Keep the EVIL Family Drama for Your Mama. “Abigail Haunting” reviewed (High Fliers Films / Digital Screener)

While searching for a life in Reno, Katie reluctantly becomes an accomplice in a heist job with her abusive boyfriend, scoring a small brown paper bag packed with stolen money.  In the middle of post-heist uncertainty, an opportunity to escape a troubled relationship presents itself and Katie hightails it to her hometown of Prescott with the loot, leaving the dark life behind her in Reno.  Unsure of her next steps, she hides away by moving back into her childhood trailer home with foster mother, Marge, who has nearly deteriorated into a completely catatonic state over the last few years.  As the days pass and Katie catches up with Brian, rekindling a relationship with a high school crush, her secretive past becomes plaited into Marge’s sinister skeleton in the cupboard that pulls both of them into the supernatural wrath of a tormented spirit haunting the trailer home, merging the past and present with a shocking conclusion.

Cursed.  No, not the vengeful spirit who resurrects to plague havoc on the still breathing, flesh and boned to set their tortured, spiritual planed souls to rest.  The curse I speak of involves putting Haunting into the title of any ghost film that has been released in, oh let’s say, the last 20 or so years culminating into being one mediocre release after another of mainstream and independent films that has, frankly the lack of a better word, cursed the subgenre.  Type haunting in the IMDB search field and just glaze over as hundreds of films crash over you in a tsunami of stale capitalism ever since the remake of Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  “The Haunting of Connecticut.”  “An American Haunting.”  “23:59:  The Haunting Hour.”  Being one step behind the hackneyed “possession” in nearly every title about, well, possession, these post-2000 ghost films are just morsels of the bigger crapola pie that investors love to sink as little of their money into as possible because the return is greater because ghost film don’t necessarily a R rating unlike other subgenres and, sometimes, piggyback off a successful film with the parlance.  PG-13 in slashers is an oxymoron, if you ask me, but in with ghosts, fear of mysticism and the unknown has enough power to scare if done correctly, i.e. the original “Poltergeist.”  This unbecoming setup leads us to the 2020 release of the revenant thriller “Abigail Haunting,” the latest Kelly Schwarze written and directed full length film after tackling an Area 51 inspired bloody battle beyond the stars set in our backyard with “Alien Domicile, and before we go into whether the Schwarze film, co-written alongside Charisma Manualt, can tame an unbridled use of title-exploitation with a first rate story, the Indie Film Factory production will receive full benefit of the doubt until the end of the review.


The story follows a small town girl, Katie, from Prescott, Nevada who falls into small time crime with a lowlife boyfriend that quickly turns sour and deadly after an armed cash grab, presumably from a Reno casino.  Chelsea Jurkiewicz fits that small description recipe of stuck in a rut local girl without much cause for disbelief.  As Katie, Jurkiewicz’s able to be the part of a young, harried woman running from a checkered past and into the flames of a paranormal bombardment.  The then early 20-something, “Stalker” actress kept Katie balanced between her cash stealing time in Reno, integrating back into what was a rough patch with an unreasonable and abusive foster mother, and dealing with unexplainable occurrences of nightlights turning on by themselves, her room being ransacked, and succumbing to disturbing visions while reminiscing of being a scared child hidden behind a makeshift potato sack mask that becomes a reoccurring object throughout.   While Schwarze loosely ties all the facets together in a nice, tight bow that leads to a climatic unraveling of Katie’s past, the visually assaulted Katie suffers as the centerpiece punching bag that connects them altogether.  To top Katie’s mounting pressure, a face from the past tries to pry his way into her life.  A lost fling in Katie’s fleeting existence is Brian, played by Austin Collazo in his debut film performance, forcing himself into her life in what reeks of single parent desperation.  A moment involving Katie looking through a photo scrap book shows the two smiling together in a lone picture, as if she’s reflecting upon a previous romance or friendship that has since fizzled, but that’s about the extent of their history that doesn’t dive deeper into the reflection or explain the spark from the sudden interest from Brian.  At the crux of the story is Marge (Brenda Daly), a dirtied, nightgown wearing middle-aged woman who fostered abandoned at 4 months old Katie in what only has been, in Katie’s sole exposition, a terrible experience.  Schwarze instinctively ties the trailer home and Marge together as a single entity, enacting as one to push Katie around in a fit of unmotivated hysteria.  Katie doesn’t seem too eager to lift an investigated finger any of phenomena that has plagued her in the home, in the back shed, or even follows her out on a date with Brian.  Instead, Brian initiates digging into her past that sends Katie down Marge’s rabbit hole of hidden secrets in an off kilter directional take where a protagonist stands indifferent or remains stagnant after multiple Abigail encounters that would seemingly rouse up curiosity or for the sake of proving sanity.  Rounding out “Abigail Haunting” is Michael Monteiro, Christopher Brown, and Taylor May as the titular ghost.

Not a positive start with flat, often time dunce, characters in “Abigail Haunting.”  The mindset behind Katie’s involvement with the Reno robbery and a scoundrel lover strains to play a bigger role into the eerie defense she’s positionally locked into at Marge’s dreary trailer home.  Schwarze remains on the fringes around the preoccupations that descend Katie into this dark place in her life between searching for her real mother that abandoned her as an infant, the deadly robbery in Reno, and the abusive ex that all seem to be weighing less on Katie’s shoulders than the duffle bag of a couple thousand dollars that would typical skewer one’s psyche, manifesting more than just the typical side effects of pressure.  Instead, Schwarz doesn’t fold in well enough the incorporation of our angry spirit, Abigail, whose unexplained appearance out of the Nevada blue sky in between Katie’s leaving and returning to Marge’s home denotes not one single explanation of when and why Abigail chooses to be a resurrected, phantasmal spite.  More jeopardizing toward Katie’s past and present life is her obsession with the stolen money versus living a decent life with possibly Brian and his dissociable, divorce struck kid, who the former is clearly obsessed with her, but the story more so saturates with a free floating, full torso phantasm, as the Ghostbusters would say, that undermines the subterranean psychology at work here and clouds the ghost foundation built on deceits, lies, and ugly truths. What “Abigail Haunting” succumbs to is being about as rudimentary as they come with a climax too riddles with plot holes that squish much of good establishing camera work and some decently laid jump scares. Haunting, as in a title, still curses the horror subgenre with middle-of-the-road dynamism.

Death clings to us all. In “Abigail Haunting,” death clings to vengeance in this supernatural thriller dropping on DVD in the UK on February 8th courtesy of High Flier Films and ITN Distribution. The region 2, PAL encoded DVD will be presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of approx. 85 minutes. I initially had high hopes for Abigail to be at least be a derivative carbon copy of “The Conjuring” as “Scare Me’s” Michael TusHaus’s shows off impressive camera work that organically flows through Marge’s tight quartered trailer, as well as in other scenes when applicable outside the trailer location, with generous use of a stepping in-stepping out steady cam. TusHaus’s hard lighting also creates stern atmospherics with full bodied shadows that symbolically keep secrets and spirits in the dark. The digital release had no extra bonus feature available with none displayed on High Flier Film’s website. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Solid cinematography and palatable performances couldn’t plug up all the plot holes that stiffen “Abigail Haunting” into a two-bit carnival attraction that looks cool upon entry but not worth the money on exit.

 

When EVIL Strikes a Family Hard is When Fission Divides and Conquers. “Nuclear” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Emma witnesses her troubled brother violently beating their mother while dragging her through the woods.  After he leaves, Emma and her injured mother escape to the countryside, driving through the night until coming upon a village house, next to what was once a large power plant that now sits vacant, to squat for a few days.  Emma comes into an encounter with a local boy a little older than herself with a free spirit for illegal extreme sports and taking dangerous risks to new heights.  What was intended to be an isolating refuge has turned into an alluring interest for Emma who admires the boy’s nomadic lifestyle, but while her mother’s physical injuries heal, a lingering trauma begins to emerge and Emma’s violent brother is also hot on their trail seeking them out.

Lately, our reviews have been on a stretch of psychological thrillers by first time feature film directors expressing a compelling narrative in the worst of situations; we’ve tackled the unhealthy family relations while battling acute mental illness with Joe Marcantonio’s “Kindred” and have taken a step back in time into the Cold War era with isolation tension and uncontrollable violent outbursts in the “Darkness in Apartment 45,” directed by Nicole Groton.  Well, we’re going for the hat trick with Catherine Linstrum debuting her written and directed psychological drama, “Nuclear,” that deals with the fallout of an estranged, threadbare family under the looming shadow of a defunct nuclear power plant, upending a whole new meaning for the term nuclear family.  Co-written with longtime collaborator, David-John Newman. “Nuclear” is a radiating co-production funded by the British Film Institute, Fields Park Media, and Ffilm Cymru Wales, and Great Point Media with Stella Nwimo serving as producer and Paul Higgins as executive producer.

Much of the narrative hinges on Emma, “Locke & Key’s” Emilia Jones, as a 14-year daughter at the center of her brother’s terrible misdeed that sparks a flight of escape to the country and then befriends an eccentric boy who pulls her toward a more grounded frame of mind despite his extreme antics.  The boy, charmingly played by “1917’s” George MacKay, is exactly the distraction Emilia needed while sheltering in refuge. MacKay boyish good looks accentuates his character’s overweening attitude that renders a thin layer of mysteriousness about him as the boy,, and when I say boy I mean young man not much older than Emilia, lives out of his van near the power plant and does backflips on a stone bridge. With such a small cast, one would assume the boy would have interactions with Emilia’s mother or brother, but that’s not the case as the film purposefully uses evasive maneuvers intended not to mingle the boy with Emilia’s mother, played by another Resident Evil Jill Valentine actress (see review of “Darkness in Apartment 45”) Sienna Guillory, and brother Oliver Coopersmith (“It’s Alive” remake), who are weaved into different stages of Emilia’s cerebral reactions to events that unfold unexpectedly. Floating through the story, like a supernatural Japanese house wife, is Noriko Sakura who, much like most of the other characters, plays that is unidentified, but Sakura’s wraithlike presence attaches itself to Emilia’s mother as a telltale sign that something isn’t quite right with the mother’s mental state.

“Nuclear,” in regards to the term, can be interpreted and dissected on many levels within the film; two possible, and perhaps the more obvious, espies are a nuclear family (as a pun on the phrase that denotes nuclear fission) that goes through a chain reaction of dependent events after a horrible event and the other would be the blatant power plant sitting idle and empty in the background, a symbol of a ruin that once harnessed power and gave energy to all and an allegory to this young teenager Emilia’s handling of the crime committed against her one and only protector- her mother. “Nuclear” is very much a young girl coming of age film that strikes chords of self-reliance and free choice while also strumming to disconnect from her parents and family, but she must face them first in order to really let go of the past. But does Catherine Lindstrum pull all the elements together? Lindstrum’s brain-teasing drama will ultimately confuse the general masses. Hell, “Nuclear” even confuses me by not sewing the last threads to connect the stitches of hecatomb effects as the principles players somber through an inexplicit tapestry that’s not clear, present, and often feels distant. The end result does evoke a sense of a coming of age story, but how that adolescent scores through tribulation is about opaque as murky water.

 

“Nuclear” is a twisting cerebral topography tale comprised of seasoned actors and promising young talent from the United Kingdom being distributed courtesy 101 Films, releasing digitally November 9th. Behind the camera is French cinematographer Crystel Fournier with a harsh realism that delivers a natural, but bleak tone full of shadows and gray contrast. Fournier captures and differentiates Emma’s solitude and isolation, especially when she, inadvertently, searches for answers through the motif of faith centric crosses and messages that surround her in and out of the cottage. Stephen McKeon’s score compliments Fournier’s atmo-melancholic with beautiful synth piano and Celtic akin violin compositions. There were no bonus features included with this digital screener and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Don’t expect a mushroom cloud of edge-of-your-seat drama and psychological torment, “Nuclear” is the breadth of anticipation of the Cold War, never knowing what, when, and where to expect the bomb to drop in Catherine Linstrum’s debuting quandary.

A Troubled Family’s EVIL Dynamic. “Kindred” reviewed! (IFC Midnight / Digital Screener)

When Ben and Charlotte declare a decision to move from the English countryside to Australia, Ben’s ardent mother, Margaret, refuses to let her son move away from his family and responsibility in overseeing the massive manor property that’s been in his family for generations.  Despite friction between mother and son, even after the unsuspected announcement of Charlotte with child, the young couple are eager to start their new lives abroad.  An accident causes the sudden death of Ben that takes a psychological toll on Charlotte.  Margaret, and Ben’s aim-to-please brother-in-law, abruptly move Charlotte into the grand manor home as she floats through grief, but their overwhelming generosity turns into obsession with her every move, corralling her to do what’s best for the unborn child with undue stress based off her own family’s mental history.  As Charlotte resists more against the family’s insistence she stay, the stronger their grip on her tightens. 

Sometimes, meeting your partner’s family can be uncomfortably standoffish.  In Joe Marcantonio’s psychological thriller “Kindred,” reticent of personal gain and admission of truth becomes a thick, abrasive wall of tension that crimps the fringes of family relations and mental instability.  The writer-director’s debut feature film hailing from the United Kingdom, releasing this November 6th, tampers with the control over one’s own body through the traumatized perception of a pregnant woman with predispositions on having children in the first place and on her dead boyfriend’s unusual family, coursing with unsettling mental and emotional warfare that’s already tipped in one side’s favor.  The 101 minute, English-made thriller is a co-production of Reiver Pictures and Serotonin Films in association with the makers of “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies,” Phil Hunt and Tom Harberd of Head Gear Films and Compton and Elliot Ross of UK based Kreo Films.

The players in this tumbling mix of disturbing cat and mouse antics are more or less confined to a skewed variation of an immediate family though none of characters are exactly blood relatives.  Neither Charlotte, Margaret, or Thomas share an smidgen of the same DNA, but have become entangled, in one way or another, into Margaret’s hampering incubator that shelter’s their distinct and varied, sometimes uncooperative, personalities.  Margaret is beholden to memory to her late son, Ben, and exposing Margaret’s egotistic manipulations so wonderfully subtle and true is Fiona Shaw of the “Harry Potter” saga in a role that isn’t so dissimilar to the blunt nastiness of her Aunt Petunia character, but renders a more fierce, enshrouding malice that’s less caricature.  The Irish born Shaw and “DunKirk’s” Jack Lowdon dance a beguiling routine of mother and son as Lowdon plays Margaret’s step-son, Thomas.  Thomas tends to Margaret’s every snippy whim, being a charming and gleaming host, and an overall nice guy, but deep in the recesses of our minds we know something is just not right with Thomas’s polished veneer that soon will explode with true intentions out of dormancy.  Yet, things might not be okay with our seeming heroine either in Charlotte.  Charlotte is very weary of Margaret and Thomas who indirectly, through her eyes, hold hostage the mother-to-be from fleeing the family now that the connection is broken with Ben’s death.  In her debut principle feature film performance, Tamara Lawrance’s Charlotte scribbles outside the lines that smudges the contours of perception reality, adding a complexity component to her character that may or may not being suffering from parental depression commingled with external stress that treats Charlotte like a child in herself.  Chloe Pirrie, Anton Lesser (“Game of Thrones”), and Edward Holcroft (“Vampire Academy”) round out “Kindred’s” strong supporting cast.

Marcantonio’s “Kindred” splits the focal point of isolating tension, dividing the source into two distinct paths from the point of a view of the self-protective besieged.  In one hand, the pregnant and mentally vulnerable Charlotte experiences apprehension of being forcibly, and manipulatively, instructed by Margaret and Thomas to do what’s best for the baby…Ben’s baby.  Having never seen eye-to-eye or felt comfortable around Ben’s instable mother and peculiar brother-in-law, Charlotte has no Ben as a buffer against their coarse personas, overpowering her as a tag-team of self-interest, but most of everything Charlotte experiences is filtered by past judgements about them.  Alternatively, Margaret, Thomas, and even her boyfriend Ben, note directly to Charlotte her mother’s history with postpartum depression.  The undercurrent theory that it produces brings an under the table perception of how audiences will then try to solve Charlotte’s predicamental puzzle.  On the surface level, Charlotte is being held captive and drugged by her late boyfriend’s estranged family; obscurely, Charlotte’s terror is manifested by a loathed family lineage of mental illness and when your observations goes in one direction per the mind’s pre-wired setup, but all the evidence points to the contradiction, audiences will begin to empathize more closely to the harrowing experiences, through childlike control, of an unstable mind on the brink of a break.  Marcantionio very clearly makes things unclear of an in-between reality that challenges not only audiences, but also Charlotte, on what’s real and not real of the mind’s emphasis.  However, not everything is teed up perfectly as some of the abstract visuals, i.e. Charlotte’s dreams of ravens and horses, fall more into the rigors of psychological concepts that become lost in the affect of either pathway toward what could be considered a Schrodinger’s Cat finale as Charlotte, stuck inside a manor house that’s symbolically a box, could be both sane and insane.

 

Family can be a finicky thing and “Kindred” is a fastidious look at the instability of family and mental illness which can be, in filmmaker Joe Marcantonio’s eye, interchangeable.  Setting up shop before families get together for the impending holiday season, IFC Midnight will release “Kindred” in select theaters, on digital platforms, and on VOD November 6th.  In regards to the look of the film, director of photography, Carlos Catalan, hones in on a series of medium to medium-closeup shots while grasping very little toward widescreen shots, especially being shot mostly in a grand manor house in Scotland.  When Catalan has symmetrical framing, the allusion is gesturing grand with loneliness, but the cinematographer rarely has the frame centered, often creating an unnerving amount of space in the depth when juxtaposed with an uncentered character in the closeup all the while in natural light to not feign cynicism through use of color or filter. The only time filters are used are in the purple hued airy dream sequences with the raven and horses that become a metaphorical motif of Charlotte’s embattled dreams. The score is composed by a UK collaboration of multi-instrumental composers in Natalie Holt and Jack Halama. Holt’s harsh violin chords with Halama’s drama-fueling classical style produced hints of Mark Korven’s “The Witch” in similar tones, but explode with targeted dissensions that spur equally emotional dissensions amongst the characters. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Kindred” is relationally disjointing, disturbingly psychological, and textbook taut with tension as one of the best familiar thrillers to come out of the United Kingdom in the last quarter of the year.

Neglect. Rape. Christmas Birth. A Perfect Storm for EVIL to be Born! “The Curse of the Werewolf” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Collector’s Edition Blu-ray)


Set amongst the simple, yet sometimes divisively barbaric, culture of Eighteenth Century Spain, a beggar stumbles into the castle of a cruel king whose throwing a lavish wedding reception with his lords. The King’s young bride takes pity on the beggar as his force to be the occasion’s jester to obtain scraps of food and wine, but when the King retires with his new wife, he orders the beggar to be imprisoned. Forgotten to the point of insanity with his only visitor a lovely mute jailkeeper’s maid, the haggard and disheveled beggar goes mad with ravenous intentions and when the maid is punished for disobeying the now elderly, but still cruel, King, she is locked away with the beggar who rapes her. When the maid is released next morning, she kills the King and escapes into the woods to live like an animal until she’s barely found alive by a nobleman named Don Alfredo. Nursed back to health by Don Alfredo’s servant, Teresa, and discovering that the maid is pregnant, Don Alfredo and Teresa tend to the maid until the eventual birth on Christmas Day, an unholy time to give birth to a child according to superstition. The maid dies shortly after giving birth and the child, named Leon, is then raised by Don Alfredo and Teresa as their own, but carries with him a terrible curse stemmed from the maltreatment of his parents and being born on Christmas Day that transforms him into a bloodthirsty werewolf when the moon is full. When a priest advised that only love will restrain the beast from emerging, young Leon must be continuously shown affection, but when a young man, Leon leaves home to live his life, but the beast within him returns to ravage the village’s population.

Let’s travel back in time to the groovy year of 1961 when the renowned Hammer Horror direct, Terence Fisher (“Horror of Dracula”), was accelerating to the height of his career into what would be the United Kingdom’s very own colossally cult production studio, Hammer Horror, that economically constructed violent storied horror concepts splayed with a brilliant crimson blood inside an orgasmic gothic melodrama circulating around most of the classic monsters like Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein, but, in this review of a new collector’s edition of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release, Fisher wrestled with the hound from Hell, the werewolf, in “The Curse of the Werewolf” that was penned by Anthony Hinds, under the pseudonym of John Elder, as his sophomore credit behind “The Brides of Dracula.” English studio locations were transformed, not under the light of a full moon, to fabricate a mock village of Eighteenth Century Spain with the immaculate details to the sets and costumes, surely recycled from previous Hammer films, to offset the inherent English accents on a broken Spanglish vernacular. Fisher and Hinds upend common werewolf narratives, spinning a wildly tangent rendition of Guy Endore’s already highly taboo tricked out horror novel, “The Werewolf of Paris,” and drape it heavily with Gothicism.

Playing the shapeshifter werewolf is Oliver Reed who at the time was relatively unknown, playing a few bit parts such Plaid Shirt (“Wild for Kicks”) or my personal favorite, Man With Bucket on Head (“No Love for Johnnie.”) Yet, Reed exuded animalistic qualities, such as his dark features and somber eyes, that made him ideal for the role by appearances alone. The thespian in him didn’t quite fit what I believe Fisher was trying to flush out for his beast as Reed held back with a stoic reserve rather than a man desperate for salvation or death, but no one could deny that Reed wore the werewolf makeup like no other, a fine tuned testament of makeup artist Roy Ashton’s creativity that intensified an already beastly framed actor. “The Kiss of the Vampire’s” Clifford Evans took the role of being the wealthy socialite and surrogate father, Don Alfredo, who took the responsibility of raising a cursed child as his own with much suppression love as he could muster to stave the beast from returning. The legendary actor who starred in countless crime-dramas step outside his niche and into horror, even if at the time horror was considered a schlocky exercise of distaste content for a cheap thrill. As Don Alfredo, Evans wages his worth solely on the prospect of being a gentled hearted father-figure doing the right thing even if it’s detrimental to himself and the veteran actor triumphs taking an aloof man with little responsibility to his village, let alone his home, and turning him into taking the matter of his adopted son’s affliction into his own hands when he fails to cobble another solution together. “The Curse of the Werewolf” holds many other fine support performances from “Circus of Horror’s” Yvonne Romain as the mute jailkeeper’s maid, Catherine Feller, Richard Wordsworth, Warren Mitchell, Anne Blake, and John Gabriel.

“The Curse of the Werewolf” is driven not by the snarling teeth action or the transformative body horror one expects of Lycanthropy features. Instead, Hammer’s film rides a story high without being arbitrary with nonsensical waning on the centerpiece of the story, the curse, coursing the path that led to Leon’s fate that was no fault of his own. Leon’s throat-ripping moonlight rendezvous was bred from cruelty and circumstance of severe class division that reaps the life from those in the same blue collar social class as Leon, leaving the higher, wealthy class virtually unscathed by the curse’s wrath in a cruel ironic twist of events. With the story leading the charge, special effects and makeup take a backseat without only some immature fangs and shadowy lurking to sate the need for creature presence. When Roy Ashton’s vision of the half-man half-beast does make a full presentation of Oliver Reed in the full hairy beast getup, complete with a furrowed brow, elongated lower canines, and large wolf ears that were connected with bristly, greyish brown hair down the side of his lower jaw, the werewolf is worth the wait for some of the best practical werewolf makeup from the mid-20th century and surely was the inspiration for future werewolf films, such as “Wolf” with Jack Nicholson. The novelty of “The Curse of the Werewolf” still remains ripe despite being nearly half a century young, giving the beast a meaningful, if not also pitiful, existence to empathize being damned on two fronts: a wretched, cursed soul and being the target of a village mob.

Can love soothe a killer heart? Find out in Scream Factory’s collector edition Blu-ray of “The Curse of the Werewolf” with a new 4K scan from the original 35mm negative and presented in a 1080p high-definition widescreen format of a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Rendering with clean textures and superb details, the image has remarkable vibrancy and hue balance in it’s tinctured technicolor. The transfer is virtually blemish-free, suggesting that the original negative aged well, with agreeable natural grain to complement the film stock. Scream Factory has produced the best looking version of this classic Hammer release. The English language DTS-HD single channel Master Audio renders, again, scot-free of aged distortion with the high-definition eminent boost to providing even clearer dialogue and untarnished ambient clattering during more turbulent scenes of laughter or beastly disarray. English subtitles are optional. A collector’s edition wouldn’t be complete with a slew of bonus materials and, boy, does “The Curse of the Werewolf” have brand spanking new material for the special features that include a new Roy Ashton tribute piece by his friend and “Little Shoppe of Horrors'” writer Richard Klemensen and new audio commentary with film historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr. Plus, interviews with actors Catherine Feller, Yvonne Romain, Mike Hill, art director Don Mingaye, art department member Margaret Robinson, and filmmaker Jimmy Sangster in “The Making of The Curse of the Werewolf” featurette, a look at Lycanthropy that discusses whether man’s inner wolf can be a transformative source of mental will, a still gallery, and the theatrical trailer. The package is illustrated with Oliver Reed’s snarling werewolf persona by Mark Maddox, who designed Scream Factory’s “The Thing” release, and comes in a nifty cardboard slip cover. All in all, Scream Factory brought new life into the re-originating and re-orientating “The Curse of the Werewolf” that is, perhaps inarguably, the best Hammer upgrade to date.

Own “The Curse of the Werewolf” today!

Run And Hid When Yuletide EVIL Comes A Calling! “Pagan Warrior” reviewed! (ITN Distribution / DVD)


In Medieval times of Sussex, England, a powerful English king, who has kept the seething Viking savages at bay for decades, has died, vacating the throne to his son, Rollo. The Vikings seize the opportunity during this time of transition and storm the Saxon Castle, nearly killing the monarchy and all of throne’s subjects left to oppose them. With their daughter Avery kidnapped and themselves on the brink of death, King Rollo and Queen Silvia are revived by two women of the woods, a pair of witch sisters known as Constance and Millicent, who use their mystical healing powers and offer the king retribution by summoning the Yuletide monster, Krampus. In return for slaughtering the Viking usurpers, the Krampus will collect his debt in exactly 10 years, taking whatever is precious and dear as payment from the vengeful King Rollo.

Krampus has become a major media trend over the last decade, popping up in all forms of popular culture that compounded lore inside the leafy pages of books and magazines to the beast’s frighteningly half-goat, half-man exterior making for great big screen monster entertainment. The inverse icon of jolly Saint Nicholas offers punitive measures for bad little girls and boys and is sometimes referred as a companion to Saint Nicholas who probably turned a decisive blind eye to little brat Johnny’s enjoyably thievery and torture of chickens from a neighboring farm. “Pagan Warrior” is yet another narrative of the Christmas creature spun with different fabric and woven into a bitter feud of two contending enemies told modestly by director Louisa Warren (“Tooth Fairy”), produced by Warren’s London, UK based production company, ChampDog Films, a creative outlet for independent film ventures that are mostly in the horror genre and are sometimes inferior versions of bigger budget films, in the same vein as Asylum Entertainment. The script comes from Shannon Holiday (“Bride of Scarecrow”) that conveys an ageless theme of beware of what you wish for and the price of blind vengeance.

“Pagan Warrior” hones in on numerous character stories, never clearly defining a single perspective. King Rollo, played by “Escape from Cannibal Farm’s Peter Cosgrove, becomes the royal fate sealer as what he deems necessary and right is, in fact, the worst possible scenario a mad king could bestow upon himself by calling upon the supernatural death dealers for revenge. Cosgrove cleans up nicely as an English blue blood whose bequest incorporates a lineage of fighting kings with Cosgrove taking his role with due importance despite a humbling filmmaking production. King Rollo’s counterpart, the merciless Viking Ubbe fitted for Carey Thring (“Scarecrow’s Revenge”), combats a war on two fronts – the contentious bout with King Rollo and an internal family squabble that beleaguer the bond between him and his wife (Kate Milner Evans, “Pet Graveyard”) and child (Adam Sugawara, “Virtual Death Match”) as he tries to court princess Avery with a crude sexual advances. Thring’s vision of Ubbe is a classically depicted villain whose stronger with allies and a whimpering coward when alone in a fight, especially when the Krampus comes calling for his head. Darrell Griggs dons the makeup, prosthetics, and wardrobe of the horned beast, becoming the folklore of a cursed death who not only pursues the 12 month progression of horrible children, but also the appointed damned when conjured for a hit. Krampus’ outward appearance is pleasing and Griggs provides the lumbering and slight preternatural motions that give Krampus that dreaded paranormal mysticism. “Pagan Warrior” rounds out with Sarah T. Cohen (“ClownDoll”), Jessica O’Toole (“Pet Graveyard”), Mike Kelson (“Scarecrow’s Revenge”), Hattie Willow (“The Mermaid’s Curse”), Will Todd (“Mummy Reborn”), and Tara MacGowran (“Mother Krampus”) and director Louisa Warren as the women of the woods.

ChampDog Films uses a tightknit group of actors and filmmakers to sell archaic swordplay action fastened against demonic folklore and despite the underwhelming band of Vikings versus an equally small English contingent squaring off in front of a historic English castle with virtually no ample practical or CGI era enhanced presentations, the production just barely eeks by with Feudal times. Wisely, Warren shoots a number of character closeup shots, avoiding much of the surrounding modern elements and forcing audiences to focus just on the characters who are dolled up for Medieval times roleplay. Where the battle scenes and smart camera work flourish, the Shannon Holiday script becomes the ultimate weak link in the chain with a predictable plot storied with terribly cliched and uninteresting characters that couldn’t grip a sword let alone one’s attention. The story begins with its most shocking ending scene, thwarting any possibility of surprise for even the most dense and cinematically uneducated individual for the ruse play out. There is also this millennium goof in the opening backstory credits indicating events take place in 812 AD and in the same breath, mentioned also is the three days of December 1812 that this episode occurs. Since 1812 England was all about redcoats, guns, and war with America colonies, I would assume 812 AD would be the correct time period against a Viking invasion.

In what is not exactly a Christmas holiday horror movie, the malediction of the “Pagan Warrior” spread little holiday cheer and more yesterday fear onto an ITN Distribution and Mill Creek Entertainment DVD. Presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ration, on a single layer DVD, sheathed inside a DVD cover that looks cooler than the actual movie itself, the lower end production avoids stylizing a historical based feature with tinted mattes, computer imagery, or any other miscellaneous camera effects seeking more toward a naturalistic cinematography that utilizes the hues at hand. Pastel blacks jump with noise and posterization from the electronic interference whereas the existing hues exhibit a less than rich approach of a more vapid green, brown, and stonewall beige. The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio mix maintains a level of consistency. Sometimes, Krampus’ dialogue is murky because of the extra gnarling effect parroting an LFE emitting voice; however, dialogue is mainly clear and prominent. English SDH is an available option. For a time period action-horror, the lack of rudimentary range and depth troubles with little sense into the effort of adding skirmishing swords and Krampus’ reverberating growls always seem to be right next to the camera. The only bonus feature available is the trailer. With conventional means of dispatching people, “Pagan Warrior” shadows more of the slasher concept conjured by the breath of the desperate who misfires judgment rather than being an omnipotent being summoned like a djinn for total annihilation in exchange for a debt in this good faith effort by Louisa Warren of Krampus diabolism.

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