Copperton Cult Commands You to be EVIL! “Heartland of Darkness” reviewed! (Visual Vengeance / Blu-ray)

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Copperton, Ohio – a quaint and quiet, unsuspecting small town if looking to downsize from the big city hazards.  However, beneath the provincial veneer lies a satanic cult spearheaded by the local Reverend Donovan and his flock of townsfolk worshippers.  Donovan’s grip reaches far beyond just the local municipality as the insidious cult schemes to turn the state’s top officials into devoted followers of Satan.  Copperton’s new local newspaper editor, Paul Henson, along with eager reporter, Shannon Cornell, use their journalistic gut instincts to unearth and expose the corruption by Donovan up to the ladder of the town’s sparse governmental hierarchy, but with only a few residents unsubscribed to Donovan’s fanatical sermons, Paul and Shannon have nowhere to turn in order to protect themselves, Paul’s daughter Christine, and the entire state of Ohio from succumbing to Satanic domination. 

Once lost in limbo for three decades, “Heartland of Darkness” finally sees the light of retail shelves day!  Left unfinished for many years, director Eric Swelstad, then an Ohio State film student, supervises the completion of the horror thriller that revolves around satanic cults, grisly sacrifices, and sheep mentality based on the 1980’s satanic panic craze that swept the nation.  Penned by Swelstad, who moved on with this lift and helmed a handful of direct-to-video titles, such as “The Curse of Lizzie Borden 2:  Prom Night” and “Frankenstein Rising” in the early 2000s, and filmed in and around Columbus and the Granville village of Ohio, the 1989 principal photographed production was thought to be ultimately completed by 1992 but due to funding and production constraints, that was not the case.  The film also went through a couple of other titles, beginning with Swelstad’s original script title “Fallen Angels” and then changed to “Blood Church” at the behest of a possible financier that eventually fell through.  In the end, the film settles on “Heartland of Darkness” as a privately ventured production Steven E. Williams (“Draniac!”), Wes Whatley, Michael Ray Reed, Thomas Baumann, Mary Kathryn Plummer, and Scott Spears (“Beyond Dream’s Door”) serving as producers.

One of the reasons why the obscurity adrift “Heartland was Darkness” was so sought after by horror fans is because the title became one of the lost films of scream queen Linnea Quigley.  Standing at only 5’2’’ tall, the “Return of the Living Dead” and “Night of the Demons” actress was a hot commodity during the late 80’s and a genre film giantess who ended up having a fairly prominent, written-in role just for her hire in what is, essentially, a student film.  Quigley’s role as the town’s high school teacher, Jessica Francine, makes the hormonal boy in me wish my teachers actually looked than beautiful and provocative in high school, but in the same perspective, Quigley doesn’t appear or is barely older than Sharon Klopfenstein as Paul Henson’s daughter, Christine.  The two share a high school hallway moment while sporting crop tops, tight bottom wear, and discussing paganistic occultist Aleister Crowley and Nazi mass murderer Adolf Hitler and while the additional scene gives Quigley screen time, it evokes risibly campy optics.  Dino Tripodis defines the principal lead Paul Henson, a former Chicago Tribunal editor having left the midwestern journalism powerhouse after the death of his wife.  Stepping into a world of cultism, Paul’s eager to save what’s left of his family at all costs by exposing grisly murders as more than just drug-related collateral damage (I didn’t know drug wars were such a big thing in Ohio).  The debut of Tripodis’s performance fairs well enough to solidify himself as the marginalized hero against a Goliathan opposition that’s deep rooted and backed by powerful leaders, but hands down, Tripodis is outdone by Nick Baldasare as the dark featured, maniacally calm Reverend Donovan.  Baldasare has such a tremendous presence as a fire and brimstone agent of the most notable archfiend that his performance swallows the shared screen moments with Tripodis.  A few principals come off as rigid and flat in their efforts.  As the sheriff of Copperton, Lee Page is the biggest offender with an obvious staged act of busting Tripodis’s balls for a better part of the story.  “Heartland of Darkness” is a mixed bag of showings from a remaining hyper-localized cast compromised of new to little experiences actors including Shanna Thomas, Sid Sillivan, Ralph Scott, Dallas Dan Hessler, Ray Beach, Mary Alice Dmas, and with the John Dunleavy in a magnetic role of a cult-crime fighting preacher.

Hard to fathom why but still completely understandable how “Heartland of Darkness” remained in celluloid purgatory for so many years.  Swelstad had tremendous ambitions for a student film that included a visual effects storefront explosion, but the money well dried up to finish shooting, touch ups, effects, and digitizing the filmmaker’s efforts onto a marketable commodity to distribute.   At last, here we are, 33 years later with a finished copy of the “lost Linnea Quigley film” and, boy-oh-boy, does not disappoint, living up to the expectational hype surrounding the film’s once stagnant, hidden from the world existence.  Swelstad creates the illusion of vast world from the small town of Copporton to the big cities where the District Attorney and Governor reside.  Car chases, rock quarries, a church nave, animal intestine smeared ditches, and a slew of constructed sets, an array of offices, and an abundance of diverse exteriors. “Heartland of Darkness” might have a lot going on and is often repetitive in the scenes with Paul and Shannon pleading their case to multiple officials to probe into gruesome deaths and the cult’s leadership but not to the story’s detriment as all the progressive storyline dig Paul and his small band of investigators into a deeper danger hole with Donovan and his Devil devotees under the guise of God’s Church. Scott Simonson’s entrail splayed and blood splattering special effects culminates to a shotgun showdown at a virgin sacrifice and an impressive full-bodied impaling that is, frankly, one of the best edited shots of the film. “Heartland of Darkness” is rayless and scary, callous and cold, formidable and shocking with a pinch of sex and is finally within our grasp!

Visual Vengeance, a pioneer in curating the lost, the forgotten, and the technically shoddy indie cult and horror films, releases for the first time on any format ever “Heartland of Darkness” on Blu-ray. Coming in as VV08 on the spine, the Wild Eye Releasing banner strays their first seven SOV features to bring aboard a 16mm negative transfer, director-supervised from original film elements of the standard definition masters. Visual Vengeance precautions viewers with the usual precursing disclaimer that due to the commercial grade equipment and natural wear of aging, the presentation is the best possible transfer available, but, honestly, the full screen 1.33:1 aspect ratio presentation looks outstanding without much to critique. Obvious softer details were expected but with the celluloid film, there’s not much in way of macroblocking or tracking complications as common with shot-on-video tape features. Compression verges to a near perfect reproduction of the picture quality. Skin coloring and overall grading is congruously natural in grain and stable image. The English stereo mono track doesn’t pack a punch but isn’t also frail with strong mic placement and the dialogue is clean and clear of imperfections as well as major hissing or popping. The faint 16 mm camera whir can be heard but isn’t distracting, adding a comforting churr to the footage. Optional English subtitles are available. Special features include a new 40-minute behind-the-scenes documentary Deeper into the Darkness, an audio commentary by writer-director Eric Swelstad, actor Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears, and composer Jay Woelfel, a new interview with cult icon Linnea Quigley, commentary with Tom Strauss of Weng’s Chop magazine, an archival Linnea Quigley TV interview, the complete “Fallen Angels” 1990 workprint, the same workprint with audio commentary with Swelstad, vintage cast and crew Ohioan newscast interviews in the Making of Fallen Angels, the original promotional video for “Blood Church,” a behind-the scenes image gallery and footage, and the original TV spots and trailers, of this feature and other Visual Vengeance films, from the static, composite menu. Ready for more? “Heartland of Darkness” comes with just as much physical bonus swag with a limited-edition prayer cloth, a six-page liner notes from Tony Strauss complete with color beind-the-scene stills, a folded mini-poster of a leather-cladded Linnea Quigley’s high school hallway scene, and retro Visual Vengeance stickers inside a clear Blu-ray latch snapper with new, illustrated cover art that also has reversible art of the original “Blood Church” promo art, sheathed inside a cardboard slip cover with a different and new illustrated cover art. The region free, 101-minute release is unrated. Visual Vengeance continues to pump out gilded, undiscovered treasures and giving them the royal treatment. For “Heartland of Darkness,” this sublime release was 33 years in the making and is one Hell of a bounty!

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Not All Zombies are EVIL. Some Zombies Save Lives. “The Loneliest Boy in the World” reviewed (Well Go USA Entertainment/ Blu-ray)

“The Loneliest Boy in the World” on Sale Now at Amazon.com!

The unexpected tragic death of Oliver’s mother, involving a pool, a television, and a garden gnome, places the now aged-out and deinstitutionalized Oliver into a difficult position. The sheltered, socially awkward young man, living by himself in his mother’s home and still makes like his mother is still with him, is given a last chance ultimatum from his supportive social worker and a pessimistic psychologist to make friends, to lead a normal life, and to sustain impendence or else he’ll have to return to being institutionalized as an adult. Local contemporaries single out Oliver for being weird, unusual, and a loner to the point that his childlike and naive mind turns him desperate enough for a friend to dig up corpses, those who used to be well-liked in the community, but when one morning the exhumed bodies come to life as a nuclear family that eats, breathes, and is sort of living. Though rotting from the outside, the undead family encourage and advise Oliver through his toughest life challenge yet – to be normal.

Described as a modern fairytale with zombies, “The Loneliest Boy in the World” is a satirical comedy horror about the rite of passage into adulthood from the screenwriting team of John Landis’ “Burke & Hare” writer Piers Ashworth, producer of “Director’s Cut” Brad Wyman, and “Maximum Overdrive” star and “Rated X” director Emilio Estevez. Director Martin Owen (“L.A. Slasher”, “Let’s Be Evil”) helms the late 80’s deco piece with a Halloween backdrop, fitting for any undead family to suddenly animate into an eclectic and eccentric fashion that encircles what it means to understand family values in a very trendy niche specific of the late 80’s style. The feature is produced by Piers Ashworth, Ryan Hamilton (“Possessor”), Matt Williams (“Let’s Be Evil”), Pat Wintersgill (“Amulet”) and a conglomeration of executive producers including Emilio Estevez and is a production of the London, UK-based Lip Sync in association with Future Artists Entertainment and presented by Great Point Media and Well Go Entertainment.

Max Harwood gives a peculiar performance as a soft-spoken, sheltered-to-a-fault mother’s boy, Oliver, with a delusional depiction of reality. Though Harwood’s performance pairs well enough with Martin Owen’s rocky shore small town of equally asymmetrical corporeality, the titular Oliver comes off derivative of done before loners and Harwood provides little range to fully arc with the character’s transition from a naive young adult on the fringe of losing everything to the compendious hero of his own story by unearthing not only dead bodies that come to life but learning from their advice, truth, and experience to flesh out his own path of courage and confidence. A part of the LGBTQ community, Harwood is joined by fellow community comrade Tallulah Haddon in a strange turn of casting as Oliver’s love interest, Chloe. Queers play straight in the innate course of acting that, as of late, has often been called out for its hypocrisy of an actor portraying something their actually not. The “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” Haddon is an outsider to Oliver’s surroundings as isn’t influenced by those who have labeled Oliver weird or strange. Instead, Oliver and Chloe spark interest out of hate for being different, a relatable scenario for someone in the gay community. Oliver’s undead family is undoubtedly the best lot with a wide range of happy homemaker personalities and a decaying best friend that supports Oliver’s wings to fly from the next. Susan Wokoma is the stay-at-home mother with a knack for reading the room while her skin peels off and falls to the floor. Ben Miller is the red-blooded Frank that displays glimpses of being a renaissance man at times and Miller plays the beer drinking, jack-of-all-trades father figure aptly. “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’s” Hero Fiennes Tiffin comes on the scene cool and suave in a skin that’s literally drooping off his bones and his eyes have disintegrated from his sockets; Tiffin’s charming, lively, and a source of verbal wit that would be missing from the film. Lastly, Zenobia Williams rounds out the family as Mel, the little sister who is frankly underused and is quiet and subservient to being nice to her living older brother. “The Loneliest Boy in the World’s” cast rounds out with Jacob Sartorious, Hammed Animashaun, Alex Murphy, Sam Coleman, Mitchell Zhangazha, and “The Curse of Buckout Road’s” Evan Ross and “Alone at Night’s” Ashley Benson as the two sole American actors in a contending professionals betting on Oliver’s outcome in friend making.

The casting is interesting as a melting pot of nationalities and cultures intertwined into an alternate reality where the dead can be willed alive. Again, “The Loneliest Boy in the World” is marketed as a modern fairytale and it’s comparable to the likes of if Andrew Currie’s 2006 “Fido,” where in a managed post-apocalyptic world the zombies are kept on as servants for the living in a 1950’s backdrop, was under the Peter Jackson landscape lens of hilltops, seasides, and graveyards. The obvious farce in the late 1980’s pattern aims to set the bar for a number of themes, including growing up into adulthood, to bring back traditional family values in order to push out and correct absent parent trauma, and to embrace the family as nurturing guidance. Oliver’s struggles are frugally displayed but that doesn’t mean the first act misses the mark on plotting the dots of his lonesomeness with being the target of bully teasing, the subject of an insensitive bet of established adults, and being in a position of having no living family or friends to slake his dependence. The one thing to note about Oliver’s sudden lifeline cut is that he doesn’t appear to bothered or frantic about the death of his mother or the prospect of being alone and possibly end up institutionalized. Instead, the unsocialized introvert falls into a semi-chimera state where he’s still tethered to his mother as he watches her favorite television shows and recalls their play-by-play during his graveside visits with mom. The whole concept of death is seemingly foreign to Oliver as he never calls the demise of his mother her death but rather an accident and he finds exhuming recently dead corpses to be his friends normal though he obviously knows it’s illegal and unacceptable normal behavior as he quickly hides or disguises the pre-animated bodies when visitors show up at his doorstep. There’s never an explanation why the dead come to life, but one thing is for sure is that the expired exhumed did a Frosty the Snowman just for the sake of Oliver’s desperation for companionship and, perhaps, that’s the entire reason why. The need for family was granted to the nice, dissociated boy in a lightning bolt of unexplainable supernatural serendipity to right all the bad things that are happening and will happen to him. Zombies are typically resurrected to take life and eat away at the living while Oliver’s zombies are atypical, restoring life and providing hope in an optimistic paradoxical universe.

Dark and quirky, “The Loneliness Boy in the World” is heartwarming with cold bodies. Well Go USA Entertainment releases the AVC Encoded, 1080p high-definition Blu-ray with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The presentation is quite colorful with a vast palette of foundational primary colors sprinkled with retro-vision, such as tape camcorder view, that splits the difference in extracting the vivid pink-laden house interior as well as the spot colors on the characters with stark contrast against the lush greenery background or the rocky, wave crashing shoreline. Night sequences are often blue tinted but not overly saturating. I didn’t note any issues with compression as blacks are generally deep without splotchiness or banding. Details are mostly fine with intricacies more expressive on the decomposing bodies that give off great muscle, skin, and organ decay. The Blu-ray comes with a single audio option, an English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Dialogue never has to outbattle the ambient tracks or The Invisible Men pop score. The ambient range really comes through the auxiliary channels well with the central element focusing on the dialogue. English subtitles are optional. Bonus features include a short behind-the-scenes with more fluff from the cast who seemingly can’t get enough of this project and the theatrical trailer is also included. The physical release comes in a standard Blu-ray snapper with an illustrated mesh artwork of essentially every character in the film, even the dead Dachshund. “The Loneliest Boy in the World” has a runtime of 90 minutes, is regionally hard coded A, and is rated R for language and violent content. Enjoyable yet explainable, “The Loneliest Boy in the World” is more defined by its cadaverous twist of fate than the theme it attempts to convey; nonetheless, the Martin Owen film has heart, soul, and the living dead.

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Who Dat? Dat EVIL! “Creature from Black Lake” reviewed! (Synapse / Blu-ray)

“Creature From Black Lake” on Blu-ray is Bigfoot’s Bestfriend

Two University of Chicago students interested in discovering the legendary creature bigfoot take a road trip down to Oil City, Louisiana where there have been multiple reports and sightings of a ape-like man wandering in the Bayou and even an attack on a local trapper, witness by the gruffy drunk, Joe Canton.  Met with stern resistance from the Oil City Sheriff Billy Carter and some reluctance from scared locals in the Bridges family after an mortal encounter with the beast that killed two of their family members, the students dig in and continue their swampy-laden search for bigfoot as well as finding the time to mingle with Louisiana women.  When they discover the mythical beast actually exists, nothing can stop them into catching sight of the creature or maybe even snaring it, not even the Sheriff’s threat of jail time if they don’t high tail it out of town could persuade their mania, but their expedition deep into the swamp and coming in proxmital contact with the aggressive primate outlier may prove to be a fatal mistake rather than a claim to fame. 

Having searched high and low for many years to review just any Bigfoot film that’s above average worthy has been a wearisomely long and arduous task.  A slew of movies dedicated to the big hairy fella have been nothing but a mockery, whether intention or unintentional, of the Sasquatchsploitation horror subgenre.  Instead of being subjugated to the countless, blasphemous modern tales of the mythical monster, I had to travel back in time to 1976 to retrieve what I’ve been searching for in the last decade or so.  The late J.N. Houck Jr’s “Creature from Black Lake” fulfills a great need with very little in its idiosyncratic cast and its obscure visibility of the creature that creates upscale mystery.  The based out of Louisiana “Night of Bloody Horror” and “The Night of the Strangler” director, whose father, owner of The Joy Theaters, already had an established footing not only in the movie business but also in the horror genre when helming a script penned by Jim McCullough Jr. as his first grindhouse treatment blessed by his father, producer Jim McCullough.  McCullough Jr. co-produces the film under the Jim McCullough Productions banner along with William Lewis Ryder Jr. serving as executive producer of the shoot shot on location in Oil City and Shreveport, L.A.

“Creature from Black Lake’s” cast is a distinctive assembly as aforementioned earlier.  Not only do they play their roles well by incorporating localisms where needed but they add a blend of intensity with chunky bits of comedy marbled through a storyline that’s half-anecdotal and half-present action. University of Chicago students Rives (John David Carson, “Empire of the Ants”) and Pahoo (Dennis Fimple, “House of a 1000 Corpses”) set course to Oil City, Louisiana where an indistinct creature is suspected to be in area based of science and suspected fish stories told by local kooks and drunks that turned out to be horribly true. Rives and Pahoo, who in McCullough script is constantly chaffed about his unique name but shrugs and deflects like he’s done it all his life, interview Oil City residents who believed to have bare witnessed firsthand the beast’s atrocities that has taken the lives close to them. These Bayou denizens are enriched by veteran actors with robustly created caricature personalities. Surly voiced with bulging, wild eyes, typecasted western actor Jack Elam had branched out from films like “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” to play a similar grouchy character dwelling in the swamps as a trapper. Elam’s great a feigning an intoxicated mess as you can literally taste the alcohol sweat from his porous skin sheltered by an unkempt beard and a loose fitting crumpled up onesie that’s staple motif for any drunk Cajun or drunk cowpoke, so Elam was fairly comfortable in the role. Dub Taylor is another big old-timey name in the western genre and rarely saw horror as a place to call home. For Taylor, his role as Grandpaw Bridges gave the actor a chance to play an old hayseed complete with a solid effort in Cajun English. Taylor’s lively at times with an animated excitement but can turn somber and stern as soon as his character’s scorned and calls for a more serious tone. Compared to Elam and Taylor, youngsters Carson and Fimple pilfer very little from the veteran’s epic role characteristics but do fine in their own rite with carrying the hunt’s harrowing third act. Bill Thurman (“‘Gator Bait”), Jim McCullough Jr., Cathryn Hartt (“Open House”), Becky Smiser, Michelle Willingham, and Evelyn Hindricks round out “Creature from Black Lake’s” cast.

How could a 1976 bigfoot feature be more surprising and compelling than any modernized version? Well, one of the biggest pros to “Creature from Black Lake’s” success is Jim McCullough Jr.’s script that’s surprisingly well written by the first go-around screenwriter and while I’m not primarily speaking on behalf of the principal leads’ motivation or the slightly lack thereof, there lies more interest in the quick-witted dialogue and the blunt banter to keep Rives and Pahoo from being dullards and to keep the story from being a slog. Another aspect that is sharp as a tack is Dean Cundey’s cinematography that keeps the creature firmly in the shadows, producing that suspenseful and mysterious “Jaws” effect where we actually don’t see the shark until the third act. Cundey, best known for handling the cinematography on titles you might have heard of such as “Jurassic Park,” “Death Becomes Her,” and “Big Trouble in Little China,” made a name for himself first in grindhouse horror and exploitation of the early 1970s.  Cundey keeps the apelike creature shrouded from direct light, lurking mostly in the shadows with only a glimmer quickly streaking across the snarling face and an animalistic outline of its furred body and tall stature.  The full effect of bigfoot is never directly in your face or full in view which can be best at times depending on the look of the creature.  Cundey had partially designed the face of bigfoot and thus covering up perhaps his own shoddy work with how to film the titular antagonist of Black Lake.  Now, Black Lake is an actual lake in Louisiana but is about 100 miles SE of Oil City and Shreveport and likely used a combination of Big Lake and Cross Lake that were near the majority of shooting locations to serve as representation of Black Lake.  Where “Creature from Black Lake” struggles is with the Rives and Pahoo dynamic that barely tether’s to how their friendship, though diverse individually, becomes stronger up the end with a near death experience.  Pahoo’s a Vietnam vet and with his wartime experience, he’s the more on edged character out of the two suggesting an underlining PTSD theme when the creature’s roar and circling of the camp puts Pahoo into an eye-widening internal panic.  Rives is cool as a cucumber and is determined to prove something inexplicable in pushing forth and bagging a big hairy beast.  At times, contention flares up between them but is quickly extinguished with a simple sharing of homemade fireside baked beans to sate Pahoo’s ever ravenous stomach.  Their hot and cold amity and indeterminable mission into the Bayou shapes very unsatisfactory their resulting unbreakable bond that hints at something more than just friendship, as if there is metaphorical points of betrayal and forgiveness that makes their connection scar tissue stronger but are not clearly delineated.

Finally!  A bigfoot feature that works mostly at every angle, is more than just palatable from a story standpoint, and has a formidable bigfoot presence that’s more than just a man in a monkey suit. Synapse Films restores not only “Creature from Black Lake’s” original widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio onto a high-definition Blu-ray from the dreadfully cropped VHS and TV versions but also restores the creature feature with a brand new 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative. The result is phenomenal with a widow’s peak view and the grading is touch of tailored class that freshens the 46-year-old with new vigor. No instantaneous signs of compressions issues on the AVC encoded BD50 with inky black shadows and profiles that are sharp around the edges, never losing sight of image and never losing the quality. The Blu-ray comes with only one audio option – DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track. Not the best representation but perhaps the best that’ll get, some audio elements succumb to the production limitations, such as the stifled dialogue track early on in the film that leaves exchanges between Rives and Pahoo soft and scarcely perceptible. The dialogue issues alleviate as the story progresses, falling in line into an even keeled dual channel output. “Creature from Black Lake” has ample range between the booming closeup shotgun and rifle shots to the light tinkering of utensils and camping gear. We don’t receive much depth, not even with the creature’s roar as it thunders into much of audio space and overtakes everything else. Newly translated English subtitles are available. Bonus features includes an audio commentary with author/filmmaker Michael Gingold and film historian Chris Polliali, a brand-new featurette with cinematographer Dean Cundey Swamp Stories, the original theatrical trailer, and radio spot. The physical release comes in a blacked-out Blu-ray snapper, Synapse Films’ catalogue insert, and has Ralph McQuarrie illustrated cover art that’s an unmistakable masterstroke of his craft. The region free Blu-ray of “Creature from Black Lake” is rated PG and has a runtime of 95 minutes. If you’re on a quest to quench a midnight movie about bigfoot, journey no further as Synapse Films delivers one of the better, more comical and terrifying, Sasquatch movies of our time and in beautiful high definition!

“Creature From Black Lake” on Blu-ray is Bigfoot’s Bestfriend

Bend a Knee to the EVIL “Alien Goddess” reviewed! (Darkside Releasing / Blu-ray)

“Alien Goddess” available on Blu-ray on Amazon.com!

After school hours is more than just detention, it can be paranormal purgatory when a class reviewing an education course about death, a saucy night photoshoot with a camera man and two models, and two lovers rendezvousing in the hallways are trapped inside the confines of the school building, unable to leave to exit the structure that is seemingly protecting them from an excruciatingly painful force that rings their ears and causes nose bleeds.  Cell phones cease to work and those outside the building inexplicably can’t see or hear their pleas for help.  Without much choice, they roam the hallways in search for answers, but something sinister is behind the walls, a force of evil that manifests out of a formless haze and towers over them.  The alien presence is a wonder to behold and is just as deadly when collecting the hapless souls stuck inside the building with the life-taking lifeform.

Unless you’re a whizz kid and enjoy academia like I enjoy horror movies, most people don’t want to be in school.  If you’re at school during the night and trapped with an amorphous alien with long, sharp talons, then you definitely relish in the terrors of school a lot less!  That’s the surreal sensation of Andreas Marawell’s 2022 cosmic horror “Alien Goddess.”  Marawell, who also penned the film, directs his fourth feature length production, following up from another supernatural hellbound-ish picture, “Black Ghosts,” from 2015.  Marawell trades damned deadly spirits for a more unearthly malaise with many of the interior shoots of inside the Östra Real, one of Sweden’s oldest schools, along with the other shooting locations around the country, such as Matteusskolan and Solna.  The indie sci-fi horror is the filmic production of the audio editing and record studio, Swesound Studios, and is self-produced by Andreas Marawell as well as George Beckman (“Flame Beings,” “Black Ghosts”) and Vassllis Maravelias.

The Swedish produced film comes with a lineup of indie Swedish or other European and Asian-born actors that roam the halls filled with dread and a presence that has selected them for the seizing.  “Alien Goddess” has no real principal lead but an ensemble principal cast to shadow through the dark corridors.  The ensemble is separated into three groups:  Group 1 – an intimate night class with the subject on death taught by instructor Lori (Birgitta Rudklint, “Black Ghosts”) with very knowledge and interested in death students in Alice (Gloria Ormandlaky), “A.Z.A.B”), Phillip (Sebastian From), and the most peculiar, perhaps slightly autistic Max, played by Johan Sjöberg wearing a bad wig.  Group 2 – a suggestive bad schoolgirl shoot with models Julie (played by the real-life fetish model and professional dominatrix by the name of Luna Dvil) and Dorothy (Johanna De Vera) in front of Paul Ray’s (Okan Akdag, “Control the Hunt”) photo lens. Group 3 – a lovers’ tryst between Wendy (Karin Engman) and Miranda (Julija Green) that goes deep into an existentialism and identity conversation that alludes to what’s to come. After a few fall into the Alien Goddess’s daggerish claws, the groups merge together, coming and going, becoming lost in the tenebrous tomb that was once a place for learning (and apparently naked photoshoots). Most of the story progression is pretty straight forward, people become trapped and die off one-by-one for the most part, but there’s a bit of sleight of hand with Miranda, one of the two lovers, who morphs into another person (Chantel Gluic) that is reticently connected to the extraterrestrial presence in a way that’s about as clear as mud. Every other character’s is fairly straight forward under the power of their will until faced against their maker as they try to escape the imprisoning school.

If the abstract of cosmic horror isn’t already opaque enough, “Alien Goddess” is no different with a roundtable approach to introducing cast without actually introducing the cast. Instead, Marawell dives right into their realm of happenings with discussions about the various stages and processes of death decay, an intense and provocative classroom photoshoot that whitewashes men’s sexual misconceptions of women, and nightmarish dreams of depersonalization that Wendy has of girlfriend Miranda changing into someone else and that someone’s dreams are Mirandas. I believe much of “Alien Goddess’s” themes revolve around identity and fear of death that shapes into a Carl Jung smorgasbord of psychotropic maladies that consists of disconnection of self through past dreams that aspire to an unfit future, compounded by the conscious notion of human mortality, and spliced with a sexual awkwardness that all factors into their common predicament that is very much a nightmare where the trapped groups are in an arcane space between reality and subconsciousness. Marawell also creates a colorful, strobing ambience for the groups that differ from outside the school or from those unaffected and view the school from the outside in. The combination of deep lighting gels and tints, mostly in a blue hue, flickered by the white orb light of a dancing flashlight and the flipping on-and-off of the overhead room lighting sends viewers into the portal of purgatory, so if intense strobing negatively effects your senses or triggers your known epilepsy, you’ve been warned as there is no caution before the film itself. “Alien Goddess” pays homage to the select sci-fi horror works of the late English filmmaker Norman J. Warren (“Inseminoid”) and also pulls heavy inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism and the fear of the unknown as well as delivering the dialogue in prose akin to the Edgar Allen Poe’s Gothicism and macabre, as adverted to with a complete collection book of Poe’s being read and referenced to indirectly by a couple of characters. “Alien Goddess’s” hodgepodge of literary and psychological inspirations often feels jumbled, clunky, and dissonant when clashing with the amorphic idol storyline of a beautiful, awe-inspiring, ethereal evil with eye plucking and chest puncturing bestowments.

“Alien Goddess” is perfectly bizarre and unsettling to fit into the Darkside Collection catalogue of uncanny esoteric obscurities. The distributor’s high definition, 1080p, Blu-ray release is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio on an AVC encoded BD25 and, unfortunately it shows the inferiority of the low storage capacity against compressing the high-density array of colors and luminance during confined and compacted night shoots. Banding and posterization plague an already heavily digital noise image, leading to no details to be delineated and leaving a contour-less and smoothed over appearance on all focal objects. The result is not terribly unforsaken as far as quality goes and the Marawell effect establishes an eldritch presence despite the lossy definition on a high-definition format at a decoding average of 20Mbps. “Alien Goddess” would have been just fine on DVD. Though a Swedish production, the audio mix is half-English, half-dubbed English 5.1 surround with lossy compression. Consistent electrical interference just beneath a monotonous overlayer of electrical zaps and isolated character actions, lots of shuffling feet no matter the floor surface. Half the actors’ dialogue is in a not-so-terrible dub; the performers are dubbed include Luna Dvil, Sebastian Form, and Julija Green for a semi-seamless, second language experience. Bonus features include Darkside Releasing trailers and interviews with the “Alien Goddess” cast and crew, or so does the back cover states but in reality, it’s all cast with response-portioned interviews from Okan Akdag, Birgitta Rudklint, and Johan Sjöberg. The physical Blu-ray comes in a traditional blue snapper keep case with Lovecraftian inspired, mustard-colored composite art of Octopus tentacles protruding out of a woman’s mouth with the school’s silhouette in the background. “Alien Goddess” has a runtime of 107 minutes and is unrated. Andreas Marawell directs theories and contexts of psychological art and science into an untapped nerve too hard to reach that “Alien Goddess” will simply fall short of being absorbed as full-blown cosmic terror.

“Alien Goddess” available on Blu-ray on Amazon.com!

Never Cry EVIL Unless You Mean It! “Night Visitor” reviewed! (Ronin Flix / Blu-ray)

“Night Visitor” Creeping Onto Your Doorstep!  Now on Blu-ray!

Never-on-time high school senior Billy Colton can’t seem to catch a break in arriving to class on time. To make matters worse, Billy makes up a lame excuse for every tardy to his surly history teacher, Mr. Willard. On thin ice with Mr. Willard with only a few weeks left to graduation, Billy must keep his nose clean in order to not make any more waves that’ll cost him his diploma. When a new, extremely sexy, call girl neighbor moves in next door, Billy becomes entranced by her casual sexual affairs. So much so, Billy sets up a telescope from out his bedroom window to spy on her and convince his naysaying friends of her profession by sneaking a rooftop picture catching her in the middle of a tryst. What Billy sees is his neighbor being stabbed to death and the culprit is none other than his history teacher, Mr. Willard, continuing his conducting of Satanic rituals and sacrifices on local prostitutes. Because of his reputation for making up stories, no one believes Billy, not even the police, and he’s forced to attend Mr. Willard’s class with both parties having the knowledge of what really occurred. Billy’s desperation sends him to seek the help of a retired detective, Ron Devereaux, a close friend of Billy’s late father, and extreme measures must be taken by Billy to prove a killer’s identity and to stop Mr. Willard from coming after him.

“Night Visitor” is the 80’s alteration of the classic Aesop fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The 1989 teen-campy cult horror is the first venture into feature length films by Rupert Hitzig, producer of “Wolfen” and “Jaws 3-D.” The twisted, modernized story derived from the fable was penned by Randal Viscovich to sought to provide nods to other films, one film in particular, “Fright Night,” shares a story parallel or likeness of an older teenage boy spying on the carnal rendezvouses of his alluring neighbor and ends up becoming involved in something far more sinister. At one point in time the film was under the working title, “Never Cry Devil,” a spin on the fable idiom cry wolf, Hitzig’s final product eventually landed on “Night Visitor” and the graphic nudity and cannibalism pared down for general audience consumption. Premier Picture Corporation served as the production company with Alain Silver (“Kiss Daddy Goodbye,” “Mortuary Academy”) producing, Randal Viscovich and Richard Abramites associate producing, and Tom Broadbridge (“The 13th Floor”) and Shelley E. Reid (“Nine Deaths of the Ninja”) as executive producers with United Artists serving as film rights distributor.

At the center of the story is a coinciding dual lead. One might be more prominent in the beginning, but the second soon catches up to run alongside in an even dichotomy of good and evil. Derek Rydall (“Popcorn”) plays into the stereotype of a hang loose teenage boy named Billy Colton on the edge of adulthood with a penchant for voyeurism as he spies on the late-night sexual commerce of her blonde bombshell neighbor. Rydall introduces mis makings of an energized, poofy-haired hunk who might be a little bit naive as a closeted peeping tom and looks to score with an older woman despite exhibiting and declaring feelings for his longtime friend Kelly (Teresa Van der Woude, “Killer Workout”). Who can blame Billy when Billy’s new neighbor was a Playboy Playmate? Shannon Tweed (“Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death”, “Of Unknown Origins”) seduces, arouses, and paints by the numbers in what she does best – to be the sexiest woman on screen. Having never really dug herself out of being typecasted, Tweed humble horror beginnings is about the extent of her range before being cornered in the sex-thriller market and the Playmate of the Year 1982 is great fun to watch onscreen as her sex-working-kittenishness character, Lisa Grace, causes Billy Colton to steam in his pants. As much as it was a joy to watch Rydall and Tweed chart a possible older woman, younger man fling (fun fact: Tweed was supposedly playing a 26-year-old but was actually 31-32 and very much looks her age in the film), I thought Allen Garfield (“Diabolique”) and Michael J. Pollard (“Scrooged”) as brothers rollicking as Satan acolytes or rather just Garfield’s character Mr. Willard is the Satanist and Pollard as brother Stanley is just insane and fancies mentally manipulating the furniture as he calls the working girls him and his brother abduct and hold in the basement. Pollard is absolutely demented! All of the snarky quirks, plus a slew of scampish facial expressions and remarks, turn the fun-loving eccentric into a total maniac of truly scary proportions. Garfield’s method approach offers a different kind of demented, one that’s calculating and cunning to counter his brother’s outward lunacy. “Night Visitor” rounds out the cast with more gifted, recognizable talent in Elliot Gould (“Dead Men Don’t Die”), Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”), Scott Fults (“Hide and Go Shriek”), Brooke Bundy (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”), Henry Gibson (“The ‘burbs”), and adult film actress Teri Weigel giving Shannon Tweed a run for her money in the skinemax department as the basement-bound prostitute.

If you had told me “Night Visitor” was a strictly a chilling cut thriller, I would have not believed you and would recommend psychiatric help. Aside from the opening scene of a hooker being violently snatched and grabbed into a gothic black car, “Night Visitor” has the hallmarks of a teen comedy amped up on sex-driving hormones, teenage melodramatic antics, and parades light-hearted teen comedy up until throats are slit, chests, are daggered and Michael Pollard wildly wields a chainsaw with an impish grin. The blithe spirit soon turns dark and grim as the carefree attitude of the hero goes toe-to-toe with stern and Satanic teacher, a wonderfully metaphorical relationship to the extreme that’s universally relatable as everyone has had an encounter with a discontented classroom instructor at least once growing up. Surprisingly stark how bleak the film turns, an overwhelming sense of dread lingers after that second prostitute meets her maker in a ghastly way that, as far as kills go, isn’t very radical but the true nature of the subject matter is shaded so well that the moment literally hooks you into the story as you start to connect what just might happen next to the new neighbor. One aspect that felt lacking was that there isn’t much depth to the Willard brothers’ Satanism; a few upside-down pentagrams, a goat’s head, Baphomet’s goat head statue, a topless sacrifice with chant, and Allen Garfield’s robe and elaborate horned masked, which is an excellent design, are all the thin layer of thematic elements but still retains sufficiently the Willards connection to Satanism. Whenever the story moves from Billy Colton’s obsession to expose Mr. Willard, much of the narrative then focuses on the interrelationship of Zachary and Stanley Williard which is mostly a nonaggressive superior and subordinate kinship. Stanley, who caters to Zachary’s every request and even squeezes for him fresh orange juice, plays along with his brother’s inadequate display of being a disciple just to get his own malevolent kicks out of tormenting women of the night. There’s this unexplained fixation with prostitutes that puts forward less a Satan worshipper and puts forward more a pair of mania driven maniacs quenching a thirst for blood by offing the lower class of society that no one will miss. A brief scene backs up this theory of an angry prostitute chewing Captain Crane’s ear off about protecting the girls on the street and he just casually strolls along, waving her off as if to say, yeah whatever.

Ronin Flix, in association with MGM and Scorpion Releasing, urges you to never cry wolf in this tale of terror as “Night Visitor” lands on a Blu-ray home video, distributed by MVD Visual. The 1080p, high-definition release comes with a brand 2019 transfer master that’s clean as Mr. Willard’s rap sheet with no 35mm celluloid impurities, no aged wear or tear, and a healthy amount of unadulterated grain, presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Color grading has excellent appeal and defines the natural color palette greatly amongst the delineated details and appeasing textures. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo is on the only audio mix on the release and while it provides clean and clear dialogue track, the depth is often disproportion to the characters on screen. Much of the dialogue is in the forefront channel of the dual outputs, making every sentence feel closer than it should actually be in the stationary location of the character. Other than that, transfer’s hyper free of hiss, pops, and other audio blights. Option SDH subtitles are available. Bonus content has the original theatrical trailer and brand-new interview with director Ruport Hitzig, editor Glenn Erickson, and writer Randal Viscovich who all share a commonality regarding “Night Visitor,” the story was trimmed down of all of Viscovich’s nasty bits and shocking ending and made more upbeat for a better sell. Physically, “Night Visitor” comes in the traditional blue snapper keep case with brilliant red and illustratively glowing cover art of the sacrificial mask. The back cover claims the cover art is reversible, but it is not. The Blu-ray is region A encoded, has a runtime of 93 minutes, and is rated R. The cast alone is worth the price of admission as “Night Visitor” preys on the inculpability of Satan’s most righteous worshipper and on the power position of a role model with a secret life who has it out for the boy who cried wolf too many times.

“Night Visitor” Creeping Onto Your Doorstep!  Now on Blu-ray!