In the wake of losing their father and husband, Leah and her mother struggle to cope and are at their wits ends with each other. Leah, an impressionable and angst-filled teen, embraces the occult lifestyle after her father’s untimely death despite her mother’s distaste for it. Leah’s mother also battles the everyday familiar feelings of her constant surroundings that remind her of her dear husband and the sensations compel her to move her and Leah more than an hour away, away from Leah’s only friends including a boy she’s become fond of, but the constant and languishing heated disagreements invoke Leah to act impulsively, gathering her ritual articles, and while in the woods, naively summon a witch, named Pyewacket, to kill her mother. Regretting her actions almost immediately and fearful of what’s to come, Leah is cautiously ever attentive to her surroundings as each passing night a presence makes itself known and is eager to not only harm Leah’s mother, but also intends to rise it’s wickedness toward Leah.
“Pyewacket” is a 2017 Canadian horror-thriller from writer-director Adam MacDonald. The Montreal born MacDonald constructs an impressive and suspense-riddled sophomore film that offers a beautifully bleak atmosphere while touching upon layered themes that are relatable to anyone who grew up with an overbearing parent. “Pyewacket” succeeds as a stark melodrama of a hurting mother and daughter who are looking for some kind of pain relief and a fresh start. MacDonald takes it to the next level, churning out a cautionary tale, by implementing the theme of being careful for what you wish for because you just might get it. Oh, and there’s spine-tingling moments involving a ghoulish witch with an appetite for deception and have you squinting yours eyes in fearful anticipation of when she’ll strike.
Another Canadian, the Vancouver born Nicole Muñoz stars as the disquieted Leah. Muñoz dark assets heighten her disdain and resentment she evokes out from her character toward her mother, played by the former “The Walking Dead’s” Laurie Holden. Tall and blond with a more verbose attitude in putting her feelings outward, one would have difficulties placing Muñoz and the “Silent Hill” star as daughter and mother on screen. Holden manages to be the glue that keeps the story moving as Leah rarely has much to the say and is only reactive instead of proactive about her situation, making the two actresses dynamically challenging that purposefully sparks uneasiness in every scene. Leah’s friends serve as her lifelines to the world outside her new country home that her mother has unfairly displaced her to. Her best friend Janice, the Toronto born Chloe Rose, whose alternative appearance and nonchalant, cocky persona encourages her to be Leah’s confidant. Rose seemingly enjoys the role that offers vibrantly colorful stripes of hair with lots of gothic makeup that comes complete with leather and plaid outerwear. I was a little disappointed with Leah’s love interest that was Aaron, shoed by the tall and thin Eric Osborne. Aaron really wasn’t showcased much though MacDonald’s script attempts at hinting more to the character, but unfortunately for Osborne, Aaron falls the ranks of a back burner boyfriend trope.
What might be the undoing of “Pyewacket” is simply the timeliness. Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” and André Øvredal’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” completely overshadow the JoBro Production & Film Finance (which is kind of funny because the same production company also did some funding for “The Witch” so in essence, “Pyewacket” is “The Witch’s” little cousin) with two already fantastic tales of non-broom riding and mind tampering witches that share the same intense ferocity of pure hatred and dark magic on a much bigger and grander scale when considering production value that relies on a viewer relatable story. A story involving a mother-daughter warfare is inarguably human to us all, but in competition with that, MacDonald seems to embrace that side of the story with slight favoritism as the director is light with a slow burn of the catalytic turn of events that evokes the titular character despite it being the most gripping portion of the film; instead, the focus is more honed in on Leah’s experience that intimately distances her from each of those that are closest to her: Janice, Aaron, her mother. Left in the wind is much of the witch’s background and how the witch becomes familiar to Leah which goes relatively unknown. And, also, not to forget to mention that the witch, or familiar spirit, is screened through shadows, long shots, and quick takes so to get a shape or a image around the appearance, all I can suggest is that Pyewacket resembles Samara from “The Ring” with stringy, filthy hair, slender figure, and moves around like a spider. Aside from a popular teeny-bop occult novelist, Rowan Dove played by “Bitten’s” James McGowan, the only facts touched upon about “Pyewacket” are that the spirit is extremely malevolent and can deceive the perception of people and events.
From Signature Entertainment, the DVD and Digital release of Adam MacDonald’s “Pyewacket” hits retail shelves April 23rd and digital retail shelves even earlier on April 16th. Since a digital screener was provided for this review, an in-depth critique of the video, audio, and bonus material will not be covered. Though clutching to the money-bagged coattails of bigger, better witch films from the last three years, “Pyewacket” is still a mighty story with complex characters complete with sheer dread from an obscure and grievously sorcery crone pure with black heart that will definitely elicit shortness of breath and rapid heart palpitations if watched alone in the dark.
Writing between three sites, working full time, and all the other odds and ends has me beyond stretched, but I still manage to do what I love – watch horror movies and write up a review. While I didn’t watch EVERYTHING my favorite genres had to offer this year, some great and interesting films came across my lap from various filmmakers and distributors, to whom I’m so very grateful, and I wish I could list all of them in this list.
With that being said, here are the best out of the best in releases Its Bloggin’ Evil had the pleasure of covering in 2016 with exerts from the reviews!
#10 – Atroz – 2015
Synopsis: In a wake of fatally striking down a young woman with their vehicle, two errant and drunk men, Goyo and Gordo, are arrested for the gruesome crime at the scene of the accident While handcuffed in the back of a squad car, an unorthodox police chief named Juarez discovers a video tape recorder in the front of their mangled car with a tape revealing the violent torture and killing of a young transvestite hooker. One tape leads to another, and then another, individually exhibiting a trail of cascading blood and merciless torture in the deaths caused by Goyo and his unstable and dysfunctional life. Juarez digs further into Goyo’s ghastly cases going through each horrific tape setting up Goyo for a shocking conclusion from his past he long thought was dead.
““Atroz” will make you never want to tour Mexico! I can fully understand why “Cannibal Holocaust” director Ruggero Deadato fully backs Lex Ortega’s graphic horror film an associate producer and presenter as the two films, separated by decades, are much alike with the majority of their likeness in found footage techniques, frighteningly realistic imitations of murder, and their artistic and austere grandeur of filmmaking narration. Ortega also sustains an effective horror feature through the confines of a problematic ultra micro-budget. Along with aid from a talented roster of actors and crew, no way was Ortega’s film was not being made. “Atroz,” translated to “Atrocious,” opens with the unsavory side of Mexico’s impoverishment that contributes to much of the Central American nation’s disturbing amount of unsolved murders. The montage opening is so powerful and moving that what precedes shocks as a gritty insight of what everyday Mexican residents might experience one way or another in their lifetime and though Ortega goes that extra mile to be obscene and disgusting in every way possible, the director supports his work with seeding a traditionally patriarchal society with gender identity afflictions that evolves organically and is purposefully displayed in reverse order to add more, if it wasn’t possible already, to the shock value of “Atroz.””
#9 – I Survived a Zombie Holocaust – 2013
Synopsis: Aspiring screenplay writer Wesley Pennington obtains the position of a runner for a low-budget zombie film. Being at the bottom rung, Wesley is commanded to do everything without hesitation or question no matter how big or small the task. With the production already plagued with a slew of problems, the film’s cast and crew come under attack from real life zombies that swarm the forest location. Wesley, along with a handful of lucky survivors, rely on their zombie film knowledge to flee from the flesh feasting fiends, living in their very own zombie apocalypse movie.
“Rare is it to come across New Zealand horror now-a-days and when the opportunity presents itself, one must jump at a viewing with great enthusiasm. New Zealand horror has been known to be eccentric and fun, while also being gory and smartly scripted. From the early prevalent work of Peter Jackson (“Brain Dead,” “Bad Taste”) to lesser known cult favorites (“The Locals,” “Black Sheep”), the tiny New Zealand horror catalogue has made an everlasting mark in a heavily saturated American and European market. Guy Pigden’s written and directed 2014 horror-comedy “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” takes it’s place rightfully so next to niche brethren, elucidating that horror and comedy in an extremely over saturated genre can and will still be an effective and entertaining movie.”
#8 – Curtain (aka The Gateway) – 2015
Synopsis: Unable to cope working as a hospice nurse, Danni begins a new life in a new apartment after separating herself from a server downhearted state while living with her uncle Gus. As Danni settles into her degrading new job involving saving the whales and into her small apartment, she begins to decorate her home, starting with hanging a simple shower curtain. However, as soon as she exits the bathroom, the shower curtain vanishes and so begins the mystery that leads to the discovery that she’s now part of secret order to protect The Gate, a passage way that can be used to give birth to the vilest evil. With the tireless help from her co-worker Tim, the two set off to stop The Gate from potentially destroying Dani’s life…or the world.
“Movies like “Curtain” are the reason why I enjoy writing about them so very much. One tiny event, an event anyone would think couldn’t be turned into a full feature film, snowballs through the pages of a script…”Curtain” has a particular taste of comedy that’s favorably dry and on-point synced well to the horror mystery engulfing the genre. Director Jaron Henri-McCrea becomes a force to be reckoned with paired to the talented actors Danni Smith, Tim Lueke, and Michael Monahan. “Curtain” is everything that’s right with horror-comedies and nothing short of excellent independent filmmaking.
#7 – Accidental Exorcist – 2016
Synopsis: Unorthodox exorcist and hobby writer Richard Vanuk lives a depressing and humble life full of endless booze and filthy altruism. Driven by the need for alcohol and an underline desire to help possessed strangers for a small fee, Vanuk barely maintains his own sustainability. With each challenging case of demonic inhabitance, the poor full time exorcist, and part time writer, expels demons from their misfortunate hosts into his own wretched soul, draining his self-respecting humanity out of him one demon-expulsion job at a time. The deeper Vanuk spirals downward into nihilism and the deeper he goes into severe debt, the choice to withdrawal from the toll of exorcising demons becomes no longer an option, but a fruitlessly fateful venture to just surviving in a world that’s scarce of good people.
“My second undertaking into a Daniel Falicki horror film has the “Awaken The Devil” director batting a solid hundred percent on the ever honest critique block, going a strong two-for-two with his latest film, 2016’s “Accidental Exorcist,” that’s drenched with a despair atmosphere that swallows the intentionally pathetic character who is granted only a glimmer of unattainable hope for a good life. The writer-director has a keen eye for developing horror in various comedic, dramatic, and absurdly berserk formatted segments, delicately defining details to capture memorable moments. Falicki also stars as his own character, Richard Vanuk, and Falicki charms the audience by creating a likable anti-protagonist whose cavalier about demonic possessions and begrudged by a “corporate” employer who pays very little for the precision of demon banishment; this same company performs a stigmata on him after every exhausting job, discarding his limp, unconscious body in a different snow covered park afterwards”
#6 – Francesca – 2015
Synopsis: Fifteen years after the kidnapping and disappearance of Francesca, the young daughter of renowned poet and stage performer Vittorio Visconti and his wife Nina, a string of brutal murders by a relentless psychopath links itself to the case of missing Francesca and sparks community outrage with the deaths that are connected with Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. Detectives Moretti and Succo eagerly take on the case, that’s heavy with burden, to quickly apprehend the murderer but to also solve a more than decade old missing child case. As the bodies pile up and Moretti and Succo attempt to get closer to a resolution in the midst of grave public panic, a web of past dark secrets depict a convoluted picture surrounding the private Visconti family that may or may not be directly involved in what really came of poor young Francesca.
“The sweet, bloody sweet giallo genre is not dead! The crime mystery thriller with shockingly grisly murders is alive and well and embodied in the soul of Luciano Onetti’s 2015 sophomore directorial that’s co-written with his brother, Nicolas Onetti. The Onetti brothers’ “Francesca” release gets a treatment deserving of kings with a gloriously and beautifully illustrated cover and inner lining that contains powerfully-packed 3-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo set distributed by the artistic gorehounds Unearthed Films and the multifaceted MVDVisual. Complete with an inscrutable and deranged killer that’s greatly diabolical in their own insane world built upon the Buenos Aires born director’s passion for Italian horror, every giallo loving attribute has been meticulously applied to “Francesca” from the shrouded killer to the use of characterizing the antagonist with simply their leather bound, throat-gripping hands high above the clicking of offbeat high heals not casted far from a creepy doll used to motif the killer’s ominous presence. Blood red violence streaks of eye disfigurements, or any facial disfigurement, throughout a script that’s much attuned to the structure and content, reigniting a flame of hope in a declining genre to which the 33-year-old Onetti appears to hold very dear to his heart.”
#5 – Crush the Skull – 2015
Synopsis: Master thieves Blair and Ollie have known heists for most of their young lives but promise themselves one more job before a long overdue retirement with their stashed earnings. When the job goes South and Ollie gets pinched by the police, Blair has to use all of their savings and borrow on top from a ruthless crime boss to utilize his connections for Ollie be released from jail. With the first payment due in a week, Ollie and Blair have no choice but to put their lives in the hands of Blair’s brother Connor, a two-bit thief with a seemingly full-proof plan of scoring big at a vacant vacation home. The only problem is is that the home is a murder den for a deranged serial killer and with being trapped from the inside, Blair, Ollie, Connor, and their crew are being separated in a maze of murder with no way out.
““Crush the Skull” is a cleverly scribed 2015 horror-comedy from writer-director Viet Nguyen and co-star, co-writer Chris Dinh that was molded from the brimstone and fire of two successful short films, “Crush the Skull 1” and “Crush the Skull 2,” and a modest crowd funded financial backing that brought this witty and terrorizing film to fruition. Seriously, it’s been a long time since I’ve been entertained and jumpy with a film, especially one that’s working with a little more than a $75,000 budget. The superb character development and dialogue produces lively characters built upon an established dynamic group of tight knit actors whose on screen chemistry is beyond just a spark. Much of the character interactions are comical with a wrap around horror story and the mixture is purely potent and damn good that’s trying to pinpoint whether “Crush the Skull” is a dark-comedy or a flat out thriller.”
#4 – Vampyres – 2015
Synopsis: A dense English forest surrounding a decaying manor house sets as the hunting playground for a pair of seductive female vampires, Fran and Miriam, who have reigned a disconcerting terror through the area’s local inhabitants. When Fran lures and imprisons a touristing male as her bloodletting sexual hostage, Miriam believes Fran is diverging into a dangerous game of simply playing with her food for too long. Miriam proves to be right when a trio of campers stumble upon the vampires’ manor lair, causing a fair amount of distraction when the three friends attempt to uncover the secrets of the area and the myths of the house that will expose the true and terrifying nature of the two vampires. A mistake the three may wish they never would have made.
““Vampyres” is a Victor Matellano 2015 rendition of the 1974 José Ramón Larraz directed abundantly sensual, over sadomasochistic vampire film of the same title but also known as “Vampyres: Daughters of Darkness.” Matellano’s remake faithfully follows the original storyline and with the assistance of Larraz himself tacked on as a credited writer, Matellano was able to keenly hone in on the ambient tone and the graphic slaughtering display the story necessarily requires to quench it’s own thirst for blood. Let’s also not forget the sex, the sex, and the sex that absolutely sinks it’s teeth into of most scenes. Long time has passed since the rebirth of an erotic creature of the night; a plague of mindless ferocity has been the modern vampire. From “Blade” to “The Strain” to one of the more recent reviews of an independent film in “Black Water Vampire,” a dark cloud of a deformed and mutated species of bloodsuckers have been more popular with the masses. Matellano’s “Vampyres” is a love song to the erotic European vampire that’s powerfully seductive, classically gothic, and simply pure blooded with two fantastic femme fatales.”
#3 – Counter Clockwise – 2016
Synopsis: Ethan Walker is a brilliant scientific engineer, though he doesn’t look it with his long fire-hued beard and pot-belly midsection, but Walker, along with his colleague, believe to have accomplished the impossible: teleportation. When Walker decides to try his machine on himself, the realization of something terribly wrong overwhelms him. Walker didn’t invent a teleporter, he accidentally constructed a time machine, sending himself six months into a grim future where his wife and sister have been brutally murdered and he’s the sole prime suspect. The only way to make sense of the future and to solve the crime against him is to travel back to the past multiple times to unravel a sinister plot and stop the murder of those close to him.
“To simply and conventionally tagline “Counter Clockwise,” George Moise’s 2015 directorial debut can easily be described as Terry Gilliam meets David Fincher. Part sci-fi thriller part dark comedy, the adventure of Ethan’s misadventures ingeniously signifies a harsh outlook on the saltiness of our predetermined universe while encountering outrageous and weird characters along the time warp. Ethan, no matter what he does or how he does it, has to use the accidental time machine to thwart the brutal death of his wife and sister and while his reasoning sounds fairly comical being the groundwork of what Albert Einstein calls madness, on-screen it’s rather heartbreaking and tragic to see this guy, an everyday looking joe, desperately attempt to deconstruct, from the unsolicited help of his future selves, a dastardly plot that will destroy everything he holds dear.”
#2 – The Witch – 2015
Synopsis: Set a few years after the 1620 arrival of the Mayflower ship, a faith-entrenched Puritan family becomes ostracized by a tightly knit plantation community and leave their home to settle near a woodland landscape. The family of seven build upon their quaint home, growing crops for food and for trade, but when the youngest child, an infant, disappears into the depths of the dark woods, the family slowly starts to unravel at the inexplicableness of their loss. The once tranquil and beauty of the woods dreadfully alter into a coven for dark and fear inducing figures that root themselves between the family binds, untying their sanity and faith that once held them close and separating them toward a Godless path of destructive witchery.
“Writer-director Robert Eggers’s “The Witch” steps into a time machine and travels back in time to the New World era and delivers an American Folklore horror film that’s honestly genuine and deeply haunting. Eggers constructs a mood and tone stripped of comfortable commodities from the moment the family takes on the New World for the very first time away from the plantation. The isolation is immense, the tension is thick, and the cast and crew dynamic squeezes tight around the heart, ripping out every raw emotion and turning the display into a gut-wrenching performance. Eggers had done the appropriate leg work by researching various diaries, folklore tales, and recorded accounts of the time to achieve elaborate detail; even the dialect is true to the period.”
#1 – The Devil Lives Here – 2015
Synopsis: Honey Baron, seeps from a cursed slumber to reclaim his once profitable Brazilian manor home. Also, every nine months, caretakers of the manor home resurrect Bento, the once voodoo practicing slave to the malicious Honey Baron, to fortify the longstanding damnation. Until four friends gather to invoke the myth in jest, lightly treading over the forsaken manor home, and getting themselves unwittingly involved in the releasing of Hell on Earth. Caught in the middle between the Honey Baron and Bento, there’s nowhere to escape, nowhere to hide, and noway to distant themselves from an ancient wickedness.
Directors Dante Vescio and Rodrigo Gasparini’s “The Devil Lives Here” is sorely what the horror community needs and desires, an original vision of spine-tingling Brazilian folklore horror. It’s a damn good story that’s engrossingly rich with captivating characters, virtuous and villainous, simultaneously breeding a delectable devil in São Paulo actor Ivo Müller. From the opening scenes of Müller’s sadist applications upon a humble whimpering slave to the highly climactic and unforgettable shocking end, Vescio and Gasparini details every inch of reel with patience, organization, realism, and a sense of admiration for one of a kind antecedent horror films and concocts a molotov cocktail spiced with numerous Brazilian folklore.
Set a few years after the 1620 arrival of the Mayflower ship, a faith-entrenched Puritan family becomes ostracized by a tightly knit plantation community and leave their home to settle near a woodland landscape. The family of seven build upon their quaint home, growing crops for food and for trade, but when the youngest child, an infant, disappears into the depths of the dark woods, the family slowly starts to unravel at the inexplicableness of their loss. The once tranquil and beauty of the woods dreadfully alter into a coven for dark and fear inducing figures that root themselves between the family binds, untying their sanity and faith that once held them close and separating them toward a Godless path of destructive witchery.
Writer-director Robert Eggers’s “The Witch” steps into a time machine and travels back in time to the New World era and delivers an American Folklore horror film that’s honestly genuine and deeply haunting. Eggers constructs a mood and tone stripped of comfortable commodities from the moment the family takes on the New World for the very first time away from the plantation. The isolation is immense, the tension is thick, and the cast and crew dynamic squeezes tight around the heart, ripping out every raw emotion and turning the display into a gut-wrenching performance. Eggers had done the appropriate leg work by researching various diaries, folklore tales, and recorded accounts of the time to achieve elaborate detail; even the dialect is true to the period.
The film’s devil worshipping namesake ghastly conjures a simple, yet legendary form. Without the use of glossy special effects, “The Witch” mesmerizes with practical makeup, slight of hand editing, and implied black enchantment while pulling at our internal sinful desires of the flesh, lust and deceit. Eggers kept the mainly nude Bathsheba Garnett in the shadows to give the menacing Witch a closing-in threatening appeal that corners an easy prey, such as children. The Witch’s power, a contractual perk with the devil, is vast and unholy that becomes a fierce antagonist to the family’s unnerving, yet powerless faith.
Eggers and his team uses a sepia visual to devoid much of the color as possible from a naturally bleak mid-17th century community style that’s more binary and cramped, setting the stage for doom and gloom. To continue with the adverse affect, an everlasting current of formidable abstracts are implemented for uneasiness. These signs of inauspiciousness can be as obvious as Ralph Ineson’s sonorous voice as the family’s patriarch and resonating religious leader William or can be as opaque as their corn crop turning suddenly rotten or the reoccurrence of a toying hare and an unsteady, long-horned goat named “Black Phillip, who may or may not be the devil himself.
In the midst of the family being torn apart, the eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) desperately tries to keep her family together, but with her mother Katherine (Kim Dickie) in severe grief after the loss of her newborn son, Thomasin absorbs the blame and disdain from her mother. Thomasin’s abuse doesn’t end with her mother, which the story mainly touches upon with each of Thomasin’s parents and siblings, in one way or another, demeaning her. The oldest brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) under the spell of hormones repeatedly stares at his sister’s chest, lusting after the female form. Thomasin’s sibling twins Mercy and Jonas remorselessly believe her and label her a witch from the time of Samuel’s disappearance. Even her father, who stood up for her honor and her dignity when neither her mother or siblings would, eventually broke with a misguided view of trust. Thomasin’s world of faith, family, and, basically, everything she once believed in has been stripped away and without that barrier of ideals, a contract with the devil tempts her weakened will.
Lionsgate home distribution releases the horror sub-genre reviving “The Witch” on DVD and Blu-ray. This review covers the Blu-ray release that consists of a MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc that delivers a stunning high definition 1080p picture in a rare 1.66:1 original aspect ratio. The intentional reddish-brown coloring properly dates the era the film is set and the picture is detailed to display the grit, the dirt, and the muck that further enhances the foreboding of calamity. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is crisp and clear, favoring more on the shocking and slightly experimental soundtrack, but still manages to place the dialogue in the forefront, steering clear from the cacophony. Still, I found the dialogue hard to follow because of the puritanical dialect of that time. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Robert Eggers, the featurette “The Witch: A Primal Folklore,” Salem Panel Q&A, and a design gallery.
Folklore horror hasn’t died just yet. In fact, the sense of a witchcraft resurrection is on the horizon, possessing now a new high profile inside the horror community that’s sure to pick up steam. Newcomer Robert Eggers puts new life into gothic, despondent horror with contrast characters living in a stark reality. “The Witch” will launch Eggers into horror orbit and keep Lionsgate as a friend to the genre.