Making a Horror Movie can be EVIL on the Health! “Stoker Hills” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Three film studies college students are eager to win their class’s short film contest with story idea Street Walkers, a genre blending horror movie that crosses “Pretty Woman” with “The Walking Dead.” On their first night of shooting, isolated on the empty streets of Stoker Hills, their actress and friend is suddenly abducted right before their camera lens and instantly give chase without a second to call the authorities, falling right into the maniac’s nightmarish world. Left behind for two detectives is the students’ tell-all camera, leaving behind the recording as the only clue into tracking down their undisclosed whereabouts and stopping the kidnapping-killer. As the detectives home in on the killer’s lair, only hours are left before a determined and desperate madman drains every single drop of their youthful blood for a deadly selfish cause.

Director Benjamin Louis and “Stoker Hills” want you to believe in their compelling and bloody slasher narrative of periled college students fighting for their lives against a formidable, resilient killer while two resolute detectives sniff out the mystery of their disappearance before it’s too late. However, in “Stoker Hills,” nothing is as it appears to be. As the first feature script penned and produced by Jonah Kuehner, the “State’s Evidence” director, Benjamin Louis, coproduces the sheeny cinematic slasher that hits upon almost every known trope in the book by incorporating a backwoods nook, a torturous rec room, and foggy night underneath a vividly complete full moon into a story that’s one part found footage and one part cop thriller. Benjamin and cinematographer John Orphan (“The Black String”) do a phenomenal job crafting away from a Los Angeles look and into an unrecognizable, any-town-America by shooting at the dead of night in L.A.’s low-lit surrounding areas of Griffith Park and the Angeles National Forrest without focusing in on or revealing well-known landmarks. “Wildling’s” Rab Butler and Timothy Christian coproduces the 2020 teen-mystery slasher.

“Stoker Hills” begins very much in the same way as my last review of Seth Landau’s “Bryan Loves You” with a deep-in-character production by the great Tony Todd (“Candyman”) as a film studies professor. Instead of warning audiences to look away if frightened or to be ushered out of the theater when shocked beyond just stomaching the content, Todd’s professor of cinema is passionate and enthusiastic about what great filmmaking and the auteurs who wield their work upon the world. However, much like “Bryan Loves You,” Tony Todd only dabbles into the narrative with a superficial house role that opens the doors for Ryan (David Gridley, “The Unhealer”), Jake (Vince Hill-Bedford, “Sorority Slaughterhouse”), and Erica (Steffani Brass, “Ted Bundy”), three slackjaw, maybe even indolent, students eager to take “The Walking Dead” and turn it into a “Pretty Woman” romance comedy known as “Street Walkers.” The concept is no Guillermo del Toro or Martin Scorsese, but nonetheless barely sates the professor’s threadbare faith in the three’s semester-ending grade. Along the way, we’re introduced laterally to character who will eventually be integrated into the story later and at a state of prominence to the mystery, such as with fellow star student Dani Brooks (television actress Tyler Clark) and her university benefacting donor Dr. Jonathan Brooks (John Beasley, “The Purge: Anarchy”). “Stoker Hills” also isn’t entirely linear as the footage soon appears to be corrupted only to be on pause by two officers investigating the case and analyzing the video. William Lee Scott (“Identity”) and Eric Etebari (“Scream at the Devil”) play the high-blood pressure, blue collar, family-man Detective Bill Stafford and a sophisticated bachelor and quasi-Rain man Detective Adams respectively. The Scott and Etebari cop drama show entertains as less CSI and more NYPD Blue or Law & Order with a conspicuous partner correlation only to be separated by adding snippets of out of context humanity, such as why Adam’s is a loner and Stafford hates changing baby diapers. Powerful stuff. Each character is connected to “Stoker Hills'” antagonist, Charles Muyer (Jason Sweat), who’s been abducting young, healthy people off the streets and into his vacant buildings of intravenous drips of blood into a milk crate-based cylinder beaker tube. Thomas R. Martin, Joy McElveen, Maya Nucci, Michael Faulkner, and “Eraser’s” Danny Nucci round out the cast.

Director Benjamin Louis cherry picks the best traits from a triad of genres to smush together into one trope-tastic “Stoker Hills”  A lumbering mute killer bred to annihilate in his nihilism from the slasher genre, two dedicated detectives determined to catch a killer and able to snoop out clues out of nothing that’s familiar toward the cop drama genre, and a pair of brosefs, who dude each other in every other line of dialogue no matter if it’s joshing in film studies class or being chased harrowingly through the woods and having their foot snagged in the teeth of a beartrap, pulling from the pot-smoking and arrogant hijinks of two immature college aged guys usually hovering around the teen comedy category.  All the actors really get into their parts to the point of a fault in creating a bogus, simulated environment as if a knockoff matrix, coded by naive aliens who know nothing of the human race other than watching “American Pie,” “Law & Order,” and every Renaissance era slasher film, is being pulled over the eyes. The whole ordeal that has a context surrounding Charles Muyer’s bad pig heart is also grossly under kneaded and bordering nonsensical until the ending. That game changing ending spooled by meta wiring puts in perspective every last minute of the well-paced 91-minute film, and when the narrative quickly closes upon itself and fades to black into the credits, every scene previously pondered and examined, crisscrossed into a mental algorithm that breaks down character arcs and progression devices, and spits out answers like an Amazon Alexa has suddenly last all its calculated determination in a snap of a flash. Kudos to “Stoker Hills'” screenwriter Jonah Kuehner for conceiving an overtreated trope decoy story and kudos to director Benjamin Louis in pulling the wool over our eyes without flinching or showing his cards too early.

Everybody run for “Stoker Hills” and become caught up in a diabolical twist that’ll deflate the suspense out of you but also leave you pleasantly surprised. 101 Films released this film last month, March 28th, on digital platforms. Since “Stoker Hills” is solely a digital release from UK distributor, there are no audio or video specs to note or review. Aforementioned, John Orphan helms the “Stoker Hills” noir and no-nonsense veneer which is and also the minor league Jigsaw traps are very “Saw”-like, even down to peppering certain scenes with over illuminating primary color gels if by spotlight. Roc Chen, a profound composer for China over the last decade, notes a less than impactful score in what could be considered more run of the mill material, but that also could play into the whole narrative twist. There were no bonus features available with the film nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. At first glance, “Stoker Hills” treads over the same worn trodden path of slasher predecessors, but then the finale hits like a five-finger slap in the face from Will Smith and, suddenly, everybody could be, should be, and will be talking about “Stoker Hills'” gripping gambit.

EVIL Masked as a Religion. “Bryan Loves You” reviewed! (MVD / Blu-ray)

All New Blu-ray release of “Bryan Loves You” on Amazon.com

Something weird is spreading across a small Arizona town.  A chapter of a new religion has influenced most of the community into believing in Bryan, a pure and pious young boy from long ago who was brutally slain by the devil.  Jonathan, a local psychotherapist receives a camera from his uncle, also a health professional, with a self-recording that warns Jonathan that Bryan zealots are a dangerous, violent cult.  Deciding to document the situation himself, Jonathan repurposes the camera to clandestinely record the widespread Bryan gatherings and even infiltrate their church where they speak in tongues and wear the scarred mask of Bryan.  As Jonathan goes deeper into the uncomfortable insanities of Bryan’s world, the more Bryan followers takes an interest in reconditioning Jonathan. 

“Bryan Loves You’s” grainy SOV pseudo-documentary lacquer not only captures the icy blank stares, the unabating drone chanting, and the brainwashed coup of an insidious cult assimilating small town America, but the Seth Landau written and directed film also homogenously captures, all too presently well, that sense of ambivalent and conspiracy dread that knots apprehension uncomfortably in the pit of the stomach.  The 2008 released “Bryan Loves You” has the story set in 1993 Arizona made out to be a historical home video and CCTV recorded account of the analyzed and dissected suppressed footage coming to light for the first time incomplete with censored last nights and specific addresses to make the pseudo-doc appear more genuine and shocking.  Filmed in and around the suburbs of Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona, “Bryan Loves You” is a found footage subgenre production self-produced by Mike Mahoney and Seth Landau, under the filmmaker’s Landau Motion Pictures, and marks the debut feature film of Landau’s humble career that started roughly around 2003 as a production assistant on “Arrested Development.”

For the average popcorn movie goer, “Bryan Loves You” is about obscure as they come with a no-name director and a cast with relatively no-name actors with the exception of one that might have a chance of recognition by the common Joe Schmo.  Old heads may recognize George Wendt, one of the barflies from the sitcom “Cheers” and the Saturday Night Live sketch of Super Fans, in his brief and strange scene as a patient holding a doll that speaks to him about people who talk about him.  For chin-deep genre fans, Wendt is about the biggest A-lister you can have in an indie film and what’s unusual about “Bryan Loves You” is the stacked list of iconic made-by-horror names that make up the cast list.  It’s impressive.  Landau’s connection to the late great master of horror Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator”) opened the door to George Wendt, who starred in Gordon’s “King of the Ants,” and, likely, led to the onboarding fan favorites such as Brinke Stevens (“The Slumber Party Massacre”), Tiffany Shepis (“Tromeo and Juliet”), Lloyd Kaufmann (“The Toxic Avenger”), Daniel Roebuck (“The Devil’s Rejects”), Chuck Williams (“Demon Wind”), and Tony Todd (“Candyman”).  Now, with these many names, none of them have starring roles and few have reoccurring scenes, but they are headlined to draw attraction for “Bryan Loves You.”  Honestly, the performances are hardly worth nothing.  Steves and Kaufmann have little dialogue and are shot at weird angles that makes them hardly recognizable.  Best scenes go to Tony Todd as a hesitantly disturbed and full of fear narrator standing in an empty board room and talking directly into the camera about what we, the audience, are about to witness, even directing viewers to turn away or to be ushered out of the theater (did this get a theatrical release?) if the content becomes too shocking to behold.  Seth Landau stars as the principal lead Jonathan who can’t be taken seriously as a psychoanalyst as there is no depth to the character in those regards.  Plus, as someone who’s supposed to uphold ethical standards, Jonathan breaks quite a few HIPPA regulations and breaks into houses with a camera, filming Bryan acolytes without their consent.  “Bryan Loves You” rounds out the cast with Tori King, Candy Stanton (“Exit to Hell”), Shane Stevens (“The Graves”), Jilon VanOver (“Bad Blood”), Tom Noga (“Anonymous Killers”), Jesse Ramiawi, Jacqui Allen (“Blue Lake Butcher”) and Daniel Schweiger (“Die-ner”)

Seth Landau’s found footage cult film is a rough cut of rudimentary psychological suspense restrained by its limiting low-ceiling budget.  The acutely hard cut editing and wonky framing is enormously puzzling within the narrative’s supposed single camera source documentary structure that suddenly diffuses into being a splice between Jonathan’s camera, which he loses halfway through the story, and a bunch of randomly placed CCTV footage across all of Arizona, in which some scenes are randomly placed in the desert where no structures are seemingly present to house a camera.  Who gathered and edited all this multi-video footage together?  Or does that play into the mystery, no matter how illogical, of adding to “Bryan Loves You’” unsettling allure?  What Landau does accomplish compares closely to what directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick were able to profoundly achieve with their unexpected breakout found footage blockbuster, “The Blair Witch Project.”  Now, I’m not saying “Bryan Loves You” had the audience gasping power as the “The Blair Witch Project” but the air in the story still feels very uncomfortably still, like in holding your breath, because something sinister is closing in and that type of disturbing presence, coupled with the erratic demonic behavior boiled to the surface if love for the almighty Bryan is absent, is all too relatable in today’s political climate.

Though “Bryan Loves You,” MVD Visual really loves Bryan right back with a high-definition Blu-ray release, remastered and upscaled from the original master source, a digital recorded standard definition, with an approved up-conversion of 172,800 pixels to over 2 million pixels per frame to achieve full HD.  For SOV, the handheld cam footage turns out more detailed than expected with suitable tinctures that are often less vivid in the found footage genre; however, there are still varying levels of quality from lower quality posterization to better than mid-grade delineation.  Though stated as presented in a widescreen 1:78:1 aspect ratio on the MVD Marquee Collection back cover, the actual ratio is a pillarbox 1:33:1 without straying from that display. The English language dual channel stereo track also has varying fidelity levels using the inconsistency of a built-in handheld mic but the good bones behind the range and depth retain the natural auditory proportionate. A few augmented audio tracks are snuck in for effect, such as the preacher’s demon-speak and the school PA system. English subtitles are optional. With a new Blu-ray release comes all new special features with a few short film-length interviews between filmmaker Seth Landau and George Wendt (44:50 minutes), Tiffany Shepis (50:49 minutes), Daniel Roebuck (59:35 minutes), and Brinke Stevens (31:46 minutes) touching upon more than just “Bryan Loves You” but also various career moments and other media cultural topics. Also featured are two commentaries: a 2008 commentary with Landau, select cast and crew, and JoBlo critic James Oster and a new 2022 commentary with only Landau. Plus, a brand new 2022 theatrical trailer. “Bryan Loves You” draws parallels to the 1993 Waco, Texas cult led by David Koresh of the Davidian sect preaching fire and brimstone, but writer-director-product Seth Landau adds his own supernatural concoction in a trade-in of doom and gloom for mindless devotion and diabolism that turns folks into followers and flesh-hungry fiends at times. Maybe not the prime cut of the cult genre but does stand out even if you don’t really love “Bryan.”

All New Blu-ray release of “Bryan Loves You” on Amazon.com

EVIL is Undead…And Rides a Shark! “Sky Sharks” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

Former Nazi scientist Dr. Klaus Richter’s past has finally caught up with him after 70 years when a clandestine German laboratory, disguised as an aircraft-battleship hybrid, thaws from behind a globally warmed sheet of frozen ice and rock, releasing Dr. Richter’s regenerated legion of undead Nazi super-soldiers piloting genetically engineered flying battle sharks complete with guided missiles alongside their razor sharp jaws.  Loyal to the Third Reich, the sky sharks continue their master race patronage with a blitzkrieg in the skies, attacking commercial aircraft, boarding the cabins, and slaughtering every last person on board before crashing.   Now contractually working for the U.S. Government as the biggest name in technological advancement, Dr. Klaus, with the help of his two daughters, has a plan to nullify the sky sharks’ defenses to make them vulnerable to his latest newest experiment in warfare, Dead Flesh, under the guidance of his fellow covert government agency heads.

Apex predators of the waters are now apex predators of the skies in Marc Fehse’s ridiculous, frenzied, and utterly mad ultra-violent Nazi-exploitation, “Sky Sharks.” Soaring through the heavens soaking fluffy white clouds with blood, the Carsten Fehse and A.D. Morel co-written film took off virally in 2020 with the promise to the internet, especially horror fans, of zombified SS soldiers mounted standing on humungous Great White, Hammerhead, and Megalodon jet-propelled sharks. Fehse’s team delivered. “Sky Sharks” has not one single serious bone in all it’s cartilaginous gory-glory body in what’s Fehse’s second film behind the 1999, straight to video, “Mutation” involving the what-if factor of a surrealistically free reigning and sadistically unbridled Nazi force hellbent on winning World War II no matter how many lives needing to be sacrificed for the sake of the Führer’s dominion. The Germany-made production is a Fuse Box Films and Fantom Films.

“Sky Sharks” is studded with cult stars, but those studs pop out mostly after the carnage-laden opening scene of passengers on a commercial flight being ripped to shreds by undead super-soldiers hog-wild about killing. Robert LaSardo (“Strangeland”), Lynn Lowery (“Model Hunger”), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Diana Prince (“The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs”), Mick Garris (director of “Critters 2”), Dave Sheridan (“Scary Movie”), Amanda Bearse (“Fright Night” ’85), Asami (“Gun Woman), Naomi Grossman (“American Horror Story” franchise), Lar Park-Lincoln (“Friday the 13th Part VII:  The New Blood”) and “Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, make an appearance in some minor way, shape, or form, but since “Sky Sharks” is a German production, much of the cast is geared toward German and Austrian actors with Thomas Morris spearheading the lead role of the inverted mad scientist, Dr. Klaus Richter, a centenarian mastermind behind the birth and, hopeful, destruction of his monstrous airborne jaws of death experiment.  The role itself isn’t very exciting that refrains Morris to be nothing more but a talking head who recounts his failed World War II and Vietnam resurrection serum to turn the tides of war.  While Dr. Richter has immense blood on his hands from a long and rich background, the present day Richter has lackluster appeal and Morris doesn’t provide much zest either.  More complexities reside in Richter’s two tech-savvy and kickass daughters, Diabla and Angelique.  Their signifying names alone provide some foreshadowing of events, but the close sisters are boots on the ground with their father being the eye in the sky; yet, Diabla and Angelique have been kept in the dark from their father’s horrid past that factors little into parting ways from being daughter’s little girls.  Blonde beauties Eva Haberman and Barbara Nedeljakova successful roles in Germany and the U.S. include “Hostel” and the sci-fi tele-series “Lexx,” but their blind obedience to the patriarch roles downscales any moments to shine individually as free thinking agents of good.  Any other character factored into “Sky Sharks’” whiplash narrative come and go without a single ounce meaningful impact becoming background noise for the fray. There’s not even a singular villain to speak of as a focal point to direct a challenger against forces of good.

As much as the concept excites me on an obscurely dysfunctional level, a real telling tale of who I am as a person, who also praises “Snakes on a Plane” as cult candy, “Sky Sharks” has atrocious issues with pacing and story quality.  The opening scene sets up what to expect of gore drenched Nazis yoking back on genetically mutated sharks, zipping through high altitude to acrobatically infiltrate commercial planes for complete and total annihilation of every passenger onboard.  Tickles me in all the right places.  Yet, the sky sharks’ unveiling background whizzes past right into death from above world apocalypse, skipping keynote details resolving the giant warship beached on the Antarctic ice.  Fehse decides to redirect our focus with a bunch of explicit violence and sex and while that’s all nice and good…really good…the misdirection can’t coverup the necessities needed for a good story even if the story is absolutely bonkers. The visual effects are not distinct from the ream of shark-sploitation films that have become popular over the last decade in a cheaper slaved effort to capitalize on the majestic beasts of the sea…who sometimes mistake a surfer for a sea lion. The flying sharks swim in a stiffly pattern and move inorganically through their uncharacteristic ecosystem as they rocket in a school of steampunk nightmares. Not all visuals fall short of satisfaction when they’re appropriately blended with practical effects. Under that hood of tangible horrors is “Iron Sky: The Coming Race’s” Martin Schäper and, the legendary, Tom Savini, who we haven’t seen special effects work from since 2012’s “Death from Above” (an also fitting title for killer sharks in the sky). Schäper and Savini bring it with blood. Each plane sequence, there’s two of them, exhibit different deaths with each one more outrageous than the next. My favorite is the inverted periscope through a guy’s cranium and having a looksie at the screaming, bloodied passengers. “Sky Sharks” is, literally, an over-the-top scream of slice’em and dice’em fun.

Cresting through the blue yonder and painting the sky blood red is the deadliest gang of shark riding Nazi’s to ever grace a cinema platform in “Sky Sharks,” coming to DVD in Australia, no stranger to large, deadly sharks, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment in association with Raven Banner. The NTSC encoded, region 4, rated R release will present the film in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. “Sky Sharks” is a turbulent wonderland of rustic computer generated visual effects with a Marco J. Riedl and Olaf Markmann cinematography, typifying a clashing style, of keeping actors tightly in focus to sell a futuristic fluorescent environment. A few scenes give a sense of layered paper mâché sitting in front a green screen as the forefront images seemingly pop out of their backdrops. The English and German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix falls victim to an overpowering score of a weak dialogue track that washes key pieces of exposition that might explain more as the scenes fleet away in the rushed paced 103 minute runtime. Aside from a brilliantly detailed DVD cover robust with a glowing eyed, half-decaying Nazi soldier as centerpiece amongst flying, weaponized sharks and Robert LaSardo and Lynn Lowry cameoing off to the left side with a half-naked female warrior on the right, the DVD has no bonus features included. After the credits, a fake commercial for “Sky Frogs,” starring that half-naked female warrior I just mentioned, is a satirical happy ending full of even worse, 80’s caliber, visual effects worlds and frogs. Though not at the top of the food chain being one of the grossly ostentatious and shoddily visual effects films ever, the mindless, search and destroy, crudeness of “Sky Sharks” chums our oceans of entertainment with some of the bloodiest fun we’ve seen in a long time from a Nazisploitation.

Own Umbrella Entertainment release of “Sky Sharks” on DVD! Click the poster!

Evil Isn’t Home. “Death House” review!


Top law enforcement agents, Boon and Novak, achieve special access through steep sacrifice during job assignments and are permitted to tour their upcoming placement in the highly exclusive Death House, the ultimate maximum and multi-level penitentiary home to the nastiest criminals known to society and the deadly threat to mankind in a metaphysical way. Death Houses uses virtual reality to keep inmates stimulated to the point of calm submission as well as drugging the homeless and the unwanted to supply killers with victims upon victims in an their personalized virtual surroundings, but when an outsider uses an EMP to knock out all power within the facility, the cages are open and the ruthless animals are free to overrun, beating to death the guards and staff. Boon and Novak must fight their way to the bottom level that hold the Five Evils, criminals with grotesque supernatural abilities and a wickedly grisly past, where the two agents believe the Evils are their best hope for survial against a Five Evils acolyte named Sieg and his faithful jailhouse followers.

Considered as “The Expandables” of horror, “Death House” had gained almost instant fandom solely from the long-list of horror icons in the cast. Director B. Harrison Smith (“Camp Dread”) re-writes most of Gunnar Hansen’s original “Death House” story produced by Cleopatra Entertainment and Entertainment Factory. Cleopatra Entertainment is more notably a music label that has delved into films the last few years and, in my opinion, haven’t faired positively in the horror genre, but “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” star fought tooth and nail to try and get his script off the ground, even in the face of death. “Death House” saw release after Hansen’s death, but from interviews with the filmmakers, Smith had almost totally revamped the original treatment, leaving The Evil’s at Hansen’s request if his script was to be entirely cleaned. Shot right in this reviewer’s backyard of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the historic Eastern State Penitentiary, the defunct prison is an ideal location as the “Death House” due in part to John Haviland’s separate cell design and gritty appeal that was once of the home of Al Capone, but more of the focus is on the interior than exterior with green scenes and Los Angeles shots constructing the story-lined scenes.

Like aforementioned, “Death House” has been called the “The Expendables” of horror. An immense, if not soaked, cast of horror fan favorites are peppered about around the main characters of Agent Boon and Novak. “Sushi Girl” and “Zombeavers” star Courtney Palm embodies the Agent Boon character with G-man toughness, but finds difficulty leaving that b-horror mentality with shakiness in working climatic scenes. Palm’s also roped into doing an extremely gratuitous shower scene with Cody Longo (“Piranha 3D”) as Agent Novak. Novak’s a hotshot and Longo has the looks and the talent to out perform his character, but Smith’s script doesn’t do justice to either Boon or Novak’s character that blatantly underwhelms their performances with cameo star power and a shoddy narrative. Dee Wallace (“Cujo”), Barbara Crampton {“Re-Animator”), and Kane Hodder (“Jason Goes to Hell”) have prominent roles that are pertinent to the story and are enjoyable to see them in more of a supporting capacity. Andrenne Barbeau {“The Fog”), Sid Haig (“The Devil’s Rejects”), Vernon Wells (“The Road Warrior”), Bill Moseley {“The Devil’s Rejects”), Lloyd Kaufman (Mr. Troma), Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Eyes”), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Sean Whalen (“The People Under the Stairs”), Debbie Rochon (“Killer Rack”), Bill Oberst Jr. (“Deadly Revisions”), Felissa Rosa (“Sleepaway Camp”), Danny Trejo (“Machete”), Tiffany Shepis (“Abominable”), Brinke Stevens (“The Slumber Party Massacre”), Camille Keaton (“I Spit On Your Grave”), Gunnar Hansen (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and R.A. Mihailoff (“Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). Whew. Rounding out the remaining cast is Lindsay Harley (“Nightmare Nurse”), Vincent M. Ward (“The Walking Dead”), and Bernhard Forcher.

While the genre star-studded ensemble cast is a wet dream for horror fans, “Death House” fails in numerous filmmaking categories with the first being the most important, the script. Smith’s re-work of Hansen’s original story requires another drastic once-over, or two, as the final result attempts to push, stuff, and cram 100 lbs of multi-subgenre elements into a 10 lb, inflexible bag, cramping the ambitious project with dis-connective storyline tissue braced together with shoddy visual effects, like the two agents free-falling down a bottomless elevator shaft and able to precisely shoot their targets on each level. The overall result of “Death House” just endures an unfinished varnish and seems slapped together with pre-schooler glue and claggy spit. Singular moments surface as diamond specks amongst cubic zirconias, like the Mortal Kombat fatality-esque practical effects, but are too far and in between to muster up an enjoyable film. The Five Evils definitely and desperately needed more presence in the story instead of just flexing the talking heads muscle; well, the only two Evils to say anything at all were Bill Moseley and Vernon Wells. The Five Evils didn’t quite have that oomph to be a force to be dealt with as Gold-described beings who philosophical interpretations on the concept of good and evil.

Cleopatra Entertainment and MVDVisual present B. Harrison Smith’s long-anticipated “Death House” onto DVD home video. The unrated, all-region DVD is presented in a widescreen format that displays some frayed flaws like contrast; there’s way too much inky black in the dark scenes and little-to-no definition in more visible sequences. The compression suffers from blotchy artefacts at times too and lacks hues, which works with the gritty tone inside the Eastern State Penitentiary’s decomposing walls of rubble and decay. Visual effects are glossy with virtually no textures to give detail or, essentially, life amongst the continuous death. Bonus features include multiple interviews with director B. Harrison Smith, Courtney Palm, and more. Also included is a behind-the-scenes feather, a gallery slideshow, and theatrical trailer. Despite being true to the title and highly anticipated since it’s inception into the public market, “Death House” ultimately disappointments as an unfurnished mess enlisted with big names in the horror domain that’ll unfairly sell the film on it’s own, but all-star cameos won’t establish “Death House” as a solidified cult favorite, being unfortunately one of the biggest release flops of 2018.

In the Shadows, Evil Awaits to Rule. “Shadowbuilder” review!


In the fight against pure evil, the Catholic church trains champions to battle against the forces of hell and all that is unholy. Father Jacob Vassey is one of those very champions. The man of the cloth who wields dual 9mm handguns and has a penchant for penancing through the act of self-righteous wrongdoing in the name of Church and of God. When an treacherously evil Archbishop summons a shadow builder to undo all of God’s creation on Earth, Father Vassey pursues the demon to the small town of Grand River in search for a hunted pure soul; the demon tracks down young Chris Hatcher whose been through a sign of God’s passion, the stigmata, and is the key to demon’s ultimate goal. Once the shadow builder has collected enough souls and has laid sacrifice to the boy, the demon will reverse the creation of God, humanity will cease to exist, and the world would be ripe for restructuring at the whim of one of hell’s most demented minions. Humanity’s last hope lies with Father Vassey, a local sheriff, Chris’s veterinarian aunt, and the town loon to bring forth light toward the prospect of a dark and gloomy apocalypse.

“Shadowbuilder” is the 1998 apocalyptic horror film from director Jamie Dixon, steering his sole major production from a high octane and progressive anecdotal script by “Iron Eagle IV” screenwriter Michael Stokes and produced by Imperial Entertainment, who delivered some great films like “The Bikini Carwash Company” and The Bikini Carwash Company II.” Based off the short story in the “Under the Sunset” collection by Bram Stoker (author of “Dracula”), “Shadowbuilder” expands, develops, and morbidly seduces around Stoker’s tale that doesn’t necessary implement a Universal Studio’s “The Mummy” like tale progression and design, telling of a weak, yet venomous creature feeding on souls or people in order to regain world destruction strength. Stokes script goes right into the action with Vassey’s hunt for the beguiled Archbishop and the way Vassey is introduced is absolute 1990’s gold: a priest armed with two handguns with laser sights. Studios don’t make films like this anymore! Rivals as one of those films that has a doppleganger, like “Deep Impact” and “Armaggeddon” that coincidentally came out the same year as “Shadowbuilder. “End of Days” is that doppleganger film as the two share unholy similarities of a citizen of hell on a mission to sacrifice a human for above ground dominance.

No actor could pull off properly the gun-toting and shrewd role of a haunted and troubled priest that is Father Jacob Vassey. No actor except Michael Rooker (“Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer” and “The Walking Dead”). Rooker’s gravel pit voice is inarguably his best trademark trait that nails extra tension into the substantially bleak and world-ending situation; a tone that carries enormous weight and Rooker’s natural vocal gift, along with his lip snarling, square chin and piss-offstare, earns the actor to be the well armed and dangerous man of the cloth. “Bruiser’s” Leslie Hope joins Rooker as the Veterinarian aunt and the film’s love interest, but not of Father Vassey. Instead, the love interest belongs to the local town sheriff, Sam Logan, played by Shawn Thompson. Hope and Thompson’s on-screen chemistry can’t seem to puncture through as it’s defined as back burner material, overshadow by Vassey’s unwavering pursuit of the demon and the frantic search for the boy, Kevin Zegers (“Dawn of the Dead” remake), through the muck of the shadow builder’s poisoning of the town upstanding morality and ethics. Rounding out the cast is Andrew Jackson as the shadow builder, Hardee T. Lindeham (“Survival of the Dead”), Catherine Bruhier, and genre vet Tony Todd (“Candyman”).

“Shadowbuilder” is by far a perfect horror film. Dixon, new to directing, dives into the infancy stages of CGI and, for the most part, the turnout pans out with the effects despite being slight crude around the edges. Stokes script puts story development right into the fast lane and doesn’t let off the gas so if you walk out of the room for a coke and return, you’ll miss something pivotal. The design works well to keep up the pace for a story that has a lot to tell and to not give the viewers a chance to piecemeal pick apart a teetering concept. One aspect that really tilts toward the negative is actually Tony Todd’s performance as the town crazy, a one-eyed Rastafarian named Evert Covey who is completely aware of the demon’s presence, but goes unexplained. Todd sells crazy, and sells it really well, but the lack of exposition into purpose plunders the character into outside the lines oblivion that begs the question, why is this character here? A guess would place Covey as a means to keep the lights running as he’s some sort of convivial, jerry-rigging mechanic.

MVD Visuals Rewind Collection label sports a special edition Blu-ray of Bram Stoker’s “Shadowbuilder.” The 1080p resolution is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Despite the the 1080p resolution that aims to bring a little more detail to the fold, the coloring on the transfer is quite faded with considerable noise that’s hard to ignore, but while the noise is underfoot it doesn’t necessarily cripple “Shadowbuilder’s” ominous and foreboding vehicle. The CGI looks better than expected being an early model from the millennial transition into more prominiment animation in the turn of the century. The English uncompressed 2.0 PCM sound track passes muster, leaving dialogue rightfully forefront and substantial ambience as support. Bonus features include a nifty poster insert, a visual effects tour, and a making of featurette with interviews that include with the director Jamie Dixon, screenwriter Michael Stokes, the demon himself, Andrew Jackson, and Tony Todd. Kevin Zegers has his own featurette, a commentary director Jamie Dixon, and the theatrical trailer alongside MVD trailers for other Rewind Collection films. Michael Rooker, Tony Todd, and a demon. A winning combination reamed with apocalyptic mayhem, destruction, and undiluted carnage and up on a pedestal with on the eclectic MVD Rewind Collection.

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