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Horror

THE MOOR

(NUCLEAR TANGERINE/BULLDOG FILM DISTRIBUTION (120 minutes; Rated R); 2024)

I’ll say this for the producers of THE MOOR, a spooky child abduction mystery story set among the bleak, forbidding landscape of the Yorkshire moors: They’re a patient lot. Where most films about hauntings or horrifying events usually do their dastardly “darkness of human nature” deeds in 90 minutes or so, THE MOOR takes its sweet time and puts you through two hours of gothic atmosphere and slow-burn buildup to keep you engrossed. This proves to be a mixed blessing, but you gotta admire first-time director Chris Cronin’s level of confidence and focus in sticking to a particular aesthetic to tell his tale of grim kidnappings in not-so-jolly old England. And while his film won’t command the attention of EVERY viewer, those that can appreciate a mystery story that unfolds more like a literary classic than a conventional scary movie with “jump scares” and shit, will find lots to get lost in here. And without any question at all, child kidnappings is about as terrifying as anything in real life gets… they HAPPEN, and often when they end in murder, which is the case here, the killers are not always found.

THE MOOR (SOPHIA LA PORTA) (Screen Shot)

This particular story begins when two childhood friends go to a candy store to pocket some goodies, with young Claire detailing to her pal Danny how her not-at-all smart plan will take place. When things seem to be taking too long, Claire goes into the store to check things out, despite the fact that the owner does not care for her at all, a fact she makes clear. Danny is nowhere around, and Claire is told that the little boy’s father came and picked him up, a blatant lie. The film then jumps to many years later, when the adult Claire (Sophia La Porta), still traumatized by never knowing what happened to Danny, is in conversation with Danny’s father, Bill (a haunted and credible David Edward-Robertson), who posits that the nearby moors may hold some of the answers they are seeking. Not sure at ALL why he decides this; would a vast unforgiving wilderness be where your average psycho kiddie snatcher would take his pint-sized victims to dispose of? Maybe; I know nothing of such matters. Anyway, Bill wants to investigate the dark and foggy terrain of the moors (a striking landscape that has graced quite a few mystery films through the years) with the help of a psychic (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips) and an experienced local, Thornley (the great Bernard Hill, who played King Theoden in the LOTR franchise, in one of his last performances), who has maps of the terrain they are seeking to explore and familiarity with the entire nightmarish saga. Of the series of kidnappings that have terrorized the area, Thornley says “Normally it’s around about 10% of young people who leave the area they were brought up in. But since that summer, it’s been about 50%. Personally I think they just didn’t want to see that place out their window anymore.”

THE MOOR (ELIZABETH DORMER-PHILLIPS) (Screen Shot)

He has a point… once the film takes us out onto the actual moors, it’s about as unfriendly and brooding a landscape as you could ever hope to see. Miles and miles of marshy NOTHINGNESS, perpetually in fog or shadow, where you could take a terrible fall, get hopelessly lost, or encounter something you would NEVER want to see in your worst nightmare. The film counts on us being deeply unsettled by this unfriendly expanse, and primed for ANY freaky event or discovery that might take place.

THE MOOR (BERNARD HILL) (Screen Shot)

Except… there aren’t that many of them. Suspense builds rather slowly, and there are lots of scenes of our intrepid investigators wandering around in the grim nothingness clearly out of their element, and having a few combative conversations about what is really going on. As a viewer, you may find yourself ASKING what is “really going on,” and longing for a clear denouement. Some documentary style interview segments, a la the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, try to fill in a few blanks for us, and clearly the film wants us to be open to the supernatural elements presented here, even though we already know a man has been arrested for the child killings and may possibly be released soon. We WANT Bill to learn the fate of his child, and for Claire to start having peaceful nights again once she learns the fate of her childhood friend. And let it be said that the ACTING is uniformly excellent in this film; those Brits do this stuff with class and absolute discipline; you will definitely BELIEVE there is a mystery to be solved here. La Porta and Edward-Robertson are both totally credible.

THE MOOR (SOPHIA LA PORTA, DAVID EDWARD-ROBERTSON, VICKI HACKETT, ELIZABETH DORMER-PHILLIPS, MARK PEACHEY) (Screen Shot)

But how much of this will be “riveting cinema” to you, ultimately? That is a highly individual thing. I really was compelled by the setting of this film, the chance to see the actual MOORS for the forbidding landscape they are, NOT a manufactured landscape. And I also felt I was in the presence of compelling, worthy filmmakers throughout. But was I scared? Was I really keen on the ultimate conclusion to this strange saga? Not so much, frankly. I tend to like my “evil” made straightforward and abundantly clear. So I don’t think most of you will get that from THE MOOR. But as a quietly gripping look at a truly ongoing nightmare, with an imposing natural landscape as one of the clear “villains,” this film is quite powerful in its own way. The “moor,” the scarier. Or something like that.

THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK

(SUNRISE FILMS/VERTIGO RELEASING/LONE TOWER VISIONS/A BIGGER BOAT/ROUNOW PRODUCTIONS (90 minutes; Unrated); 2024)

One of the things I love about movies is the chance to experience something from a unique point of view, to live vicariously through a character’s actions, and maybe wonder if you’d behave in a similar manner or completely differently given their challenges in the story. There are so MANY movies out there, of course, that they tend to fall to well-worn tropes of plot development to hold your interest, and that can be tedious. I tend to really like films that show you characters in trapped situations, and to hold your interest by how they build the drama and suspense. A film I reviewed for ZM a couple of years ago was focused entirely on a young pregnant woman trapped in her car on a mountainside in a serious car accident. It was incredibly suspenseful, and when it turned into a horror film in the last half hour, the shocks were well earned. But I’m here right now to talk about THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK, a fairly ingenious little thriller that makes the most of its singular premise. Almost the entire movie consists of the plight and actions of a woman named Amanda Jennings (Katharina Sporrer) who has been kidnapped by an unknown baddie and tossed into the trunk of her rental car. We see a simple shot of her high heel shoes as she unsuccessfully tries to return the car at the film’s beginning, then the furtive actions of a stranger as he quietly gets in that same car without her seeing him. And next we are right in the trunk with her, her hands and mouth taped, trying to figure out what the fuck happened. Amanda has her cell phone, and that becomes absolutely central to the unfolding events. She is wearing a long white wedding dress, and she is a feisty, determined gal who manages to get the tape off her mouth and to call 911 on her phone. The detached sounding male operator asks her a series of increasingly annoying questions, including her location, to which she can only answer “somewhere north of Houston.” When she complains about his questions – after all she can’t give much info being trapped in the trunk of a car – he says “You’re under a lot of stress. but we’re doing all we can.” In the first of many small twists, it turns out the operator is, in fact, her kidnapper, She’s in the trunk and he’s the driver, and their “relationship” is going to evolve through a subsequent series of phone chats.

THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK (KATHARINA SPORRER) (Screen Shot)

So that’s the basic premise, and I gotta say, writer/director Jonas Kvist Jensen does an impressive job of giving us the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in the trunk of a car, trying to figure out what to do. There isn’t much light, true, but Amanda finds a tool in the trunk that she uses first to poke a hole big enough to see out the back (ingeniously, this allows us to see what happens a few times when the kidnapper stops the car), and later to create an opening through which she can see the driver. In a good example of how cell phones can be used to help move a modern story along, Amanda even manages to snap a photo of her captor, who we’ll soon learn is an ordinary looking, middle-aged white guy named Michael Bellrose (Caspar Phillipson). I don’t think it’s necessary to spill every plot element here, as I think you SHOULD see this movie. But through a series of “games” and tense phone exchanges, we learn that Amanda is a runaway bride, that she and Bellrose have a connection to the same bank, and that getting ahold of her father on the phone turns out to be a key development. Bellrose’s intentions towards Amanda are a bit hazy, but he’s a seriously malevolent dude. When a good samaritan approaches the car offering to help Bellerose with something, the situation goes south in a hurry. And to my knowledge, this is the first cinematic example of a murder being shown to us via a hole in the trunk of a car. Generating even MORE suspense is when our psycho kidnapper tells Amanda she’s going to have company soon, and he slips a scorpion into the trunk through the main opening. This is filmed extremely well, with the critter crawling all over her and her having to maintain the kind of absolute cool that you or I likely would NOT possess. Scenes of this nature in so MANY films can be tiring and insulting to one’s intelligence. Here, it is a marvel of suspenseful pacing, and I wanted to cheer over Amanda’s believable actions. I also loved what happens when a good-natured female police officer stops the car and has a normal-seeming chat with Bellrose. Amanda has to listen to the dialogue without yelling out and risking her life. You’ll THINK you know how this scene is going to turn out, but trust me, you’ll be surprised. Some real thought went into this script and the necessity of getting from “point A” to “point B.” And if you are tired of thrillers and horror films where women either act stupidly or simply act as helpless victims, you’ll enjoy the plucky, sarcastic manner of the heroine here, and how she does her best to one-up the kidnapper mostly through dialogue. At most turns, this film avoids the obvious, which greatly impressed me. And whereas in the typical horror film (and THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK is ostensibly in that category) you’ll have to endure either an unpleasant or simply unbelievable ending, this cool little movie has a solid conclusion, almost cheer-worthy in fact. I found myself amazed at the end, and that doesn’t happen very often.

THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK (CASPAR PHILLIPSON) (Screen Shot)

My only criticism, and it’s basically a small one, is that while Sporrer is clearly a talented actress, her character rarely shows the kind of fear and vulnerability that I would think most women would display in her circumstances. She’s in a clearly desperate situation, and may very well be facing the end of her life, yet she always acts with confidence and resolve. It’s refreshing in a way, but wouldn’t it be more authentic if she lost her cool a couple of times? The “game” that Bellerose keeps her locked into, unwillingly, reveals her to be a more than capable opponent. And Phillipson is definitely a credible baddie, a blandly ordinary creep who insists he is “not really a violent man.” There’s a discernible vulnerability to him that again is somewhat refreshing, and the ongoing dialogue between him and our heroine is fast moving and full of interesting quirks. But overall, this movie is Jensen’s show; he deserves the bulk of the credit for how well this movie works as the writer and director, and I can’t imagine that many other films will be made that so successfully utilize the cramped trunk of a car the way this one does. So thumbs up from me on this surprising little thriller. It’s not flashy, and it’s mostly free of jump scares and the typical bloody violence inherent in this genre. But THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK is a minor miracle, a film that takes one of the most terrifying scenarios any woman could imagine and turns it into something riveting and even thoughtful. This movie beats the odds consistently for films of this nature, and I can only be grateful as a viewer.

HERE FOR BLOOD

(SCREAMBOX ORIGINAL/PAGEMAN PRODUCTIONS/BLOODY DISGUSTING/CINEVERSE (101 minutes; Unrated); 2024)

This is a horror movie that is aptly named, as it indicates that if you watch horror movies in hopes of seeing a lot of blood, this one delivers. Throughout the film, there is spurting blood from stabbings, limbs getting cut off and even a couple of outrageously over the top head choppings. So I am saying all that upfront so you know that bloody violence is the order of the day in this’un. But since it is billed as a “horror/comedy,” the undertone of absurdity and satire helps alleviate any revulsion you may feel about the killings, although I have to say, the first two were really rather shocking… they happen in the film’s first 15 minutes. But what’s it ABOUT, you ask? Well, there’s this wrestler guy named Tom O’Bannon (Shawn Roberts) who makes less than a good living from cheap matches that a sleazy promoter stages for peanuts. Tom isn’t happy about his plight but hasn’t much choice in the matter. His attractive girlfriend Phoebe (Joelle Farrow) has an important test to cram for, and she asks Tom to fill in for just two hours for a babysitting job she agreed to do for friends, who have a young daughter named Grace (Maya Misaljevic). Tom is anything but thrilled about this but reluctantly agrees. Problem is, the house has been targeted for sinister reasons by a band of psycho cultists. When Tom orders a pizza for him and Grace, the pizza delivery guy is slaughtered in brutal fashion, and then it’s abundantly clear something horrible is taking place. And when Tom investigates a couple of weird sounds, the mayhem begins in earnest.

HERE FOR BLOOD (MAYA MISALJEVIC) (Screen Shot)

That’s the setup in a nutshell.

HERE FOR BLOOD (JOELLE FARROW, SHAWN ROBERTS) (Screen Shot)

I don’t really think, in a low-budget horror film such as this, that you need either a detailed plot synopsis or an analytical review of how successful the horror tropes are. Most people watch horror for the visceral kicks a film provides and the overall entertainment value. We’ve seen plenty of films about home invasions by masked psychos, which is the deal here, but this movie seems to delight in a level of excess that definitely makes an impression. One of the dimmer of the psycho cultists, apparently named “Bernie” (Jesse Buck) gets his face held to a red hot stove burner by Tom, screaming his head off; he also gets stabbed a bunch and has a hand cut off. The way Buck screams and pouts angrily throughout is the first sign you should NOT take this movie too seriously. Performance-wise, Buck is over the top but clearly understanding of the TONE that director Daniel Turres is going for. Which is a kind of high-energy schlock-carnage. “We are under attack by a gang of sex perverts!” Tom declares to Phoebe when she finally arrives after her studying is finished. “Everybody grab a knife,” he adds. There are tons of knives in this film, and an axe or two, all utilized regularly. “Just chop!” Tom tells Phoebe when she is wondering how they are going to subdue one of the killers. Phoebe is reluctant at first to do any killing and seems pathetically unhelpful, but when a killer calls her a bad name, she does some chopping all right, to such an extent that Tom has to tell her she can STOP now. Blood spurting in all directions is all the evidence needed that one of the baddies has been taken down. I laughed at that scene, honestly. And I laughed even more when Grace’s parents return home; this seemingly innocuous but neurotic couple, played with sitcom-like dopiness by Tara Spence-Nairn and Michael Therriault, provide some of the meant-for-relief laughter in the film’s final third. Considering the grim nature of the intruders and the detailed butchery we witness, the presence of these two quarreling knuckleheads will either help you relax or annoy the shit out of you. It sort of did BOTH for me.

HERE FOR BLOOD (JOELLE FARROW) (Screen Shot)

The killers are part of a cult, naturally, preparing for some kind of “ascension” that involves both a disemboweled talking head (voiced by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider) that keeps saying “Feed me!” (a la the plant in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS), and the sacrifice of an attractive young woman, which is Phoebe’s intended role in all this and a point of attentive self-awareness and parody by the filmmakers, who score a point or so for that in terms of comedy. “We all knew the risks of joining a cult,” one of the homeowners casually declares. “But it’ll all be okay when we ASCEND.” Of course. That’s how it’s supposed to work! HERE FOR BLOOD is not a boring movie – it keeps things moving along at a good pace, and one or two setpieces of insane bloodletting, though winking at past films like THE EVIL DEAD and REANIMATOR, aren’t quite as deleriously funny as they’d like to be. The acting is not very good, for the most part, although the muscular Shawn Roberts tries to anchor things as best he can (and takes a thorough beating throughout). At one point, young Grace points to a bloody figure on the floor and asks “Is that guy DEAD?” “Yeah,” Tom replies. “Sucks, cause he was a fan of mine, too.” I laughed at that scene, and plenty of others. Clearly the intent was to have some fun with the genre by both the director and writer James Roberts. But it’s no classic, and much of the acting is just too stiff to be memorable. Still, it’s worth a watch for horror fans that like to be repulsed or startled by what they see. And I give the film an extra point or two by letting the good guys win despite going through hell. But many will perhaps NOT make it to the end of this one without a decisive response either yay or nay. But if you’re “here for blood” when you sit down to view this piece of self-aware horror carnage, chances are you will get what you came for.

DAUGHTER

(DARK STAR PICTURES/YELLOW VEIL PICTURES/THIRTEENTH FLOOR PICTURES/ONE WORLD ENTERTAINMENT(96 minutes; Unrated); 2023)

I have a particular fondness for weird and unpredictable movies. So many films these days are by-the-book entries in their respective genres, and anything in the horror/suspense world is more likely than not to give the viewers what they want, more or less. DAUGHTER, a memorable little indie project from writer/director Corey Deshon, is a well-made offering that grabbed my attention right away. It starts with two masked individuals chasing a terrified girl through a bleak landscape, and I think one of the dudes mutters something to the other, after their terrible act, like “Remember, you were responsible for this.” But whether I got that quote right or not, we are soon privy to the terror experienced by a different girl played by Vivien Ngo, as she is being menaced, oddly in a “respectful” manner, by “Father’ (Casper van Dien, best known from STARSHIP TROOPERS, in a career-best performance here). Father is explaining to the girl that she is now part of his family, that she will be addressed as the titular “Daughter,” and that she is badly needed as a companion for “Brother,” played by Ian Alexander. And there is a “Mother” around also, Elyse Dinh. Both the women here are Vietnamese, and this is never explained, though they do use the language to speak to each other, presumably to keep “Father” from understanding their conversations. We have our setup: A cult-like family who think that the “outside” is “poison,” and that safety can only be counted on inside, are fixed on having the right daughter to complete their family, and to bring happiness to their son. Something really weird is going on, and the movie hangs on our suspense about what in hell is happening.

DAUGHTER (IAN ALEXANDER, CASPER VAN DIEN, ELYSE DINH) (photo courtesy DARK STAR PICTURES)

It is worth mentioning the score here, as I believe that music can have a huge role in one’s response to a film. This one was done by David Strother, a composer I don’t know, and it’s a doozy. All tense strings (likely cello and violin/viola) which are often discordant and almost always insistent, but very evocative. They tell us rather straightforwardly that something is really OFF in this scenario, and I think the music is very effective. Deshon made a good choice in utilizing this composer.

DAUGHTER (ELYSE DINH, CASPER VAN DIEN, IAN ALEXANDER) (photo courtesy DARK STAR PICTURES)

It was also a curious and very successful choice to put van Dien in the lead. We’ve seen this actor as an energetic and rather heroic type in past films, and here he is unhinged, spooked (in that way so common to overwrought cult leaders) and singularly set on his one dysfunctional goal: To maintain the semblance of a family and overcome any hesitation on the part of the girl(s) he kidnaps. “This is going to be home for a while,” he tells the scared Daughter. “You have to understand that. You’re part of a family now… I can’t do this without you.” We’ve all read sick news stories about cult kidnappings before, so the grim resonance of this scenario is vividly real. Ngo shows initial reticence and fear, but gradually we see her start to become a bit calculating, and the actress does a credible job starting to “adapt.” She slowly starts to become agreeable, though she is wacked in the face by Father wielding a rolled-up newspaper at one point. She is gingerly trying to push the limits a bit. And while she starts playing with the “Brother,” first at a board game he seems to fancy and then via a “storytelling exercise” that she has to persuade him to engage in (it soon leads to a weird bit of theatricality), Father is suspicious throughout, hovering never far away and making sure both of the “siblings” (as well as we the audience) are kept on edge. He reads periodically from a tattered book (it could be the Bible or some other culty guidebook), and he keeps saying things like “the diseases out there don’t play by the rules!” and issuing warnings like “Don’t you poison that boy!” and “Don’t ruin everything.” The youngster, Ian Alexander, has one of the difficult challenges here: How to show his innocent enthusiasm for “fun” and bonding with his new sibling, and his absolute adherence to Father’s wishes, while clearly getting rattled when something doesn’t seem right. Alexander has a crucial – and a bit inscrutable – role here and he fulfills it well.

DAUGHTER (ELYSE DINH, CASPER VAN DIEN, VIVIEN NGO, IAN ALEXANDER) (photo courtesy DARK STAR PICTURES)

But the film mostly belongs to Casper van Dien. He is entirely believable, quite scary, and a million miles away from his heroic part in STARSHIP TROOPERS. He wears monastic plain clothes (they all do), is clearly disturbed about what he perceives as the sick reality of the outside world, and shows how quickly he might go OFF, and hurt you. He makes it clear early on that if he thinks you DESERVE to be hurt, you WILL be. That keeps you guessing all the way to the end.

DAUGHTER (CASPER VAN DIEN, IAN ALEXANDER) (photo courtesy DARK STAR PICTURES)

It’s remarkable that director Strother keeps sex totally out of the picture here… the reality of most cults I have ever read about is that part of the MO when kidnapping women is to prey on them sexually. That is NOT part of this particular story. Also a surprise was the ending, which I won’t give away. Some things are left hanging, and you’re left knowing mostly, as one of the captioned chapter titles tell us, that you’ve seen “A Story About Sick People.” I found this film scarily resonant and relevant. We live in a world these days where all kinds of predatory creeps, whether motivated by religion or not, force or pressure people to do the things the sickos want, sometimes having to give up their old lives. DAUGHTER does not make everything clear about the reality we are witnessing, and each of the characters ends up representing a separate aspect of life in a dysfunctional (potentially dystopian?) small-scale system. It’s unsettling, unnerving and sometimes quite disturbing. But the decision-making process that went into the production of this offbeat gem of a film was thoughtful and deliberate, and it pays off. Kudos to the director and the acting foursome for serving up something that you’re not likely to forget, and avoiding almost all the clichés of this particular cinematic milieu.

(DAUGHTER premieres in theaters and On Demand on February 10, 2023, with a DVD release scheduled for May 9.)

THE ANDY BAKER TAPE

(TERROR FILMS/4:02 PRODUCTIONS (69 minutes; Unrated); 2021)

The “found footage” phenomenon in the cinematic universe turned out to be a clever new wrinkle, one that found more creative approaches than the average person might think. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT turned out to be one of the most purely profitable films in history, having been made on a shoestring budget by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, but then utilizing a compelling and unique promotional approach that drew audiences in droves. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spawned a seemingly endless franchise, and there have been plenty of other movies that utilized the found footage thing successfully. Now we have THE ANDY BAKER TAPE, and while it hardly breaks new ground, it does show you can keep viewers interested in this kind of approach with a suspenseful setup and interesting actors. The film has both, with just two characters, Jeff Blake (Bret Lada, who also directs) and Andy Baker (Dustin Fontaine) holding your attention for a film that lasts little more than an hour. Blake is a culinary specialist hoping to finalize plans for his own show on the Food Network. He recruits his half brother, the titular Andy, to help him scout out some locations and hopefully interact with him in some scenes. This would seem to be a workable enough proposition, except that… Andy turns out to be kind of weird. He can’t seem to simply play to the camera for ordinary questions Jeff asks him, and he gets offended over nothing at all at times, keeping Jeff on edge. Lurking in the past for both men is the death of their father, whom Jeff says was killed in a horrible car accident. And both have the spectre of failure uppermost in their minds – Jeff because of the uncertainty of the offer for his own foodie show, and Andy because of a “deal” he was counting on that… falls through. Which has happened to him before.

THE ANDY BAKER TAPE (BRET LADA, DUSTIN FONTAINE) (publicity still)

We see these two guys checking out eateries in rural America, getting more and more impatient with each other (impatience is a wicked sort of behavioral thing in this movie), and battling at times for control of the big, mostly unseen camera. We’re told right at the beginning, just as with other movies in this genre, that their “footage” was put together from many hours that were “discovered” after the two disappeared. Eventually there are a few bad things that happen, mostly pointing at Andy as being… a bad and disturbed dude. I do count myself as a fan of unhinged behavior, and I don’t need every single thing explained to me. I DO hope for good, believable performances, and thankfully these two actors are quite convincing overall. Lada is a charismatic, dark-haired chap that is convincingly distraught when he discovers that his half-brother is not a trustworthy character. Fontaine is scruffier and harder to pin down in his behavior and motivations, but that’s the point. What do you do when you’re trying to achieve a career breakthrough and a relative seems like he could help at first, but then ends up threatening every single thing? “You can’t pick your family” is the tag line here, and boy is Jeff Blake sorry for THAT!

THE ANDY BAKER TAPE (DUSTIN FONTAINE, BRET LADA) (publicity still)

The quick running time, evocative empty landscapes, and most of all, the conviction in the lead performances make THE ANDY BAKER TAPE a more than worthy view. There really aren’t that many films out there that I’m aware of, that only focus on TWO guys interacting. Seeing ordinary behavior turn into something unsettling and then horrifying, is a more than relevant theme in these crazy times. So yeah, I appreciated this film quite a bit when I watched it in the middle of the night. And it’s without a doubt a worthy addition to the “found footage canon.”

WAITING FOR YOUR CALL: THE TIMOTHY WOODARD, JUNIOR INTERVIEW

TIMOTHY WOODWARD, JUNIOR (photo credit: EVAN DE NORMANDIE)

Timothy Woodward, Junior is an actor, a writer, a producer and a director. He has done at least one of those jobs, and in some cases, most of those jobs on a variety of TV shows and film projects, including STUDIO CITY, HICKOK, BEYOND THE LAW, AMERICAN VIOLENCE and THE FINAL WISH.

Woodward’s current project is THE CALL, a psychological horror movie set in 1987 and starring the wonderful duo of Lin Shaye (THE FINAL WISH and the INSIDIOUS franchise) and Tobin Bell (the SAW franchise) as a seclusive couple who, after being tormented by four teenage pranksters (played by Chester Rushing, Erin Sanders, Mike Manning and Sloane Morgan Siegel), suffer a horrible tragedy. Edward Cranston calls the four to tell them that his wife, Edith, has died and has named each of them in her will. There’s a catch, however. For them to collect the money, each of them must go to a room in the Cranston home and make a phone call… to Edith, who had a telephone buried with her. If the youths can stay on the line for one minute, they will get their inheritance. Along the way, each must face their biggest fears and regrets. The film is a dark and brooding character study that occasionally brings to mind the lurid Slasher flicks of the 1980s in vivid splashes of red.

THE CALL DVD box

After a brief run at drive-in theaters in October, THE CALL will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on December 15 at the usual outlets. This brief phone interview with Timothy was conducted on October 2, the day of the film’s theatrical release.

THE MULE: So, we got ten minutes. Let’s jump right into it. Watched the movie last night. I liked it… a lot. I’ve gotta say, a lot of stuff made sense to me that didn’t make sense in the trailer. Primarily, the press release said that it was set in 1987 and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why such a bizarre… I mean, why pick 1987? And then… I mean, this is an homage to those classic Horror/Slasher movies from that time period.

TIMOTHY WOODWARD, JUNIOR: Yeah. For sure. And, you know, I turned four years old in 1987. That was the first year I watched my first ever Horror movie. So, that’s also why I picked that year. Could be the setting, ‘cause it was originally kind of generic ‘80s, so I picked ‘87. I just thought there was a lot of Horror that was coming out around that time. I kinda started setting out the sort of ‘80s Horror vibe.

THE MULE: Yeah, it worked really well, too.

TWJ: Thank you. I think we’re gonna release another trailer that’s gonna have more of an ‘80s vibe. We had two and we were going back and forth on which one we were gonna use. We didn’t want people, when they saw the trailer, to think that we were using the ‘80s almost as a crutch. So, we wanted to kinda catch people with the hook and then potentially release another one where we kinda focus on, you know, the more… as we get closer to the movie, the uniqueness instead of violence in the trailer.

THE CALL (Lin Shaye) (photo courtesy: CINEDIGM)

THE MULE: Sure, sure. The one thing I gotta ask you, man: Working with Lin and Tobin had to be just absolutely incredible. How did you snag them for this work? I know that Lin had… she’s got a production credit in there but, other than that, how did you end up choosing them for these roles and how was it to work with them?

TWJ: So, I got the script, actually, from Lin’s manager through Lin. They were already producers on it and they gave it to me to direct. I worked with Lin on THE FINAL WISH. Jeffrey Reddick (producer on both films) and I had a really good rapport and working relationship on that movie and they liked what I did. They came to me and said, “Hey, look, we’ve got this script and we’d like you to direct it, maybe come on board as producer. What do you think?” And I wanted to work with Miss Lin again… in a heartbeat so, I read it, liked the concept and we started punching up the characters and, I think a couple months later we were in production, ready to go.

THE CALL (Tobin Bell) (photo courtesy: CINEDIGM)

And, you know, the idea of Edward Cranston… we were trying to figure out… there’s this couple, revenge that has to happen, there’s… if you’ve seen the film, there’>s probably things that aren’t in the trailer, it’s not just a straight they break windows and a revenge thing by any means. So, you wanted someone who would feel suspect a little bit, did he have anything to with this. Someone, you know, who just fit and Tobin had come across in conversations between me, Gina (Rugolo, another producer on the film) and Lin and he just felt like a perfect fit from the start. I’m just so glad we went that direction because I think he did such a great job and Lin and him had such good chemistry immediately. Which, you usually don’t see people just walk on set, you know, never really met in person or worked together before in person and they’re iconic like that, in a certain genre, and then they just click and they disappear into their characters like they are just who they are, you know. They look like they fit, they feel like they fit and those scenes were so easy because their chemistry was so good. It was just point the camera and shoot.

THE MULE: Yeah. That’s amazing that you got into production so quickly. That almost never happens.

TWJ: Yeah, we were lucky that we were able to do it, to pull it off.

THE MULE: The… uh… I’m gonna put “teenagers” in quotes here, but they all really pretty much hit the spot with their characters and the horror aspect, their horror at what was going on… from originally, >you know, the whole prank thing… there’s a backstory there that’s just amazing.

TWJ: Thank you, man. Yeah, that’s something that I carved out… even while we were filming, I was coming up with different situations and ideas for that because the backstory in the original script wasn’t fleshed out much for each character, it wasn’t much more of a blueprint. The two weren’t originally brothers and we said, “Hey, let’s make them brothers.” I worked with Jeffrey Reddick and Patrick – Patrcik Stibbs, who wrote it and Jeffrey Reddick, who was a producer – and, I was like, “Let’s make these guys brothers and, then, kinda create a situation for all of them where it’s just a little bit more personal.” You know, the idea is, hopefully you think one way about a person, then you feel another way in another moment. And it makes you feel for them or you don’t. It’s just to make them feel more three dimensional, so they didn’t just feel like complete cardboard characters until you feel like, “Hey, I understand why this person may be this way.” I can understand what this person’s going through.

THE CALL (Chester Rushing, Erin Sanders, Mike Manning, Sloane Morgan Siegel) (photo courtesy: CINEDIGM)

THE MULE: Right. I was actually going to say that, without giving anything away, all four of those characters come with baggage that kinda makes sense for… the way they turned out. Let’s put it that way.

TWJ: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah, for sure. And, their story for why they’re doing what they’re doing, you know… again, can’t give away too much… but, you feel one way, you think one way and then, it’s something else and the trailer tells you something completely different. That’s kind of the idea, we want you going in not really knowing exactly what it is you’re going to see and exactly who to pull for and in what way and be just… entertaining, you know. A psychological war. Psychological war is important to me because I think that’s… the idea of living in your mind and repeating your worst nightmares and your dreams… I mean, your fears on loop and repeat, that’s pretty terrible thing to be, you know.

THE MULE: And, it does work on that level, as well, as far as psychological horror, psychological thriller, whatever you want to call it. And, not only is it an homage back to those very bloody ‘80s kind of Horror things, but even back further than that when the horror wasn’t actually shown on screen, it was just intimated. I mean, it works really well because there’s stuff going on in that… in the final third of that movie that really… it sets the standard for stuff to come, I think.

THE CALL (Brooklyn Anne Miller) (photo courtesy: CINEDIGM)

TWJ: Yeah. That was the idea and it’s just a little bit… people are like, “Well, you got Tobin from SAW and SAW was gory… ” and people kinda automatically assume from the trailer that it’s gonna be really just this… gory film and I’m going, “You may be surprised. It’s not going to be just like you think.” It’s very different… on purpose. It was done that way because I think your mind can imagine way worse than what I can show you. If I can show you a piece of it, your mind can go other places, you know. So, that’s the thing about it. Whether it’s JAWS and the shark, you know… if you see it all the time it becomes this way… But, we wanted to pull out spots in a few areas to make your mind go, “Oh, shit!” and just let you wonder what they’re going through. Even at the end of it, ya know.

HAWK AND REV: VAMPIRE SLAYERS

(RBG FILMS/CLUMSY TIGER PRODUCTIONS/LOADED IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (85 minutes; Unrated); 2020)

Without a doubt, this is one of the silliest movies I have ever seen. HAWK AND REV: VAMPIRE SLAYERS aims to be a kind of cross between DUMB AND DUMBER and THE LOST BOYS, in that it focuses on two very dim-witted friends, Hawk (Ryan Barton-Grimley) and Rev, his vegan-hippie space cadet counterpart (Ari Schneider) who are sure their town of Santa Muerte, California is being plagued by vampires. They wisecrack about everything, assemble a plan to take on the bloodsuckers that may or may not include the eye patch-wearing tough guy Jasper (Richard Gayler), and find time to parody other, better-known films such as FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. In fact, when former security guard Hawk tries to make a point about predictability to his clueless friend, he rattles off a long list of quotes from classic movies that Rev shows unblinking ignorance of. It’s a preposterous scene, and yet, it did sort of make me chuckle. So did a brief chat about how yes, you can still rent DVDs in some places, and seeing a trio of punk rockers mistaken for vamps (one of whom is a black leather covered gimp in an homage to Tarantino’s PULP FICTION… silent, but shown eating popcorn in one scene). The low-budget movie eases into its absurdity at first, with most of the budget apparently spent on some gory scenes that are over the top a la Monty Python. But by the final half hour, it simply goes all in on complete and total idiocy that, if you’re in the mood for it, will possibly give you giggle fits. The film is like an ego project for some college students making their magnum opus, probably stoned for most of the production. Weirdly, though, the acting is decent in a self-indulgent way, and Barton-Grimley is no newcomer. He’s been in the business for years, and I recognize him from one or two TV projects I can’t recall the names of. He’s obviously having a great time here, sending up every cliche in the world of vampire and crime investigation type films. The two leads are joined by a female writer named Theo (Jana Savage), who comes across as though she were doing little more than helping a couple of pals. And a bit of extreme gore in that last half hour will make college students chuckle, perhaps, but likely won’t be of much interest to anyone else.

HAWK AND REV: VAMPIRE SLAYERS (Ari Schneider, Jana Savage, Ryan Barton-Grimley) (publicity still)

I thought at first of including some of the more comical lines of dialogue in this review, and decided against it. The pace of this film is frenetic, and it wears its willful stupidity proudly, honestly wanting to be a throwback to the ‘80s on almost every level. There is an audience for this kind of movie, just as there was for DUMB AND DUMBER, although that one was art compared to the slim production values of this thing. And yet, its gleeful dedication to a brainless aesthetic is admirable. I DID actually laugh a few times, and once I realized that nothing serious was going to happen and the “stakes” (pun intended) would remain low, I could appreciate the lack of pretension here and the high number of ridiculous scenes. But forget all about stuff you’ve seen before like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER if you watch this. That Joss Whedon show is like MASTERPIECE THEATRE compared to Hawk and Rev’s exploits. Describing the plot beyond what I’ve already said is pointless. These “vampire slayers” are just wanna-be’s, lug-headed friends whose main purpose is to send up a couple of time-worn genres. They do that moderately well at times, but any expectations at all for this film beyond indulging in some extreme silliness, are likely to result in head shaking and exhaustion. And yikes, it looks like a sequel dealing with werewolves is out there. You gotta be howling mad to make a franchise out of this stuff.

LIMBO

(UNCORK’D ENTERTAINMENT/ALTERNATE ENDING FILMS/LIMBO ENTERTAINMENT (89 minutes; Unrated); 2020)


Whenever I’m assigned a review for a low-budget indie type film, usually something I’ve never heard of before, I have a tendency to mentally prepare myself for an experience that’ll be tedious and hard to write about, as has been the case more than a few times. It’s just that there are only so many ways to make a film genuinely entertaining and interesting; the “surprise factor” is a rarity in below-the-radar films. Imagine my pleasant reaction, then, when LIMBO turned up, on a particularly bad day for me when I was mostly making myself kill time, and lo and behold it grabbed me right away and didn’t let go. There have been other films that combined the legal profession and the underlying theme of good versus evil – THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE comes to mind – but there is enough clever, offbeat stuff in LIMBO to make it a worthy viewing experience. A timeless theme that has occurred throughout the history of films is given some curious new life here thanks to writer/director Mark H Young’s clear interest in the whole “heaven or hell” debate. And yes, I was surprised.

LIMBO (Veronica Cartwright) (publicity still)

A bad brute of a guy, Jimmy Boyle (Lew Temple) commits a senseless murder of a mother of three (Veronica Cartwright in a brief but memorable appearance), and must face justice. It’s giving nothing away to say that he dies himself; the film is concerned with whether he’s going to go to hell, or get a “redemption” that would allow him to go to heaven. So two attorneys in a dingy underworld office must argue the case: Balthazar (Lucian Charles Collier), a young looking guy with an oddly casual accent, gets to make what surely appears to be an open-and-shut case for why this reprehensible killer should go straight to hell, even though the “witnesses” called indicate he had a horrible, abusive father and a drug-addict mother. But not so fast: the white-suited new attorney for Jimmy, an attractive gal named Cassiel (Scottie Thompson) has some pluck and energy to take a deeper look into Jimmy’s past; this includes exploring his atypical relationship with a self-aware prostitute named Angela (Lauryn Canny). Balthazar is being pressured to “close this case down” quickly by a nasty rep for Lucifer named Belial (a fiery Peter Jacobson). And it sure seems like Jimmy is irredeemable; in fact, Cassiel tries to quit the case, figuring this is just NOT going so well. But Mark H Young has some things he wants to say about humanity and justice. “I’m very confused,” Cassiel tells Balthazar at one point. “I put my trust in God. But now that I’ve seen what humans can do with my own eyes, I don’t know what I believe anymore.” And the film does take a more interesting than you’d expect view of what makes a guy bad, with a couple of interesting twists.

LIMBO (Richard Rhiele, Lucian Charles Collier) (publicity still)

There is some dark humor along the way, and a crucial bit of acting levity by Richard Riehle as Phil, a wisecracking stenographer, whom film fans will remember from his role as Tom Smykowski in the cult film OFFICE SPACE. I enjoyed the understated, sort of weary back-and-forth between Collier and Thompson, two actors I was not familiar with; there’s a grudging mutual respect for the very separate worlds of good and evil that each has to represent. We do see various demons with minimal horns sticking out of their heads, including Riehle’s character, walking in and out of various scenes, and there’s an amusing sequence in a hell bar. And by the time Lucifer himself appears near the end (James Purefoy, adding to the endless unique interpretations of a character we’ve been conditioned to ALWAYS be curious about), enough interesting stuff has unfolded in this movie to make Purefoy’s performance a genuine delight.

LIMBO (James Purefoy) (publicity still)

While Temple is mostly one-dimensional in his portrayal as Jimmy, he is certainly unsettling to watch and provides a mostly compelling story arc. Thompson and Collier are both so unconventional they make things move along rather briskly, and Jacobson and Riehle are excellent. LIMBO aims for a fresh look at the most timeless theme in the world, that being good versus evil – and there are times when the plot is really a stretch. Jimmy doesn’t give us enough depth to care that much about him, and certainly there are questions of plausibility throughout. But I truly liked the setup of this film, and the whole notion of everyone getting a “trial” to see which way they are going after they die. The script has more panache than I expected, and I would say Young is a director to watch. I was never bored watching LIMBO; in fact, I am kind of eager to see it again. That’s a surprising thing for me to say, considering my not so enthusiastic attitude when the opening credits first rolled.

A “DEADSIGHT” BETTER THAN SOME ZOMBIE FLICKS: THE ADAM SEYBOLD INTERVIEW

PART ONE: THE INTRODUCTION

ADAM SEYBOLD in DEADSIGHT (publicity still)

Zombie minimalism. I doubt it will become a THING, as most audience members probably WANT to see oozing-faced members of the undead fraternity, ravenous for fresh flesh and single-minded of purpose. There is nothing discrete or casual about the way zombies behave (not that there is a rulebook on such), but director Jesse Thomas Cook (THE HOARD, SEPTIC MAN) deserves a spot on some future panel discussing the zombie cinema genre, which DEADSIGHT, after two years of industry machinations, is now a part of. It seems like Cook and his two stars, Adam Seybold and Liv Collins, are pretty familiar with zombie and plague movie lore, and mostly decided NOT to follow in the footsteps of George Romero, Danny Boyle, et al. They took their own restrained path, somewhat admirably. Cook, Seybold and Collins (who also co-wrote the script) gamely try to tell a suspenseful story in an idiom which has been done to death on both the big and small screen. Seybold plays an injured everyman, Ben Neilson, who has just had a tough eye operation, resulting in seriously impaired vision. He’s hoping to get back to his family soon, but something is terribly wrong. Ben is clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to skulking dead dudes who keep showing up hoping to snack on him. His only ally is a pregnant police officer who crosses his path, Mara Madigan (Liv Collins), taking it moment by moment in what is now a rural “zombieland.” The two must team up simply to survive.

PART TWO: THE INTERVIEW

“For me the attraction of making a movie like this, is that you’re not really making a ‘zombie movie,'” said Adam Seybold, during a recent phoner, of portraying Ben with both vulnerability and determination. “I’m playing a regular person who is blind, trying to get back to my family. And I meet a woman who is trying to survive WITH me. That’s what we’re doing. All you can do is play the moment to moment truth of what is happening. There are only so many ways to show a zombie outbreak. In terms of explaining where they come from, we don’t really do that. Viewers are smart about that. There just happen to be zombies. It’s better to just let the story happen and use zombies as a backdrop.”

Oh, they’re a bit more than a backdrop. Poor Ben never knows when he is gonna hear erratic footsteps behind him, and have to fend off another attack. Mara has the firepower, however, and Ben wants her close by at all times, especially when he learns she is pregnant.

“Liv was actually pregnant during the shoot,” he revealed. She was exhausted much of the time. But she was such a trooper. I’d say, ‘You should be at home resting instead of running around with a double-barreled shotgun!”

ADAM SEYBOLD in CREEP NATION (publicity still)

The two have an easy rapport on screen, despite the rather minimal dialogue. They previously appeared in CREEP NATION together, which Seybold described as a “PSYCHO for the modern age.” In DEADSIGHT, they often spent rainy, cold days on set trying to crack jokes and keep each other grounded.

“She’s one of my favorite co-stars,” he said. “We’ve worked together a couple of times. It makes those transitions (from off-camera waiting to ACTION) easier. Some actors save it all for the camera. But Liv and I are chatty by nature, so we’d try to crack each other up between scenes. It makes such a difference when you are comfortable with someone, and you can trust each other.”

How did Seybold prepare for such a challenging shoot? After all, he has gauze wrapped around his eyes for most of the film, and there are scenes of him attempting to make his way up steep hills or maneuver through the rooms of an unfamiliar house. Seems dangerous!

ADAM SEYBOLD with JORDAN HAYES in EXIT HUMANITY (publicity still)

“As much as possible I tried to limit how much I could see,” he said. “Unless there were obvious safety issues. I’m sure there’s hours of outtakes Jesse has where I am wandering out of the shot or something. But when your eyes are closed, you’re not really acting anymore. You might be truly in danger. I think that’s why we make horror films. It takes you to that edge. Sometimes it’s miserable while you’re IN it, the frustration of not being able to see. But I chose that situation ‘cause it does take you beyond the limit. My day job is a writer, and I don’t have those concerns. My biggest decision is, am I gonna have tea or coffee?”

I commented on the surprisingly minimal action for a zombie movie, and the rather austere look of the film. Did Seybold sense it was going that way when they were shooting? “I haven’t actually seen the finished film yet,” he responded. “We shot it two years ago. I think that initially, Jesse told me, they had something a little more comedic in mind when they conceived it. That was the vibe before Liv and I. But based on our skill set, it was the way we acted together that changed the movie. Stemming from the vulnerability of these two people. So I guess the acting and direction ended up becoming more naturalistic.”

While films such as DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND seemed to take pleasure in featuring gorey closeups of the dead either having flesh fiestas or getting blown to smithereens, DEADSIGHT avoids that kind of thing for the most part. Yet it is still suspenseful, and the zombies are in some ways even more believable as a result.

ADAM SEYBOLD in EJECTA (publicity still)

“They are what makes the movie,” agreed Seybold. “If the zombies don’t work, the whole thing falls apart. It’s a credit to the tone that it worked so well.” An early scene of a “transitioning” woman confronting Officer Madigan near her police car is rather unsettling; you don’t know what to expect, and Collins plays it that way. But creepier still are shadowy figures showing up a distance from Ben and starting to shuffle towards him. This sort of thing is almost never good in horror movies. And having Ben be virtually blind is an undeniably interesting touch. But whatever DEADSIGHT’s strengths, it’s unclear if audiences will discover such a “subtle” tale of the undead.

“That’s out of my control,” said Seybold. “I don’t know about niche. I’ve done enough things now where I play the game of how things will be received. You can’t write a hit on purpose, or by accident. It’s been two years since we shot the movie. It exists in a time when I was with those people. I had a great time working on the movie. Those people are my friends, like brothers and sisters. And that’ll be true, whatever the outcome.”

PART THREE: THE REVIEW

DEADSIGHT

(RLJE FILMS/RAVEN BANNER/FORESIGHT FEATURES (82 minutes; Unrated); 2019)

I’m a fan of minimalism, I gotta admit. And when you’re talking about a cinematic genre as inherently goreworthy and unhinged as zombie horror, it’s admirable if a director does NOT aim to out gross-out the likes of DAWN OF THE DEAD, 28 WEEKS LATER, WORLD WAR Z, TV shows such as THE WALKING DEAD, et cetera. Honestly, the restraint shown by director Jesse Thomas Cook in lensing this modest production was the first thing I admired.

DEADSIGHT (Adam Seybold) (publicity still)

The film opens with a partially blind man, Ben (Adam Seybold), awakening in a hospital disoriented about where he is and what the hell is going on, a story element borrowed from Danny Boyle’s classic 28 DAYS LATER. Ben’s eyes are covered in gauze wrap, and he knows enough to put drops in them periodically, but everything is quite blurry. And rather than staying put, Ben decides to wander around and see what he can suss out from his surroundings. This is not a wise choice, as periodically a shadowy figure will appear behind him or come out of nowhere, and these of course are the undead. Weirdly, they often take their time in stalking and trying to dine on Ben, which tends to give him opportunities to hide or whack the living shit out of them with his little walker weapon. Ben seems a little too bold and clever for this story, and I found it hard to believe he could just walk up hills and locate empty houses as easily as he did having very little of his eyesight to aid him. But I don’t fault Seybold as an actor; he’s reasonably effective, and not overly emotional in his portrayal.

DEADSIGHT (Liv Collins) (publicity still)

It’s a lonely journey for Ben until a female… and rather pregnant police officer named Mara Madigan (Liv Collins) crosses paths with him. Mara has had a few zombie encounters of her own, and it’s probably best that we don’t get much exposition of how this particular apocalypse came about and why Mara ended up the lone officer on her force, pretending to do her job when the only sensible pursuit is terminating these ugly zombies with extreme prejudice. There is an interesting scene early on where Mara confronts a female almost-zombie, and it’s almost poignant. Somehow the hapless officer allows the transitioning undead missy to get in her squad car and drive off. That struck me as ludicrous… wouldn’t she have shot the fuck out of her before she could get in the vehicle? And how far can you get as a soon-to-be-undead citizen, already drooling and covered with oozing sores, behind the wheel of a car? These questions are not answered; Officer Madigan continues rather calmly on foot, and reaches Ben just in time to blast a hungry fiend before it could snack on the hapless sight no-seer. Whatever tension that remains at this point comes from the cautious relationship between Ben and Mara, which is underplayed and not as well scripted as it ought to be. Still, the actors are watchable and grounded in this peculiar reality. There are no dumb speeches, and thankfully, no romance. But the two do care about each other, and Ben shows plenty of compassion upon learning that Mara is preggers.

DEADSIGHT (Jessica Vano) (publicity still)

Each zombie kill is distinct, and there are no scenes of hordes of ravenous undead descending upon our heroes, as is usually typical of these films. It’s actually a fairly quiet drama overall, with little or no excess gore. And I want to say that the cinematography is a bit better than you might expect. That is thanks to a guy named Jeff Maher, who films the empty, half forested landscape (probably the eastern US) with a disarmingly pastoral sweep, making you notice the trees and the winding rural roads at all times, so that when a creepy figure emerges from a roadside in the background, it has maximum dramatic effect. Also the film pays attention to how many bullets Officer Madigan has in her gun, a detail I appreciated. And the script counts Collins as a co-writer and producer, so bully for her for committing to every aspect of this movie. I give it points for underplaying what is normally the type of horror that absolutely goes for broke in the gore and/or black comedy department (as ZOMBIELAND did). The music score is restrained, the action is selective, and I admire the fact that very little is explained.

DEADSIGHT (Adam Seybold, Liv Collins) (publicity still)

This ends up being a minimal two-character drama overall, and I can’t name another zombie movie you can say that about. It’s pretty suspenseful, and I was not bored by DEADSIGHT, which I sort of expected to be. It’s made with attitude and an understanding of its cinematic template, while seeming determined to avoid most of the cliches of the genre. Sure, it has a few screws loose, and I would have written a few more soul-sharing conversations for the two leads, but DEADSIGHT moves briskly and economically through its contribution to a genre that would seemingly have little new territory to explore. And that’s a “dead sight” more than you have a right to ask for.


The flick is available on DVD, Digital HD and Video-On-Demand beginning Tuesday, July 2.

AMERICAN POLTERGEIST: THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET

(ITN DISTRIBUTION/FRIGHT TECK PICTURES/DAGGER 3 MEDIA (104 minutes; Unrated); 2019)

I want to say something straight off the bat. B movies or even Grade “Z” movies should NOT be weighted against big budget or “major” films when they’re evaluated. It’s not fair. There are different tiers to moviemaking, and a low-budget production with unknown actors is NOT in competition with “regular” movies that get wide distribution. Or even a Netflix offering. Such films should be seen as what they are, lower-tier offerings that are either entertaining or NOT. And let them exist on that level for better or worse, while recognizing that they may still stink, or not. We NEED these films, and they can launch the careers of talented people sometimes. Enough said.

AMERICAN POLTERGEIST: THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET (KateLynn E Newberry, Rob Jaeger, Brianna Burke) (publicity still)

So, this low-budget horror film, AMERICAN POLTERGEIST: THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET came my way, and it survived two immediate tests for me as a viewer. First, it is entertaining. And, being a horror film, it’s actually rather suspenseful. It has some scares, and doesn’t always quite do what you might think. So I give it points for that. The titular Lilith Ratchet was an ill-fated woman who suffered losses during the Civil War (including her head) and vowed revenge for her suffering, via a series of chanted phrases which, if invoked along with her name, will cause hellish torments for those doing the chanting. When an antique shop owner sells the supposedly “shrunken head” of poor ol’ Lilith in a mysterious box many years later (the buyers are two curious young women, Alice Crow and her friend Lauren), a disturbing series of events begin to unfold, especially after Alice (KateLynn E Newberry) and Lauren (Brianna Burke) approach a paranormal radio show host named Hunter Perry (Rob Jaeger), whose show “Beyond the Veil” is immensely popular with the locals. The girls want to know more about this “thing” they bought, and Hunter sees an opportunity to get serious attention if he arranges for a “chanting game” to be done live in a local watering hole on Halloween. The kids can just toss Lilith around, say those phrases, keep pouring drinks, and see what kind of merriment results. I mean, what are the odds that the demonic spirit of Lilith Ratchet (Crissy Kolarik) would suddenly return and start inflicting nasty mayhem on all these fun-loving youngsters? Well, there wouldn’t be a movie if she didn’t, right?

AMERICAN POLTERGEIST: THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET (Crissy Kolarik) (publicity still)

Lilith is not your garden variety 19th century spinster, let it be said. She has terrible teeth frozen in a murderous grin, beady eyes bent on watching you take your last breath, and black, long, curving fingernails just perfect for slicing through youthful flesh. To paraphrase the Terminator, “she can’t be reasoned with, she can’t be bargained with, and she will not STOP until you are dead.” Hunter thought he was just gonna get some ratings for his podcast, and poor Alice and Lauren, while clearly spooked by disturbing visions and understandable apprehension, try to go along with the proceedings semi-enthusiastically. Nate, Lauren’s boyfriend (George Tutie), is not happy about the big “Beyond the Veil” fiesta and leaves the proceedings early. You can probably guess what happens to him. This Lilith gal, though a little too pleased with herself for her demonic ways, has an agenda, and unless the somewhat smug Mister Perry can suss out what to do, Ratchet will NOT bury the hatchet. It’s best not to get too attached to any of the characters in this film, to say the least. While most of the acting is simply functional, Newberry puts some real energy into her role as Alice and has you believing some of this craziness is really happening. She’s a gifted actress with a slew of credits as it turns out. Jaeger has a kind of generic charisma, and Burke acts like she’s at least trying. As for the nasty Ms Ratchet, her makeup designer deserves as much credit as the actress, although being singularly demonic for over 90 minutes has gotta take some concentration. The guy putting this vision on screen in its totality, however, is writer/director Eddie Lengyel, who has a good sense of pacing and a clear understanding of common horror movie tropes… the jump scare, the build-up, the power of an evil face, et cetera. Although everything in the movie is something we’ve seen before, Lengvel knows the formula well. Certain things are kind of ridiculous: the shrunken head itself, the ludicrous scene where Hunter evades Lilith by hiding in a bathroom stall with the door not even fully closed (I mean, come on… if you’re a demon and you’ve shown your ability to float in and out of EVERY physical space, how would a BATHROOM stall flummox you when you’re victim hunting?), the supposedly “crowded” party which seems to boast no more than a few dozen participants. I also was annoyed at the lack of genuine emotion shown when various characters found out their significant other had bought it. I can’t elaborate without giving stuff away, but come on… you’re gonna cry and be in anguish if your loved one is now history at the hands of a demonic old woman, right? There are a couple of exceptions to this complaint, thankfully.

All this said, there is something admirably purposeful about …THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET. It keeps moving, it has a fairly riveting nasty at the center, and it uses music well (some of that supplied by Timothy Smith). And at least a few of the actors rise to the occasion. The biggest “curse” I find in movies like this is usually that they are boring and show stupid people behaving stupidly. I was not bored watching the film, and I didn’t groan that much watching these characters. So hey, let’s give this little fright flick its due. But Eddie, my boy, I don’t think Lilith could really be called a “poltergeist.” Look up the definition. This vengeful bitch belongs in another category; she doesn’t just move objects around. She does some serious slicin’ and dicin’, and in case you decide to do a sequel (there is a hint of that), lose the “p” word. Just a thought…