EVILs Make Difficulties in Finding God. “Agnes” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Blemished man of the cloth, Father Donaghue, and a neophyte are summoned to perform the holy rite of exorcism on a possibly possessed nun, Sister Agnes.  Disadvantaged and forced by his own scandal, Father Donaghue is ordered by the local Bishop to oversee the matter before they ship him overseas to avoid further disgrace upon the Church, but the skeptical priest, who has performed many exorcisms in the past, has never once believed he was casting out a demon but, rather, relieving a guilty, tormented soul seeking divine forgiveness.  When the priests confront Sister Agnes, the situation is violent, wily, and unlike any possession Father Donaghue has ever seen before.  The incident casts doubt over Sister Agnes’s friend and fellow nun, Sister Mary, who leaves the convent to try and live on her own and find God in the real world her own way, but a little bit of Sister Agnes has seemingly rubbed off onto her. 

You gotta have faith, sang once by pop-rocker and songwriter George Michael (and Fred Durst, if want to go that route) and though Mickey Reece’s “Agnes” doesn’t necessarily croon a rebuttal, the Oklahoma City born filmmaker surely splits hairs with a formidable blockade that advocates the crisis of faith cinematic model with layered horror.  The “Climate of the Hunter” writer-director’s latest quasi-horror-comedy and full-throttle religious drama questions the validities of finding God on a personal level with a divergently cut screenplay co-written with frequent script partner John Selvidge, whose current post-production penned time-warping horror entitled “Wait!” coming next year.   “Agnes” is filmed in the heartland of America inside Reece’s home state of central Oklahoma and is a reteaming of Mickey Reece and producer Jacob Snovel of Perm Machine with Greg Gilreath and Adam Hendricks’ Divide/Conquer (“Black Christmas” 2019 remake, “Freaky”) as the production companies and is first feature presentation for Molly C. Quinn, Matthew M. Welty, and Elan Gale’s QWGmire Productions.

One-third of the head of QWGmire is also the “Agnes” leading lady as Molly C. Quinn, who doesn’t play the titular character, plays Mary, a nun and friend of the possessed plagued Agnes (Hayley McFarland, “The Conjuring”) with a tragic background that ambiguously parallels a similar path to the mother of Jesus, also named Mary for all you non-Christians out there.  Mary is tender, quiet, and self-effacing but determined to pave her own way without the means of charity, especially those of the unsavory-favor nature, and consulting God for answers.  Quinn is perfect to shoulder Mary’s innocent disposition and does carry her naïve meekness throughout up until Mary’s gradual decline toward her faith that turns the sweet and innocent young woman into a pragmatic doubter, spurred by Agnes’ sudden otherworldly turn from devout to impiety that becomes more than what meets the eye.  However, in kicking off Reece’s film, one would have thought the exorcism of Agnes would emphasize more heavily on Father Donaghu (Ben Hall, “Minari”) and soon-to-be priest Benjamin (Jake Hororwitz, “Castle Freak” remake), but despite the involved build up of Father Donahu’s sordid past that conflicts with the Church and his struggles with the exorcism, Reece and Selvidge ultimately do, in what feels like, a pulling of the plug on a storyline that followings in the footsteps of “The Exorcist.”  That is, in my opinion, the downfall of “Agnes’” story in elimination of really interesting character arcs right in their girthy throes, leaving audiences hanging on Father Donaghu, grocer owner/low-end gangster Curly (Chris Sullivan, “This is Us” and “I Trapped the Devil”), ostentatiously swaggering Father Black (Chris Browning, “Let Me In”) and even the titular character Agnes fails to flesh out fully.  Rachel True (“The Craft”), Zandy Hartig, Bruce Davis, Chris Freihofer, Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Suicide Squad’s” Sean Gunn as a standup comedian and Mary’s love interest.

“Agnes” loosely follows a couple of Catholic patroness saints in Agnes and Mary derided in a contrary sense.  Agnes, the virgin martyr in Catholic veneration, opposes the Church in the film with flashbacks of her embracing an indulgent life along with her sexual insults that’s uncouth for the patroness saint of pure little girls.  Mary’s a little more recognizable with a previous, ambiguous account of her child’s death (aka Jesus Christ?).  Plus, there’s the religious imagery, amongst others in the film, of Mary with bleeding eyes as an analogous to the weeping statues. Reece blatantly shows most men and women of the cloth to be unorthodox Orthodox Catholics from Father Donaghu’s troubling allegations to the mocking head priests. Mother Superior throws around her superiority amongst the convent nuns and even the Bishop, who doesn’t ever say a word in his brief scene, appears smug and high and mighty with his stature, letting his assistant communicate (and excommunicate) all the ugly business. Only a non-priest, training to be ordained, in Benjamin is the only innocent, infallible Christian who captures the humble essence of God and the only one who can capable in rejuvenating Mary’s faith. “Agnes” is all about doubting faith whether be by demonic possession, the loss of a child, all forms of corruption, and more, but Mary keeps striving, struggling, and searching for that spiritual lifeline amongst seedy and unscrupulous faithless charlatans slowly poisoning her to be the same. However, the “Agnes” story divides too sharply leaving the acute crisis of faith to be nearly lost in translation and is practically a wandering spectrum of identity that’s roughly craft glued together by Reece.

Some may see the film’s poster and excitedly expect Nunsploitation but the reality of “Agnes” digs at the hypocrisy of people and the endless search for faith. What it’s not is the sexual exploitation or sadomasochism of chaste nuns. Give Mickey Reece’s horror-comedy drama “Agnes” a faithful shot come it’s December 10th theatrical release from Magnet Releasing, a subsidiary of Magnolia Pictures. “Agnes” has a runtime of 93 minutes and presented in a 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Typical of any Mickey Reece film, his melodramatic horror-comedy fits into his oeuvre of talking head cinema so leave expectations of brooding and atmospheric milieus at the door for more realistic, down-to-Earth scenes, which is a bit surprising since the cinematographer behind “Hellraiser: Judgement” and “Children of the Corn: Runaway,” Samuel Calvin, has an eye for unhallowed aesthetics. Calvin does produce some perfectly poised shots with the flock of nuns and the ever slightly deviant angle to sharpen a scene. No bonus features were included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Agnes” floats on a haphazard timeline of dark, melodrama comedy for a desperate need of faith against the immense heartache, the crudely selfish, and the absence of morality all of which incessantly imposes upon the good to assimilate.

A Dilapidated Terminal Full of EVIL Spirits. What Could Go Wrong? “Prison of the Psychotic Damned” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / DVD)

A pre-depression era railway terminal is now an aging and decrepit structure left to ruin in Buffalo, New York. It’s also the site where an experienced paranormal investigator, her ghost-tech guru, and three volunteers venture for exploration, hoping to uncover something spooky that goes bump in the dark because of the buildings long-marred and infamous history that includes an insane asylum, an unorthodox cattle abattoir, and many unexplained and terrible deaths throughout the decades. The deeper they dig down into the terminal’s underground corridors, the more they find themselves lost in a labyrinth amongst a taxonomic diversity of unhinged ghosts and ominous orbs. Lost and being hunted down, the ghost hunters fight for topside survival before absorbed by the terminal’s evil past.

Ghost hunters investigating the eerie ambience has been a source of easy pickings for producers and filmmakers from television’s “Ghost Adventures” to the popular James Wan phenomena that is “The Conjuring” franchise based off the Ed and Lorraine Warren investigations. The then mid-30s, New England filmmaker, David “D.W.” Kann hops aboard the investigator train with his own specter-sleuthing indie film, “Prison of the Psychotic Damned,” penned by producer David R. Williams (“Frightworld”) and released in 2006.  Also known as “Prison of the Psychotic Damned:  Terminal Remix,” the once puppetry and props master, who worked on such classics as “Carnosaur 2” and “Children of the Corn III:  Urban Harvest” as well as hitting the big time with Jim Carrey’s “The Mask” and the 1995 video game adaptation, “Mortal Kombat,” showcases the historic Fellheimer & Wagner Art Deco-architecture that once stood grand inside the Buffalo Central Terminal.   Built in 1929, the 15-story building has been abandoned since 1979 and left for the whim of vandals until its sloth restoration in the 2000’s that even saw paranormal activity themed reality shows take a crack of discovering spirits beyond the grave.  “Prison of the Psychotic Damned” also is an imprisonment of psychotic fraud as David R. Williams was arrested and convicted of embezzlement of his then employer’s capital back in 2010 to fund his schlock ventures under his production company, Red Scream Films, including this film but that didn’t stop Williams who went on to continue producing and directing long after his short stint in the slammer. 

About as volatile as Mount Vesuvius wiping out Pompeii in 79 A.D. are the five, dynamically counterpoised ghost hunters driving toward their insensible doom at the Central Terminal.  Spearheading the venture is the most experienced investigator Rayna (Susan Andriensen, “The Blood Shed”) with the intention of reviving her dwindling career before becoming defunded by the grant investors.  Rayna is joined by her longtime tech assistant Jason (James Vaughn) looking to capture something, anything, supernatural with his homemade psychokinetic-detecting gear as he innocently enough flirts with the snarky unwilling participant Kansas (Melantha Blackthorne, “Bloody Slumber Party”) who finds herself on the brink of losing her funded wayward lifestyle if she doesn’t join Rayna’s expedition per her moneybag father’s direction.  The relation between Rayna and Kansas is being step daughters, but that connection isn’t made entirely clear with only one brief exchange regarding Kansas’s forced attendance.  While Kansas disparages much of the investigation, and many of its participants, she’s joined by fellow volunteers Nessie (Noel Francomano, “Kottentail”) and Aurora (Nemesis 5:  The New Model’s Daiane Azura, credited as Demona Bast) in their respective roles of Rayna’s geeky fanatic and go-to psychic.  The one aspect that really kills these characters (pen intended) for me, and probably the audiences, is the consistent, continuous, ceaseless contentiousness between them with a slew of nitpicking, name-calling, and verbal and physical abuse that makes you wonder why should we even care for a bunch of people who can’t get along.  Brief moments of reasoning flash between them that could end up turning the dynamic around, but the fleeting qualities subside to blunt anger and hate to the point they’re bashing each other’s heads with bricks and leaving each other to fend for themselves against a horde of surgery-conducting ghost-zombies with revoked medical licenses, played by Kidtee Hello, Terry Kimmel, Michael Ciesla, Kelly Budniewski, and Jessica Grangler rounding out the remaining cast list. 

In what feels like the distant cousin, watered down version of “House on Haunted Hill” lite, Kann’s lowbrow, Digital8 shot film is a talkative spew of exposition that lends itself to pretentious prologue surrounding Kansas’s opening scenes of self-mutilation and prosaic nudity as if she’s on an unidentified narcotic.  What’s more confusing about the out of context opening scenes is we don’t really know it is Kansas alone in her apparent apartment.  The film begins with a woman slashing her wrist and licking the blood from her wound, before two medically masked men rush through apartment door and whisk her away.  Next scene, the same woman is back in perhaps her same dingy, dim lit apartment, but this time she’s spouting out philosophy and exposing her breasts by ripping her cheap cotton, tight white top before getting into a warm, steamy bath to stare at the candles at the other end of the tub.  Next thing we know post title creds, we’re riding in a van with the five paranormal investigators and Kansas, sitting in the back seat with Nessie and Aurora, doesn’t even look like the person we saw in the prologue as her hair is put up tight in a bun and she outfits more makeup and gothic drapery.  Once Rayna and Kansas have a sidebar chat and Kansas’s hair progressively loosens and falls, the pieces begin to fit together that Kansas’s disturbed impulses has forced her father’s hand to pair his errant daughter with Rayna for some extracurricular activities that maybe will do her some good…?  Ghost hunting must be the new vogue therapy the kids are into these days, or at least back in 2006.  Structurally, “Prison of the Psychotic Damned” runs faithfully the same obscured narrative course with Rayne expiating mouthfuls of the Terminal’s anecdotal infamy to build a dark dome above the longstanding history, but we rarely see any of the said mythos come for blood and get punted random glowing orbs, creepy doll room, and gloppy possession in return.  Along the way, Kann finds some ways to expose all but one of the actresses’ breasts in a gratuitous-laden attempt to advert our attention from the misaligned components like the story or the performances that just consist of ball-breaking personalities becoming trapped underground with killer spooks and have to duck and dodge the malevolent spirits to survive.  Though the gory bits sate nicely and David Williams erratic editing of eerie filler shots of the Terminal and surrounding area renders like a formidable damaged homemade movie on screen, “Prison of the Psychotic Damned” ultimately boils down to just more of the same rebranded indie slop we’ve all seen before.

Wild Eye’s DVD is released under the indie company’s Raw & Extreme sublabel and is the third physical release of “Prison of the Psychotic Damned” behind the cheap York Home Entertainment DVD and the SRS Cinema limited edition Blu-ray that was released approx. 2 years ago.  The DVD back cover lists the region free film as a widescreen presented transfer, unrated, and clocking in a 100 minutes.  Producer David R. Williams once noted that the surviving master transfer of a flood that destroyed nearly all material is the best there ever will be and with many dark areas shot on a Digital8 camcorder, the presentation is practically raw footage switching back and forth between digital third person and POV with ghosting and soft details amid the thick grain that collaborates the fact of a cruddy transfer. The lossy English 2.0 stereo sound mix toggles with the ears about as much as you have to toggle with the volume. From dialogue to score, insipid flat audio mix universally stiffens the Terminal urban legends Rayna rambles on about as well as extinguishing the score to a putter of insignificant industrial tones with a bookend and backup soundtrack by The Voodoo Dollies and actress Demona Bast serenating with the gothic-vamp vocals with Sonic 14 on an outro track. Among a static menu with scene selection, only Wild Eye trailers are included with the release. Buried beneath the torment of deranged souls, “Prison of the Psychotic Damned” sequesters itself from originality and from graspable, relatable, or even likeable characters in a vanilla story with decent gore effects.

Own “Prison of the Psychotic Damned” on DVD from Wild Eye!

One Can’t Just Pray Away EVIL in “The Banishing” reviewed! (Shudder – Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Set in a backdrop of Great Britain on the very brink of world war against Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, a small English community has nearly lost it’s entire faith in the Catholic church after the last priest suddenly and mysteriously died.  When a young vicar is offered a generous stipend, the village parish, and a large estate by the region bishop to restore a congregational foothold, he brings with him his new wife and stepchild to make the house their home, but the house has a dark history that might have played a role in the previous vicar’s death and a lone, eccentric occultist urges the family to vacate the premises immediately before the house swallows them into grave danger at the haunted hands of sadistic monks, ghastly visions, and a tormented soul roaming the corridors. 

If the prim-and-proper social class structure of Julian Fellows’ “Downton Abbey” collided with the volatile and tormented spirits of James Wan’s “The Conjuring,” then Christopher Smith’s pre-wartime staged haunted house feature, “The Banishing,” would be the outcome.  The period piece horror marks the latest installment into the genre from the Bristol, English-born Smith who made a name for himself with 2004 dark subway corridor heartstopper, “Creep,” and went on to make cult favorites amongst genre fans with the workplace violence satire, “Severance,” and the medieval bubonic plague film, “Black Death” starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne.  “The Banishing,” a term used as the practice within the supernatural ambit of dark magic to ward off negative spirits, is a UK feature co-written between David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines.  Maya Amsellem and Sharon Harel-Cohen serve as producers under the London-based WestEnd Films production banner with “The Banishing” marking their fifth completed feature film product and with the nearly worldwide distribution rights landing with AMC Network’s popular horror streaming service, Shudder, in partnership with Vertigo Releasing in the UK.

“The Banishing” revolves mainly around Marianne, the newly-wed vicar’s wife with a young girl along for the ride, played by Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey,” “Victor Frankenstein”). Findlay endows Marianne with vitality as a woman who must meet the vicar’s standards of Godliness, but still be a strong mother to her child despite disreputable social standing. The priest Linus (Essex-born John Heffernan) lacks experience in the field of his cleric position, lending to question why the region bishop would appoint him to a muster a flock of faithful Christian followers during turbulent times. The husband and wife dynamic between Linus and Marianne is marred by dissonance backgrounds of a priest who doesn’t know to be with a woman and a woman who can’t escape her socially unflattering past. Heffernan and Findlay ignite as repellants of the same magnetic currents when the harder they try to extend their relationship, they push each other way, with Findlay giving a fervent performance. Speaking of performances, Sean Harris bares the most intriguing and rollicking local occultist. The “Mission Impossible: Fallout” actor parades around as Harry Price, a likable, straight-shooting outcast and a believer in the supernatural with extensive, and ghastly, historical knowledge on Linus and Marianne’s new home. As Price aims to extract the hapless from danger, he butts heads with a headstrong region bishop, a stern and solemn role secreted with distrust from John Lynch who has worked on a Christopher Smith film previously in “Black Death.” “The Terror” actor juxtaposes starkly against Harris as a character who dons a likeness to the clown prince of crime in costume than a dull agent man of the cloth…with secrets to uphold. “The Banishing” rounds out with a supporting cast in Adam Hugill, Jason Thorpe, Jean St. Clair, James Swanton, and Anya McKenna-Bruce as Marianne’s daughter, Adelaide.

Set convincingly in a quaint, 1930s English town, Christopher Smith transports the audience back in time to the predated anxious moments before World War II that would upheave turmoil across all across Europe, but though that fretted lingering of war is set as the backdrop for “The Banishing,” and is coiled around every man who served in the first Great War that brought up more than once, the root of the narrative ultimately becomes the house Linus and Marianne have come to call their home.  Haunted house films surmise the house as a built-in principal character because of either the way the architecture affects the mental or physical wellbeing of it’s flesh and bone counterparts or if the abode is actually possessed and set to harm the inhabitants in a personification of pure evil, as such with various films of this caliber (“House,” “The Haunting,” etc,). Yet, Linus and Marianne’s estate failed to become a part of the narrative limelight despite the immense grounds that compromised of a large greenhouse and a robust library complete with fireplace and the disconcerting labyrinth of a dungeon-esque basement full of barred enclosures and close quartered corridors.  Nearly every interior shot felt like a new section of the house hat kept extending upon, what would be assumed, a grand mansion that had a longer rap sheet by reputation in being a former religious torture chamber run by sadistic monks hellbent on whipping the sin out of the mentally tormented. Smith always had an eye for the unsettling visuals and sustains that feng shui by allowing time and space to be the inner horrors of a funhouse, but doesn’t evoke clean, unadulterated terror that continues to profusely bleed into the film’s climatic cause-and-effect unraveling. There is a lack of a transformative realization and a small hurtle of sedated possession to figure out that the main presence in the house, amongst the other more malevolent presences, wants something and the characters are spoon fed each and every morsel to get them up to speed. The final scene of the bishop meeting with the Nazi regime intended to leave the story open for supernatural possibilities, but felt like a more poignant and compelling crux leading into Nazi occultism, hinted by the eccentric resident occultist Sean Harris.

Morosely dramatic and haunting, “The Banishing” is an aggressive salvo of facing shame head-on, creeping into UK cinemas and digital platforms on March 26th courtesy of Shudder and Vertigo Releasing. Director of photography Sarah Cunningham has an remarkable ability to engulf the actors in the space of the shot, making them seem diminutive to the rooms that feel like a giant hand looming overhead, and with the bare, hard lighting, the cinematography is really where “The Banishing” shines as gothic cladding without a stodgy spot to speak visible. Cunningham adds all the hallmarks of a horror film with titled angles, brilliant reds, and tight shots on tense faces to garner a more anxiety that never actually pans out by the end. The organic electro duo TOYDRUM score the 97 minute film with a single note droning hums at various pitch levels that can really get inside your head. The “Prevenge” composers set up scenes with a ill-founded fears when nothing presently visible is intended to fright. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits, but one scene to note is Sean Harris waltzing with an uncredited woman during the opening credits that seems out of place but speaks to the aberrated decorum of his character. “The Banishing” works tirelessly to discredit shame by confronting truth and while we’re being beat over the head by the message, the overlay of horror is lost despite some brilliant and engrossing performances from Findlay and Harris who usher us through to the imperfect conclusion.

Keep the EVIL Family Drama for Your Mama. “Abigail Haunting” reviewed (High Fliers Films / Digital Screener)

While searching for a life in Reno, Katie reluctantly becomes an accomplice in a heist job with her abusive boyfriend, scoring a small brown paper bag packed with stolen money.  In the middle of post-heist uncertainty, an opportunity to escape a troubled relationship presents itself and Katie hightails it to her hometown of Prescott with the loot, leaving the dark life behind her in Reno.  Unsure of her next steps, she hides away by moving back into her childhood trailer home with foster mother, Marge, who has nearly deteriorated into a completely catatonic state over the last few years.  As the days pass and Katie catches up with Brian, rekindling a relationship with a high school crush, her secretive past becomes plaited into Marge’s sinister skeleton in the cupboard that pulls both of them into the supernatural wrath of a tormented spirit haunting the trailer home, merging the past and present with a shocking conclusion.

Cursed.  No, not the vengeful spirit who resurrects to plague havoc on the still breathing, flesh and boned to set their tortured, spiritual planed souls to rest.  The curse I speak of involves putting Haunting into the title of any ghost film that has been released in, oh let’s say, the last 20 or so years culminating into being one mediocre release after another of mainstream and independent films that has, frankly the lack of a better word, cursed the subgenre.  Type haunting in the IMDB search field and just glaze over as hundreds of films crash over you in a tsunami of stale capitalism ever since the remake of Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  “The Haunting of Connecticut.”  “An American Haunting.”  “23:59:  The Haunting Hour.”  Being one step behind the hackneyed “possession” in nearly every title about, well, possession, these post-2000 ghost films are just morsels of the bigger crapola pie that investors love to sink as little of their money into as possible because the return is greater because ghost film don’t necessarily a R rating unlike other subgenres and, sometimes, piggyback off a successful film with the parlance.  PG-13 in slashers is an oxymoron, if you ask me, but in with ghosts, fear of mysticism and the unknown has enough power to scare if done correctly, i.e. the original “Poltergeist.”  This unbecoming setup leads us to the 2020 release of the revenant thriller “Abigail Haunting,” the latest Kelly Schwarze written and directed full length film after tackling an Area 51 inspired bloody battle beyond the stars set in our backyard with “Alien Domicile, and before we go into whether the Schwarze film, co-written alongside Charisma Manualt, can tame an unbridled use of title-exploitation with a first rate story, the Indie Film Factory production will receive full benefit of the doubt until the end of the review.


The story follows a small town girl, Katie, from Prescott, Nevada who falls into small time crime with a lowlife boyfriend that quickly turns sour and deadly after an armed cash grab, presumably from a Reno casino.  Chelsea Jurkiewicz fits that small description recipe of stuck in a rut local girl without much cause for disbelief.  As Katie, Jurkiewicz’s able to be the part of a young, harried woman running from a checkered past and into the flames of a paranormal bombardment.  The then early 20-something, “Stalker” actress kept Katie balanced between her cash stealing time in Reno, integrating back into what was a rough patch with an unreasonable and abusive foster mother, and dealing with unexplainable occurrences of nightlights turning on by themselves, her room being ransacked, and succumbing to disturbing visions while reminiscing of being a scared child hidden behind a makeshift potato sack mask that becomes a reoccurring object throughout.   While Schwarze loosely ties all the facets together in a nice, tight bow that leads to a climatic unraveling of Katie’s past, the visually assaulted Katie suffers as the centerpiece punching bag that connects them altogether.  To top Katie’s mounting pressure, a face from the past tries to pry his way into her life.  A lost fling in Katie’s fleeting existence is Brian, played by Austin Collazo in his debut film performance, forcing himself into her life in what reeks of single parent desperation.  A moment involving Katie looking through a photo scrap book shows the two smiling together in a lone picture, as if she’s reflecting upon a previous romance or friendship that has since fizzled, but that’s about the extent of their history that doesn’t dive deeper into the reflection or explain the spark from the sudden interest from Brian.  At the crux of the story is Marge (Brenda Daly), a dirtied, nightgown wearing middle-aged woman who fostered abandoned at 4 months old Katie in what only has been, in Katie’s sole exposition, a terrible experience.  Schwarze instinctively ties the trailer home and Marge together as a single entity, enacting as one to push Katie around in a fit of unmotivated hysteria.  Katie doesn’t seem too eager to lift an investigated finger any of phenomena that has plagued her in the home, in the back shed, or even follows her out on a date with Brian.  Instead, Brian initiates digging into her past that sends Katie down Marge’s rabbit hole of hidden secrets in an off kilter directional take where a protagonist stands indifferent or remains stagnant after multiple Abigail encounters that would seemingly rouse up curiosity or for the sake of proving sanity.  Rounding out “Abigail Haunting” is Michael Monteiro, Christopher Brown, and Taylor May as the titular ghost.

Not a positive start with flat, often time dunce, characters in “Abigail Haunting.”  The mindset behind Katie’s involvement with the Reno robbery and a scoundrel lover strains to play a bigger role into the eerie defense she’s positionally locked into at Marge’s dreary trailer home.  Schwarze remains on the fringes around the preoccupations that descend Katie into this dark place in her life between searching for her real mother that abandoned her as an infant, the deadly robbery in Reno, and the abusive ex that all seem to be weighing less on Katie’s shoulders than the duffle bag of a couple thousand dollars that would typical skewer one’s psyche, manifesting more than just the typical side effects of pressure.  Instead, Schwarz doesn’t fold in well enough the incorporation of our angry spirit, Abigail, whose unexplained appearance out of the Nevada blue sky in between Katie’s leaving and returning to Marge’s home denotes not one single explanation of when and why Abigail chooses to be a resurrected, phantasmal spite.  More jeopardizing toward Katie’s past and present life is her obsession with the stolen money versus living a decent life with possibly Brian and his dissociable, divorce struck kid, who the former is clearly obsessed with her, but the story more so saturates with a free floating, full torso phantasm, as the Ghostbusters would say, that undermines the subterranean psychology at work here and clouds the ghost foundation built on deceits, lies, and ugly truths. What “Abigail Haunting” succumbs to is being about as rudimentary as they come with a climax too riddles with plot holes that squish much of good establishing camera work and some decently laid jump scares. Haunting, as in a title, still curses the horror subgenre with middle-of-the-road dynamism.

Death clings to us all. In “Abigail Haunting,” death clings to vengeance in this supernatural thriller dropping on DVD in the UK on February 8th courtesy of High Flier Films and ITN Distribution. The region 2, PAL encoded DVD will be presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of approx. 85 minutes. I initially had high hopes for Abigail to be at least be a derivative carbon copy of “The Conjuring” as “Scare Me’s” Michael TusHaus’s shows off impressive camera work that organically flows through Marge’s tight quartered trailer, as well as in other scenes when applicable outside the trailer location, with generous use of a stepping in-stepping out steady cam. TusHaus’s hard lighting also creates stern atmospherics with full bodied shadows that symbolically keep secrets and spirits in the dark. The digital release had no extra bonus feature available with none displayed on High Flier Film’s website. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Solid cinematography and palatable performances couldn’t plug up all the plot holes that stiffen “Abigail Haunting” into a two-bit carnival attraction that looks cool upon entry but not worth the money on exit.

 

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!