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.

EVIL Trolls the Waters, Angling for a Kill. “Bood Hook” reviewed! (Troma Films / Blu-ray)

Troma’s 2-disc “Blood Hook” Available on Amazon!

Muskie Madness.  That’s the moniker for the locals’ fishing contest set as the background for a group of city slicker friends looking to unwind and do a little fishing themselves.  17 years earlier, Peter van Clease witnesses his grandfather suddenly fall into the lake and disappears without a trace.  Present day, Peter returns to his grandfather’s cabin with his friends but is still haunted by the memory from his childhood.  When locals and tourists engage in the contest for who can catch the biggest Muskie, a maniacal fisher casts his giant fishhook lure into the flesh of unexpected contestants on the lake and on the shore, dragging them violently into water and never to be heard from again.  The disappearances send Peter into not only an investigation of those currently missing but also into the cold case of grandfather’s demise whose fate was eerily similar. 

On the calm, glossy surface, “Blood Hook” resembles the quintessential severed tongue-and-cheek comedy and horror of Troma’s outrageously independent repertoire.  Tossed around as a crude idea about opulent society diluting the quality and the quietness of quaint lake resorts during their extravagant vacations outside city life, “Blood Hook,” once under the working title of “Muskie Madness,” is the first, if not the only that I can recall, American fisher-slasher from the unique imagination and vision stemmed from director Jim Mallon (producer, writer, and director of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” series and movie) and producer David Herbert’s childhoods growing up in the summers of small town Wayward, Wisconsin.  Larry Edgerton and John Galligan were brought in to spruce up the script as the official screenwriters, adding bits of dry humor to an already unorthodox slasher in this catch-and-released in 1986 B-movie produced by Golden Charges and Spider Lake Films Ltd.

Like a Kleenex, the young cast falls into the fresh for one-use category of being mainly known for their role in “Blood Hook” and I hate to use that analogy because there are some really campy, genre-perfection talented acts here for a relatively large cast of a small, independent production about a killer fisherman.    Granted, a handful of the talent were able to snag up minor roles in bigger films, such as with Mark Jacobs (“Goodfellas) in the principal lead of Peter van Clease.  Jacobs, who is a dead ringer for David Schwimmer appearances and mannerisms, castrates van Clease’s manhood with extreme meekness more so than the character’s wishy-washy stance on his university music studies, romantic connections, and confronting homicidal maniacs when his abducted woman is in danger of becoming grinded up minnow chow.  What is more vexing about van Clease is the fact he essentially woes 2/3 of the principal ladies without even casting a line.  Beyond the frustrating namby-pamby, all other characters are depicted, in every sense of the term, more in accordance with those who portray them.    There is a side relationship building between van Clease’s friend Finner (Christopher Whiting), an enthusiastic fisherman who is new to the group of city friends, and Bev D. (Sandy Meuwissen), a single local with a toddler, that the audience can get invested in and takes an interesting turn when Bev D. plays the fishing rod at both ends, dipping her toes in another man’s lake with fellow local, and crazed military nut, Evelyn Duerst (Bill Lowrie).  Evelyn’s father, and yes Evelyn is a grown man with a beard, is played by Paul as the van Clease estate caretaker and a real stern pit for local purity.  A fan favorite will be the salty-looking bait shack owner Leroy Leudke complimenting his lovable persona, thick Minnesotan accent, and overall mysterious allure (with a lure) from Don Winters.  The cast rounds out with Lisa Jane Todd (“Playback”), Sara Hauser, Patrick Danz, Dale Dunham, Paul Heckman, Bonnie Lee, Don Cosgrove, Dana Remker, and Donald Franke.

Blood Hook” trawls through the familiarity of the 80’s slasher genre with an obscured hunter, a high body count, and a copiously campy campsite of carnage, but this peculiar fillet is sliced from a different kind of fish. While casted under darkness, the killer flings a cast of nylon fishing line with a large, sharp-hooked Suick lure distinguish itself as a unique weapon of choice that fills the icy blood cooler. There’s comedy in that diabolical device, largely so when making too much noise on the water that can scare fish away from patient fishers as Mallon hyperbolizes the idea of outsiders raising a ruckus amongst the sanctity of the local waters while paralleling a message about the aftereffect horrors of war; however, where we should be laughing at the idea of a fisher hooking a 150lb prize human, we’re only barely smirking at the irony as much of the dark comedy doesn’t precisely translate well from paper to screen. “Blood Hook” is about as big as the hook going into the gut as it’s no ordinary jonboat film as Mallon’s film looks serious, feels serious, and acts like a contender up against the iconic slasher-mega yachts of the time with a disconcerting sound design by Thomas Naunas of deafening cicada tymbal clicks all too familiar during summer days coupled with an eerie gelled and moody cinematography from Marsha Kahn that sets the slasher narrative as such. Both Naunas and Kahn exhibit perfect harmony in a disharmonious narrative context as a pair of feature film greenhorns looking for a launching point in their careers.

Muskie Madness turns into a Muskie Massacre. “Blood Hook” is the cinematic catch that almost got away, but Troma reels this trophy cult film back aboard onto a new 2-disc Blu-ray release distributed by MVD Visual. Presented in 16:9, “Blood Hook” holds up even to today’s standards against scrappy independent productions with a slight soft, yet noticeably clean presentation from the Super 16mm stock blown up to 35mm.  Some frames appear cropped and stretched on faces in extreme closeups, losing a bit of textural definition that leans more into a softer picture, but the contrasting is balanced which is unusual for a Troma film, the coloring is richer around the lush outdoor vistas without breaking stride of other color appropriate opportunities, like the vibrant red blood, and no evidence of any damage transferred over from the negative.  No formal mention of audio specifics on the back cover, but I suspect the track to be DTS-HD Master Audio Mono that’s clear but has issues with projecting low-talk dialogue.  Thomas Naunas’s soundtrack introduces a repetitive looming synth score kept well in check around more less-than-major problematic dialogue scenes.  Naunas’s sound design as a whole is paramount to “Blook Hook’s” envisioned success with an incessant cicada clicking combined, on the regular, with discord tones to jar the audio senses in relationship to an imminent threat.  First disc contains the feature plus scene selection menu.  The second disc is all special features clunkily arranged around the rehashing of Vinegar Syndrome produced interviews from their 2018 Blu-ray release with director Jim Mallon, actress Lisa Jane Todd, special effect artist Jim Suthers, and an audio interview with cinematographer/editor Marsha Kahm.  Along with the theatrical trailer, there’s also the usual Troma promos that accompany their re-release such as for Troma Now, Radiation March against pollution, and the Return of Gizzard Face 2 to promote Troma NOW’s streaming service.  The 2020 Metal + Hitchcock “Blood Stab” short, starring Lloyd Kaufman, finds its way onto the release too. “Blood Hook” is a tackle box of slasher tropes and anti-war and PTSD undertones though slightly dragged down by its weighted comedy; however, a killer sound design and a topnotch killer makes “Blood Hook” a perfect poster film for Troma heads.

Troma’s 2-disc “Blood Hook” Available on Amazon!

When the EVIL Hammer Strikes. “Student Body” reviewed! (1091 Pictures / Digital Screening)



“Student Body” now available on digital from Prime Video

Trying to integrate herself into a close group of slacker friends, high school genius Jane Shipley can’t seem to win with neither her friends nor her passionate for hard work teachers as she has a foot in both contrasting worlds. When peer pressure forces Jane to convince a stern calculus teacher into a re-test her friends had flunked and fails, Jane is forced into another uncomfortable and injustice situation by her friends with exploiting the teacher by turning their meeting into an overstepping of boundaries with a student. The administration, threatened with school board interference, dismisses the teacher that gives the five friends freedom to think they can do whatever they want, including sneaking around school at night and raiding the gym teacher’s liquor stash for some fun. The night not only strains close relationships within the group but also brings a reign of terror when a killer, dressed as the high school sledgehammer-carrying mascot, hunts them down one-by-one.

In her feature film directorial debut, writer-director Lee Ann Kurr hits the ground running with a subgenre all horror fans should be familiar with, the high school slasher. “Student Body” is led by a crew of female filmmakers telling female-driven story about two close, yet very different, best friends with diverging goals about their relationship, touching upon the fluid complexities of growing up and growing apart. Kurr’s classical acting trained background and her music video experience guides Kurr to develop an austere narrative with a sleek contemporary look while expressing relatable themes of school-aged fears, such as never meeting other’s expectations and envy driven intentions. “Student Body” is produced by Rachel Liu, whose comedy romance-horror “Bite Me” is currently on the press release circuit as it releases the same day as “Student Body,” under her Hyberbolic Media production company and Sandra Leviton in her first feature film product credit under her production company, Under the Stairs Entertainment.

In the role of the vacillating Jane Shipley is the Texas born Montse Hernandez. Jane, set sometime after the passing of her mother’s terminal illness, leans solely on her childhood best friend turned the snobbiest and most popular girl in school, Merritt Sinclair, on keeping up her personal upkeep and social connection to others. Played by Cheyenne Haynes, Merritt’s the most equivocal character with trust fund motivations that steer her decisions, gaining reluctant confidence by playing people against each other. Haynes is very tight on Merritt’s conceited and resentful green-eyed behavior that has been stowed away in hopes to keep her image above all else’s whereas Jane wears a few imperfections, and many perfections, on her shoulders. Hesitant in displaying her gifted talents, yet obliviously showy in her unkemptness, Jane submits to Merritt’s whims and plans based off what once was a longtime friendship. Through only a pair of Polaroids and a few lines of dialogue, we’re led to assume at one point in time, pre-high school perhaps, their bond was extremely close but since then, Merritt embroiders herself into high school popularity status that creates a wedge from being authentic to Jane. Hernandez plays well into being the agreeable patsy as she’s coerced throughout the story by not only Merritt but also by her daunting teacher (Christian Camargo, “Penny Dreadful“) with straining persuasion to show off her to intelligence and her other friends, the class clown (Austin Zajur, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”), the brutish athletic competitor (Harley Quinn Smith, “Once Upon a Time….in Hollywood”), and the level-headed and confident hunk (Anthony Keyvan). While nothing to flaw with the cast performances, the characters themselves fall into tired tropes of the high school slasher with the token goof, the token jock, token good guy, and token self-centered snob that eats into any of the novelty Kurr attempts to put forth into her film.

“Student Body” is held back in after school detention by the very same stumbling blocks that trip up its banal and flat character body. The one-dimensional narrative hardly strains any effort into the possibility of other outcomes within its formulaic slasher design and even struggles with its own thematic voice of internalized growing pains in angsty youth that usually run the spectrum of emotions. Kurr cradles to cautiously Jane’s development from a smart, weak-minded follower to a smart, self-respecting person by thrusting the leading principal, who’s unable to bloom being stuck in tug-a-war limbo, into a do or die situation, hinging her growth solely on the masked killer to draw it out with a murderous spree that’s a metaphorical kick in the pants to unravel an undercurrent of problems. In other shades, the killer represents Jane’s subconscious desires for growth and confidence, eliminating the suppressing influences that serve as a roadblock against her ability to move forward and flourish naturally without social consequences and setbacks. The problem that plagues “Student Body’ boils simply down to fine tuning themes, especially revolving around sacrifice, as well as rounding the jagged edges of backstories and the hammering of disrespectful teenager’s heads to be not terribly black and white for Jane’s extrication into maturity.

When we use to get bad grades in school, the typical automatic response from most of us, usually in our heads, was the self-punitive expression, our parents are going to kill us! In Lee Ann Kurr’s “Student Body,” receiving a F can literally be deadly as the slasher arrives onto digital platforms today, February 8th. The independent film distributor 1091 Pictures, the company behind the releases of “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Verotika,” and “10 Minutes to Midnight,” distributes the film for purchase and rent on Apple TV and Amazon’s Prime Video. Since the release will be digital, the audio and video aspects will not be covered in this review; however, Luka Bazeli’s hard lit cinematography often times feels very soft while also commanding the space, providing a rich depth, especially in more confined hallway scenes, with a longer lens on the ARRI camera that encroach upon a constant sense of dread. Alex Liberatore’s score offers a low-toned and pulsating centric theme that sticks tension into you like a knife alongside a complimentary string instrument accompaniment piece in the overwrought buildup. There’s a bit of teen synthpop-rock to bring you down. If you’re looking for bonus scenes, in or after credits, there are none. “Student Body” has strong and arduous performances from Montse Hernandez, Cheyenne Haynes, Christian Camargo and among the others, but sleeps on its own message of growth and has a soporific slasher surface under its sleek cinematography and diverse soundtrack.

Rent or Purchase “Student Body” on Prime Video!

Gather Around. We Must Call Forth EVIL For the Sake of Our Lives! “Seance” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

A practical joke in summoning a spirit sends one girl to die of mysterious circumstances at the isolated and elite all-girls boarding school of Edelvine Academy. At the top of the wait list is Camille Meadows who finds herself in mid-semester adversity with not only her studies but also the deceased girl’s group of browbeating friends as Camille replaces their friend’s now vacant opening. When another friend disappears and another dies in a freak accident, differences and quarrels are put aside before one of them becomes the next victim. The group conducts a seance to call their friend from beyond to discern whose taking them out one-by-one and the spirit’s cryptic response determined one thing evident, a killer, whether supernatural or real, will stop at nothing until every last one of them is dead.

In what feels like an extremely unquantifiable amount of time that has passed since the last high school teen slasher has graced our once beholding subgenre, “You’re Next” and “The Guest” screenwriter Simon Barrett ends up sneaking one into the fold before the grand fourth sequel release in the “Scream” series come mid-January 2022. “Seance” is the first feature length film directed by Barret who pens the supernatural slasher encrusted with snarky teenage melodrama agitated by a mysterious, unknown killer wreaking havoc upon the catfighting girls of Edelvine Academy. The adolescent cutthroat temperaments give way to actual throat cutting macabre in this whodunit thriller lessoned with a mix of the power of friendships and an attenuated lesbian aura presence throughout up until the very affirming finale in an allegorical show representing hiding in plain sight. The snowy and serene Manitoba-shot Canadian film is a production of HanWay Films (“The Guest”), Ingenious Media (“Unhinged”), and the Gothically-inclined Dark Castle Films (“Thirteen Ghosts”) with select producers Adam Wingard, who has a long his filmic history collaborating with Barret, Tomas Deckaj (“The Green Knight”), and Devan Towers (“Day of the Dead” television series).

For High School girls, all the actresses with the exception for Ella-Rae Smith are mid-to-late 20’s with lead actress Suki Waterhouse (“The Bad Batch,” “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies”) tipping the pendulum nipping at her 30s. However, Waterhouse and the others defy their actual corporal ages portraying teenagers in the throes of adolescent social clique.  Waterhouse plays the cool as a cucumber newcomer Camille to Edelvine Academy, befriending right off the bat with her personal Academy introductory host, a solitary Xanax-popper Helena (Smith).   Immediately, new girl Camille becomes public enemy number one with Edelvine’s most smug impractical prankers led by Alice played by Inanna Sarkis. On paper, Alice might have been the group’s ringleader, but the character doesn’t throw around a lot of power or is admired by followers, albeit Sarkis role permanency as the uptight and sarcastic bully or rad bad gal. Following Alice are ancillary player pieces to the group’s effort as a whole to be a thorn in Camille’ side just for being the unfortunate replacement of their dear dead friend. Between the brainy Bethany (Madison Beaty, “The Clovehitch Killer”) and the more elegant Yvonne (Stephanie Sy, “Tales from the Hood 3”) vie the potential right hands of Alice deduced from the dialogue and screen time hierarchy of their roles but they are definitely more interesting than Alice with a punch of flavor in the personalities, especially in Bethany who is built to be a master-whiz in conjuring up devilish pranks to play on her friends and enemies. Furthermore, there’s also the hint of pizzaz that is shamefully cut short and slidden under the radar with the last two in the coterie with the playgirl subtilties of Lenora (Jade Michael, “Fatal Friend Request”) and the unexplored suggestions of Roselind’s (Djouliet Amara, “Tales from the Hood 3”) sexuality, leaving their arcs unfulfilled. “Seance” cast fills out with “Books of Blood’s” Seamus Patterson in the single speaking male role in the entire film, “Cult of Chucky’s” Marina Stephenson Kerr as Edelvine’s firm-handed headmaster, and Megan Best playing the narrative’s lamented backbone of mysterious tragic circumstances.

Portions of where “Seance” flourishes are within the parameters of the teen slasher, a subgenre that lingers on into severe tedium much like the zombie films of the early 2010 decade. The late 90’s and well into the 2000s saw a slew (pun intended) of killer adolescent atrocities in film. Moviegoers were intrigued by the allusive masked killer that, for most of the time, had a palpable-to-satisfying twist ending after roughly 90 minutes of frantic chases, dooming nudity clauses, merciless kills, and one stupid decision to go back into that ominous house after another. Then, when 2010 came along – poof – teen slashers were now a thing of the past, literally. Attempts were poor renditions of previous successes, rehashes of the once was, and didn’t quite tickle the right places. Slowly and surely, the wheels are turning on a rejuvenation of a new generation and Simon Barrett’s “Seance” serves a prime candidate for admittance. Isolated in the stillness of a snow-covered all girl school sets the intended mood for a campus killer, the girls have a warring dynamic mended by a need to survival commonality, and the what or the who that is slaying them is well kept out of sight with misdirection cues to make audiences think they have it all figured out. Plus, the climatic finale has not one twist, but two in its full of blood and surprise double twist spectacular. “Seance’s” character development is one annoyingly flawed aspect that bends the elbow at the wrong angle at times is how characters wonder off alone having just filled their youthful, spongy minds with knowledge that something or someone malevolent is after them. “One friend is missing. My other friend has mysteriously died in an accident. The Ouija board spells out certain doom and gloom. Yet, I’m going to practice my recital routine alone on a dimlit stage with my noise cancelling headphones on,” says nobody ever. “Seance:” “hold my beer!

“Seance” is more than a teen slasher, it’s Simon Barrett’s genre-bending good time and this Shudder-streaming 93-minute horror from Edelvine Academy is coming to Blu-ray home video courtesy of Acorn Media International come January 17th. The Region B UK release, PAL encoded, BD25 is certified 18 for strong bloody violence and presents “Seance” in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Many of the scenes circulate through repeatedly – the snow-covered school, the drab hallways, the quaint rooms, and the bleak storage room – that don’t offer a ton of vivid aesthetics within a limited range, but quality-wise, there’s a dour, shadowy coating accompanying the coarsely, unpretentious realism. However, the fishbowl lens on certain scenes poorly captured smaller spaces, leaving already thin actresses looking anorexic, and for some reason, the decision to position the actresses shoulder-to-shoulder does antagonize that realism as those, who were mischievous back in the day and sent to the principal’s office, never sat right up against a fellow classmate. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has favorable qualities with a well diverse mix of ambience, a strong dialogue track, and a Sicker Man aka Tobias Vethake laying down a spectrum from brooding synth string pops, piano, and cello bass that stands out with profound poignancy to a lo-fi hip-hop beat and EDM noise of embroiled sounds. Special features include a commentary with Simon Barrett, a behind-the-scenes with select cast, minor outtakes, deleted scenes, a crude pre-production setup for the VFX decapitation scene, and a behind-the-scenes still gallery. “Seance” isn’t all Ouija boards and flickering candles as there’s more obscurity to the slasher than what meets the eye with its mania-driven motives and orientational undertones making this little-known film worth a look.