniac cop (at least I think it was a cop) hunting down a man and his pregnant wife is a moment that is never clearly referred backed to, but the assumption is that the pregnant woman is the encountered savage later on in the unveiling climatic and the bone-head killer is her child from the rundown who then impregnates his own heathenized mother…? Connectively, it’s all unclear in unfused ends, causing a break in the signal from the lead-in to the trunk of the story, and that underdevelopment pursues throughout with loops never coming to a close.

In my first brush with Brink Vision since reviewing their DVD release of the 2008 alien transmitted dead-resurrecting bacteria film, “Evilution,” a tinge of satisfaction embraces my little heart to see Brink Vision come back across with a Blu-ray release of their latest “The Hoot Owl,” distributed by MVD Visual. The quick-paced 72-minute film is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is not rated and is region free. Video quality doesn’t represent the best-of-the-best of the 1080p high-def resolution with a commercial standard definition equipment and know this mainly because compression that doesn’t display a myriad of issues. Details are not as sharp and there is banding more obvious in one scene of negative space, but the picture is otherwise free of artefacts and other data loss issues. The English Language 5.1 surround mix fairs much of the same albeit the electrostatic noise. While not overwhelming the dialogue to a point of murkiness, the steady shushing combined with the poor audio recordings can vary the quality and depth with a blunt flatness. Bonus features includes a commentary with directors Jason Rader and Jason Von Godi, a second commentary with Creepy Peepy Podcast, a featurette of Rader and Godi looking back at their 9-year pilgrimage to completion, Godi’s short film ‘The Voyeur,” trailer and still gallery. The physical release has beautiful artwork of the Hoot Owl killer in a throwback, almost Scream Factory-esque, illustration. The back cover is a little wonky with a composite that’s hard to read with deep purple lettering on the credits and bonus material listing almost invisible amongst the black background. “The Hoot Owl” endears the slasher fandom with a callback to the brute strength of a wanton villain and if only the script was smoothed over, this little indie film from Texas could have better laid a stronger foundation.

“The Hoot Owl” on Blu-ray is Slasher-iffic! Available at Amazon.com!

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

EVIL Says, Victor Crowley Who? “Freak” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / DVD)

Get Freaky with “Freak” on DVD at Amazon.com

Arthur Crenshaw – the name of a terrifying urban legend.  The story has it that the religious small town-born Arthur was malformed unlike anything anyone has ever seen and that the God-fearing townsfolk didn’t take kindly to his existed as Arthur was looked down upon as an abominable creation of Satan.  His parents, giving into constant community pressure, casted him out into the nearby woods to die alone.  Years later, campers would record that their food and supplies would go missing.  Some campers even went into the woods and never came out.  Present day, a group of campers reserve a campsite, seeking the thrill of the woods’ notorious backstory and for a little R&R on a quick weekend getaway, but the stories of the misshapen, monstrous Arthur Crenshaw are not just tarradiddles to give people the willies and for the youthful campers, a night under the stars has become a night of survival.

Looking for something different, unusual, and still carnage drunk in a disfigured, backwoods killer of a campy slasher?  Look no further!  Lucky Cerruti’s very own misunderstood reject Arthur Crenshaw is the type of “Freak” we’ve all been craving.  The 2020 American indie feature is the sophomore production from writer-director Cerruti who oversaw all the pre-, principle, and post- in the height of pandemic time.  The “Kindness of Strangers” filmmaker films “Freak” in New York’s picturesque Adirondack mountains surrounding the community of Ochiota and Cerruti’s able to capture a slither of the landscape beauty with the majority of shots constrained to closeups due to puppetry.  Yes!  Arthur Crenshaw is but a mere puppet with more than frightening features that makes him appear more alien than human.  “Freak’s” indie crew consists of James Bell on special effects with producers Matthew Sorensen, Kegan Rice, Jessica Fisher, Leslie Dame, and Robin Cerruti serving under multiple hats with cinematography, puppetry control, and creature design under directors Dead Vision Productions.

Consisting of mostly Adirondack local artists and actors, “Freak’s” casts yips with little bite to make Arthur Crenshaw’s wretched, hillbilly kill-monger. Unimpressive and uninspiring character buildups coupled with so-so first-time acting doesn’t exactly put one on edge for these unlucky campers’ survival. I realize that Cerruti attempts to parallel Crenshaw with the awkward tag-a-long little sister Jenna, played by independent painting artist Sasha Van Cott, by focusing on both of them being an outcast and misunderstood. Cott’s meek performance aligns with that element but the character, like the others, is terribly bland. Her brother Ryan, performed by independent musician Dorran Boucher, is portrayed as seemingly have little to do with Jenna in a big brother role that can be described as neither sympathetic or apathetic to his sibling and treats her more like just one of the friends, but encouraged by their parents to bring Jenna to socialize her into having…I don’t know what. Jenna does manage to have a spark with or soft spot for Ryan’s best friend Henry as she constantly sides with his oddball interest in the legend of Arthur Crenshaw. Her fascination keeps Henry interesting in a subconscious kind of way but the two are a mismatch from the start as he appears to be the cool kid or the jock trope of the group. “Freak” sacrifices up a platter of kill-fodder with throwaway roles by more feature film first timers in Annachristi Cordes, Hunter Wilson, Leslie Dame, Hope Stamper, and Lucky Currati in an intense introductory opener and Kent Streed as Arthur’s old man who gave a damn and one of the only principals to receive a proper personal history that provides depth and understanding.

“Freak” might have low marks in acting, but the self-labeled C-movie has straight up, grade-A kills. We’re not talking about a simple knife to the gut or a slice across the throat here. Arthur Crenshaw doesn’t quite know when to stop as that single slice turns into two slices, three slices, four slices, and on and on until the who head hangs barely on the sinew attaching the head to the rest of the body. You know when you’re dicing up chicken breast and that white tendon streaking through the raw white meat is so damn hard to cut through, it’s like that. There’s blood everywhere and then some. “Freak” is surprisingly and pleasantly gore-laden and that goes hand-in-hand with the antagonist’s physical existence as a rod puppet worked from behind under the guise of a green screen by creature designer and executive producer Matthew Sorenson. Sorenson’s visualization is quite the abstract concept in reality with reverse knee flamingo legs, essentially no torso, and a head with one big blue eyeball and snaggle teeth. Arthur reminds me a little of the aliens from the 1996 David Twohy alien conspiracy film “The Arrival.” Hell, he could have very well been a stand in. The puppet and the puppetry are quite crude but are profoundly effective, welcomely campy, and an ingenious way to make a horror film during pandemic pandemonium.

Wild Eye Releasing, along with distributor MVD Visual, get in bed with the “Freak” on region free DVD home video. The big question is is “Freak” considered a feature film since the runtime is only 52 minutes? Some would argue the not rated Lucky Cerruti production doesn’t make the cut. I would say so what? But I did find the short runtime does hurt the storyline that’s unable to beef up portions that severely lack substance, such as the campers. The DVD is presented in a widescreen format that doesn’t list the ratio on the cover but if I was a betting man, 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The digitally recorded video’s data decompresses are varying levels between from a high 4 to a low 7 Mbps as banding and digital noise inference sneak into on the low-lit scenes negligibly. The DVD lists the audio as stereo, but the release actually has an English Dolby Digital 5.1. In fact, for some reason, there are two of the same Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks without any metric differences available. Despite some crackling during the more intense audio moments, the audio tracks are pretty well balanced and keep most of the blights at bay. The bonus features include a nifty behind the scenes featurette that dives deep into creating “Freak” in a wholistic view, a directory’s commentary, and Wild Eye trailers. We want more of the “Freak,” more of Arthur Crenshaw, as the Lucky Cerruti and Matthew Sorenson have a goldmine of a cult slasher right at their fingertips as the potential next big backwoods franchise that’ll breathe new life into horror and provide the genre what it sorely needs and deserves. Now…where’s Part II: The Return of Arthur Crenshaw?!?

Get Freaky with “Freak” on DVD at Amazon.com

A Grand Tour of EVIL Only Costs Your Life. “The Curse of Dracula” reviewed! (MVDVisual / DVD)



Own the Curse….The Curse of Dracula on DVD at Amazon.com

Con-artist brothers Bojan and Marjan whip up a quick-cash scheme by price gouging tourists to roam the Slovenian grounds of the infamous Valburga castle, a restricted and vacant manor estate that was once owned by a ruthless inhabited, known by the people as the Baron of Blood, believed to be a cousin of the vampiric legend Count Dracula.  The lore itself would bring in lucrative customers and lucrative cash would be easily raked in or at least the brothers thought so until the types of tourists attracted to visiting Valburga castle are anything but easy targets with a pair of German alcoholic partiers looking for a good time, a sleazy Russian porn director scouting locations to shoot his two beautiful starlets, than demonists, goths in search to become vampires themselves, and Swedish demonists on the hunt for ultimate power.  Biting off more than they can chew with their new venture, Bojan and Marjan must also contend being trapped with an industrial-sized circular saw wielding maniac roaming the mazelike passageways of the castle. 

Let us preface this review with the “The Curse of Dracula” almost entirely has little to do with Count Dracula.  The original film title, “The Curse of Valburga” was altered to “The Curse of Dracula” in an appeal to a broader, Western audience who may not have a clue what or where Valburga is on a map and for those who do not know, Valburga is a quaint little settlement area in Slovenia, the birthplace of the 2019 film and the birth home of “Killbillies” writer-director Tomaz Gorkic.  Gorkic plays the Americanized game of Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon with a story that links Count Dracula to a mysterious Baron of Blood who once resided and laid down massacring roots in Valburga, but instead of a grave tone surrounding one aristocrat’s austere penchant for sadism, “The Curse of Dracula” plays out a dark horror-comedy with a cynical sense of humor and a punk-attired killer.  Gorkic coproduces the film with fellow “Killbillies” producer Nejc Saje for 666 Productions in association with Strup Production, MB Grip, NuFrame, Supermarket Production, and Sonolab.

The opening driver of the story is setup like a buddy comedy revolving around two brothers Marjan and Brojan (Jurij Drevensek and Mark Mandic) joined by business associate Ferdo (Ziga Fodransperg) who has the keys to their castle con and when I say keys the toe castle, I mean it literally as the owner of the security company that services over the grounds.  Sifting through their snarky teasing, you get the senses the three are close despite their tough guy act and jabs at one another who leveling onto Marjan price gouging unrestricted tourism plan.  While Marjan and Brojan are seemingly being carved out as principal characters, that feeling quickly diminishes upon the arrival of the tourist group that includes Sven (Niklas Kvarforth), a Swedish neo-necromancer clandestinely on the scour for the eye of the baron – yet, we’re never told what the eye of the baron is or specifically why Sven is searching for it other than it can summon demons, connecting back to the prologue scenes of staticky, post-industrial score with him conducting satanic-like ritualistic hand movements and unheard chanting verbiage. Then, you have the Russian porn director Vasily (Luka Cimpric) with his two floozies, Dasha (Zala Djuric) and Anastasya (Sasa Pavlin Stosic) trying to make sexy-time promo happen on the Baron’s rundown manor. However, a favorite out of the bunch are the German man (Jonas Znidarsic) and wife (Tanja Ribic) who just keep pulling beer from the wife’s tiny purse – a good gag by the way – and treat the whole contention and violence as one big party. Despite all their idiosyncrasies and motives, not a single one of them are redeemable from out of their petty and conceited intentions. “The Curse of Dracula” rounds out with Katarina Stegnar, Gregor Skocir, Odina Kerec, Matevz Loboda, Neza Blazic, and Anton Antolek as a one-of-a-kind subjugator of souls with his wild circular saw blade slingshot and Nazi helmet.

Now, the title already irks me. Insinuating or, better yet, incepting an idea that hapless tourists will be become victims of Dracula’s curse was a terribly misleading campaign strategy to get the Dracula, or just simply the vampiric, fanbase to hop aboard a quick cash in on the Lord of Darkness. However, “The Curse of Valburga” is an apt title for a slasher-survival tale around the sawblade killer who hunts trespassers for his crypt-dwelling clan in the cellar. Gorkic never fleshes out the enjoyable turn of events with the mysterious group that causes all of the tourists’ troubles in full disquisition and tries to sneakily skimp by with just a rudimentary, flyby explanation that doesn’t clearly paint the picture or really denote a reason. One thing Gorkic didn’t convey confidently was the appearance of the chief who wore a MM35 or MM40 style German helmet on top of a metal and chainmail masked face and sported a cutoff sleeve shirt while flinging giant-saws from a handheld slingshot rifle. I wanted to know that guy’s backstory! Yet, each character is cut short and never massaged with arc to care about and, frankly, wanted them all to feel the serration of the saw from how terribly poor they’re written. It’s as if the characters were farmed to be massacred, having no sense of purpose to live or garner audience sympathy to overcome the struggle, and just like the characters, the story is also equally deprived of a proper concluding finale that leaves us hanging, waiting for that satisfying high-five. The script written by Gorkic might be poor in arc development, but I will say the Slovenian filmmaker does have a small taste for comedy as there are moments that will have you chuckling, especially the phone call between Sven and Gregor Skocir in what’s llike a classic Abbott and Costello dialogue gag.

If you’ve never seen Slovenian horror, then I suggest checking out the bloody chuckles of Tomas Gorkic’s “The Curse of Dracula” now available on DVD distributed by MVDVisaul in collaboration with Jinga and Danse Macabre. The poorly designed DVD cover of a wide-eyed, gaping mouth vampire with fangs drawn superimposed behind a cracked open upright coffin with dirty/bloody hands stretched straight out overtop and bats positioned adjacent to the coffin on both sides doesn’t do this story an ounce of actual justice, but the DVD is presented in a widescreen 16X9 aspect ratio with a solid 5 to 6 Mbps of data transmission, rendering the picture fair for DVD image quality. Some of the details in the background and even on the characters are not as finely crisp but the picture maintains an above adequate quality. The English, Slovenian, Swedish, Russian, and German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is nicely robust but offers the same quality as there Stereo 2.0 when toggling back and forth between the two audio options and never distinguishing the difference between the two. Dialogue is clear albeit the broken English and thick accents when characters are speaking English. There are option English subtitles; however, they do contain a handful of errors and are text size is a bit small so if you have a 42″ or smaller TV, you may need to squint. The release is region free, has a runtime of 82 minutes, is unrated, and does not contain any special features or bonus scenes during or after credits. “The Curse of Dracula” is a slaughter-horse of a different color with a fascinating villain and a blindsiding coven of flesh-craving basement dwellers that pivot the narrative in a wild direction but the story lacks comprehension that results dissatisfaction.

Own the Curse….The Curse of Dracula on DVD at Amazon.com

Making a Horror Movie can be EVIL on the Health! “Stoker Hills” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Three film studies college students are eager to win their class’s short film contest with story idea Street Walkers, a genre blending horror movie that crosses “Pretty Woman” with “The Walking Dead.” On their first night of shooting, isolated on the empty streets of Stoker Hills, their actress and friend is suddenly abducted right before their camera lens and instantly give chase without a second to call the authorities, falling right into the maniac’s nightmarish world. Left behind for two detectives is the students’ tell-all camera, leaving behind the recording as the only clue into tracking down their undisclosed whereabouts and stopping the kidnapping-killer. As the detectives home in on the killer’s lair, only hours are left before a determined and desperate madman drains every single drop of their youthful blood for a deadly selfish cause.

Director Benjamin Louis and “Stoker Hills” want you to believe in their compelling and bloody slasher narrative of periled college students fighting for their lives against a formidable, resilient killer while two resolute detectives sniff out the mystery of their disappearance before it’s too late. However, in “Stoker Hills,” nothing is as it appears to be. As the first feature script penned and produced by Jonah Kuehner, the “State’s Evidence” director, Benjamin Louis, coproduces the sheeny cinematic slasher that hits upon almost every known trope in the book by incorporating a backwoods nook, a torturous rec room, and foggy night underneath a vividly complete full moon into a story that’s one part found footage and one part cop thriller. Benjamin and cinematographer John Orphan (“The Black String”) do a phenomenal job crafting away from a Los Angeles look and into an unrecognizable, any-town-America by shooting at the dead of night in L.A.’s low-lit surrounding areas of Griffith Park and the Angeles National Forrest without focusing in on or revealing well-known landmarks. “Wildling’s” Rab Butler and Timothy Christian coproduces the 2020 teen-mystery slasher.

“Stoker Hills” begins very much in the same way as my last review of Seth Landau’s “Bryan Loves You” with a deep-in-character production by the great Tony Todd (“Candyman”) as a film studies professor. Instead of warning audiences to look away if frightened or to be ushered out of the theater when shocked beyond just stomaching the content, Todd’s professor of cinema is passionate and enthusiastic about what great filmmaking and the auteurs who wield their work upon the world. However, much like “Bryan Loves You,” Tony Todd only dabbles into the narrative with a superficial house role that opens the doors for Ryan (David Gridley, “The Unhealer”), Jake (Vince Hill-Bedford, “Sorority Slaughterhouse”), and Erica (Steffani Brass, “Ted Bundy”), three slackjaw, maybe even indolent, students eager to take “The Walking Dead” and turn it into a “Pretty Woman” romance comedy known as “Street Walkers.” The concept is no Guillermo del Toro or Martin Scorsese, but nonetheless barely sates the professor’s threadbare faith in the three’s semester-ending grade. Along the way, we’re introduced laterally to character who will eventually be integrated into the story later and at a state of prominence to the mystery, such as with fellow star student Dani Brooks (television actress Tyler Clark) and her university benefacting donor Dr. Jonathan Brooks (John Beasley, “The Purge: Anarchy”). “Stoker Hills” also isn’t entirely linear as the footage soon appears to be corrupted only to be on pause by two officers investigating the case and analyzing the video. William Lee Scott (“Identity”) and Eric Etebari (“Scream at the Devil”) play the high-blood pressure, blue collar, family-man Detective Bill Stafford and a sophisticated bachelor and quasi-Rain man Detective Adams respectively. The Scott and Etebari cop drama show entertains as less CSI and more NYPD Blue or Law & Order with a conspicuous partner correlation only to be separated by adding snippets of out of context humanity, such as why Adam’s is a loner and Stafford hates changing baby diapers. Powerful stuff. Each character is connected to “Stoker Hills'” antagonist, Charles Muyer (Jason Sweat), who’s been abducting young, healthy people off the streets and into his vacant buildings of intravenous drips of blood into a milk crate-based cylinder beaker tube. Thomas R. Martin, Joy McElveen, Maya Nucci, Michael Faulkner, and “Eraser’s” Danny Nucci round out the cast.

Director Benjamin Louis cherry picks the best traits from a triad of genres to smush together into one trope-tastic “Stoker Hills”  A lumbering mute killer bred to annihilate in his nihilism from the slasher genre, two dedicated detectives determined to catch a killer and able to snoop out clues out of nothing that’s familiar toward the cop drama genre, and a pair of brosefs, who dude each other in every other line of dialogue no matter if it’s joshing in film studies class or being chased harrowingly through the woods and having their foot snagged in the teeth of a beartrap, pulling from the pot-smoking and arrogant hijinks of two immature college aged guys usually hovering around the teen comedy category.  All the actors really get into their parts to the point of a fault in creating a bogus, simulated environment as if a knockoff matrix, coded by naive aliens who know nothing of the human race other than watching “American Pie,” “Law & Order,” and every Renaissance era slasher film, is being pulled over the eyes. The whole ordeal that has a context surrounding Charles Muyer’s bad pig heart is also grossly under kneaded and bordering nonsensical until the ending. That game changing ending spooled by meta wiring puts in perspective every last minute of the well-paced 91-minute film, and when the narrative quickly closes upon itself and fades to black into the credits, every scene previously pondered and examined, crisscrossed into a mental algorithm that breaks down character arcs and progression devices, and spits out answers like an Amazon Alexa has suddenly last all its calculated determination in a snap of a flash. Kudos to “Stoker Hills'” screenwriter Jonah Kuehner for conceiving an overtreated trope decoy story and kudos to director Benjamin Louis in pulling the wool over our eyes without flinching or showing his cards too early.

Everybody run for “Stoker Hills” and become caught up in a diabolical twist that’ll deflate the suspense out of you but also leave you pleasantly surprised. 101 Films released this film last month, March 28th, on digital platforms. Since “Stoker Hills” is solely a digital release from UK distributor, there are no audio or video specs to note or review. Aforementioned, John Orphan helms the “Stoker Hills” noir and no-nonsense veneer which is and also the minor league Jigsaw traps are very “Saw”-like, even down to peppering certain scenes with over illuminating primary color gels if by spotlight. Roc Chen, a profound composer for China over the last decade, notes a less than impactful score in what could be considered more run of the mill material, but that also could play into the whole narrative twist. There were no bonus features available with the film nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. At first glance, “Stoker Hills” treads over the same worn trodden path of slasher predecessors, but then the finale hits like a five-finger slap in the face from Will Smith and, suddenly, everybody could be, should be, and will be talking about “Stoker Hills'” gripping gambit.