When Evil Calls, Don’t Pick Up! “Close Calls” reviewed!


Spoiled brat Morgan MacKenzie indulges in the good life under the roof of her wealthy father; perhaps, the party girl indulges a little too much when her father catches her and her boyfriend in a sexual act by the backyard pool. Her continuos snarking, cantankerous attitude, and sexual delights force her father to ground her before going out on a date night. With a box full of miscellaneous hard drugs and a house all to herself, her sole responsibility is to supply her deteriorating grandmother imperative medication, but when obscene phone calls place Morgan on edge, paranoia rocks Morgan’s lucid tate of mind through occurrences with her horny, drug pushing boyfriend, a vile and deranged grandma, and a stranger at the doorstep on a rainy night that instigates nebulous effects, rendering her trapped, scared, and questioning everything about life as she knows it.

A visually colorful feast of mind-warping fear is Richard Stringham’s psychological horror-thriller, “Close Calls.” The 2017 feature that bares a undeniable resemblance to the 1970’s Italian giallo films with stark, dreamlike color lighting keenly favors an admiring homage of a bygone genre. Writer-director Richard Stringham, contributing product of “10/31” and it’s sequel, shepherds the film through S and Drive Cinema on a production that’s near entirely shot on one set location and in a handful of built sets to purposefully thrust an empathetic viewer trapped alongside, hip-to-hip, the snooty,scared, and smack-tripping Morgan and the script, which has been a work in progress for some time prior to release, finally saw completion when, supposedly, Stringham was tripping on drugs himself – that backstory alone should ensue a viewership.

“Close Calls” introduces horror fans to Jordan Phipps as Morgan MacKenzie, the tortured receptor of the obscene calls and whose nerves are buckling under a bombardment of uppers, downers, and many, many hallucinogens. To really stomp hard on the fact that “Close Calls” is indeed a horror film and to add upon the slight separation of the normal circumstances, the unearthly busty Phipps performs in her underwear and bare feet through the entire film and its comically written against the character to undress Morgan in not a literal sense, but works toward a natural teen prerogative that Phipps courageously pulls off dutifully. Because of the very fact that “Close Calls” is the actress’s debut feature told in her character’s entire point of view, I expect Phipps to be on the casting radar as an array of talent and as one who can go unscathed in the daunting course of leading lady. Morgan has exchanges with a couple of interesting characters to note from “10/31’s” Greg Fallon as Barry Cone, a colleague of Morgan’s father with sexual deviancies and callous intentions, and “The Phone in the Attic’s” Janis Duley portraying Morgan’s mentally unstable grandmother with takes dumps in the closet. Fallon and Duley hone in on their respective roles with uninhibited momentum that viciously contributes to Morgan’s spiraling home alone situation and creepily loom a visceral presence under a disturbing guise. Carmen Patterson (“The Boo”), Kristof Waltermire, and Landen Matt round out the cast.

On a parallel plane with the losing one’s mind from a heavy dose of drugs, trauma, and spoiled entitlement, the psycho-sexual narrative of “Close Calls” shouldn’t be ignored and is fringed with totalitarian perversion. The extremely saturated provocative and mainly lewd discourse calls an uneasiness to the moral senses that undercuts the congenial desires for Morgan. Like aforesaid, Morgan struts in her underwear thoroughly through the story and Stringham elaborately showcases her assets with some fine tuned camera work and angles, but Morgan’s drug use topples her sexual stability, leaving her vulnerable against predators that also include her douchy boyfriend, but it’s co-star Greg Fallon that takes the sexual deviance to misogynistic heights as a blunt force object with a high-level stalker obsession toward Morgan. Fallon exacts a persona that’s explained to have watched Morgan from afar in the shadows and schemed plots to infiltrate her by any means necessary, even if that means killing her when he’s done. As Barry Cone, Fallon manufactures to perfection a middle aged man’s grimy malaise toward young teen women and Cone is so vile that he can even starkly contrast Morgan in a better light despite her explicable flaws.

S and Drive Cinema production of Richard Stringham’s “Close Calls” dials up onto DVD home video from Scream Team Releasing presenting the film in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, full of colorfully vibrant lighting familiar to the old Italian thriller while sustaining a complimentary cinematography with a flat vintage definition image. The stimulating combinational pops of color and lighting were the collaborative efforts of the director of photography Graig Wynn and the late colorist, Omar Godinez (“I Spit On Your Grave” remake), who died of heart failure before the film was finished. The English language PCM DTS-HD Master Audio mix has little to fear with a robust, slasheresque-score by “The Barn’s” Rocky Gray, but the dialogue track can be soft at times where the score overpowers and nearly drowns out the actors. There are also gag-like foley effects, such as when Morgan rubs cocaine onto her gums and the squeegee sound effect sounds more like something out of a Leslie Nielsen parody. With the exception of a static menu, only a single DVD bonus feature included with an audio commentary by writer, director, and produce, Richard Stringham. Loaded with psycho-sexual themes and psychedelic-contorting deconstructs, “Close Calls” is not only a 128 minutes of rabid affections for Jordan Phipps, but also a trip down the uninviting rabbit hole of collusion, murder, and an endless supply of suspense.

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A Child’s Toy Masks a Hidden EVIL! “Kaleidoscope” reviewed!


Just released from prison after 15 years and living alone in a high capacity apartment building, Carl is anxious to finally go onto a date after a long time of solitude. Mild-mannered and quiet, he manages to strike up a date with an uncultivated young woman named Abby who takes a strange, if not alluring, interest in Carl’s humble lifestyle, but when his estranged mother, Aileen, arrives back into his life, Carl’s seemingly perfect date comes crashing down into millions of pieces and old feelings of hate and urges for substance return to a warping fold. The lust and youthfulness he feels for Abby is replaced with fear and anger as reality bends on the verge of breaking as the past and present collide to an unfathomable finale.

The first thought that pops up about director Rupert Jones’ 2016 film, “Kaleidoscope,” is to instantly relate this film to the Dutch sex wave film, Wim Verstappen’s “Blue Movie,” because of a major structural similarity that’s important to both films, is essentially an inanimate character, and is a looming presence despite the “Blue Movie” being an erotic film and “Kaleidoscope” a suspenseful psychological thriller. Both movies feature a monolithic motel-esque apartment building complex in which both house the feature character, a former inmate, and the complex becomes part of the story where as Michael in “Blue Movie” runs his pornographic business and Carl interacts with the building as an obstacle to hurdle or a contributing factor to his problem. “Kaleidoscope” marks Rupert Jones’ sophomore feature directorial and his debut as the credited writer that lightly placed notes of hinting at a Roman Polanski picture.

Toby Jones is sorely an underrated actor. The versatile supporting English actor has been underused since non-fictional performance of Truman Capote in “Infamous” that was crudely undermined by the late Seymour Hoffman’s titular role in “Capote” of nearly the same year more than a decade ago. However, Jones maintains a presence both in Hollywood and the indie circuit with the latter honing in on a film about a man with severe mother issues and Jones nails a browbeaten and tortured soul performance perfectly. The mother issues come courtesy of “Hot Fuzz’s” Anne Reid as a intrusive and sickly, yet superior matriarch to Carl’s whimpering passiveness. Reid’s somehow manages to pull off being manipulative and sweet in one single persona and bespoke the relationship between mother and son with the mixing water and oil. In the middle of Carl and his mother’s love-hate dynamic is a third person of an unequivocally different persona, making a trifecta of clashing personalties. Abby, played by Sinead Matthews (“A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life”), brings a little jovial pleasantry to a dark cerebral tale. Rounding out the cast is Karl Johnson, Joseph Kloska, and Cecilia Noble.

So how does a child’s toy factor into Carl’s descent into madness? The cylinder device creates optical illusions, usually in a colorful spectrum and mirroring pattern that refract when spun in a circular motion and looking at a light source to illuminate the effect. The experience is fantastical and Carl, browbeaten by not only the criminal system, but also by his family, uses it as a means of escape, an allegorical path of avoiding darkness in his life and a way to advert the melancholy that is his existence. Even his date with Abby is a gloomily skewed as she has ulterior motives to further push Carl to a metaphorical breaking point. Yet, he’s at peace with his assumed childhood toy in the handful of scenes he’s using it which recalls the image of his father; a joyful moment that’s ironically the sore point of most of his tribulations. The Kaleidoscope could also symbolize seamless duality as Carl has difficult establishing what’s real and grasping the hardline of time. Rupert Jones subverts linear and conventional storytelling magnificently to not only put Carl in a twisted world, but also throwing the viewer into chaos along with him.

Sparky Pictures and IFC Midnight presents Rupert Jones’ psychological asphyxiation thriller and Stigma Films production of “Kaleidoscope” onto UK region 2, PAL DVD home video. The DVD image is presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, on a DVD9 and the digital quality, like always, is a unfathomable well of picturesque with crisply defined shades of black combined with some variant lighting techniques to tell Carl’s current mood. “Kaleidoscope” touches more on the natural skin and coloring, but does use some dry yellow tinting and some visual effects to embark on the once penitentiary patron’s mental break journey. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio mix has multi-channel sensitivity utilizing all channels to jar the senses even more and to, seemingly, weaponize Mike Prestwood Smith’s chaotic score to take the state even further. Dialogue has supremacy and clarity. Bonus features includes a standard array of extras in the cast and crew commentary, trailer, photo gallery, and storyboards. “Kaleidoscope,” like in the toy’s changing patterns, shatters hope only to rejoin it back together to then shatters it again in Rupert Jones’ heated and confrontational tale of mirthless character and taxing parental abuse affecting one soul’s chances of normalcy and redemption into society even in the face of societal kickbacks.

Sanities Dissolve in a Concoction of EVIL! “Ladyworld” reviewed!


When a catastrophic ecological event traps eight teenage girls celebrating a birthday inside a house, they find themselves at the mercy of limited resources and with no adult supervision. With every window and door inescapably blocked, being trapped isn’t the only obstacle that looms over their adolescent minds when factions begin to form between sane and insanity as their cache of already scarce food and water quickly dwindle. Before her eventual disappearance, the birthday girl spoke of seeing a man attacking her right before the destructive shaking that left them befuddled. The remaining girls quickly line their thoughts in various ways from either spiraling out of control and embarking on a psyche control measure to deal with the haunting information or accepting the information and use it as a fear inducer for power. One-by-one, fears are exploited and minds are broken down to their most hostile and primal qualities that rapidly become an epidemic to those still in the realm of reality.

To preface director Amanda Kramer’s “Ladyworld,” there’s little background exposition or visual representation to really set the stage of psychological deterioration. The 2018 thriller can be said to be a modern, all-female take on the William Golding 1954 novel, “Lord of the Flies.” Produced by Pfaff and Pfaff Productions as well as A Love and Death production film, “Ladyworld” is essentially female centric and comes close to being true to form to its title in front and behind the camera with the debut feature directorial from Amanda Kramer. The script was also co-penned by Kramer and Benjamin Shearn. “Ladyworld” is credited as a festival circuit novelty with institutions such as the TIFF New Wave, BFI London, and Fantastic Fest, but “Ladyworld” is also novel in another way as in a doppelganger representation of Amanda Kramer herself as a filmmaker who sincerely believes in art house expressionism.

While all the actresses involved, portraying eight teenage girls, are spectacular in their own rite or as a pack, one particular actress stands out above the rest in name alone and more recently because of her debut in a popular science-fiction-horror Netflix series set in the 1980’s. Yup, “Stranger Things’” Maya Hawke, daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, has a co-starring role that elicits the use of her usually charmingly raspy voice into a gasp of unnerving bellows amongst her colorfully expressive mental deprivations. Yet, Hawke’s role, though equally headlined, seems more supportive against musician and television actress Ariela Barer and “Quija: Origin of Evil” actress Annalise Basso as the two teenage girls that consistently butt heads to jockey for leadership. The tension created between Barer and Basso is plumed unanticipated friction and is about as wild as any unpredictable scenario can muster. The last prominent character, the introduced unstable Dolly, has familiar parallels Ryan Simpkins’ Fangoria Chainsaw Award nominated performance in the also predominated all-female film, “Anguish,” from 2015. Simpkins trades in supernatural crazy for disastrous crazy as a teenage girl with a penchant for adding ten years her junior. Together, alternate and combative personalities fluctuate the proceedings, marking “Ladywold” unpredictable from not only Amanda Kramer’s broad-minded expression stance but also in solitary performances manage to flow as one. Rounding out the cast is Odessa Adlon, Tatsumi Romano, and Zora Casebere.

“Ladyworld” is an interesting experimental film and, unfortunately in this opinion, that’s about as far as this film might top in a market filled with visual pops, depth performances, and something new and shiny at every angle and turn. “Ladyworld” comes off a bit monotone to the preceptors in a flat line of congealed, unwavering tension from start to finish, despite coming to a head. Structurally, Kramer frames their environmental entrapment with just enough to make their plight more feasible without having to visually showcase it; the assumption, in one interpretation, is a Californian earthquake that resulted in a landslide that blocks all the windows and doors with hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of pressure against the opening. Though this is only one interpretation of events, Kramer is very good at cascading the effect into being much more dire by reminding us that no sires can be heard, cell service has ceased, and all hope is lost within the limited space their held. That kind of compelling of the unknown and cerebral warping uncertainty is quite alluring, but that gripping element is not found equally invasive throughout.

MVDVisual and Cleopatra Entertainment has positive womenism vibes with Amanda Kramer’s “Ladyworld” being released onto DVD home video. The 94 minute presentation is in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio format that leans conveying more to a bland and flat coloring scheme. Essentially faded, no pops of primary hues are implemented as if to devoid all hope from a helplessness scenario. Details are a bit fuzzy too resulting from an aliasing issue or jaggies around the outer edges of things. Usually with Cleopatra Entertainment releases, lossy audio tracks have been rearing their ugly heads which would cause many questions marks with reviewers familiar with Cleopatra Entertainment as its a sublabel to Cleopatra Records – a Los Angeles-based independent record label, but with “Ladyworld,” the English dual channel audio tracks is rather robust with accompanying range and depth. However, the Callie Ryan experimental acapella instrumental can be nails on a chalk board that, again, sets a gloomy tone that consistently punches you in every perceivable sensory organ. Bonus features are slim, including an image slideshow and the theatrical and teaser trailer. “Ladyworld” has niche appeal, but Amanda Kramer and crew really put themselves out into the cinema-verse with style and performance to ultimately deliver a surreal and frightening tapestry of the unhinged and underdeveloped teenage psyche.

Own Amanda Kramers all female casted “Ladyworld!”

When EVIL Gets Tough, You Fight Back! “The New Kids” reviewed!


Loren McWilliams and his sister Abby were both proud of their illustrious military careered father as well as adoring him immensely. When the teenagers’ parents set off toward Washington D.C. to receive a commendation from the President after foiling a terrorist hostage situation, Loren and Abby felt like the luckiest kids alive, but that all quickly changed with a phone call, announcing a deadly accident that killed both their parents. Somber in disbelief, Loren and Abby decide to take up on an offer from their uncle Eddie and aunt Fay who own a gas station and a joint rinky-dink amusement park in Glenby, Florida in hopes to whet the appetites of thrill seeking tourist right before hitting the major league theme parks of Disney. Settling into a new school system is relatively easy for the siblings who’ve often been use to moving from location-to-location with their father in military service, but acclimating to the local drug pusher, Dutra, along with his entourage of subversive delinquents, has placed a target on their backs. A cat and mouse game over dominance ensues with an unreasonable Dutra unable to ever settle the score until his complete satisfaction in punishing the new kids in town has been sated, even if that means Loren and Abby, and those close to them, have to fight for their very lives.

“The New Kids,” aka “Striking Back,” is a horrifying suspense thriller from the original “Friday the 13th” director Sean S. Cunningham and penned by the father of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Stephen Gyllenhaal, and “Visiting Hours” screenwriter, Brian Taggert. Instead of a lurking serial killer stalking and massacring half-naked and carefree camp counselor teens on a secluded camp ground, Cunningham tackles felonious teenagers wreaking havoc on popular outsiders treading on their drug turf, especially those who give a good fight back. “The New Kids” bombards every scene with caustic, no-good trouble and when push comes to shove, the only rational is to give the razor-edge scrap right back in a serrated do or die narrative.

Before the face of the collegiate admission scandal and before being the beloved onscreen mother to twins fathered by Uncle Jess on “Full House,” Lori Loughlin co-stars with Shannon Presby as on the defensive Abby and Loren. Presby slightly overshadows Loughlin as a stronger character or presence on screen. Loren continuously evolves through the storyline beginning as a well-rounded, cool-headed, optimistic son who recently lost his parents and then blossoms through bullying and violence as a mad dog protecting what’s his – family. Abby staggers quite precariously and never quite finds her footing in the grand scheme of things other than being a passive victim of Dutra and his gang. Even the contrast between Loren and Abby’s respective love interests is lopsided as Loren and his girlfriend (“Silent Madness’” Paige Price) dominate the dynamically in comparison to Abby and an underused and very youthful looking Eric Stotlz (“The Prophecy”). The real stud of “The New Kids” is a young, slim James Spader (“Wolf” and “The Blacklist”). Pure platinum blonde hair topping piercing eyes with a pinch of a Boston accent really brought out the villain in Spader in one of his very first feature films. Many other familiar faces in the cast, some familiar amongst horror fans, including John Philbin (“Return of the Living Dead”), the late Eddie Jones (“C.H.U.D.”), and the legendary Tom Atkins (“The Fog” and “Halloween III”) in a brief role. The remaining cast round out with Vince Grant, David MacDonald, Theron Montgomery, Lucy Martin, and Jean De Baer.

On the surface, “The New Kids” might seem polar opposite to Cunningham’s franchise birthing “Friday the 13th” series, but if looking with a keen eye, Cunningham has slapped and slathered his style all over the bullying barraging thriller. Techniques such as the camera focusing on feet that come out from hiding, the sudden appearance of people behind objects, and the menacing atmosphere of being watched are sensationalized characteristics of his camper slasher flick. Also, though the soundtrack is akin to the likes of Harry Manfredini, it was actually composed by the renowned Lalo Schilfrin who more than like was given precise instructions from Cunningham to compose a companion like score with a twist of a new kind of fear.

Mill Creek Entertainment presents Columbia Pictures’ “The New Kids” onto a Blu-ray home video with a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The region A release on a BD25 has a well preserved transfer with little to no damaging issues and lots of good, wholesome natural grain speckling on the solid and wide range color palate. Even the darker scenes have pronounced definition so nothing is obscured from the viewer. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite robust with no sings of hissing or crackling during the entire 90 minute runtime. Even with Loren is whispering to Dutra in an intense claustrophobic and apprehensive scene, Loren is audible and understood, completing a dialogue friendly release with a, as aforementioned, a baleful score by Lalo Schilfrin. English SDH subtitles are also included. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features on this release; however, the retro style slipcover, where the VHS tape looks to be protruding from the VHS box, is a nice tough by Mill Creek Entertainment, especially with the faux wear around the edges and on the facade. For director Sean S. Cunningham, “The New Kids” steered clear of being a Voorhees repeat, but was certainly a recapitulation of Cunningham’s strong suits and with a strong, confident cast, “The New Kids” is sorely understated and overshadowed and I’m personally pleased that Mill Creek Entertainment delivered a Blu-ray release to the U.S. even if there are no bonus features.

The New Kids available at Amazon!

Writer’s Block is a Fictional Author’s EVIL! “Blood Paradise” review!


Flustered about the severe flop of her latest book, crime novelist Robin Richards encounters writers’ block as a result. Losing inspiration in the big city with her droll boy-toy, her publisher recommends a visit to the scenic Swedish countryside as a change of pace that’ll remove her out from the comfortable surroundings and, hopefully, begin to craft new ideas for a rebound book. Totally out of her element quartered inside a farm residence, Richards can’t help to investigate her peculiar hosts and a chauffeur, a super fan who is besotted with her while his wife voices her utter disdain for the writer, but their odd behaviors stimulate inspiration for her work beyond her ability to observe that something is dreadfully and dangerously wrong with them.

From a title that can be interpreted as an oxy-moron, “Blood Paradise” spills onto the screen as a sexy suspense-thriller with pinpoint-peppered dry comedy. The Swedish bred film is directed by Patrick von Barkenberg, who also has an important-minor role contribution to the narrative as well as co-written alongside the film’s lead, Andréa Winter, that proposes total control over the juxtaposition of not only the sane versus the insane, but also enthralls with a crime storyteller from the city thrust into her own calamitous tale of murder on the rural fringes. Barkenberg and Winter have poised chemistry weaving a story that’s mostly building the bizarre attributes of characters with even Robin Richards’ pooled into that group being a stranger in a strange land; the filmmakers’ past collaborations of short films, including “A Stranger Without” and “A Little Bit of Bad,” firmly establishes them as being the right kind auteurs for the job.

As stated in the above, Andréa Winter stars as Robin Richards, an adventurously alluring writer willing to try anything to get her career back on track. Winter, who is also an electro indie pop singer in Baby Yaga, is as stunning at her performance as she is in her natural beauty with a role that tenaciously exhibits her uneasiness with the locals and their bare necessities while also not being afraid to bare nearly all herself in compromising positions and places. While Robin is most solitary in conversation as she is interactions with other characters, there’s great dynamic contrast with Hans. Hans Bubi and, yes, if you say it out loud, a definite nod to a memorable line from “Die Hard.” Played by Christer Cavallius in his sole imdb.com credit, Cavallius’s wide-eyed and big smile below his shoulder length hair makes him a comical to a point and when you add Hans’ current hell of a marital status with a potted plants devoted woman and his mental blocking obsession with Robin Richards, the overly flawed and desperately optimistic character has hopes and dreams from a slim chance opening that he is hesitant in completely seizing, though we, and even perhaps Hans himself, knows the outcome if he took the risk. Another character highly involved in Richards’ circle of exchanges is with the farmer, Rolf, played by Rolf Brunnström. Rolf is a seriously complex character, an irresistible mystery to the author who spies on his enigmatic tasks involving a locked barn with windows covered with plastic. Rolf’s detached and impassive with his wife’s death that looms throughout the story and Brunnström, a middle-aged man, turns out to be more than his simple life implies. “Blood Paradise” remaining cast includes Martina Novak, Ingrid Hedström, Ellinor Berglund, and Frankie Batista.

Finding the comedy in a film like “Blood Paradise” might be a task suited for people with a dark sense of humor, but the quality is present and can be compared to the offbeat nature that Eli Roth subtly nurtured in his breakout flesh-eating squeamish-er “Cabin Fever.” Dry and restrained, the comedy is dialed down to a low-lying hum in “Blood Paradise,” honing in frequently on the sexualized suspense that’s audience attractive and runs parallel with Robin Richards profession as a crime novelist who pens tales involving gimp-cladded deviants, and the story simmers to a boil, reducing down story intricacies into an unraveled macabre of things once dead are now very much alive in transcendence, just like a good crime narrative should unfold.

Gripping with toe-curling tension, “Blood Paradise” arrives on a Blu-ray home video courtesy of the Philadelphia based distribution company, Artsploitation Films. Presented in HD, full 1080p anamorphic widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Artsploitation Films has a remarkable looking release on their hands that’s soft where intended and detailed where necessary, registering a vast palette of rich colors thats typical with digital films recorded with an Arri camera, as listed on the internet movie data base. The English and Swedish 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound has an equally good and clean facet of range and depth for a rather subdued thriller that’s more mystery, than panic stricken. Soundtrack by Andréa Winter adds a bit of lively-atrocity synth that doesn’t push through enough to be a factor in it’s assimilation between the ambience and dialogue tracks. Bonus material includes three deleted scenes and two music videos by Baby Yaga – “Dreamer” and “You and Me” – that feature artistic renders of the film. “Blood Paradise” is no tick sipping on sangre-sangrias on a beach somewhere. Patrick von Barkenberg’s “Blood Paradise” captivates in the inexplicable without sheering away from fraught character contexts while still maintaining a healthy dose of sex appeal and blood.

“Blood Paradise” available now for purchase!