THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/LIBERTY LANE PRODUCTIONS/RUTHLESS PICTURES (103 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

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Your parents always told you that bad things would happen if you lied to them or let your friends (or a bunch of people you thought were your friends) influence you to do something stupid, like partying in the haunted woods just outside of town. THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST is truth positive that your parents were right… if you go to a party in the woods (or the beach or your bestie’s house or anywhere, really), an evil, murderous spirit will follow you home and harm your loved ones. Of course, this has been happening since the dawn of mankind, which is why parents are always warning their kids about such wanton teenage frivolity but, as most teens are – at the very least – hard-headed or – far more often than would seem possible – brain dead and insist on “making our own mistakes,” and why the curse continues to thrive. And, this is why filmmakers continue to make movies warning about the dangers proscribed above.

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (publicity still)

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (publicity still)

Marina Petrano plays Paige, the questionable teenager… I mean, the teenager in question who, against her better judgment and her parents’ express wishes, is asked by her friend, Ava (played with a stunning indifference by Weston Adwell), to go to a party in the secluded and preternatural Borley Forest. When Ava does a no-show, Paige, bored with the illicit high-jinx and illegal shenanigans of the boorish people that make up her friend’s clique, starts looking for a ride home. Naturally, she gets lost in the woods (I mean… seriously, what self-respecting horror story doesn’t involve somebody getting lost somewhere?), ending up under the “haunted ghost” tree of Borley Forest, where a local lynch mob exacted their own kind of justice on a pair of brothers believed to be responsible for the disappearances of at least three teenage girls during the 1950s. From that point forward, strange and unexplained things started happening to Paige and her friends and family, with an odd “stalker/love interest” plot device tossed in to put savvy horror movie buffs off the scent of what was really happening.

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)

Yeah… that doesn’t really work when the antagonist is featured in the title of the movie but, as padding and uncomfortable dialogue go, I reckon this definitely qualifies; plus, it adds a little something extra for the TWILIGHT set to glom onto and keep them interested, I suppose. Keeping the last two sentences in mind, the original title of the film was YOU WILL LOVE ME but, I guess, the producers figured that would be a dead giveaway to the plot and changed it to something less obvious. After being left high-and-dry by Ava and amazingly turned on/freaked out by the attentions of older new guy Cooper (a rather bemused Nicholas Barrera in one of the better performances in the film), Paige turns to another friend, Jenna (Rebecca Barrow Hall), for consolation; when the pair is attacked by the demon ghost, Jenna becomes a true teenager, as catatonia sets in. Confused by the attack on Jenna and angry with Ava for setting the whole thing in motion, Paige demands that Ava help her, alongside her brother (a frightfully laconic Christopher Ingle), sister-in-law (an “Eh… it’s a paycheck” performance from Rhea Rossiter), Cooper and one of the dumbest parapsychologists in any movie… ever, Doctor Hidalgo (played by Jason Beck); when Hidalgo learns that Paige had been in Borley Forest, he relates the story of a haunted or possessed tree that no one can never seem to locate once they’ve initially encountered it. When the frightened teens tell the (insert snickering noise here) Doctor that the entity seems to disappear once the lights are turned on, he utters what may be the most cogent words of his entire life: “A preference for darkness is not the same as a fear of light.” I guess why he has that degree hanging on the wall behind him.

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)

Anyway, once the group decides to go into the woods and confront the bogey, things start to pick up story-wise; the dialogue and the actors delivering said dialogue, unfortunately, don’t pick up. Of course, the whole thing wraps up very nicely with a “surprise” ending that you can see coming from at least four movies away. Look… I’m not saying that …BORLEY FOREST is a bad flick, I’m just saying that it ain’t that good; oh, I’ve seen far worse and I suppose the youngsters will enjoy destroying a few braincells watching it, but it doesn’t even come close to meeting my threshold of tolerance for ignoramus entertainment and my threshold is set fairly low (I mean, I nearly made it through three minutes of that horrid DUKES OF HAZZARD movie once, so you know I’ve got staying power). The “unrated” designation may make it seem more appealing but, even if the frights were scarier and the script wasn’t so hackneyed, the producers probably coulda gotten away with a PG-13; that’s how mild every aspect (horror, sexual situations, alcohol consumption by minors, et cetera) of THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST truly is. A shame, really, as, on paper, the concept seems to work.


THE DEVIL INCARNATE

(DVD and Digital; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RAVEN BANNER FILMS (76 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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Do you guys remember a time when all of the bad things, scary things, dead things and evil things – pretty much all types of bad mojo – in movies were never really seen, just kind of implied? Those types of flicks tended to be scarier than the “leave nothing to the imagination” school of film-making that has controlled the movie screens since THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 1974. While THE DEVIL INCARNATE does have a couple of fairly graphic scenes, it is still, basically, a throwback to those horror and thriller movies that forced you to use your imagination. The individual’s imagination can be far more nightmare-inducing than watching that nightmare played out right in front of your eyes; that’s what makes those old treasures and, by extension, THE DEVIL INCARNATE, so much fun to watch.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Graci Carli) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Graci Carli) (publicity still)

First time director L Gustavo Cooper (a military brat turned pro skateboarder turned producer of films about pro skateboarding) has given us a tense, violently psychotic mash-up of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST, with liberal doses of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT thrown in for good measure. The story focuses on newlyweds Trevor and Holly (Rod Luzzi and Graci Carli), on their honeymoon in Florida and videotaping the experience as a keepsake. Most of the movie is of the “found footage” variety, taking the videographer’s perspective, which makes the remainder of the scenes that much more effective. Tiring of to many hours on the road, Holly convinces Trevor to take a detour for a little sight-seeing adventure. They end up in a shabby, out-of-the-way little town where they are frightened by an apparent street junkie (Walter J Colson) who begins to babble about monsters and all types of misfortune ahead for the couple; he scares Holly, evoking the name of a local mystic – a fortune teller with immense dark powers. When Holly asks how to find the woman, the man says to “just follow the spirit.” Trevor laughs off the experience, certain that the guy was sending them to someone who paid him to deliver customers to her door.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Barbara Van Fleet) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Barbara Van Fleet) (publicity still)

Undeterred, Holly is more determined than ever to visit the fortune teller (Barbara Van Fleet). After wandering about, not knowing their destination, their car dies… right in front of – you guessed it – the mystic’s house. The woman is bat-crap crazy and begins to scream and shriek in an unknown tongue, sending Holly fleeing out of the house. Trevor follows, holding an innocuous looking amulet he was examining as his bride ran out of the back room. The wild woman (witch, spiritualist, voodoo priestess… whatever) chases them outside with a dire warning about what has taken up residency in Holly’s womb. Following a harrowing health scare, Holly’s pregnancy is confirmed. The newlyweds arrive at their final destination: Trevor’s family home. With Trevor a few months away from fatherhood and his sister, Marissa (played to the hilt, with a wink and a grin by Emily Rogers), a few months away from college, the Davidsons have made the homestead a wedding present to the couple. Marissa, a snarky teenager with a penchant for the melodramatic and dark clothing (and, yes, I realize that I just described ninety-nine percent of America’s teenage population), becomes the linchpin of the narrative as she is given the responsibility of video-taping the planned baby shower and the events leading up to it. She discovers the forgotten amulet in a box of items destined for the attic for storage and, thinking it looks cool (and unwanted), she keeps it. Many of Marissa’s suspicions, fears and fantasies are brought to light through video chats with her friend (an even snarkier teen played by Bailee Bennett). She reluctantly confesses her attraction to her brother’s wife; she has secretly been videoing her dressing, bathing, having sex with Trevor.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (publicity still)

As the pregnancy progresses, Holly‘s physical health and mental stability begin to decline. She begins keeping to herself, missing meals and avoiding Trevor’s family. Marissa begins to notice the erratic behavior, which escalates at the baby shower: Holly is captured on camera grabbing her father-in-law’s crotch, then attacks her estranged aunt with a porcelain doll the woman brought as a gift. The next day, though they weren’t completely finished packing up their belongings, Trevor’s parents make a hasty exit, leaving Marissa behind to help out. Speaking with her friend, Marissa tells of the odd behavior; as the friend begins question her about Holly’s past, she realizes that she really doesn’t know anything about her. Once more playing the voyeuristic videographer, filming Holly soaking in the tub, Marissa is discovered. Rather than being upset, Holly seduces her but suddenly begins to intone the same weird phrases as the old mystic. The following day, Holly drives Marissa to check out a college. She begins asking her about her family, her maiden name and where she grew up, but when she shows Holly that she has repaired the broken porcelain doll, Holly begins acting strange – trance-like – and tries to push Marissa out of the car while moving at over a hundred miles an hour.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Emily Rogers and Rod Luzzi) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Emily Rogers and Rod Luzzi) (publicity still)

With the new-found information, Marissa’s video chat friend delves a bit deeper into Holly’s past, discovering that she had been abused and raped in a foster home; she also finds a cryptic reference to the amulet. Things happen rather quickly from that point and telling you more wouldn’t be prudent. Suffice to say that the open-ended finish leaves a lot to the imagination… some would say, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered but, for me, that’s the beauty and the horror of the film. While it is unrated, I would be reticent to allow anyone under the age of sixteen or so to watch THE DEVIL INCARNATE. It is, however, a great way to spend an hour and fifteen minutes on a dark and stormy night… if you’ve got the stomach for such fare.


WEREWOLF RISING

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RUTHLESS PICTURES (79 minutes; Unrated); 2014)

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As werewolf movies go, WEREWOLF RISING is certainly… something. I’m not really sure what it is. It’s not horrible, it’s not totally unwatchable, it’s just… I don’t know… rather low on the werewolf quotient (almost to the point of being werewolf free) and kinda schizophrenic, as to the type of movie it’s meant to be. It would appear that one of two things are happening here: Writer/director BC Furtney accidentally mixed the scripts to three different movies together or, a lot of the holes in plot and story occurred because the script was pared down due to budget constraints (but, then, I’m just not sure if this kind of flick has an audience that would sit through the extra hour or so it woulda taken to untangle this beast. That seems highly unlikely). So, since it is what it is and that’s all we’ve got, let’s look at the good and the bad of this film, shall we?

WEREWOLF RISING (Danielle Lozeau) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Danielle Lozeau) (publicity still)

The opening sequence is probably the best five minutes of the entire movie, though it is not glitch free. An evil looking guy (Bill Oberst, Junior as Rhett) is threatening bad things to a young woman. He has just escaped from prison, kidnapped her and forced her to drive him to the middle of nowhere (actually, the middle of the Arkansas hills), where he intends to rape and kill her. Evil looking Rhett is interrupted by a noise in the underbrush, goes to check it out and is attacked by a giant beast (a beast that looks like some type of hybrid wolf/bat thing). The shredded and bloodied Rhett comes to just in time to see his intended victim’s throat torn out by the creature. It plays well and sets a tone for the rest of the film that is never achieved again. There are some cool moments when we’re actually watching through the werewolf’s eyes, a kind of red ultraviolet lens thing. That’s particularly effective as the animal turns its attention to the girl (unfortunately, the effect isn’t used consistently in the rest of the flick). Speaking of the girl, she does have a name: Christina (played by Danielle Lozeau); we know this because at one point, she whimpers her name as though Rhett has asked her to tell him. Problem is, as convincing as her terrorized reply is, he didn’t ask. Considering some of the other problems that we’ll get into, that’s a small one, but one that bugs the crap outta me.

WEREWOLF RISING (Bill Oberst, Junior) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Bill Oberst, Junior) (publicity still)

After that grand opening, a tool used, I assume, for the express purpose of introducing the two main villains of the piece, werewolf prime (more about that one later) and Rhett. The movie proper begins with the heroine of the story, Emma (the exceptionally not-too-awful Melissa Carnell), delivering a soliloquy in the form of a phone conversation (we only hear her end of what is obviously a double-ended communication) intended to act as exposition, as she explains where she is (the place she grew up) and why she’s there (to get away from the “city life” which, as it’s wont to do, has driven her to drink; she has driven to the place of her birth to… not drink) and who she plans to meet there (her father’s old drinking buddy, Wayne). Carnell fluctuates between a very believable delivery to one fraught with melodrama to a kinda somnambulist drone. Guess which one works best. As Emma wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city (Boston, in this case), she has definitely come to the right place. Her little home in the hills is (in the vernacular) “a fer piece” from any type of civilization and, as a bonus, surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods. What could possibly go wrong, right? Weeeeelllll…

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell) (publicity still)

It seems that when Rhett escaped from prison he took his cellmate, Johnny Lee (Matt Copko), with him. Johnny Lee, apparently a two time loser (once for the ridiculous name and twice for a wooden – oh, heck, let’s be honest… a leaden personality), shows up at Emma’s back door and, inconceivably, wheedles his way into her heart even though she protests from her porch, from across a pond, from the back of a four-wheeler… you get the idea. It’s mere coincidence that he is related to Wayne (Brian Berry in a bone-chillingly awful performance). Once Wayne hears that his nephew is in the neighborhood, he arms Emma with a gun big enough to dislocate both of her shoulders with the kickback.

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell and Matt Copko) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell and Matt Copko) (publicity still)

Johnny Lee has taken up residence in an abandoned church, where he takes Emma on his… her… someone’s… four-wheeler, and where plans are made to meet later, after Emma hosts Uncle Wayne for a late dinner. Two things happen in the interim: Wayne, who hasn’t given up the drink, attempts to stick his tongue down Emma’s throat (dessert?) and Johnny Lee is sliced and diced by the beast. After Emma tosses Wayne out, she heads for the rendezvous with Johnny Lee, only to find him tattered and moaning on the floor. He refuses to go to the hospital (escaped felon, remember?). So, what’s a girl to do? Why, take him home to nurse him back to health, of course. By the next night, Wayne is doing his drunken troll drive-by and Johnny Lee is craving raw meat and the great outdoors. Johnny Lee takes off for the woods out back just as Wayne and Rhett show up out front. Emma, now at the front door and armed, recognizes Rhett as the evil guy that’s been chasing her through her dreams of late. After disarming Emma, Wayne turns the weapon on Rhett. Shots are fired, blood splatters, Wayne gets his comeuppance and Emma crawls to the safety of… a bottle of vodka she finds in the closet she’s using as a hiding place.

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell) (publicity still)

If that doesn’t seem weird enough, things start getting truly bizarre. As Emma hightails it through the woods, she runs into a lone woman who likes wolves… a lot! Well, not really wolves… wolf, singular. And, she does not want to share. You’ve gotta pay close attention here, as everything starts to make sense (or, at least as much sense as this flick ever will). The woman, Beatrix (Irena Murphy, who eventually shows just how talented she is by going full-frontal), knows Rhett and Emma’s father. The campfire party is for one (or both) of them and, as usually happens in such cases, bad things are afoot. That’s all I’m sayin’; I ain’t sayin’ no more. Except this: If it’s true that the camera adds ten pounds, then I’m guessing that Carnell and Copko must go about fifteen pounds… between them. I’m sure that I’ve seen skeletal remains that weigh more than these two. So, anyway, aside from the convoluted backstories, grade D acting skills by at least three of the five principals and a cheesy looking monster, at the end of the day, WEREWOLF RISING is more watchable than a lot of like-minded horror fare. It’s kind of an okay way to kill an hour and twenty minutes.


WAY OF THE WICKED

(MATT KELLY FILMS/ODYSSEY MEDIA/IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (92 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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Director Kevin Carraway’s WAY OF THE WICKED is a supernatural thriller, kind of a cross between THE OMEN and SCANNERS; WAY OF THE WICKED is a tale of obsession, with a priest (Christian Slater, in a small, but pivotal role) trying to stop a troubled youth he believes to be the spawn of Satan (a kid named Robbie – played to the brooding hilt by Jake Croker – recently returned to the town he grew up in and just wanting to be left alone by the arrogant, judgmental popular kids); WAY OF THE WICKED is a study in teenage societal mores, somewhere between LORD OF THE FLIES and MEAN GIRLS; WAY OF THE WICKED is a love story, like TWILIGHT without the shiny vampires, out-sized werewolves and cloying sentimentality; most of all, though, WAY OF THE WICKED is a movie about a father’s love for his daughter (Robbie’s best… make that, only… friend from his middle school days, current snob and property of the Big Man On Campus). The father (Vinnie Jones), a police detective trying to overcome the guilt he feels over his wife’s death, has become doting and overprotective of his daughter, Heather (Emily Tennant). This, of course, leads to Heather rebelling as only a 16 year old can: sneaking out of the house late at night, getting drunk, lying about everything and, generally, acting like she’s better than everyone else. Until Robbie drives back into her life and challenges the status quo at the school, Heather is content to snub her nose at the peons, make fun of all the losers and be treated like chattel by the King of Asses, Greg (Aren Buchholz).

WAY OF THE WICKED (Emily Tennant and Aren Buccholz) (publicity still)

WAY OF THE WICKED (Emily Tennant and Aren Buccholz) (publicity still)

Heather’s posse begins treating Robbie poorly for having the unmitigated audacity to speak to Greg’s woman and bad things start happening to the stooges. Father Henry, skulking in the shrubbery, has seen enough and contacts Detective Elliott to relate his fears regarding Robbie’s Satanic parentage. Elliott, of course, dismisses the cleric and his theories, having suffered a crisis of faith when his wife died and… well… the guy just sounds nuts! That, however, doesn’t stop him from confronting the beleaguered youth, who he sees as a moral threat and a bad influence for his little girl. Weird things continue to take place, including the ultimate comeuppance of uber-tool Greg, giving credence to the priest’s theory and pause to the detective. All the while, we are made aware that there’s more than one person with a secret to keep in the sleepy, out of the way little town. There are more than enough surprises and twists to keep the plot fresh and the story interesting (though, at one point, I did suspect what the outcome would be, only to be turned in a completely different direction by another swerve). Of course, as in all supernatural movies worth their salt, the climax takes place in a cemetery.

WAY OF THE WICKED (Christian Slater) (publicity still)

WAY OF THE WICKED (Christian Slater) (publicity still)

The relationships, particularly John and Heather Elliott, as well as Heather and Robbie (their story is fleshed out nicely through flashbacks), fuel the story more than the supernatural aspects and add a certain amount of believability to the plot. If Jones seems to be a little over the top in his overbearing attitude toward the daughter, I’m willing to give him a bit of a pass. I mean, he’s not exactly a cute and cuddly kind of guy and that deep, sandpaper-raw voice doesn’t lend itself well to syrupy dialogue, so I accept the compromises he makes to bring the story to life. Croker, as the ultimate outsider, reminds me of a younger version of Slater (both in his brooding demeanor and his physical appearance). The intensity that he brings to the role of Robbie can only be described as “smoldering.” Unfortunately, Slater and Croker only share one scene in the movie and, even then, the characters really don’t interact.

WAY OF THE WICKED (Vinnie Jones and Jake Croker) (publicity still)

WAY OF THE WICKED (Vinnie Jones and Jake Croker) (publicity still)

So, to wrap things up with a nice big bow and without blowing the whole thing by relating any more of the story or plot twists, what can we take away from WAY OF THE WICKED? Well, you don’t have to be a fan of supernatural or horror movies to like this one, although the violence could be a turn-off: While there are great, loving relationships and a good deal of emphasis is placed on a rather ROMEO AND JULIET type love story, you should probably keep the kiddies away from it. The story may not be new, but it is very well done and features enough twists (as well as some fine acting) to make it worth checking out. It’s available pretty much everywhere on both DVD and Blu-Ray; digital copies are also available.


KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER AND DOCTOR MOREAU

(Mike Kelly/Mark Grammel/Eric Stanway/Nik Poliwko/Valarie Jones; MOONSTONE PUBLISHING, 2013)

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From the opening panels – which are amazingly drawn – the reader is drawn into a mystery just as is LA reporter Carl Kolchak. Originally a Chicagoan, Carl is back on home turf, wrapping up work on another story. But before he can get back on a plane to LA, there are some gruesome murders with a strange twist. They seem to be the work of some kind of powerful and mysterious beasts. And, of course, Carl (as usual) has to stick his nose – along with the rest of his anatomy, which includes his continuously-in-operation brain – where it is least welcome. HG Wells’ Doctor Moreau seems to have modern counterparts busy in the animal research labs of greater Chicagoland. And their creatures have run the proverbial “amok.”

The Mark Grammel panels really flow and move the action along well. Mike Kelly’s story has his usual lean and direct – yet true and thorough character development – with action and mystery aplenty and an ending you will not see coming! Mike knows the Kolchak character, hero of the 1974-75 ABC-TV series, THE NIGHT STALKER, better than anyone on the planet. Mike was the character’s biggest fan then and he shows his continuing devotion and understanding of Carl Kolchak in this book.

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, the Night Stalker (publicity photo)

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, the Night Stalker (publicity photo)

So, now to reveal one mystery: I have known Mike Kelly since we were best friends at high school in a (more or less) peaceful Chicago suburb. We watched the Kolchak TV series when it originally aired, as did our other fellow movie/comic/science fiction friends. Mike never forgot about THE NIGHT STALKER and has been working to promote it and it’s main character ever since it was “not on ABC’s announced fall schedule” in 1975. So Mike is in very familiar digs, with the story set in Chicago and the small towns in northern Illinois which are his ancestral turf. But the ‘burbs of Mike’sMOREAUare quite a bit less peaceful than the ones I remember.

In addition to this being a good time to (re)read the HG Wells novel, THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, it is a good time to renew your acquaintance with Kolchak. If you haven’t seen the TV series in a while (or not seen it at all? Shameful!), now is a good time to catch it on Netflix Instant Watch. I am sure it is available elsewhere, as well. Be sure to check it out… you will be surprised how a vintage series can still play so well! Darren McGavin brought the Kolchak character to life as detective-reporter-supernatural investigator and it is still a great series to watch. THE NIGHT STALKER was a series truly unique for it’s time and the forerunner of many series since. You would have never seen a BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, X-FILES or many others without Kolchak. And, check out this new book and the others in the Kolchak series from Moonstone (at www.moonstonebooks.com). It is not only a good, but a great time to pick up KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER AND DOCTOR MOREAU where you will find a compelling book with vibrant characters and a story that leaves you anticipating another mystery with the persistently annoying – but always on the right track – Carl Kolchak. (XB)