Best Friends Trying Their Best to Best EVIL! “The Boy Behind the Door” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Best friends Bobby and Kevin are kidnapped by a stranger and taken to a remote house in the middle of nowhere. After Kevin is removed from the stranger’s trunk and is dragged into the house kicking, screaming, and pleading to be let go, Bobby breaks free of his restraints, but hearing his best friend Kevin’s screams leaves Bobby with no choice but to help him. Working his way through the house and upstairs unnoticed, obstacles stand between him and rescuing Kevin, including the boys’ kidnapper, a paying customer, and Kevin being shackled to the wall, locked inside behind an attic door, but that doesn’t avert Bobby’s intentions from thinking outside the box to save his best friend from a fate far worse than death. However, only a matter time before the kidnapper or the paying customer knows there’s someone else lying low the house and unearthing troubling secrets.

Child sex abuse is, without a double, a disturbing and touching subject to exhibit in cinema.  How to maneuver around the theme with child actors can be a delicate balance of commitment and understanding when considering the cast involved, especially if most would argue that a child’s brain is too immature or not developed appropriately to comprehend the impact of sexual abuse and to expose them indirectly could also be traumatic to their being.  The opposite of that argument has been proved over the decades with child actors having major roles in general with horror films.  Monsters of all shapes and sizes, guts and blood, and violent themes surround them and films such as “The People Under the Stairs” and “IT” have some of the most frightening and disturbing practical effect imagery that would cause sleepless night terrors for months and, yet kids star in them and are key to their success because, as we all know, children are not immune to real world dangers and threats.  So, why should be exempt from the creative imaginary ones? David Charbonier and Justin Powell finesses that line with a massaged contented breakout feature in “The Boy Behind the Door” written-and-directed by the lifelong friends and produced by Ryan Scaringe of Kinogo Pictures. Howard Barish of Kandoo Films, and Rick Rosenthal, Bert Kern, Ryan Lewis of Whitewater Films

***Beware… this section may contain spoilers*** Lonnie Chavis (“This Is Us”) and Ezra Dewey (“The Djinn”) play Bobby and Kevin who find themselves in the worst-case scenario of two unaccompanied pre-teens violently whisked away to an isolated farmhouse near one or two oil well pumps. I commend Chavis and Dewey’s hard fought, emotionally deep performances in battling against the creepiest of odds and feigning injury without being too over-the-top or inauthentic. Either if by being well coached or, more than likely, just good child actors, the level of anxiety maintains a solid 10 throughout with them. Their only scenes together where I thought the fusing of their friendship didn’t quite work was before the abduction where their dialogue and interactions as two young boys drifting across fields and profoundly thinking about their future deemed itself well too mature and far beyond being advanced for boys their age that the moment was a complete misfire for the story. Inevitably, the two friends run into a couple of creeps and exploitative racketeers in Micah Hauptman (“Phobias”) as the paying customer abandoning paid up time to chase down Bobby and Kristen Bauer van Straten (“True Blood”) in a twisted plot point of a white, late 40s to early 50s-year-old woman, who in the film could be someone’s mother, as the ruthless kidnapper of young boys for old man pleasure. Hauptman is more-or-less there in slimy spirit but doesn’t ooze enough egregious behavior to note as that trait falls immensely well upon the shoulders of van Straten with a mean streak that never lets up despite the rather paralleling of a hard R “Home Alone” antics between adults and children.

“The Boy Behind the Door” is a butt-clenching thriller because of the sheer fact children straddle the danger line on either side of spectrum. You have Kevin locked securely away in the summitted play and video room, shackled and waiting in screams, tears, and fears for his sure fate, and then there’s Bobby escaping his restraints and staying in the shadows, out of sight, trying to save his friend before he becomes either chained and exploited like Kevin or executed because of his strong will. Charbonier and Powell offer little-to-no fluff in pretending “The Boy Behind the Door” is anything but a fight for survival, a fight for friendship, and a fight against the utmost evil. The film isn’t full of strong one-liners or momentous moments that keep the story grounded and pure in its vilest state with tiptoeing around the one-woman operated child sex abuse ring without going into the full gross details. Charbonier and Powell’s story has many strengths, but it also has a few weaknesses waned upon the characters’ decision making. For instance, when Bobby has to break into the house, he throws a rock through the mud room door window without knowing where the kidnapper is and if they are in earshot of the window breaking. Later in the film, Bobby is trapped in the upstairs bathroom and when a squad car pulls up, instead of breaking the window he can clearly reach, he tries to yell through it and fiddle with opening the latch. Why does he simply not break the window and then yell for help? That particular scene drove me nuts and there a few other minor instances of the same caliber throughout in a story that well made enough to be compelling, to be horrific, and to be gripping in and around every house interior scene.

Tense, harrowing, and an ugly truth, “The Boy Behind the Door” is defensible horror at its best and a righteous strength of friendship. Acorn Media International distributes “The Boy Behind the Door” onto a region 2 Blu-ray in the UK! The PAL encoded release is presented in a widescreen 2.38:1 aspect ratio and, speaking digitally, the picture renders flawlessly the inkling of low-lit hope inside a world of dark fatalism and cynicism under the cinematography eye of Julián Estrada. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is crystal clear that occupies each channel with the right number of decibels to exact the range of sneaking through a creaky wooden floored house. Dialogue is clean and clear, especially at whisper breath. The Shudder original film comes with a pair of special features including a blooper reel of mostly Lonnie Chavis sneezing and goofing off which is nice to see kids being kids on set and a music video to the film which is more like a trailer with Anton Sanko’s dark synth-gripping score being an apogee of suspense. There’s never sympathy for these types of vile exploitation villains on and off screen and in “The Boy Behind the Door,” that fight back mantra resonates loud and clear in an unambiguous do-or-die between guileless innocence and pure evil.

Become Lost with the EVIL in Your Head. “Faye” reviewed! (Reel 2 Reel Films / Digital Screener)



Author Faye L. Ryan has found success as a career writer penning personal growth and self-assurance books, but the renowned author has hit a mental wall in growing out of the process of mourning for her deceased husband, killed in a car accident in which Faye was at the wheel.  Scarred physically and mentally with painful reminders of that fateful night, Faye struggles to focus on her next new book, threatened to be dropped by her publisher if she doesn’t meet their deadline, and interacts with her husband as if he was still with her in person.  In a last ditch effort to get Faye back to writing before cutting her loose, the publisher offers up a lakeside vacation house to help focus on her work, but as Faye settles into her new, quiet writing space, she finds herself unable to escape a haunting presence tormenting her. 

Working solo is tough.  Having no one to bounce off dialogue or react to their disposition can be daunting and unnatural for most actors and actresses.  Yet, the titular character in “Faye” must do very that to ensure Kd Amond’s 83-minute feature directorial about loss, grief, and the supernatural representation that braids into a broken reality will exist without suffering stagnation.  “Faye” is a 2021 female-driven horror-drama written by Amond and the film’s lone wolf star Sarah Zanotti as the two filmmakers reteam from the previous year’s dysfunctional family thriller, “Rattled.”  Shot between Nashville, Tennessee and the cabin resort of Lacombe, Louisiana, “Faye” is cut from an all-female producing team of by Amond, Zanotti, Sara DelHaya, and Nicole Marie Lim under Amond and Zanotti’s independent film production company AZ if Productions.

So, how did Sarah Zanotti perform going at the role alone with not another single body in sight?  Aside from the performance scale, initial first thoughts about an emotionally processing Faye rings clear that she is definitely alone with her thoughts without ever confronting her past head-on.  Faye, more or less, brushes the incident to the side, drowning herself in wine and loathing, until vague, intermittent memories pull her back down to reality every so often.  The role gratifies a sense of a struggling individual’s unintended and deeply personal isolation stemmed by unable to grasp with the hard to deal with issues to where’s she’s invented an imaginary friend in the form of her late husband in this pretend world of being normal, routine, and safe.  Looking from the outside in, Faye invokes pity on the saddest level as she converses with thin air as well as drinking large quantities of wine alone. There’s even the suggestion in either flashback scenes or maybe representational moments of despair that she, at one point in time, committed to, or thought of, suicide. As for the “Archaon: The Halloween Summoning” actress Zanotti? The actress, singer-songwriter, and proud cat mother (as stated on her personal website) breathlessly engrosses herself in Faye’s darkest moments with a ramble of insecurities that skate around the main issue until that issue manifests as a specter of duality, haunting “Faye” with her own scarred image that won’t allow her to leave until she combats the guilt eating her away. However, Zanotti’s a bit one tone through the entire storyline, never zig-zagging in a full range on emotive spectrum when face-to-face with the emulated specter. There are guest voices in the film whenever Faye takes or makes a phone call, including vocals from Corri English as Emory the publisher, Dean Shortland as Bobby, Brian Vance as Jacob, Kd Amond as Faye’s mom, and Zanotti as Elle.

To carry an entire feature film on your shoulders is empathetically tough for the one and only principle lead Sarah Zanotti and also the director Kd Amond as well and I wouldn’t declare “Faye” to be an overstimulating visual film albeit snazzy editing and makeup effects when sucked into supernatural self-reproach and suffering. “Faye” leans heavy into self-centered conversation in an acerbic chaptered and non-linear context that can be difficult to follow it’s pathway structure at times when the titular character is not framed in the cabin but rather sitting, speaking on a well-lit platform that fits her personal growth expatiate, like a Tony Robbins-type, connecting back to Faye’s mindset or actions in the cabin. Though much of the conversion is directed toward herself or the mental image and two-way communication of dead husband, a good chunk of the dialogue is the unwavering tough love business-speak between agent and client. Faye publisher rakes in money based off book sales and if Faye isn’t writing up drafts than a publisher does not care about your personal tragedy. That dynamic during the calls feels utterly cold with no pity or sympathy for Faye in the voice of the agent who cares solely about client image for publicity and is determined to nag a draft out of a woman who has lost her best friend in life – grief and guilt be damned. As a spook show, “Faye” whips up a few moments of fearful highlights but does little to the film’s self-proclaimed horror label when more of the acidity of internalizing the death and destruction of her life becomes more manic without the monster that’s introduced too late or comes too little often to be integrated into the story properly and stands out as negative concentrated symbolism.

Oozing with heartbreak and melancholy, the fracturing viability in “Faye” calls forth the detrimental impact and for reinstation back in the society, one needs to fall before getting back up. Reel 2 Reel Films brings the American-made, woman-driven, atmospheric and apparitional “Faye” to the United Kingdom on digital home video come May 9th. Since a digital screener was previewed, there will be no critique of the audio or video qualities. Kd Amond was really a one woman show behind the camera by taking on not only the directing duties but also many others, including cinematography and visual/practical effects and for “Faye,” the film was mostly captured with natural lighting outside the cabin, practical lighting for cabin interiors, and key lighting of Faye on stage. There’s use of a filters during the more supernatural plights and to tell night scenes that don’t look natural, leaning toward a more style-choice purple. For any extras, there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Faye” has strong bones for a good grief and guilt ghost film in the indie realm and while it doesn’t have the star-laden power of other similar themes of its kind in “The Babadook” or “Hereditary,” “Faye” still invokes the power of hurt and the summoning of self-condemnation.

Southern Hospitality is all EVIL Cloaks and Daggers! “The Long Night” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)

“The Long Night” now available on Blu-ray home video!

After spending years in foster care as a child, the now adult Grace tries to track down any information or background about her biological parents with the help of affluent boyfriend Jack.  The New York City couple travel into the rural, deep south on a seemingly solid lead about her folks.  As Grace and Jack drive up to their contact’s isolated and grand manor estate, their contact with the information doesn’t greet them upon their arrival and as they search the house, they find it as empty and still as the wide open land around them.  When darkness falls, cloaked members of a demon worshipping cult surround the estate, using their telekinetic and telepathy powers to infiltrate and corral Grace toward being a host for the prophesized return of 400 year slumbering and powerful demon the night of the equinox.  The couple battle the subservient minions inside and outside the manor as the night progresses into terrifying visions of Grace’s predestined lineage and the hope of surviving the night is quickly dwindling.

A longstanding demonic cult with supernatural psychotronic abilities besieging two city slickers armed with broken cell phones and a fireplace poker feels like the mismatch from Hell.  Somehow, “The Curse of El Charro” director, Rich Ragsdale, was able to stick the landing with loads of dourly, yet intensely powerful, cinematography crafted from a Mark Young (“Tooth and Nail”) and Robert Sheppe script based off the Native American mythology of the Horned Serpent, Utkena.  Keeping with the mythos’ descriptors involving snakes and horns or antlers, Ragsdale utilizes his usual bread and butter music video talents to fashion psychedelic imagery out of an extremely committed cult mercilessly stopping at nothing in resurrecting their preeminent master who will cleanse the world of corrupted humanity to start the world afresh…or so they believe.  Shot on site at a deep-rooted and isolated plantation house and property in Charleston, South Carolina, “The Long Night,” also known as “The Coven, is a production of Sprockefeller Pictures (“Fatman”) and Warm Winter in association with Adirondack Media Group, El Ride Productions, and Hillin Entertainment.

Super stoked that “The Lurker” and Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake star Scout Taylor-Compton is playing an age-appropriate role and not another high schooler, the actress plays the soul and parent searching Grace who has a strong desire to track down her parents, which never comes to the forefront why Grace was placed in foster care to begin with. Compton is completely competent assuming a role that requires her physicality as well as her emotional range in fear through resistance against a group of mostly unknown cast of characters that mostly keep their hoods and masks on for the entire engirdling of the manor house. Compton can also exude being a badass at times, but the script shamefully holds the character back that never allows Grace to become a true opposition to their exalting will toward their demon god. Nolan Gerard Funk (“Truth or Dare”) might ooze that trope persona of a dude-bro bred out of spoiled opulence as Grace’s boyfriend Jack. Despite his unappealing swaggering veneer, Jack reaches for depth more than any other character in the film and Funk pins it pretty well. Jack loves Grace but can’t face his Hamptons residing parents’ derision of a woman, of any woman in fact, who will never be good enough for their son and that creates some nice early on tension that fizzles out to being actually nothing of real importance to the couple. Yet, Jack continues to be the one with more common sense, receiving pre-plot point hump bad vibes since arriving at the manor and also making some of the better decisions when the bottom drops out and snake-charming demonists come calling for his main squeeze to squeeze out the resurrection of an unholy being. Funk adds bits of comedic charm throughout like someone who watched too many horror movies and tries to reenact scenes that could be beneficial to their survival in theory but hopelessly fails in a humorous way. A real waste of a raw cinematic talent is in Jeff Fahey (“Body Parts”) who plays the brother of the missing manor owner. Fahey feels very much used for solely his veteran star power, a recognizable face, just to be nearly instantaneously forgotten at the same time and by the climatic ending, you might not even remember Fahey being a part of the story. “The Long Night” rounds out with Deborah Kara Unger (“Silent Hill”) and Kevin Ragsdale (“Little Dead Rotting Hood”).

“The Long Night” is a delicate incubus uncoiling its snake-biting venom of inexorable fate. Rich Ragsdale hyper stylizes flashbacks and often mundane moments to conspicuously denote unimaginable and resistant-futile power over a pair of out of their league NYC outlanders. Speaking of which from within the script, there is a sting of contrast between North and South, as if the Civil War was still relevant, ever since the first moment Jack and Grace hit the screen with their travel plans. Jack passively continues to harp upon his dislike of South and even looks to Grace to make sense of a demon cult outside on the front and back lawn, hoping that her Southern roots can explain the provincial nonsense raising torches and speaking in tongues that’s blocking any and all exits. Even Grace, a character originating from the South, believes that the makeshift totems surrounding the property are resurrected to ward off evil. As a Southern, I never heard of such a thing. The concept for a Lazarus possession out of the depths of dimensional binding sounds like a winner in my book, but Ragsdale can’t quite smooth out the edge to effectively and properly give the cult and Grace a banging finale of supercharged hellfire that sees our heroine fight to the bitter end. Instead, the entire third act and ending feels like a sidestep because not a single better thought came to the writers’ imaginations. Cool visuals, good special effects, but a banal trail off ultimately hurts “The Long Night’s” longevity.

Well Go USA Entertainment delivers the Shudder exclusive, “The Long Night,” onto Blu-ray home video with a region A, AVC encoded, high definition 1080p release. Presented in 16X9 widescreen, some scenes look compressed or rounded suggesting an anamorphic picture, but the overall digital codec outcome is really strong elevated by the creepy folkloric and the pernicious dream atmospherics of “Escape Room’s” Pierluigi Malavasi who can masterfully casts the light as well as he shields it in a menacing silhouette. Some of the nightmares or hallucinations see more of compression flaws in the mist, smoke, or gel lighting with faint posterization. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD master audio balances a vigorous surround sound output, catching and releasing all the appropriate channels with a range of environmental ambient noise and the scuffle between violent contact, denoting a strong amplitude with depth between foreground and background. Dialogue comes out nice and clear with a vitality that’s reverberates in the ear channels whenever a momentous moment sparks an outburst of rage and dominion. Special features include a behind-the-scenes featurettes that look at the raw footage of the birthing flashback scene, the overall aesthetic tone of the film, and the resonating tribal score. Also included is a Rich Ragsdale commentary track, the theatrical trailer, and Ragsdale’s 2019 short film “The Loop,” a meta-horror surrounding a scary VHS tape and two young brothers. While “The Long Night” has flaws with unfinished plot details that will leave a lingering unsatisfied aftertaste, entrenched within the narrative is a contemporary premise revolving around dark fate and that gut feeling toward belonging to something bigger that unfortunately turns out to be murderous summonsing of a demon scratching at the door wanting to be let out in the world. An unforgettable long night of terror.

“The Long Night” now available on Blu-ray home video!

Entombed With an EVIL Loneliness. “Alone With You” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / DVD)

“Alone With You” on DVD at Amazon.com

Charlene anxiously awaits the return of girlfriend Simone who has been away on a photoshoot.  Today is their anniversary and Charlene wants everything to be perfect by creating a lovely evening together for just the two of them in their New York City apartment.  As the night progresses and still no sign of Simone, despite her flight landing hours ago, Charlene begins to worry but her phone suddenly malfunctions and her apartment front door jams, locking her inside with no way out.  To make matters worse, the outside is blacked out from something covering her widow to where no light can penetrate and she can’t see anything exterior.  Throughout the night, voices and shadows slowly surround her, dark silhouettes stand motionless in her storage basement and outside her jammed door, and the video calls with her mom and friends turn to an unnerving end as it seems Simone nor anybody else is coming to recuse her.  Intermittent flashbacks of her at the beach and a neighboring voice are her only company that menacingly mess with Charlene’s mind as she quickly realize that something is terribly wrong. 

If you’re looking for a compact, close-quartered, psychological barrel of scutter apprehension and fear, I wholeheartedly believe filmmakers Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks have what you need to inject that tar black cathartic dread right into your emotionally hungry veins with their latest film “Alone With You.”  Born and bred out of strict COVID times, “Alone With You” is the 2020 filmed mind-torturing, hell in a cell shot inside Emily Bennett’s NYC apartment during most of the shoot, using telecommunication technology to invite other actors into the spatial bubble and interact with the main lead without physically being on set.  We’ve seen a ton of other COVID-created content over the past two years, but “Alone With You” definitely shines as not only isolating madness but also a fear of disconnect in reality, mental struggles over brittle relationships, and an illusionary life stemmed out of disenchanting circumstances.  “Alone With You” is written and directed by Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks as their first feature film and is produced by “Underworld:  Awakening” actor Theo James and Andrew D. Corkin of the 2019 created production label, Untapped.

With a small indie feature film during pandemic pandemonium, the odds the cast and crew are downsized, probably meagerly paid, and limited by the pandemic-stricken environment and lack of funds.  “Alone With You” is just that film because at the principle lead is none other than Emily Bennett, one of half of the directing duo.  Bennett, who has a solid acting career with even a role alongside “The Devil’s Rejects’” Bill Moseley in the “House of the Witchdoctor,” gets cozy in her own two story apartment that suddenly becomes an ensnarement of unveiling and disturbing truth.  Bennett hits every level of descension without an immediate belief that something isn’t right with her surroundings.  Charlene takes multiple gradual hits of paranormal punches and Bennett executes her fear with great poise without any lopsidedness to give away too much too early that can sometimes kill momentum before the spookiness starts to really get good.  Through flashbacks and video calls, other actors interject moments of levity, different sides of tension, and, frankly, break up the Bennett monotony and from those brief moments, we get a sense of who Charlene is and a slither piece of her backstory.  The amazingly talented “Bliss” and “VFW” actress, Dora Madison, plays Charlene’s inebriated-uncouth friend Thea over a cell phone video call, zooming in is Charlene’s rightwing mother played by the ever versatile and extremely lovely Barbara Crampton, and, lastly, Emma Myles, in an unrecognizable role in contrast of a greasy haired addict and former Amish turned inmate performance in “Orange is the New Black,” is the always beyond arm’s length away love interest Simone.

What I like most of about “Alone With You” is the atmospherics of being in your safe, cozy place that has instantly turned in a prison of peripheral moving shadows, an invasion of privacy, and, most frighteningly of all with most millennials, none of the modern technology is working properly.  The story design feels extremely pushed toward a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle with no other areas in the apartment to explore other than the handful of main rooms and so we’re constantly in the bedroom, then living room, then front door, then basement, and then repeat for most of the 1 hour and 22 minute runtime but do you know what happens with that?  Bennett and Brooks strategize and outline the snowball of bad feelings inside the ominous compact, starting small and working up to a cacophony of madness to where Charlene is literally moving back and forth between truth and deception induced by being scared to shivers of her own apartment’s clad and taken for granted discomforts, such as the front door sometimes being stuck or the crying lady neighbor who you can hear clearly through the air register.  “Alone With You” fiddles with the theme of disconnection.  Here you have Charlene, a small town girl who moves into the big city, has discovered her sexuality, and has found a vocation that suits her to which all this change go against her mother’s approval, and she feels strongly attached, like an extension of herself, to girlfriend Simone and as the story progresses, we get the sense that not everything is lovey-dovey between the two and Charlene’s dependent world is slowly being severed.  Simple, yet effective, “Alone With You” is an undoing nightmare of personal happiness, a sentiment we all share and relate to during height of the pandemic.   

Now, we all suffer in Charlene’s insufferable loneliness and disconnection with the “Alone With You” DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. The region 1, dual layer DVD is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio of standard 480p resolution definition, but the DVD image renders nicely on screen with digital sharpness unaffected by any compression issues, especially with much of the space saving special effects coming in practical and mostly done in the editing room. The video calls vary in quality which is pleasantly dispersed to the appropriate electronic devise, i.e. television, phone, etc. Details are clearly there but only slightly softer around the edged delineation. Two audio tracks are available with an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 and a stereo 2.0, but the 5.1 track is an allocating alicorn for a low-budget DVD. Shawn Guffy and Nicole Pettigrew’s sound design is meticulously on point and on cue with every synchronous audio nudge to point Charlene in the right direction for another round of dread. The varying levels of the Phil Mossman’s soundtrack adds a blended flavor of melancholy and fear. Dialogue output renders clearly and cleanly with no issues. English SDH subtitles are available. DVD comes stocked with special features including a blooper reel, a bit of a waste of space on the deleted scene reel that doesn’t add much to either the character or story, a lengthy and in-depth filmmaker and cast interviews, a behind-the-scenes featurette of Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks remarking on the struggles of feature filming around their apartment during COVID spikes, and a director commentary with the duo. “Alone With You” has a heavy artsy side to it that can leave viewers wandering for answers but if pieced together, if paying close enough attention, the correlation between the story in the camera and the life behind the camera are really not terrifyingly different. One just happens to be more of a representation hyperbolized with terror of a crashing down reality than the other.

“Alone With You” on DVD at Amazon.com

EVIL is in the Eye of the Beholder! “Mansion of the Doomed” reviewed! (Full Moon / Blu-ray)

“Mansion of the Doomed” on Blu-ray.  Hold Onto Your Eyeballs!

In a stroke of irony, renowned optometrist surgeon Dr. Leonard Chaney had a car accident that accidently causes his young adult daughter permanent blindness.  Obsessed by guilt and determined for her to see again, Chaney moves toward a not only radical procedure but also unethical one of a full eye transplant.  The catch for this type of surgery to be successful is the eye has to be extracted from a living patient.  Unwilling to wait for a donor, Chaney employs every deceptive tactic to lure unwillingly healthy and beautiful globular organ donors into his dark basement where he drugs them unconscious, surgically plucks out their entire eyes, and leaves them locked in a cellar cage, blind and crudely healed with scar tissue but still alive.  With each failed attempt at restoring her eyesight, the reminders of his experiments linger down below, screaming in pain, and pleading for their lives.  Soon, those pleas will ultimately catch up to him. 

Before his fascination with mini-sized maniacs of killer animated toys and malicious experimental oddities, Charles Band used to produce other types of original horror and the “Mansion of the Doomed” was one of them.  The 1976 Frank Ray Perilli (“Dracula’s Dog,” “Alligator”) written and the “Dead & Buried” and “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” actor Michael Pataki directed mad surgeon “Mansion of the Doomed” was the first feature film Charles Band officially stamped his actual name onto along with father and western screenwriter, Albert Band, as financial executive producer.  While “Mansion of the Doom” is known by various other titles around the world – “Massacre Mansion,” “Eyes,” “Eyes of Dr. Chaney,” “House of Blood,” “Eyes of the Living Dead,” and “The Terror of Dr. Chaney” – the one aspect that the film is firm in is its Hancock Park and estate shooting location in Los Angeles as one of the very first features to come out of Charles Band Productions company.

Lance Henriksen.  You know name, right?  Sounds familiar, yes?  The “Aliens” and “Pumpkinhead” actor, hot off the success of “Dog Day Afternoon” with Al Pacino, begins his tour de force of horror and dark science fiction with the Pataki mad doctor eye opener.  Dr. Chaney uses his misguided experimental expertise first on Dr. Dan Bryan, played by Henriksen, after Dr. Bryan’s recent romantic relationship breakoff with the recently blind daughter of Dr. Chaney, Nancy (Trish Stewart).  Before he became the narrating voice in TV’s “Knight Rider,” the veteran actor Richard Basehart, who also had a role in the 1977 “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” became his own inhumane medical malpractice physician in Dr. Chaney.  Though Basehart makes for the epitome of a professional doctor, his performance was the weakest link in the cast’s locks that didn’t exhibit the stress and desperation of a man continuously exploiting and disfiguring people for his own personal guilt release.  The guilt was not compounding as much as the story wanted to suggest, but we feel more empathetic to Dr. Chaney’s longtime assistant in Gloria Grahame (“Blood and Lace,” “Mama’s Dirty Girls”) who we can see her character dissolve with each abducted patient and affected to the core by their sightless screams.  “Mansion of the Doomed” rounds out the cast with Al Ferrera (“Dracula’s Dog”), Marilyn Joi (“Black Samurai”), Donna Andersen, JoJo D’Amore (“Dracula’s Dog”), and Katherine Stewart.

Michael Pataki’s “Mansion of the Doomed” is an eye-peeling shocker that’s dark and grim to the core and has an eye for cynicism. I could keep the eye puns going but that would be too easy to pluck out. Perilli’s story is rather plainly spoken with not a lot of fluff diving into medical or procedural jargon to bore you down into a loss of interest. Instead, the good doctor character goes right to work getting his hands elbows deep into the eye sockets of his victims and that’s how this particular exploitation perfectly crafted the balance by tabling the under stimulating medicalese with caged disfigured patients left to live in agony. Where Pataki and Perilli faltered some is in the preface by skimming the surface of the Dr. Chaney caused accident that rendered Nancy blind when she face-planted right into the doctor’s windshield as he swerves to not runover a mutt. In driver’s ed, you’re supposed to hit the small animal that runs in front of you in order for these kinds of accidents don’t happen! Told in the inner thought of a flashback, the force between the two immovable objects shatters the glass but leaves Nancy unscathed physically yet, somehow, she loses her sight in both of her eyes and while Dr. Chaney is unable to best the blindness with everything the surgical optometrist throws at it, perhaps that’s the unsolvable mystery that beleaguers abashedly an expert at the summit of their excellence. ‘Mansion of the Doomed” is not a feel-good film as not one single character has a positive outcome and having lost more than just their sight but also, to name a couple, their humanity and their hope.

Uncut, restored, and remastered onto a new Blu-ray release, Full Moon Features re-release “Mansion of the Doomed” onto 1080p, full high definition, from the original 35mm negative. Source material held up over father time with a pristine 85-minute uncut transfer to retouch in a pop of color and refine the details in a softer, more airy-soft image, presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Full Moon offers two audio options available with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and a Dolby Digital 2.0 PCM. Though slightly staticky in the ambient and dialogue tracks, the balance works and is full-bodied around more essential scenes of surgery and the cries of anguish. Dialogue doesn’t sound overly boxy or hissy and the cult composer Robert O. Ragland’s (“Deep Space,” “Q”) classic orchestra score come across with a powerful range that speaks the scene without exposition. The region free Blu-ray has no extra features, leaving this release as a bare bone, feature only. “Mansion of the Doomed’s” harrowing ending induces stupefying blank stare and feels like a brick just walloped you in the face knowing that every pawn in this story loses at the hands of man disillusioned in playing God.

“Mansion of the Doomed” on Blu-ray.  Hold Onto Your Eyeballs!