A Major Book Deal Isn’t Worth This EVIL. “Writer’s Block” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

Skip Larson has become a one hit wonder in the literary field.  The aftermath of his initial work, a best seller success, has never again been duplicated as Larson’s wretched and dispassionate heart and mind hit an unscalable writer’s block that can’t afford to pay the ever mounting bills.  When a stranger approaches him at one of his dismal book signings, an opportunity presents itself to meet serial best-selling novelist, Chester Everett McGraw, at his private ranch where Larson has to decide whether to sign McGraw’s rigorously partisan and severe contract for wealth, prestige, and a chance to co-author McGraw’s next big novel after being cut off from the outside world for six months or walk away from everything without penalty and return to his mundane life struggle.  Larson agrees to McGraw’s extreme terms and begins working chapter after chapter on McGraw’s next literary masterpiece, but as the days turn to weeks and each draft is ridiculed and critically trashed, an irritated Larson itches to leave but the snake-tongued McGraw, his brutish bodyguard, and even the beautiful maid, who has suddenly taken a liken to him, keep tortuously motivating him back to novel drawing board whether he likes it or not. 

Putting pen to paperwork with a looming deadline on the horizon is already stressfully hair pulling, but when the cold steel of a gun muzzle is pressed against your sweaty temple, the pressure grows tenfold to get the creative juices flowing before the contract is up in Jeff Kerr and Ray Spivey’s co-written and directed 2019 exploitation thriller, “Writer’s Block.”  The independent feature is the second collaborated project between Kerr and Spivey following their 2016 documentary, “The Last of the Moonlight Towers,” about the obsolete street illumination system, the last of its kind, of electric light towers in Austin, Texas.  Continuing the trend of holding their filmmaking shop in their home state but not exploring non-fictional antiquated monolithic engineering marvels, the directing duo concentrate their Texas-based shot film toward being a cinematic turn-pager saturated with perfidious suspicion and crackpot characters that keep the road toward a clandestine endgame alluring and mysterious, unfolding in a similar regard to that of its general context of an exceedingly multifarious murder mystery novel.  Kerr and Spivey’s Sharp Town Productions serve as the attached production company.

Kerr and Spivey shop locally when choosing their downtrodden literary hero, Skip Larson, plagued with a wretched past and the desirable callings of the bottle.  The filmmakers settle on “Fear the Walking Dead’s” Craig Nigh who can sell smartass with the best of them and be as tough as nails when push comes to shove.  On paper, Larson’s a forlorn gambler risking his chance at life by accepting a seemingly glamorous, one-in-a-life, game-changing deal by a fellow writer he admires, but with a number of fishy, tall-tail signs of deception and corruption by McGraw and his goon, Digger, Larson can come off naïve, especially when he sticks around still after his free will fractures under physical violence and threatened to be shot.  The oppressive McGraw obviously has an ace up his sleeve in his proposed partnership with Larson and, never once, feels sincere in building Larson’s library with his dreams.  I found Mike Gassaway’s performance as McGraw to be one-note.  “The Next Kill” Gassaway tussles with sly intentions of a manipulative best-seller author, devolving into an unintentional weaker ranch obstacle that dwindles down McGraw to be more of a façade behind the true game being played against an unwary Larson.  Though McGraw as the brains, the cowboy hat wearing former oil rig worker, Digger, provided much of the muscle whose anxious temperament kept him from seeing the final stages of McGraw’s malevolent game.  Chris Warner finally lands a principle role that isn’t a short lived bit part that’s labeled Flatbed Driver or Prison Guard.  Instead, Digger Haskell seems like a teddy bear good old boy that Warner can inherently step into without having to get lost in a new persona and Warner fleshes out Digger’s hasty disdain in how the slow progression keeps him for enjoying what he loves to do best – being a hired goon – but the character rarely established a definitive connection of servitude toward McGraw other than the notable writer taking the oil rig injured man under his wing, causing some unresolved character development.  Cataline is perhaps the most underwhelming character as the immigrant house cleaner who falls in love with Skip Larson.  Played by Jeannie Carter-Cruz (“Sasquatch!  Curse of the Tree Guardian”), Catalina bashfully wills herself around the house, not really cleaning much in the audiences scope of her profession, and becomes discreetly entangled with the struggle writer for unknown reasons she herself couldn’t explain, leaving her, and Carter-Cruz, exposed in an under-seasoned character course. Katusha Robert, Avery Lewis, and Natasha Buffington rounds out of the cast.

“Writer’s Block” shoves an easily relatable theme of success never comes easy right into audiences’ laps as Skip Larson’s humiliation exhibits as much through literary famed Chester McGraw’s browbeating tactics ranging from verbal assaults to unwanted sexual persuasions. Not by McGraw. That would be gross. Yet, in essence, the actual frustration condition of writer’s block for an author in any facet is akin to the sensation of conquering in what seems the impossible. Once Skip Larson tips the odds into his favor, the woebegone writer’s line graph to success skyrockets off the chart after a bit of tough love motivation stemmed by McGraw and his boot camp, side-hustling ranch. However, “Writer’s Block” suffers from the titular misgiving in the form of pacing irregularities, a loitering third act, and a paper thin Skip Larson backstory that only dabbles into his post-family tragedy alcoholic stupors and his peradventure subversive dealings with his gangster cousin. The gangster cousin tangent is by far the most offshoot subplot underlined only in flashbacks and at the finale that introduces a character that has seemingly never been a functional part of the story but is pivotal in Skip Larson’s corner. The crux of the story’s issues is that it tries to incorporate too much whereas the basic building blocks, the pure premise, would have sufficed and have been modestly more successful if stuck to instead of throwing a curve ball of horror into the macabre construction of McGraw’s collective work of best sellers as trophies that becomes synonymous with his obsession for hunting, if not more so conquering, the wild game he annihilates.

When a wordsmith’s mental typewriter stalls and the hands hang still with fingers dangling above the alphanumeric keys, waiting for inspiration to flow through the very fingertips that provide financial stability and creative vigor, use the Gravitas Ventures released “Writer’s Block” as a tool to unstick the tacky words, pry open the oppressive blockade of the expression dam, and let the flood of literature be unbridled. Released earlier this month on November 3rd, “Writer’s Block” is now available on VOD and streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Fandango Now, and Google Play as well as all major cable and satellite platforms. The 98 minute film is shot in the capable hands of Alex Walker who stays put mostly in natural lighting, swerving almost unnoticeably at times into various colored lighting (mostly blue or purple) and utilizes the story’s drone to capture effective aerial shots. There were no bonus features included with the screener nor were any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Writer’s Block” is a tousle survival-thriller careening toward a grisly surprise that requires a little more spick and span shaping for a grittier exploitation.

Own “Writer’s Block” on Prime Video!

 

EVIL is the Carousal Centerpiece of Hell! “The Devil’s Fairground” reviewed! (MGI Films and ITN Distribution / Screener)


A pair of struggling paranormal investigator groups have been reduced to the gimmicky capturing and recording pay schemes of alleged ghost and spirit interactions, but when a hack actor is hired to setup a meet and greet with an apparent demon possessed girl, their investigation leads Freaky Link’s Jacob and Shawn and Spooky Links’ Lace and Rob to an abandoned and dilapidated fairground as the source of the girl’s possession. Upon arrival, they’re immediately sucked into the epicenter of Hell to battle for their very souls.

Jacob and Shawn return to confront the ruthless terrors of supernatural forces once again in “Anna 2: Freaky Links,” aka, ITN distributed titled “The Devil’s Fairground,” and aka, better known as simply, “Anna 2,” in this low-key horror-comedy sequel from the Crum brothers, director Michael and screenwriter Gerald, delivering infernal Hell straight out of the Lonestar state of Texas. Honestly, I’ve never seen the prior film, “Anna,” and at first glance, “Anna” was seemingly a rip from the successful coattails of “The Conjuring’s” universe sub story, “Annabelle,” involving a doll embodying the forces of evil. However, despite the comparable titles and a shade of the narrative, “Anna” and “The Devil’s Fairground” veer into a novel realm of the deep and ultra-surreal that became the basic construction materials needed for lush nightmares. The Dallas-Fort Worth based production company, MGI Films, founded by Michael Crum, backed the film saw fit to update the title form “Anna 2: Freaky Links” to “The Devil’s Fairground,” a simple, yet improved title change that landed some viewing confusion when the original title graced the scree when the original title graced the screen, like for myself who enjoys going into a movie knowing nothing. MGI Films has also produced “Lake Fear” and “Blood Vow.”

Returning as paranormal private eyes, Jacob and Shawn, are Justin Duncan and Gerald Crum as the hapless duo who barely survived the first demonic doll encounter and team up with the Spooky Links investigators Lace (Mercedes Peterson) and Rob (John Charles Dickson, “Meathook Massacre 3: First Hunt”) to combine their joint efforts and their holy water filled water guns up against an unknown evil. Initially, Jacob and Shawn are written without much consideration of the first happenstance with only brief hints that mean little to the layman toward the Crum pagan pageantry. There’s obvious history between the two groups beyond being competitive supernatural sleuths that’s difficult to sift through to make a full, clearer picture on their quarrelsome nature, but one thing is certain, both Freaky Link and Spooky Links are desperate to be validated ghost hunters. Gerald Crum’s script might have dissected the thick tension between the characters, but the poor audio quality and the loose preface that dots the eyes between both predecessor and sequel is about as abstract as the Hell they find themselves swallowed in. Daniel Frank, Kenzie Pallone, Shannon Snedden, and Vandi Clark fill out the cast list.

“The Fair Ground” is a tricky trickster when judgement comes during the credit roll. With all the audio issues during the story setup, as aforementioned, connecting with the characters and the story proved dreadfully challenging conjoining against the fact that I have never seen the film’s antecedent, “Anna.” I was lost, confused, and struggling to keep up with the exposition that didn’t circulate visibly a perfect picture of “Anna” to bring the viewer up to speed. Also, the very fact “Anna 2: Freaky Links” title is displayed and not “The Devil’s Fairground” threw me for a loop; I had to pause and look back at the press release to see if I was watching the correct feature. However, in the end, “The Fair Ground” became an absolute diamond in the rough with a delectably profound scare factory of terror imagery, wallowing in the timely executions in Michael Crum’s editing and Gerald Crum’s imaginative visual and special effects. Though some will see the effects being rough around the edges, the shock-horror discordances work without question with a pack of ghoulish bug-eyed zombies, a carousal of shuttering specters, a foreboding carnival PA system, an aborted past lurking in dark waters, and an overgrown monster with the biggest butcher blade you’ve ever seen while peppering with scenes of powerful gore interjections. It’s something very reminiscent of the cinema adaptations of “Silent Hill.” A lot of the imagery doesn’t make sense, like the jarring slivers of a bad dream, but I wouldn’t expect Hell to be or need to be a place of complete rational and our minds are able to grasp the nuts and bolts of it. “The Devil’s Fairground’s” interpretation is just as real, as scary, and as aptly damning without the grounded laws of physics to ease the dispiriting attitude of multi-faceted and gratifying torture and soul swallowing the investigators are subjected to. Whatever was left of a meaningful plot is whittled down to a more basic posture, a group of people engulfed by the fiery Abyss, and the movie is all better for it.

Get sucked into the depths of the blazing inferno thrill ride with “The Devil’s Fairground” on DVD home video, announced by MGI Films and distributed by ITN Distribution. Unfortunately, the video and audio specs won’t be reviewed due to being an online screener, but I did mention the dialogue is limited, capturing very little of the softly laid discourse leading up to all hell breaking loose. There are no special features included with the screener or incorporated within the feature itself. There were times I knew the jump scare was coming and, still, I couldn’t contain the tension as a little part of me died from the inside. “The Devil’s Fairground” is an up and down roller coaster of feeble and fright with a weak story abutted against concentrated horror and gore in a must-see film.

A Must-Buy! “The Devil’s Fairground” on DVD!

The Pangs of an EVIL Movie in “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” reviewed!


Shane desperately desires to be a part in the making of a low-budget horror movie. Failure after failure of submitting to production studios who opt out rather than option his scripts and the discouraging financial hits with each festival entry, Shane and his girlfriend Chloe decide to venture into producing, writing, and shooting a film themselves. With the script still a work in progress, the promising title alone scores a film crew from his friends and roommates, generate a small fortune of crowdfunded cash, a leading scream queen from the skanky residue poles of a strip club, and a set location provided by a local video store clerk and schlocky indie horror filmmaker named Machete Mike. As the young film crew bumbles through raising more money and the headaches of production woes without a completed script, a demented clan of hardcore snuff and cannibalistic filmmakers seek a hostile takeover of their ambitious endeavor that’ll produce authentic screams and real blood, the very basic foundations of a good horror movie.

You have to admit it. “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” is an appetizing, exploitation glazed carrot of a title, a salivating lure that’s hard to ignore for any enthusiast for licentious material. Brazilian born director, Paulo Biscaia Filho, helms the Big House PIctures and Vigor Mortis Apresentam production of an ostensibly horror-comedy that leisurely alters into a slasher-survival-esque structure courted with all the admirations of torture porn with a pinch of homage toward the iconic Sawyer family without a Texas size chainsaw wielding maniac wearing a flesh mask. Blueprinted as a meta-horror with twists and turns galore, “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains,” by name alone, doesn’t take itself seriously as an inebriated version of the genre it represents and layers to weave a non-linear, outlier story into the heart of the plot, sewn together by the co-producer Gannaway and went in and out of production in 20 or so days to finally hit festival markets a year later in 2018.

While Shane might feel like the focus of the story, Amber and Chloe undercut his presence and steal his thunder as the naïvely ambitious filmmaker with their final girl fight and vengeance. Amber’s the stripper whose yearning for her spot in the limelight no matter how small and she’s portrayed by prominent Manga voice actress Elizabeth Maxwell (“Dragon Ball Super”) and Maxwell is paired with “Last Girl Standing’s” Kelsey Pribilski in Chloe, initially as a mortal enemy toward Amber when the issue arises of the most common, basic, and core division between women – men. Yet, Amber and Chloe dominate the principal antagonists whose subtle quarrels frame an mulishness and aversion relationship build a stronger support for one another when they come toe-to-toe with utter sadism that threatens what collectively matters most to them. Maxwell and Pribilski demonstrate the conventional markings of the popular final girl trope, acting as a single unit, while Ezekiel Swinford bares the helpless victim and ignorant filmmaker, Shane, to be in the crosshairs of death and for the two corners of his semi-triangular love affair to be his saviors. Swinford acts the giddy fool well enough to warrant his character’s witless person in distress calling. Machete Mike lastly, but not at the least, rounds out the core four personas from Don Daro. The “Sex Terrorists on Wheels” actor has little-to-no kindness in his face, marking him intriguing and guileful as the video store clerk whose more than what meets the eye. Ariana Guerra (“Hollow Scream”), Lindsey Lemke, Gary Kent (“Bonehill Road”), Ammie Masterson, Larry Jack Dotson (“Humans vs Zombies”), Kaci Beeler, Michael Moford, Woody Wilson Hall, Ken Edwards, and professional bassist musician in the band Drag, Dominique Davalos “Howard the Duck”), co-star.

“Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” resembles a movie inside a movie that tries to pull a fast one over the audiences with an open for interpretation of the true nature of events and leaving those once thrilled at firsts sight of the title moviegoers kind of stun like a mouse batted over the head right before being fed to the famished pit viper. Filho and Gannaway’s film does swallow you whole, down it’s gullet, and dropping you right into the stomach acids that begins to dissolve the disillusion of what was imagined from the get-go. Nothing wrong with some slight of hand, but the overall result meanders on the promise of being hyper meta; an attempt to disrupt the conventional and tummy tuck in the tropes from being too loose and obviously exposed. The attempt is well intentioned, but that’s where the summiting the mountain ceases, at attempted, with a great, low-budget desired, premise aimed to upheave the genre and the audience’s expectations, whirl them all into a massive maelstrom, and spit out a “I fooled you!” expose. One aspect that made the grade were the Creeper Labs FX’s Andy Arrasmith and artist Shelly Denning’s special effects work that held a modest candor of blood and severity when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Heads being lopped off, eviscerated stomachs with guts oozing out, and just enough chainsawing and machete work to go around to properly finish the beautifying of “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” appropriately.

Rack’em and hack’em those chaste cheerleaders with a Blu-ray copy of “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” distributed as the 10th spine from the wild cinema aficionados of Darkside Releasing and MVDVisual. The Blu-ray is presented unrated and in 1080p on a BD-25 with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The estimated $70,000 crowdfunded budget has a rather aesthetic and sleek digitally recorded imagery, perky with natural lighting and dark tint where appropriate, and is an overall pleasant outcome on a moderately robust budget for indie horror out of Austin, Texas. The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track maintained a balancing act between dialogue and score where the two fought for priority. Dialogue should always have right of way unless intended not, but for the sake of “Virgin’s” story, there’s doubt that drowning out the dialogue momentarily was purposeful. Bonus material includes Brazilian promotional videos, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Bloorhouse Tour with Gary Gannaway being the tour guide himself, a Machete Mike introduction version of the film, and a 16 page booklet that includes stills, original sell sheet cover art, and the birth of the project penned by Gannaway. “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” is meta-sexy, meta-slasher, and meta-fun, but wanders into meta territory a little too long for comfort while still positioning a piecemeal survival horror with fine talent and high kill count.

“Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” available on Blu-ray!

There’s Evil in Oklahoma! “Meet Me There” review!

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Ada and her boyfriend Calvin love each other tremendously, but Calvin finds difficulty in their intimacy when Ada continues to push him away, as if hurting her, in the middle of intercourse. Her sexual dysfunction puts a strain on their marriage, but Calvin has a plan that he hopes will resolve Ada’s, as well as Calvin’s, intimacy issue. His plan involves travelling to her hometown of Sheol, Oklahoma where much of Ada’s childhood memories seem to have been repressed and might be the root cause of her mental blockage. When they arrive at Sheol, they’re not exactly welcome as the town’s deranged inhabitants have a bible-thumping darkness about them and they don’t agree with Ada’s and Calvin’s lifestyle. When the couple try to escape, the town won’t let them.
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Director Lex Lybrand helms the “Meet Me There” story, written by Brandon Stroud, and Lybrand seems to lose the structure as soon our hero and heroine arrive in the town of Sheol. The film tries to relay underlining messages about sexual dysfunctions, repressed or fragmented memories, suicide, paranoia, and, of course, just plain lethal psychosis. In short, “Meet Me There” attempts to mask the mental repercussions of childhood atrocities with a story about a couple becoming trapped in a town of deadly druids and God-fearing folk. Lybrand didn’t quite pull off the effect I think he was going for and that was creating an overall nightmarish realm without no escape, like a bad dream you’re unable to awake from, and what was missing was smooth segues to keep the glue together for the plot to naturally play out.
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The story’s outer shell might be compromised, but only technically from a director’s chair. The introductory story of two complete strangers meeting at an airport bar, flying in separate passenger seats to Sheol, renting a car together to head to the same destination, and only to blow their brains out in a field at the same instance becomes lost in reason without the backup of exposition. However, the story of how Ada overcomes her sexual dysfunction and her fragmented memories can’t be any clearer and once she realizes and understands her upbringing involving drugged up parents, a creepy Grandfather, and a verbally abusive father, she bangs Calvin in the middle of the field, half naked and without care.
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Lisa Friedrich and Michael Foulk as Ada and Calvin make a mediocre convincing couple. Their tattoos and choice of music, whether created for their characters or in most micro-budget productions the actors just have to bring themselves, labels them as rebellious to which heightens the towns’ scrutiny upon them. Foulk has great timing in his delivery when being comical with Ada, fairing rather naturally for him. Friedrich’s character lumbers a good amount of the film; her spacey attitude leaves nothing to desire and her character becomes dislikeable. I don’t blame Friedrich for a character written too sluggish and poorly for viewing comfort because even when Ada triumphs over her problems, she’s still very out of sorts.
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Ada and Calvin don’t really have a single antagonist pitted against them; basically, the whole town is against them. WWE’s Golddust, aka Dustin Runnels, is one of a many wrestlers who appear in “Meet Me There,” along with other unknown wrestling talents such as Addy Starr, Leva Bates, and Angelus Layne, and is also one of the villains as the town’s preacher. There’s also Ada’s paranoid Aunt who severely disapproves of Ada’s lifestyle choices, the country store bumpkins who wield shotguns, the cloaked orgy-committing druids, and etc. Now, that all might sound enticing, but only the orgy gives a little stimulating thrill to the bone. I would like to know who set fire to Ada and Calvin’s car because the effect is priceless; when Ada and Calvin return to her aunt’s house to flee town, their car is set to inferno and someone on the crew thought that a matchbox car with blazing flames through the windows and being shot up real close would be pass for a great special effect. I admit, the effect kind of works, but still hilariously executed.
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“Meet Me There,” distributed by MVDVisual and produced by SGL Entertainment, is presented in a widescreen presentation with a standard 2.0 mix. The images a bit grainy with dark tones during night scenes. Overall, “Meet Me There” needs a bigger catalyst to get Ada and Calvin into a more dire situation, but the sensation of being in a bad dream is achieved here yet the transitions from act-to-act or even scene-to-scene becomes muddled. Check out Lex Lybrand’s “Meet Me There” and see what the town of Sheol has in store for our hero and heroine.