A Diary Full of EVIL Secrets. “The Darkness” reviewed! (Reel2Reel / Digital Screener)

David inherits his ailing grandmother’s countryside cottage and holidays with his novelist girlfriend, Lisa, who seeks a little refuge to inspire her next big bestseller.  As soon as they arrive and Lisa discovers an old storage chest in the attic, Lisa’s is pulled by a call of a supernatural entity that lures her outside to an unmarked grave, an ominous cave suspected with evil fairies, and a diary that tells the horrifying accounts of a murdered woman.  Their time at the cottage take a toll on Lisa who’s strange behavior places concern on David.  An ostracized priest forewarns possession, death, and the stakes if Lisa remains in the area that’s haunted with witches, ghosts, changelings, and betrayers. 

Originally titled “Dorcha,” an Irish term for dark, and then rebranded as “The Darkness” for the remainder of the English speaking residents of the world, the 2021 released multifaced specter and fairy Irish folklore spectacle is the directorial debut of Tharun Mohan, a current producer for the 2021 United Kingdom vampire versus human boiling point coexistence television series, “Age of the Living Dead,” co-starring our good genre loving friend and actor, Bill Oberst Jr.  While Bill Oberst Jr. is not a part of “The Darkness” (my apologies if I gave a sense of false hope), Mohan, from off the pages of his screenplay, aspires to illuminate Irish mythology as an alluring gothic horror mixture of mystery with fear sans the more popular little green men defending pots of gold.  The self-produced film under the Tharun Productions is the banner’s first feature with Aoun Khan, Neenu Mathai, Anoop Pillai, and Monique R. White serving as executive producers.

While we don’t get Bill Oberst Jr. (still hurts), we do get someone just as good with “The House of Bly Manor’s” Amelia Eve!  The UK actress headlines “The Darkness” in the role of Lisa, the struggling novelist looking for a slice of inspiration but instead receives the whole pie of possession.  Eve lives it up as an entity puppeteering her youthful outer shell in the filth and muck, stuffing her face with all the food in the cottage, and, at times, imitating an urbanity style of death.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend David (Cyril Blake) would have probably unintentionally babe’d her to death if she wasn’t already being haunted by a vindictive Victorian spirit.  “The Darkness” is Blake’s introductory role into feature films and the 36 year old, South Yorkshire actor can’t quite capture sincerity when it comes to his girlfriend’s unusual behavior.  David also just wanders to-and-fro around town in an aloof manner for more than just one reason until things become dire with Lisa and  then is that only when he’s starts to get really involved and attempt to fix whatever’s afflicting  Lisa, even if he has to entertain an informed, but shunned, eccentric priest (John Sudgen) with tea and biscuits in order to get just what the hell is going on.  A number of side characters pop up with an inclining of importance, such as the nosy waitress (Marian Elizabeth), a powerful witch (Gillian Kirkpatrick), and a determined historian (Mary Drake), but fall short of any real significance by fluttering in with just enough motivational tidbits and then flutter out of the scene and let the principle characters work out the rest.  “The Darkness” is a dual timeline narrative with the current story focusing on Lisa’s bubbling black enchantment slowly taking over her body with the backbone base layer account of events providing a tell-all mystery driving Lisa mad with a menacing spirit.  Occurring around a few decades ago before Lisa and David arrive, Niav O’Connor (Katherine Harthshorne) mysteriously disappears from her husband Bryan (Adam Bond), but much of this is revealed through the Lisa’s obsessive reading of Niav’s diary which begs the question, how did Niav write her demise in the diary pages if she was already dead?

And that last sentiment ultimately describes Mohan’s film, as an unfocused and trite expression of amateur storytelling.  There’s difficulty in trying to nail down, or taking a stab at anything as the saying goes, in the “The Darkness’” many moving parts and many fiends in the off shoots Mohan tries to tie in from all various directions.  Even in the film’s final scenes, Mohan had to pen in one more twist that corrodes even further the integrity of a much desired narrative about Irish mythologies and the malevolencies that spur them. Myths are the heart of “The Darkness,” more specifically with the changelings who are fairies that replace real people, and Niav and Bryan O’Connor’s ghastly tale echoes the non-fictional account of Bridget Cleary, an Irish wife murdered by her husband under the suspicion that his wife was a changeling. Connections made between the past and present are roughly tied together at best with only Niav’s unearthed and charmed diary serving as a conduit to possess Lisa’s curious id. The pursuit of revenge for her untimely demise falls upon… well, that part of the story is undoubtedly vague as Niav seems to be resurrecting from the grave, so to speak, to reveal dubious secrets held by relatives from the lineage of her husband Bryan and cling her spiteful lifeforce to that bloodline and haunt O’Connor descendants like a severe post traumatic stress disorder; yet the vapid ending doesn’t justify the means, falling short the buildup of the hallmarks of folklore horror in witches, changelings, fairies, dark arts priests, and ghosts with anything but spectacular.

No cheap thrills, no gore, no nudity. “The Darkness” relies heavily on the suspense of the gothic tale itself to drawn in and spook audiences as the Mohan film creeps onto digital streaming services and video on demand this month, May 3rd, from the fresh-faced independent UK distribution label, Reel2Reel. The production value on “The Darkness” catches the passing aesthetically expensive eye while still being an economically financed and that’s a big credit to director of photography, Ariel Artur, getting the artistic shots that displays time and patience in getting the minor key angles right to at least extract a gripping moment of apprehension, resembling 60’s and 70’s European horror to likes of Hammer Horror or Amicus in appearance alone. As far as bonus scenes during or after the credits, there are none. As a starting line feature, “The Darkness” is not terrible. Let’s be clear on this as Tharun Mohan understand the fundamentals of filmmaking with sound positioning of characters in scenes, a superb, expensive look on a value size budget, and the Amalie Eve’s crazed performance is a thrill in itself, but envisioning the structure still remains behind the blinders, leaving “the Darkness” just an aimless shot in the dark.

Sit Back and Enjoy EVIL’s Ride on the “American Rickshaw” reviewed! (Cauldron Films / Blu-ray Screener)


Scott Edwards, a struggling college student, works as a rickshaw runner on the vivacious streets of Miami. When a beautiful woman offers more than just the rickshaw fare for his service, Scott reluctantly accompanies her on a private boat secured at the local harbor for a night of sensual loving, but Scott finds himself in the middle of a voyeuristic scheme by being videotaped behind a two-way mirror and before fully copulating, Scott roughs up the secret cinematographer and the woman escapes. After realizing he forgot the tape, Scott returns to the boat to discover the man dead and all the evidence points to him, framing him for the murder. On the run and being hunted down by Miami PD and the actual killer, Scott embarks on a mission to clear his name, with the help from the woman on the boat, a stripper named Victoria, and a Chinese witch named Madame Luna, during a pivotal time of Chinese mythology that pits good versus evil entrenched sordidly around a renowned televangelist.

Perhaps one of the most offbeat action-fantasy-horror movies to come out of the U.S. in the late 1980’s, the “American Rickshaw” cinematic experience can be a mesmerizing 97 minutes of claptrap theology and clandestine villainy bedim by a witch’s obscured telepathy powers of fire, snakes, and unveiling evil with a human to pig physical transformation. Also known as “American Tiger” in the States and “American riscio” in Italy, the film has the sensation of a blend of various filmmaking abstracts and for very good reason, it is. Notable Italian filmmaker, Sergio Martino (“Torso” and “Slave of the Cannibal God”), helms the cultivation of a big-ticket American production with the ethereal supernatural essence invoked by the Europeans that results into being one of complex whirlwind of a story from a script penned by Martino, Roberto Leoni (“Sex Diary”), Maria Perrone Capano (Beyond Kilimanjaro, Across the River of Blood”), and Sauro Scavolini (Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key”). Dania Film, Medusa Distribuzione, and National Cinematografica serve as the Italian production companies responsible for the “Rickshaw’s” wild ride through Miami heat.

With a premise already on a high bonkers plane, “American Rickshaw’s” curiosity extends to the casting of an American Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics, the perfect 10 recording Mitch Gaylord, is cast as the male lead, Scott Edwards. The physically fit Olympic hero with little-to-no experience or exposure in acting to his name became the story’s prime suspect on the run from not only the law, but a merciless goon embodied by “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark’s” Daniel Greene. Greene already had an established relationship with Sergio Martino, having worked previously with the director on “Hands of Steel” and “The Opponent,” marking “American Rickshaw” as his first collaborated effort in being the story’s villain, Francis, who is seemingly more of the antagonist foe for Scott Edwards than his sect master, Reverend Mortom, a masquerading televangelist seeking to exploit an ancient Chinese relic for nefarious purposes and it’s “Halloween’s” Donald Pleasance to be the face of what would be established as quintessential evil. Pleasance seemingly goes along with the story even when has to snort like a pig during the character’s climatic ending, but is enveloped in a rather mundane, behind-the-scenes puppet master preaching a good biblical hellfire and brimstone game only to be castrated as a backseat bad guy with little to no vice exploration other than swindling the Chinese witch while dolled up in a kimono. The cast rounds out with Victoria Prouty, Darin De Paul, Roger Pretto and Regina Rodriguez and Michi Kobi as the young and old Madam Luna.

I’m one who never likes to research movies before watching them; I believe knowing the film in and out before viewing will more than likely become ruinous toward the quality of perception and cement a foundation of fixed judgement before the opening title credits roll. I don’t even like reading the film’s synopsis for the fear of spoiling too much on too little so I sat down with “American Rickshaw” knowing virtually nothing about the Marino anomaly and coming out relatively pleased, strangely piqued, and from start-to-finished bewildered. Off the bat, “American Rickshaw” could be grossly compared to be the East Coast variation of or, perhaps, the Italian answer to “Big Trouble in Little China” that channels less Chinese mysticism for more mysterious thriller. There are some noticeable similarities between the two films, such as for the obvious uncanny powers of Madam Luna, and then the not so obvious, but maybe more of a referential nod to John Carpenter’s film with the main character sporting a graphic tank top of a tiger that’s familiar with Jack Burton’s graphic yin-yang tank top, the young and old versions of Madam Luna resemble the young and old versions of Lo-Pan, and the scene where a prominent character gets runover by a big, red semi-truck. You know, the kind of rig Jack Burton mows down Lo-Pan with? “American Rickshaw” pales in comparison or, perhaps, shouldn’t be compared at all as Martino’s spellbinds his work by riddling it with cross cuts that attempts to discern solely by optics that swiss cheeses your mind as it tries to fill in the gaps of where the hell did that snake come from? Why did the key burn through his hand? Why is the stripper key to Scott’s Journey? What’s the reason behind Scott’s year of the tiger birth date significance toward his impelled Chinese zodiac destiny? There lies so many questions, but very few are answered; Yet, “American Rickshaw” is the wonderland tour Martino fabricates as some dysfunctional vision quest mapped with spontaneous witchery, horoscope horrors, and a devil pig in human clothing.

As the second half of the inaugural releases of Cauldron Films, “American Rickshaw” receives a limited edition Blu-ray release with a 2k restoration scan from the original camera negative. Since the review is based off a Blu-ray screener and not a physical copy, only 1500 copies being release, the A/V aspects of the package will not be critiqued, but this unrated 80’s hybrid action-fantasy-horror will receive the works, including a limited edition high quality slipcase with new artwork by Mattias Frisk, a reverse covering featuring the Italian artwork, and a booklet inside with writings by grindhouse comics writer and Tough to Kill co-author, David Zuzelo. The picture will be presented in a widescreen, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with an English language LPCM dual channel audio track with optional English SDH subtitles. Bonus material aplenty with an one-on-one interviews with director Sergio Martino and production designer Massimo Antonello lamenting about the film while as providing a stark difference between Italian and American filmmaking in the late 1980s, a then and now look at filming locations, The Production Booth Podcast, including commentary from Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger discussing the zaniness of “American Rickshaw,” and an image gallery. Distinct beyond anything else you’ll ever see and indelible with solid practical effects, “American Rickshaw” deserves the upgraded, horror-marketed update set apart from the poorly sultry, softcore porn “American Tiger” U.S. release that stiffens the story’s true self on retail shelves.

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.

Purchase “Pagan Warrior on DVD!

“Pagan Warrior” is also included with Amazon Prime!

Evil Tempts With the Body and the Heart! “Inquisition” review!


In 17th Century France, the torturous and deadly persecutions of innocent lives at the merciless hands of the almighty Church coinciding with the vast number of ill-fated deaths from bubonic plague made the medieval era a ghastly and forsaken time. Religious pursuers, known as judges, sought to unearth those who hold contract with Satan, who lustfully weaponized their bodies, and faithfully serve the dark prince and burn them at the stake after vigorous torture to obtain a must-have confession. One particular and notable judge, Bernard de Fossey, travels to a small providence to serve similar inquisition standards, but falls in love for Catherine, the mayor’s eldest daughter who holds a secret affair with a passionate lover named Jean. When Catherine’s lover is suddenly murdered, Catherine’s uncontrollable melancholy thrusts her to shift loyalties toward the alluring power of Satan in order to reveal the person behind Jean’s murder. Bernard’s trapped between his brutal crusade and the love he has for Catherine and tries to protect her from persecution by his fellow judges and from the execution stake. While many innocent claimed women and the few who confess to witchery burn alive, the judge teeters carelessly through the conclave of trials as Catherine has her blazing eyes set to destroy the person responsible for her overwhelming grief.

The one and only Paul Naschy stars and directs, in his directorial debut under the moniker Jacinto Molina, the remarkable underrated “Inquisition,” an time-piece tale accompanied with Spain’s 1970’s macabre ornamenting from the beginning credits to the aflame tragic ending. Spanish horror generally has an unusual gothic knack that can’t be emulated. With the blunt visual cues and the in your face gratuitous sleaze that manages to be naturally appropriate in the same spatial existence, Spain’s horror scene was put on the worldwide map that cordially sat itself right next to Italian’s giallo and UK’s Hammer Horror. Putting aside the budget, Spain’s underground cinematic gems flourished in a time of governmental conservatism and, to the likes of “Inquisition,” were, If I may be so bold, well equipped with scenic locations and props, scored charismatically, shot beautifully, and even maintained some provocative acting from actors and actresses all over Europe and even the world who were willing to bare it all for the project.

A buff, and rather brutishly handsome, Paul Naschy stars as the ruthless witch hunter Bernard de Fossey, but that’s not all. Naschy dons another role as the formidable and all powerful Satan in a dual-role performance of good and evil, of sorts. As de Fossey, Naschy’s chiseled, if not slightly stoic, portrayal of a pious huntsman locks in that medieval aroma while as Satan, similarly stoic but often with a devilish charm that Naschy often pulls off well under the latex and makeup. “Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key’s” Daniela Giordano marvelously shapes her character. The leading actress’s Italiano dark features, piercingly cold eyes, and shameless willingness to bare it all, topped with an on-off switch of ferocity, makes Giordano a powerhouse antagonist against Naschy’s de Fossey. Mónica Randall, Ricardo Merino, Tota Alba in one of her last roles, Antonio Iranzo, Julia Saly (“Panic Beats”), Tony Isbert (“Tragic Ceremony”), and Loreta Tovar (“The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff”) co-star.

Supporting the remarkable cast is the incredible work of special artists Francisco Garcia San José and Pablo Pérez. These two aren’t widely known for their talent, but their grit behind “Inquisition” shouldn’t go unspoken. Naschy’s Satan wouldn’t be a glowing-eyed, skull-staff carrying Baphomet without them nor would there be that pec-tensing nipple severing during a great torture scene. There’s something very simple about San José and Pérez’s work that speaks volumes that virtually delivers in the heinous acts of the inquisition to life and that give Satan an embodiment that has inspired many films even to today. For 1976, I’m in awe of the caliber of the effects, especially being a Spanish horror film that’s notoriously inherited being low-budget.

Mondo Macabro’s widescreen Blu-ray release of “Inquisition” deserves to be one of the best home entertainment releases of the year as it’s spectacularly gorgeous with an upgrade to a 1080p transfer from the original source material. Vibrant, natural coloring charms the pants of the depth and range in the image quality from various obstacles including such as night and day scenes. For a first time director, Naschy had the eye for cinematography and capturing the moment; Mondo Macabro takes his vision a step further by reducing the grain to a minuscule amount and without completely enhancing “Inquisition” with zooming and cropping to offset source material garbage. The Spanish dialogue and English dubbed 1.0 mono track score a high bitrate with flawless integrity from the source. Extras include a audio commentary with Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn, an interview with Paul Naschy and Daniela Giordano, a retrospect on Spanish horror from the 1970’s entitled “Blood and Sand,” and a lengthy Mondo Macabro marketing trailer.

In my opinion, Paul Naschy is the greatest Spanish horror film icon ever and “Inquisition” is some of his primo work. Mondo Macabro works miracles with original source materials, one of the best video distributors of cult cinema in the business, and continues to be a leader in releasing hidden and well-known gems of the genre. Together, “Inquisition” is powerful, is scary, is gritty, is detailed, and is sexy without being campy and schlocky. The mammoth amount of production value is well worth the price of admission alone. One of my personal favorite witch hunting films from the same decade is Vincent Price’s “Witchfinder General” as it has that same barbarity in the air, those merciless persecutions that led to the anti-Church movements, and that undeniable lead actor providing a strong performance. Nothing is scarier than fact and the “Inquisition,” though just a story on paper and reel, was based off real facts and that’s the kind of horror that sears into souls.

Buy this gorgeously illustrated copy of “inquisition” starring Paul Naschy and Daniela Giordano!