Neighborly Isn’t In EVIL’s Vocabulary in “Red Letter Day” reviewed! (Dread and MVDVisual / Blu-ray)


A divorce lands Melanie Edwards and her two teenage children, Madison and Tim, to redefine their live a new and quiet suburban community called Aspen Ridge. While adjusting to their new normal and becoming acquainted with their new neighbors, the Edwards receive a mysterious red letter in the mail, calling for each person to kill a neighbor from an algorithm, created by a masked anarchist group named The Unknown, has vied them against by working from the parameters set to calculate each individuals’ polar opposite personal, political, or religious beliefs. Every resident in Aspen Ridge has received a red letter with the same instructions that mounts tension amongst friends and neighbors until, eventually, all hell breaks loose and it’s kill or be killed.

Welcome to part one of my unofficial independent horror films out of Canada series where we take a look at Cameron Macgowan’s written and directed 2019 horror-comedy, “Red Letter Day.” Filmed entirely in Calgary, Alberta providence, Macgowan and his production crew claim numerous AirBnB rentals to exact the sleepy, suburban, sanctuary to instill the murderous wrath that simmers just beneath the surface of every mild-manner person living next door, seething with contrasting opinions and beliefs. As a sort of a permission granted for carnage, “Red Letter Day” aims to set itself a part from the typical archetypes that hide the horror in the dark shadows and obscured corners with a bright and sunny morning melee armed with shotguns, baseball bats, sledgehammers, and a kitchen knife with a transfixed cooked chicken on it. “Red Letter Day” is a product of Macgowan’s Calgary, Alberta based production company, Awkward Silencio” in association with Tanda Films.

“Red Letter Day” focuses around the Edwards family who have just gone through the trials and tribulations of divorce proceedings, settling into their new surroundings with relative ease in Madison finding love with an older boy, Tim rounding out a routine, and their mother Melanie shaping a safe haven environment as a soft cushion for her children from the spoils of her ex-husband, but their ease comes with some conventional teenager microscopic social nuisances beneath the surface that places the barely adult Madison as a defiant outlier and the 17-year old, almost in adulthood, Tim as a clinching mama’s boy. All the breakdowns of their everyday life becomes superficial and, at the same time, becomes thought provoking on how they view themselves as a family when a domestic terrorist group invokes hunting season on the neighbors to kill their specific opposite of themselves. Dawn Van de Schoot (“Ice Blue”) steps into a role she’s relatively familiar with in being the mother, Melanie, and while Van de Schoot is perfect as the down to Earth, cool mom with some loose ground rules and sizes up tolerably being a proactive mother, her overall performance is shaky at best as she never finds solid ground in the malicious circumstances that are unfolding around her. Despite being a good chunk of exposition, there isn’t much on-screen friction between Melanie and her daughter, Madison, played by Hailey Foss making her feature film debut. Foss well walks the shoes of a naïve and expressively angst teen that unfortunately does cross beyond that as her character is written to almost physically fade out of the story with an inaptitude toward re-bonding with her mother. The introduction as Kaeleb Zain Gartner as kind of a dorky, smart-mouthed, but overall nice kid, Tim, is perhaps the better of the three character and performance to not only be written as a dependent driven millennial who musters up an ounce of strength to defend his mother, but also acted well by Gartner’s boyish charm. Together, the three less inexperienced actors harness the story enough to push it forward, even if that bind is attached by a thread. Rounding out “Red Letter Day” is Roger LeBlanc (“Painkillers”), Arielle Rombough, Michael Tan, Peter Strand Rumpel (“Devil in the Dark”), and “Friday the 13th Part V’s” Tiffany Helm in a religiously passionate cameo.

“Red Letter Day” could be construed as an interesting social experiment if people were given the freedom to carry out their anger on another person due to their conflicting ideologies. The film feels very much like a part of a small world portion of “The Purge” universe in a sense that the premise allows individuals to blow off resenting steam in the most old testament way: murder. Being that the story’s setting locale is in Canada, a typecast for welcoming benevolence, adds to the already dark and dry humor charm director Cameron Macgowan has applied to his script paralleled with some terrific gory prosthetic work from Stacey Wegner (“Decoys 2: Alien Seduction”) involving a bloodbath drenched meat fork through the neck and a gnarly split down the middle jaw courtesy of a meat tenderizer, adding yet another layer of subtle comedy with household items turned into melee weapons. Macgowan’s adamancy about practical effects hones in on the fork to the neck and a prologue kill scene involving a shotgun being the only two scenes to receive a VFX treatment by adding touches of gore components to sensationally sell the effect and the result is simply and effective complement to the scene without the visual effect grossly absorbing the moment with an indelicate cringe of an ornate polish that becomes the unintended main focus. With a runtime of just 76 minutes, “Red Letter Day” jockeys right out of the gate in this don’t-mess-with-mama bear fighting frenzy.

Presented by Dread, “Red Letter Day” finds home onto a Blu-ray home video distributed by MVDVisual. The region free release is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the digital image has no obvious imperfections or color obstacles to hurdle over in this vividly detailed hi-def release. The cinematography by Rhett Miller poises a neighborly atmosphere of a bright and sunny picturesque community in the throes uncuffed chaos. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound displays a well-balanced layer between dialogue, ambience, and soundtrack with the dialogue in the forefront. Considering the material, range isn’t a big factor into the film’s repertoire built into the story, but is sufficient to pass with minor edits of videogame jingles, various gun shots, and a few whacks with a sledgehammer or meat tenderizer. This also translate well into the depth that some of the acts happen offscreen up or down stairs in these community’s houses and that’s reflected properly as well along with the minor random acts of implied violence in the distance outside. Bonus features includes a commentary by director Cameron Macgowan, a make-of documentary that charts pre-production through post-production with cast and crew interviews, an interview with Tiffany Helm who recollects her filmic career, and Dread trailers. File “Red Letter Day” as a social media thriller bordering on an episodic premise similar to that of “Black Mirror” that infuses technology with the deinstitutionalize of ethical niceties and neighborly good deed for miscreant terror and murdering.

“Red Letter Day” is on Blu-ray and Included in Prime Video!

Evil Sows With Others’ Body Fluids! “DIS” review!


Ariel Konk, A former soldier fleeing from his regrettable past, seeks refuge in an isolate cabin located deep in the forest, adjacent to a lagoon. Struggling to live off the land and coping with loneliness, the soldier marches on, exploring his new, secluded surroundings. His loneliness comes to an end when investigating the ruins of a dilapidating building structure, spotting a masked half naked female and as he pursues her, Ariel witnesses her voluntarily jump from the highest level of the opened air building. Wrought with anguish, Ariel attempts suicide only to be knocked out before he could pull the trigger on his rifle. He wakes up being chained to the wall with a mute, mask figure drugging him and extracting his blood and semen fluids as necessary nutrients for a nearby Mandrake garden. A practice that has been executed many times before Ariel’s arrival.

“DIS” is a bordering arthouse horror film from writer-director Adrian Corona (“Nariz Ioca”). A blend from a horror influenced literary poem and a mythological folkore, Corona crafts a lurid, hyperbolic story that pulls, as Cornoa describes as a prefix of sorts, from Dante Alighieri’s epic journey through hell told in Dante’s Inferno, using the City of Dis that’s described as a lower hell for sinners who’ve committed violent and fraudulent transgressions, and interlocks that inspiration with the archaic lore surrounding the Mandrake plant that involves superstitiously condemning those to hell after reaping the intensely narcotic plant with the human shaped root and that would, also superstitiously, scream when pulled. “DIS” is full of interpretative terror through the 61 minute runtime that’s virtually expressive. Corona provides little dialogue to his script, keeping most of the dialect scribal incased within flashback confines, and let his actors’ raw emotions and visceral eloquence provide the tale that’s peppered with moments of visual shock and cathartic abhorrence.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Bill Oberst Jr. is one hell of an actor. The upcoming Rob Zombie “3 from Hell” actor has become a prominent staple professional in the indie horror film circuit, tackling the bizarre, the inexplicable, and the most difficult of roles with such vigor and passion that his motivation is seemingly inhuman. Right up there with “Deadly Revisions,” “DIS’ tops or equals being one of the best performances of his career, from the perspective of this reviewers’ cache of Bill Oberst Jr films. There’s quite a bit of difficulty catching up to the man who roughly does, whether as a lead or as support, 10 films a year! As Ariel Konk, Oberst captures the essence of pain and anger that saturates the character’s own personal delirium and hell with his past mistake catching up to his self-battered soul. The faceless figure who opposites Ariel feeds off the ex-soldiers repugnant and guilt-riddled past actions in a seemingly perverse mission that’s actually mandated by the suspected demon’s Mandrake lot. The plants are held in a nursery for engendering creatures, but what kind of creatures exactly? Other demons from the seed of murdered vehement people?
Remaining cast include Peter Gonzales Falcon, “Prison Heat’s” Lori Jo Hendrix, Manuel Dominguez, and Anne Voitsekhova.

The casual viewer will inherently disavow the hour spent watching “DIS” due to a number of reasons, whether it’s Ariel wandering the forest for more than half the film, or dialogue is fairly infrequent, or the chaptered sequence of events don’t perfectly describe just what the hell is going, or, just perhaps, the motif of genital masturbation and mutilation is just too much to stomach. Either way, “DIS’s” traction will slip and only a few are willing to get dirty and push the story forward with open mindedness and artistic appreciation. Speaking of artistic appreciation, Rocco Rodriguez’s cinematography is a character upon itself. The top of a Cofre de Perote volcano in Perote, Veracruz, Mexico during principal photography has breathtaking visuals that Rodriguez captures exquisitely and becomes a backdrop against the coarse material. Outside is vivid, bright, full of life, but when in the belly of the rundown structure, the manmade confines are claustrophobic and crummy, infernally ablaze for ritual, much to the akin of Dante’s Inferno. Rodriguez, again, depicts lustrous imagery that assists in telling Corona’s nightmarish story and that’s a skill all can recognize.

MVD Visual and Unearthed Films present Adrian Corona’s enigmatic and surreal “DIS” from 1922 Films onto high definition Blu-ray. The region A release is presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and has the near epitome of perfect with, again, Rocco Rodriguez stunning photography. The lighting really comes to the fold that upheaves the brilliancy in the textures, such as in the building’s illustrious graffiti, and dares to switch to black and white when appropriate. Skin tones are fresh looking and natural in colored scenes. Only a minor aliasing issue around Obsert flared up momentarily, but ceased going forward. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has forefront dialogue, but not a bit soft, especially with Peter Gonzales, that made following difficult. There was not enough examples of range or depth to necessarily comment as Oberst was essentially alone for much of the film. Bonus features include an explanation introduction by writer-director Adrian Corona, a behind-the-scenes featurette that exhibits three takes of two scenes, a wonky static menu Q&A formatted interview with Bill Oberst Jr., a short film entitled “Portrait,” still gallery, and Unearthed Films trailers. Bill Oberst Jr. is, basically, a one man show knitted into an Adrian Corona allegory of unknown terror through conduits of literary works and medieval folklore, making “DIS” prime real estate for viewers seeking a film as an open book toward abstract gardening.

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Mountain Hag Gets Evil! “Girl in Woods” review!

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Vividly haunted by the nightmares of her childhood, Grace Walker struggles with recouping from the brutal suicidal death of her father that has plagued her into adulthood.  Her boyfriend Jim plans a romantic getaway for just the two them in the remote region of the Smokey Mountains.  After a horrific accident fatally strikes down Jim, Grace is alone and lost in the thicket without her coping medication and without a basic knowledge of survival skills.  Battling with starvation, unequipped with survival supplies, and besieged with a mental breakdown, Grace combats against her inner and outer demons in order to stay alive.
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Eight years have passed since writer-director Jeremy Benson’s last film, the carnal exploitive “Live Animals,” and the filmmaker comes back strong with the upcoming deeply psychological horror “Girl in Woods.”  While the title seems unoriginally simple, the character Grace is anything but simple; however, primitive is a more suitable description of both title and character in the end.  Benson sets up the character by writing Grace as a woodsy no-nothing on the brink of insanity.  As Grace hikes behind Jim, whose carrying a rifle, she’s complaining about the possible dangers of bears and snakes while attempting to use her pink incased cellphone in a kill signal area to gossip about Jim’s engagement proposal the night before.  Immediately, Benson places an unstable, and the creature of comfort, Grace into panic and peril, the starting line of her laundry list of troubles.  From then on, the director relentlessly pounds Grace with hallucinations set within the Tennessee backwoods, torturing her from the mind with mental deterioration stemmed by hunger and onset psychosis to her body with physical pain from a deep gash wound in her hand.
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And who is this actress to which Benson mercilessly puts through the meat grinder?  Veteran actress Juliet Reeves (“Automaton Transfusion”) fills Grace’s disturbed shoes with a formidable solo performance for much of the duration.  The then 36 year old actress was pregnant with her second child during various filming shoots.  The father of the child is with none other than her co-star, now husband, Jeremy London (“Alien Opponent”) who portrays Jim.  Reeves is able to maintain a convincing lunatic lost in the woods despite the non-liner storyline where dream sequences and, supposedly, flashbacks intercut to build upon Grace’s tragic and unfortunate background.  Reeves commits herself to the stages of psychosis, slowly transforming from a manageable, calm medicated state to severely severing all ties from external reality.  Even when performing with her angel and devil conscious in the form of herself, Reeves doesn’t flinch, fashioning a frightening internal dynamic that’s damn realistic.
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“Girl in Woods” ultimately becomes a collaboration between the subgenres of psychological horror and man versus nature.  Benson’s story explores the possibilities of what might happen if a mental case like Grace is put into a dire predicament and the non-linear narrative simultaneously attempts to display how Grace is destined to be molded.  Interestingly enough as a tidbit of analytical comparisons, “Girl in Woods” marginally parallels with a few popular scenes from the 1987 John McTiernan film “Predator.”  When Mac, played by Bill Duke, chases down the extraterrestrial game hunter, he notes to Carl Weather’s Dillion, whispering, “I see you” toward the cloaked alien, which feels similar to when Grace spots the forest “demon” and chases after it, yelling, “I saw you” over and over.  Other scenes sport the same similar inkling from Grace whittling makeshift weapons to going full blown guerilla attack commando on the “demon,” who oddly enough also makes similar vocal  gutturals like the Predator.
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As far as production value is concerned, “Girl in Woods” has an ambitious approach with a infinitely engulfing forest that lurks like an antagonistic villain and an in-your-face motif of self-inflicted suicides that’s extremely graphic and hard to absorb with the brain-splattering, wrist-slashing overdose potency.  The CGI is kept at a minimum, but have one hell of a nasty bite that spurs the heart to a sudden pounding.  The practical effects reign supreme over CGI and within the confines of a warped mind, the possibilities are endless and Benson exploits the potentials.  Overall, fine performances by the rest of the cast:  Jeremy London, John Still (“Live Animals”), Lee Perkins (Slime City Massacre), and the stunning Charisma Carpenter (“Angel” television series) as Grace’s mother.

Produced by GIW in association with Yield Entertainment and distributed by Candy Factory Films, “Girl in Woods” is an upcoming film you don’t want to skip over.  Jeremy Benson has the talented eye of capture beauty within the horror and has the talented pen to wield craziness on paper.  I’m not at liberty to critique the audio and video quality as I was provided an online screener, but “Girl in Woods” is being released on iTunes, VOD, DirectTV, Cable, Dish, Amazon Instant, Google Play, and Vudu so there are plenty of formats to choose from on June 3rd.