The Devil’s Tongue is a Powerful, Influencing EVIL. “The Dark and The Wicked” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)



Siblings Louise and Michael Straker return home to their farmland house when their terminally ill father becomes bedridden.  A long time alone and isolated before her children arrived, Virginia provided suitable care for their father up until the voices started.  Lurking in between the shadows around the rural home, a menacing presence wedges itself into an already splintered family spirit as the harbinger of death coming for their father’s soul.  The influence of voices and grim visions tatter Louise and Michael resolve, testing their unconditional love for family and moral obligations, but evil can be very persuasive the closer their father comes to his end. 

The battle grounds of losing oneself during the verge of loss has commonly been a recurrent topic amongst indie films.  For filmmaker Bryan Bertino, the concept feels deeply personal.  “The Strangers” and “Monster” writer-director’s latest discomforting horror film, “The Dark and the Wicked,” uses Devil speak in mass, detrimental volumes as an allegoric device for the internal deconstruction of family, capitalizing for his tale the use of his family’s rural Texas farm house written as a threatening locale of isolation and the tenebrous unknown.  “The Dark and the Wicked’s” paganistic undertones heavily perceive a dissipating family structure’s disconnect from not only God but from the community who has been all but absent from coming to the fictional Straker family aid.  The 2020 released film is produced by Bertino’s production company, Unbroken Pictures, alongside Shotgun Shack Pictures (“Hurt”), Traveling Picture Show Company (“The Blackcoat’s Daughter’), and in association with Inwood Road Films.

To play characters accustomed to the rural lands of the Texas outskirts, “The Dark and the Wicked” required a range submerged with leisurely movements, a Lonestar draw, and to, of course, look good in plaid and Wrangler jeans.  The cast that emerged was nothing short of spectacularly precise in fabricating the lives of remote lives rural Texans, opening with a Texas-born Julie Oliver-Touchstone (“Bounded by Evil”) sewing dresses in the barn, tending the farm’s goats, and chopping produced in her white nightgown as who will be the catalytic mother, Virginia Straker, that passes not only the 24-hour hospice care to her children but also all the beneath the light misery that drives her terrified.  The girth of the story revolves around, Louise, “The Umbrella Academy’s” Marin Ireland, and Michael, Michael Abbot Jr. from the upcoming “Hell House,” as sister and brother who return back home upon the news of their bedridden father (Michael Zagst).  At this point in the story, where we meet Louise and Michael for the first time, a shrouded background puts a delectable side dish of mystery into making them initially interesting, but over the course of the 96 minute runtime, the enigma dissolves around why Louise no longer works from the Postal Service and what’s stringently being shied away from the thick layered division between the siblings from being close to one another.  The impending standoffish goes unspoken, never comes to a head between them as like the unfolding of “The Strangers” where Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman unravel and expose their marital struggles with the invisible wall between them before, and even in the midst of, being terrorized.  There’s something there that isn’t being part of the exposition or coming back around when the Devil comes really calling for their father’s doomed soul.  Instead, Ireland and Abbot simply assimilate well enough into their falling into farm life dynamics as the sister who must shoulder the responsibility of hospice care and the brother overseeing what could be considered man’s work of handling the duties of raising livestock.   We also get some messed up supporting second fiddlers to execute Satan’s handywork with performances Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki (“Conjurer”), Mindy Raymond (“Bigfoot Wars”), and “The Walking Dead’s” Xander Berkeley channeling his best Julian Beck’s Kane performance as a sinister Priest making a house call.

Bryan Bertino has a stillness about his films. Their creepily quiet, stirred in a somber stew of macabre, and utterly deranged in a nihilist coating. What appeals to me about “The Dark and the Wicked,” as well as “The Strangers,” is Bertino’s gift to deliver powerful fatalist realism. His stories couple earthly family drama with otherworldly malevolence stemmed from the deeper affects of prolonged relationship breakdowns that literally assigns a demonizing blame on the supernatural for people’s own crumbling failings. Another aspect is the godless presence wholeheartedly felt throughout from the Straker’s loud and proud proclamation of atheism to the lack of religious artifacts. Michael nearly tosses the priest out of his keester just for making checking and noting his mother’s recent unbeknownst connection to God to which Michael took great offense. This leads into the Straker’s lack of community connection as they seemingly are adverse or are agonized by those who wish to help and those who rather seem them burn under the guise of the malice presence. Goats are thematically prevalent to the story, especially when the shadowy Wicked hides amongst the herd, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Goats are often associated with Pagan beliefs, such as with the deity Baphomet, and the evils marked upon them by cultures all around the world and by having the Straker farm be a goat farm is more than just coincidence. “The Dark and the Wicked” brings chaos and confusion much like any circumstances where one or both parents die and all the burdens, all the consequences, and all the pure emotional baggage that comes with death is passed to the children whether the Devil is involved or not. When broken down rudimentary that decline of hope and overwhelming grief can cause a great amount of destruction for any family and even extend to friends with suicide being heavily portrayed in the film. Bertino masterfully touches upon every collateral damage output leaving no one spared from death’s, the Devil’s, hopeless hold on them.

Filled with frightening imagery, plenty of toe-curling suspense, and a loud silence of utter despondency, “The Dark and the Wicked” is a must own for any horror fan and, luckily for you, Acorn Media International just released the Bryan Bertino film on Blu-ray in the UK in alliance with horror’s favorite streaming service, Shudder. Listed as region 2, but more accurately a region B in Blu-ray format, the PAL encoded release is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. If there was one word to describe the comprehensive picture that word would be dark. Bertino maintains an eclipsing cinematography through hard lighting, matted lifeless colors, and a reduction tint to give it that extra gloomy blackness. Cinematographer Tristan Nyby’s first collaboration with Bertino is also the first debut into the genre field and Nyby comes out on top with an ability to show just enough, whether through shallow focus or obscured wide shots to always keep the depth and range of the unknown factor alive and frightening. In regards to the Blu-ray quality, “The Dark and the Wicked” has little to offer in details not because of the lack there of but because much of the film is shot in the dark, a fine midnight black with little-to-no wish or noise, and dim lighting . Facial details do appear slightly soft as you can’t make out the blemishes or even skin pores, but the intentional flat coloring steers much of that away from the senses. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound is a boost of jumpscare ambient effects. The range and depth finely pitch the position of well-timed scares, especially when the strung together bottles, glasses, and cans rattle in a discordance. Dialogue has lossy muster that makes discerning characters’, especially Michael or his mother, Virginia’s, Southern draw. English subtitles are optional. Special features include only a Fantasia Q&A with actors Merin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr that dive into their characters quite a bit and into Bertino’s morose mindset. Bleak and genuinely personal on a whole other level, “The Dark and the Wicked” is quintessential truth when talking about the Bryan Bertino Americana horror film and, believe you me, expect more devilish descriptors that’ll shock you.

When EVIL Runs The Show, That’s When the Reality Sets In. “Funhouse” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Eight C-grade social media celebrities sign a contract for a new reality show, Furcas’s House of Fun.  The reality show streams worldwide on all electronic devices in an exhibition of different and standoffish personalities locked together in apartment-size living quarters.  Contestants will have to face challenges and weekly viewer voting to be the last one standing for a chance to win a 5 million dollars cash prize  Instead of sexy making out sessions, drunken brawls, and contestant melodrama to boost viewer ratings, Furcas’s House of Fun is in actuality a syndicated snuff reality show where a contestant is voted out is a contestant receiving a brutal death in front of the entire world.  Survivors watch behind paned glass as one-by-one their castmates are dispatched in the most gruesome way possible, directed by a screen animated panda bear helmed by a sadist eager for the show to go on.

Ready to have a little fun?  The “Funhouse” is open for what is a variety show of horrors in this 2019 shot, 2021 released reality show of encroaching aggravation and gore from writer-director Jason William Lee.  “The Evil In Us” filmmaker plays his hand at personifying internalized resentful rage for hack, do-nothing, inconsequential to society celebrities by feeding them gladly and enthusiastically to the bloodthirsty wolves.  “Funhouse” isn’t your typical social media or tech horror film as Lee dishes out a thought-provoking disgust covered in a powdery sugar and popcorn veneer that’s surely to please the broad range of horror fans.  The co-ventured Canadian-Swedish story of shallow fame nihilism is shot in the Providence of British Columbia and in Stockholm, home base of Ti Bonny Productions under executive producer Henrik Santesson, in collaboration with Lee and producer Michael Gyorl’s Sandcastle Pictures.

With the surname Skarsgård, acting is in certainly in the blood.  Valter Skarsgård, the youngest son of “Nymphomaniac” and “Deep Blue Sea’s” Stellan Skarsgård’s first marriage and the brother of terrifyingly frighteningly Pennywise actor, Bill Skarsgård (“It”), branches out following his ancestral destiny by headlining as the lovable and misjudged Swede, Kasper Nordin, who leeched fame by being the ex-husband to a renowned singer.  Nearly the spittin’ image of his older brother Bill, Valter brings his name and family looks to the table while showcasing his own talent amongst a motley crew of nationalities.  That’s one of “Funhouse’s” main messages about social media stardom as a plague that has spread to every corner of the world symbolically infecting each contestant from a different country:  Dayleigh Nelson (“Island of the Dolls”) of Britain, Khamisa Wilsher of America, Gigi Saul Guerrero (“Puppet Killer”) of Mexico, Amanda Howells of the Philippines, Mathias Retamal (“The Source of Shadows”) of Chile/Canada,  Karolina Benefield of Poland, and Christopher Gerard of Ireland.  The roles of wannabe celebrities is an ostentatious representation of click bait influencers who will sell essentially their soul and show their skin to be noticed and this turns the clear antagonist villain, a merciless gamester and contract abider with business dealings more vile than from the Devil himself, to be a subtle antihero of sorts as the cast rounds out with Jerome Velinsky’s wickedly sophisticated performance as Nero Alexander that is urbane nihilism at its best. 

Outrageous, fun, and gory – “Funhouse” has all the hallmarks of a 90’s horror on cruise control.  With a bedazzling rudimentary shell of a panda bear avatar animation and blend of practical and digital blood over the simplicity of a small location and indie production, Lee is able to fly through the narrative at whiplash speed and still drop animosity-awarding and empathetic traits to believe in the cast of characters.  In the middle of the chaos of axe splitting heads and being dunked into a barrel of highly corrosive acid, a topical theme of the detrimental social media and influencer stardom to society really positions “Funhouse” on the frontline for inflammatory and anti-social media messages, harping on the noncontributing and unbeneficial role of these money-generating, like-focusing, click baiters in culture and society other than selling to their audiences sex, gossip, and violence.  Speaking of violence, I was pleasantly surprised by the right amount of gore that didn’t shoot for extravagant levels despite some smoothing around the digitally added sinew and guts, keeping a modest amount of realism to the dystopian gameshow construct.  Initially, there are dubious first act moments that quickly shuttle hapless soon-to-be-casualties into the same location, much like in “Saw II” when characters all wake up in the room together and we have no idea who they are, where they come from, and what their backstory is, but as the film progresses we learn more about them and the roles they play in the maniacal puppeteer’s design.  The twist, almost meta-like, ending leaves “Funhouse” on a low note that doesn’t fulfill any void for its existence, but a good chunk of the story is really meaty with a revolving door of plights and a small, yet efficient, compassion outpouring spicket.

Not your traditional participatory surprise-laden and mirror maze attraction, “Funhouse” will still bring old-style thrills with some new blood spills in it’s grand opening release in theaters and on demand on May 28th courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Shawn Seifert (“Dead of Night”) lays out a smorgasbord of cinematography techniques that includes rich, un-matted color filters, isolating characters in darker, dim rooms in making them seem centerstage for their own grand demise, and cultivates stationary, handheld, tracking, and some drone shots for an extremely vibrant and glossy approach and feel for reality television version 2.0. Lee edits the digital reel himself and, honestly, the pacing wanders quickly to the overly rushed section like a quick-spit-it-out story wanting to be finished before it even begins and is compounded with another intrusive quality in the hyperactive back-and-forth of shots that aims to resemble the irksome flight in and out of reality shows that speed up and slow down like a nervous teenager behind the wheel of their parents and continuously presses down on the brake pedal. Stay tuned after credits for a gag bit scene that ties into the main story but promises nothing more. No more being voted off the island or nixed by expert judges, “Funhouse” cleans house with deadly eliminations and a message of the unyielding power granted to many so easily through a rapidly reshaping medium that has become too influential on a braindead scale.

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



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

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

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

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

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

Steamed Pork Buns Stuff With EVIL! “The Untold Story” reviewed (Unearthed Films/Blu-ray)

Wong Chi-hang brutally beats and sets fire to a fellow gambler who refuses to lend him money.  After destroying his identification card and creates a new look and identity, Wong flees Hong Kong before he can be hunted down for first degree murder and be served capital punishment for his crime.  For the last 8 years, Wong has lived and worked on the island village of Macau, running a small, but well-known, steamed bun restaurant, Eight Immortals Restaurant.  He receives inquisitive letters everyday asking about the whereabouts of the former owner, Cheng Lam, by Lam’s older brother on the mainland.  The letters force Wong to attempt manipulating lawyers into signing over the restaurant to him without Lam’s presence.  When the police discover dismembered limbs washed up on the beach, an investigation ensues that connects the body parts to a Chan Lai Chun, the mother-in-law to Cheng Lam, leading a small task force of blockheaded detectives to Wong’s restaurant where he becomes the prime suspect in the disappearances, but he won’t break so easily after being apprehended, unwilling to cooperate and confess to the whereabouts of the bodies of the vanished owner, his entire family, and a pair of workers.  Yet, what were exactly in those steam buns that made them so delicious?

Full disclosure.  I’m not too terribly familiar with Hong Kong’s rating system of Category I, II, and III, but I’ve more-or-less dabbled in the Category III (Cat III) horror and exploitation cinematic market, owning only a handful of these gruesome-and-sexually gratifying guilty pleasure full of sex, violence, and taboo concepts of titles such as “Riki-Oh:  The Story of Ricky,”  “The Chinese Torture Chamber,” and “Three…Extremes” and only “The Story of Ricky” has ever been popped into my player for recreational viewing.  Also, in my collection, is a Tai Sing DVD copy of Herman Yau’s 1993 crime-and-cannibalism graphic thriller “The Untold Story” and, frankly, I never opened it either, but when Unearthed Films sent me their new Blu-ray release to review, I’ll never be able to see chop sticks the same way again!  The eye-opening experience also screamed that I should definitely rip open and see those other films to quench my thirst for Cat III’s offensive opulence.  Based off a true story of the Eight Immortals Restaurant murders in 1985 around the Macau area, the nearly unwavering from the truth storyline parallels the Kam-Fai Law (“Dr. Lamb”) and Wing-Kin Lau (“Taxi Hunter”) co-written story in which a madman slaughters an entire family over a gambling dispute and runs their family business, the Eight Immortals Restaurant, until the police capture him, but Yau sticks more sensationalism to the already brutal notoriety surrounding the actual case with ground human barbecue steamed buns to tease with abhorrent flavor under the Golden Sun Films Distribution distribution of the Uniden Investments and Kwan Hung Films production.

“The Untold Story’s” lead man in the shoes of the maniacal, rage-filled Wong Chi-Hang is “Ebola Syndrome’s” Anthony Wong who initially thought the script was greatly unattractive.  Little did he know that his performance would be so good, so osmosis with his wide-eyed lunatic stare through the luminating pixels of the television screen, that the role would honor him with a Hong Kong Film Award for best actor; Hong Kong’s equivalent to the best actor award for an Oscar in the States.   The “Hard Boiled” actor embodies a soul of frustration and anger to rise his character up to the demented level of nihilism and heartless exploitation that unforgettably scores being the face of “The Untold Story’s” cruelty.  Yet, there is a Jekyll and Hyde complex with Yau’s film that cuts the cynicism with a risible troupe of police officers supervised by Officer Lee (Danny Lee “The Killer”).  With a beautiful foreign woman, a blatantly announced hooker, always at his side and being the sharpest detective on the force, Lee’s a contradictory, authoritative commander meshing immoral principles and duty into one while leading a four-person squad of non-initiatives comprised of three rubbernecking men, craning their gulping jugulars toward Mr. Lee’s arm-candied gals, and one tomboy woman with an affinity for Mr. Lee who struggles with being taken seriously amongst her peers as an unenticing woman in cop’s clothing.  The officers’ western names are a slither of satire to poke fun at the nicknames of tough or macho cops go by in the States with Bo, King Kong, Robert, and Bull (respectively Emily Kwan, King-Kong Lam, Eric Kei, and Parkman Wong of “Dr. Lamb”).  The cast rounds out with Fui-On Shing and Julie Lee. 

“The Untold Story’s” embittered nihilistic violence, gratuitous rape and sodomy, and steamy, mouth-watering cannibalism leverages this Cat III film as tiptop horror exploitation from the far East.  If broken down more, director Herman Yau pins and sews together a liaising three act prong story of a horrid man’s attempt at deadly stability in society and a madcap group of officers, with a penchant for police brutality and coercing confessions, bumbling their way through clues that ultimately funnel into a blended third act of magnetizing the two sides together toward a satisfying, almost faithful, ending of “The Eight Immortals Restaurant:  The Untold Story’s” purloin and murder fiction and non-fiction exploit.  Yau spares no expense for gore, serving up a platter worth the splatter of some nifty chop’em up and grind their meat into the dough effects that’ll turn stomachs as well as heads and doesn’t exude as bargain basement quality; yet, just enough gore goes uncovered to tantalize without a full onslaught tarp covering the ground of disembodied limbs and floor-splattering entrails that boil down to an overshadowing character that detracts from the cast performances as such can accompany with the more extreme Asian horror catalogue.  There’s nothing gentle about the actions of Wong Chi-Hang, but the way he’s scribed to manifest spur of the moment carnage, stemmed by the most minute disputes, and the way Anthony Wong carries and maneuvers of a monstrous villain with ease takes an esthetical point to not stray away from his, or rather his victims’, story.  “The Untold Story” is, in fact, meta-exploitation fiction of non-fiction down to the very last tasty morsel. 

In what is perhaps the epitome of Hong Kong’s Category III film index, “The Untold Story” arrives onto high definition Blu-ray courtesy of the gore and shock genre label, Unearthed Films as part of the label’s Unearthed Classics line and distributed by MVDVisual. The well preserved, near flawless transfer is presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the picture is a vast improvement over the slightly washed previous DVD releases though favors a higher contrast resolution that ekes trading out the details for a brighter, softer film in an overall compliment of Cho Wai-Kee’s beaming cinematography. Whether in the police station or the restaurant, fluorescent lumens light up the scenes with a sterile-driven madness. The Cantonese, Mandarin, and some English 1.0 PCM audio track denotes, without surprise, the lossy quality doddering from age and antiquated equipment, but renders well enough without the imperfections of hisses, distortions, or any vocal impediments. The option English subtitles display without error with only the issue in their breakneck pacing when attempting to keep up with reading the subtitles and the rapidfire dialogue. You basically have to skim read. The special features include commentaries with star Anthony Wong and Herman Yau, the superbly dark and traditional film score isolated for audible pleasure, commentary with Art Ettinger from Ultra Violent magazine and Bruce Holecheck of Cinema Arcana, a Q&A with Herman Yau, a featurette of the history behind Category III films of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema, a interview with Rick Baker entitled Cantonese Carnage, and Unearthed Film trailers. There’s also an two-page insert of Art Ettinger’s write up about Hong Kong cinema and “The Untold Story.” Resilient to the test of time, “The Untold Story” benchmarks a high point in High Kong exploitation cinema, recalls the tremendous feat of performance by Anthony Wong, and displays the sheer mastery of disciplined filmmaking from Herman Yau in this unforgettable gruesome black comedy.

Must Own Christmas Gift! “The Untold Story” on Blu-ray!

EVIL is One Big Vagina Looking Stain on the Wall! “Dead Dicks” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Blu-ray)


Becca’s careworn life, concerning for her mentally unstable brother as well as maintaining her expenses through the up and down cashflow of a bartender’s tour, suddenly gleams with a ray of hope when a prestigious opportunity she’s earned calls for her to move across country in a matter of weeks, but when her brother, Ritchie, leaves multiple distressing messages on her phone, Becca’s continuing efforts to care for her troubled older brother forces her to abandoned the bar’s night shift duty and check on him. What Becca finds is Ritchie’s dead body strung up in the closet, and another Ritchie dead body electrocuted in the tub, and a very much alive Ritchie walking around naked. The perplexing phenomena all stems around a vaginal resembling wet stain on the bedroom wall that birth’s another copy of Ritchie after each death, but with every copy comes copious amounts of provocative questions that keep Becca from leaving Ritchie’s forlorn and tormented side or is it something much more paranormal detaining her?

Welcome back to our part two of the unofficial look at independent Canadian horror with a totally different and existential horror entitled “Dead Dicks” from the dynamic directing duo of Chris Bavota and Lee Paul Springer. Also possessing creative control of their own script, Bavota and Springer flex their filmmaking muscles by initiating themselves into the feature film market with an alternative impression on the lingering effects of mental illness and suicide, which Bavota and Springer preface the film responsibly with a public service announcement for audiences where those struggling with suicide or those who know someone struggling can reach out for information and help via a suicide prevention hotline telephone number. Believe it or not, ItsBlogginEvil has been exposed to some script work by Chris Bavota who penned the tyke-terrible, otherworldly beings in “Ghastlies,” helmed by Brett Kelly, and while I admire Kelly’s legendary practical effects ambitions on a microscopic budget and “Ghastlies” praise to the cult of small creature features villains, like “Gremlins” or “Critters,” I ultimately found the film and the screenplay to be fragmented and unflattering that doesn’t live up to honoring the retro creature ideals in a heavily slapstick and erroneous attempt. However, from 2016 to 2019, Bavota has shown to have an increased level of story maturity in his writing with, perhaps, an assist from his colleague Springer for their subject matter and execution of “Dead Dicks,” a production of Bavota and Springer’s Postal Code Films company in association with Red Clay Productions and distributed by Devilworks and Artsploitation Films.

The low-key cast brings a blanket of intimacy that’s synonymous with how suicide is often a loner’s internal battle with themselves. In this regard, Bavota and Springer needed an alleviator for the somber material with a pitch perfect front man in order to radiate the dry humor and convey the relatively taboo message of speaking up, speaking out, and speaking for suicidal tendencies. They found that man to be Heston Horwin who the filmmakers had had in mind to play the role of Ritchie. Bringing the quick wit and exact timing to Ritchie’s compromised soul, and serving also as executive producer on the film, Horwin becomes the vexed tinkerer trying to problem solve the causality of his own immortality who is stuck in a loop, a motif of in death there is life that continues to pop up, and also contorts his personality to make Ritchie a Rubik cube of anxiety, twisting and turning with tacit body language that serves as a roadblock to his frequently burdened little sister, Becca, played by newcomer Jillian Harris. The strong female role is outlined with meticulously sage from a new actress submersed for the first time credited in an existential and cosmic horror with a genitalia fascination. The duo becomes a trio when Matt Keyes enters the fold as the annoyed apartment neighbor one floor door to be jostled into Ritchie and Becca’s abundant death dilemma. Also known in character as Matt, Keyes deceives as a snarky, impatient prude masking his nice guy principles but when enough is enough, Keyes goes into angry neighbor mode whose fed up with Ritchie’s loud music and building shaking incidents.

“Dead Dicks” doesn’t boil down to simply suicide as the main theme to digest, but sharpens the graphite toward a much broader point that incorporates the lingering shockwave effects of severe mental illness while touching upon the bitter aftertaste of post-suicide. Becca’s caught in Ritchie’s woeful web that results in her always picking up the pieces left in her big brother’s wake. The act of unreciprocated love for Ritchie stems from almost losing him when they were younger, an anecdotal story brought up a couple of times between Becca and Ritchie, and the image of his lifeless body in the hospital has been forever seared in Becca’s mind and body matrix to the point she feels indebted to protect him. It took Ritchie to die, multiple times, for him to understand the inflexibilities of the loop Becca is coiled into with his own unhinged state and can’t proceed forward with her own life. Each copy of his former self slices away a layer of unstable irrationality that have become blinders detrimental to his and his sister’s life and once he’s reached the core of his true self, clarity forms around processing the chaos around him, but doesn’t ever remove the sadness and pain that has been imprinted onto him over the years from family and friends distrust and disdain and that makes his argument to die that much more logical to himself because for Becca to be free from the loop, which is represented by being trapped inside Ritchie’s apartment and objects around him that go into restart mode like the earshot cacophony of heavy rock music starting over after every death, one of them must die and the other be reborn. All of this is in encompassed with a display of in your face genitalia, a discolored wall that suspends death, and grimly funny gore that seamlessly blend computer imagery and practical effect, making “Dead Dicks” a taut downcast, dark comedy full of ostentatious and provocative symbolism from our Canadian neighbors!

The seismically cosmic “Dead Dicks” is intrinsic to the creative fluidity of the indie film culture and is now available on an Artsploitation Films’ Blu-ray release. The release is presented in in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, captured with an Arri Alexa camera providing a clean digital picture vivid in detail and distinct depth. The entire color package denotes warm atmospherics, more so from Ritchie’s off white and mustard yellow apartment to the hot soft pink of the vaginal canal scene, that becomes a consistent and engrossing product worked by cinematographer Nicolas Venne to still be able to find the humanizing angle of each individual character. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound for the first half is quite wonky that perhaps stems from mismanaged discerning the vocals properly, leaving the dialogue depth obscured from background to foreground and from foreground to background. On the story’s flipside, the issues are worked out which would suggest the cluster of shots and audio takes were eventually adjusted or tweaked to sync appropriately. Julien Verschooris’ score and the introduction of Tusk and Bruiser on the soundtrack is an eclectic mix of dramatic synth and grunge rock that impeccably keeps the nearly one-location film from getting stale with a coagulating of an energizing and mellow temperment which would usually have a counter-effective result. Bonus features include commentary by directors Chris Bavota and Lee Paul Springer, four video diaries from the directors that span from pre-production to after the first week of production, a FX featurette that exhibits Matt Keyes going through a cast mold for his head and how his wonderfully gore scene was accomplished, and, lastly, four trailers from films distributed by Artsploitation Films. “Dead Dicks” is pneumatically bursting with the compressed scent of David Cronenberg; a deluxe doppelganger dark comedy bound with provoking the consequences surrounding death in a surrealistic effort to ease in and move past an inexorable acceptance.

“Dead Dicks” available on Blu-ray and DVD!