Double Feature: Down A Dark Hall (2018) & The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

Welcome to the next double feature with a horror double with 2018’s Down A Dark Hall and 2020’s The Dark and the Wicked! Let’s check it out!

Down A Dark Hall (2018)

Director: Rodrigo Cortés

Cast: AnnaSophia Robb, Uma Thurman, Isabelle Fuhrman, Victoria Moroles, Noah Silver, Taylor Russell, Rosie Day, Rebecca Front, Jodhi May, Pip Torrens, Kirsty Mitchell, Jim Sturgeon

A troubled teen named Kit Gordy is forced to join the exclusive Blackwood Boarding School, just to find herself trapped by dark forces around its mysterious headmistress, Madame Duret. – IMDB

As I look at Down The Dark Hall, the general outline reminds me of Paradise Hills (review), a movie that I think is a hidden gem as it also has the parallels of young girls in one closed setting under surveillance with a headmistress that has their own scheme. Of course, this twist is different and the boarding school is this mansion setting works well since the mysteries and dark hallways definitely meet the expectations of the title of the film. Down A Dark Hall is considered a horror thriller and in some ways, the premise does work but the execution misses a little.

What works here is the atmosphere: dark and mysterious. Some shots are so dark and yet it teases a little of what could be hidden in this darkness. At the same time, the Boarding School is very basic so a lot of dim lighting is set by this environment. Adding to that is the idea that each of the girls fall into a different obsession with a subject which makes their characters all change in a suspenseful way. This really counting on which actress manages to portray it well. Pairing them with the dynamic of Uma Thurman’s headmistress as Madame Duret which is probably the better part of the movie as a whole.

Aside from Uma Thurman, the cast also include AnnaSophia Robb which I had previously seen in some Disney movies (along with The Reaping and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and do remember her for her child roles so its nice to see her here which she does a decent enough job. Just like seeing Isabelle Fuhrman who I had previously seen in Orphan and I kind of did like her role here as well. The other cast members while having some interesting characters felt like it all felt a little oddly paced making some of their roles also feel a little unbalanced in execution.

Overall, Down The Dark Hall is a horror fantasy film which definitely embraces its title and has a decent twist to it. There are some creepy moments but nothing way too scary other than the dark setting that probably helps with creating the atmosphere and mystery. While some characters were done well, there is some odd execution choices as well as how a lot of the characters that play the boarding school staff feels so strange that its obvious that something’s not right.

The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

Director (and writer): Bryan Bertino

Cast: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki, Michael Zagst, Xander Berkeley, Charles Jonathan Trott, Ella Ballentine

On a secluded farm in a nondescript rural town, a man is slowly dying. His family gathers to mourn, and soon a darkness grows, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the family. – IMDB

The Dark and The Wicked is a slow-burn horror film set in the isolated rural farm where siblings return to visit their parents. The movie starts off right away setting up the unknown horror before the siblings arrive and build upon that throughout as most of the horror is in the unknown and what happens off screen. As with many slow-burn horror, a lot of the movie is based on the atmosphere and tension as well as the subtle sort of horror. There is a vagueness to the whole situation as a lot of it is rather quiet as a whole and in the moments as different situations occur to each of the characters in the story. Its also where it will draw the differences of those who will appreciate it for that or find it more boring.

Its hard to dive too deep into The Dark and The Wicked as a lot of it is revolving about the subtlety and the mystery that seems to be going on this home. Is it supernatural or evil or something else? The unknown makes up the horror of the film as a whole plus some of the horror effects and the characters as they get pulled into whatever “evil” seems to be hanging over this home. With that said, the atmosphere is on point especially with the sound design and playing with the quiet moments, there’s a good balance of using that to build horror as well as the setting itself.

The characters also play a part here. There is a fairly small cast as a whole but they all do a decent job as well. The characters also have a rather subtle change and development throughout as the situation changes and they get pulled into figuring out what is going on. Between the parents, the visiting siblings as well as the nurse and neighbors, the story does manage to find a way to make this uneasy whether in dialogue and such. There are some moments where its a little over but most of it does manage to get under the skin.

Overall, The Dark and The Wicked is a well-executed slow-burn indie horror film. The setting, the characters and the atmosphere combined together creates a good balance to bring out the creepy unknown horror vibe.

Ultimate Decades Blogathon: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) by 18 Cinema Lane

Kicking off the second week of Ultimate Decades Blogathon is Sally Silverscreen of 18 Cinema Lane with her pick of 1971’s horror comedy The Abominable Dr. Phibes. 18 Cinema Lane is a fun movie blog where it offers a variety of movie reviews and movie news but also has a focus on Hallmark movies. Just like the pick for the blogathon is unique, there will always be something new to discover on 18 Cinema Lane as well. When you finish this review, remember to head over to her blog and check it out HERE.


Take 3: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

The Abominable Dr. Phibes was recommended by one of my readers named Michael. When I found out the movie was considered a horror-comedy, I thought it’d be a perfect entry for MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur, as horror-comedies are the theme for February. Then I discovered the film was released in 1971. Because Kim and Drew, from Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews, are hosting the 6th Annual Ultimate Decades Blogathon, where the subject is movies premiering in years ending in 1, I decided to review The Abominable Dr. Phibes for both blogathons! As of early 2021, this is the fifth film of Vincent Price’s I’ve seen and written about. Most of these movies have either belonged in the horror genre or have been mysterious in nature. With The Abominable Dr. Phibes, this will be a little different, as part of the story is a comedy. Out of the movies of Vincent’s I have seen, none of them have featured a large amount of humor. So, by choosing this film for the aforementioned blogathons, I am given an opportunity to see Vincent work with slightly different material!

Things I liked about the film:

The mystery: In horror movies, there is usually a mysterious element that can come in a variety of forms. One of these forms is a mystery. Throughout The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the detectives at Scotland Yard are attempting to figure out why several doctors in their neighborhood are dying of mysterious causes. The way the mystery is presented allows the audience to solve it alongside the characters. This presents the idea of the audience sharing an experience with the detectives in the film. Even though we see what is making these doctors die, it doesn’t take away from the intrigue of the mystery. In fact, it keeps the audience invested in what is about to happen next. Seeing how all the pieces of the story connected was interesting to see. It definitely kept my attention as I watched the film!

The craftmanship: There were several items in this movie that caught my eye due to their quality and artistry. A frog mask is just one example. The head covering mask is covered in three different shades of green, allowing it to shine from many different angles. Gold piping can also be found on the mask, assisting in distinguishing its shape. Jewels add finishing touches as the mask features gold gems around the frog’s eyes and an emerald clasp in the back. Dr. Phibes’ mask also boasts incredible craftsmanship! The eye covering mask is shaped like a bird and is coated in shiny shades of green, bronze, and gold. Both masks were two of the beautiful I’ve ever seen!

The set design: The Abominable Dr. Phibes features several interesting set designs that are worth noting. Despite Dr. Phibe’s house only being shown at night and only part of its exterior could be seen, it was a magnificent structure! Its Victorian style brightened the night with its white frames and cherry wood doors. The house features a grand white marble staircase paired beautifully with chandeliers and crystal sconces. I wish more scenes had taken place by this staircase, as it is an impressive part of Dr. Phibes’ residence! Other locations in the story also displayed memorable set designs.  Dr. Vesalius’ apartment is a great example. Near the front door is a curved, frosted window. The door itself was covered in a light and dark wood that ending up complimenting the faded yellow walls. This location looked reflective of the late ‘60s to early ‘70s due to its color scheme and furniture selections.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The underutilization of Vincent Price: As I said in my introduction, this is the fifth film of Vincent Price’s I’ve seen. Therefore, I, as an audience member, know what he is capable of, talent wise. Despite being the top billed actor in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Vincent wasn’t given much material to work with. He didn’t have any speaking lines in this movie. While there is an explanation given within the story, the only time we hear Vincent’s iconic voice is through recordings. It also doesn’t help that the different ways Dr. Phibes went after his victims overshadows Vincent’s performance. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the creative team behind this film cast Vincent Price simply to get more people to see the movie?

Weak on comedy: The Abominable Dr. Phibes is classified as a horror-comedy. When I made this discovery, I was expecting the movie to be more like Young Frankenstein. Even though there were a few times I found myself giggling, the film didn’t contain much humor. The Abominable Dr. Phibes relies more on the horror genre. It also contains a mystery within the overall plot, which would make it a horror-mystery. I felt misled after these reveals.

Depiction of demises partially used for shock value: Strictly from a story-telling perspective, it was interesting to see how Dr. Phibes carried out his plan. But when the plan is put into practice, the depiction of his victims’ demises comes across as more gross than scary. Within a segment of the story involving rats, there was a brief shot of a rat chewing on what looks like a bloody bone. I won’t spoil The Abominable Dr. Phibes, in case any of my readers haven’t seen it. But parts of the film like the one I described feels like the movie’s creative team just wanted to shock their audience.

My overall impression:

When I think of the term “horror-comedy”, Young Frankenstein immediately comes to mind. Even though I haven’t seen this film, I am aware of its premise. Because of my expectations, I was somewhat let down by The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Sure, its mystery was intriguing and kept me invested in the overall story. But as I look back on this movie, I find myself expecting more. Despite its classification as a horror-comedy, it ended up being a horror-mystery, with very little comedy to be found. I was also disappointed to see Vincent Price underutilized in The Abominable Dr. Phibes. While he was given different material to work with, he didn’t have any speaking lines. The way Dr. Phibes’ victims met their demise overshadowed Vincent’s performance. These factors make his portrayal of the titular character feel like a part of an ensemble instead of someone leading a film. This is an interesting movie, but I can think of stories of this nature that are stronger than this one. I still prefer a picture like The Crow over The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Overall score: 7-7.1 out of 10

Have you seen a horror-comedy? Which film of Vincent Price’s would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen


A huge thanks to Sally Silverscreen at 18 Cinema Lane for joining us with this great review! Be sure to it out. For a full list of entries of this blogathon, you can check it out HERE.

TV Binge: Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Lee Eung-bok, Hong So-ri, jan Young-woo, Kim Hyeong-min, Park So-hyeon

Cast: Song Kang, Lee Jin-uk, Lee Si-young, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Nam-hee, Ko Min-si, Park Kyo-young, Go Youn-jung, Kim Gap-soo, Kim Sang-ho

Following the death of his family in an accident, loner Cha Hyun Soo moves to a new apartment. His quiet life is soon disturbed by strange incidents that start occurring in his new building. As people turn into monsters, Hyun Soo and other residents try to survive. – MyDramaList

Based on the webtoon of the same name, Sweet Home takes place as the world heads into an apocalypse where humans are turning into monsters. In an apartment building, the residents suddenly are locked in and soon realize why. As they hatch their plans of defense, its not whats outside but what is trapped inside that is their concern as well as who is infected and will turn. Being at a well-paced 10 episodes, the series moves through the characters foundation and the main characters slowly have their own story unravel whether in flashbacks or in conversation. The story also progresses in the sense that survival brings out the best and worst of people, making them at times the real danger as is the desires turning into these monsters. It makes you wonder whether its based a little on Buddhism and the concept of desire making someone unable to achieve happiness and in this sense, the infected will turn into monsters, some lethal and some harmless. With that said, there are two elements at least to look at Sweet Home: the characters and the monster design.

Sweet Home’s monsters are rather varied. There isn’t an expansive understanding of how someone gets infected but the symptoms are outlined fairly clearly. The change can be rather subtle unless someone is sitting around when someone’s nose fountains with a huge nosebleed. The monsters are rather varied and at one part, it stems from desire so there are many different types of monsters whether its one that is super fast with centaur legs or a giant eye or a gooey monster or a spider looking creature and so on so forth. They all are done fairly well. There are obvious moments of CGI use and its not as smooth as it should be but overall, it does look pretty nice. The only issue I had was one of the monsters was meant to be hulking and giant with this sinister grin and to me, it felt rather hilarious. Probably not the effect that the series was looking for but the monster itself was scary for its strength and relentlessness.

There are quite a few characters in Sweet Home. A decent bunch of ragtag supporting characters which bring some comedic relief and add some uselessness that usually causes more problems plus adds to the potential body count. The few main characters go more to Hyun-so, an eighteen year old that lives alone as a playtester and constantly thinks about suicide, a medical school student brother Eun-hyeok and an aspiring ballet dancer with a foot injury sister Eun-Yoo who is in disagreement with each other, a firefighter lady Yi-Kyeong, a musician girl Ji-soo and a mystery man with burnt scars on his face Jin-wook. The story revolves around these characters as their backstories get revealed one by one. What works well here is that these characters do slowly grow as they start to differ and show their worth as the situation gets more and more dire.

Sweet Home is an interesting first season to say the least. While I have little issues with the computer effects, the monster design, the atmosphere and especially those awesome fight scenes paired with “Warrior” by Imagine Dragons really does it all great favors. At the same time, the cast of characters and their development does work really well as they form their alliances and friendships and it all comes to a decent twist by the end. If there was any issue, its that the first season sets up for a second season and yet, if it doesn’t happen, that ending might be quite a pity. Fingers crossed that it will get a second season!

Blog Tour: The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel by K.T. Rose (Review)

We are thrilled to share this amazing new novel by K.T. Rose! The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel just proves that ghost stories are perfect any time of the year!

Read on for an exclusive peek and an amazing giveaway to enter!

The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel
By: K.T. Rose

Publication Date: November 5th, 2020
Genre: Supernatural Horror/Paranormal

SYNOPSIS

Pride and greed infect the soul, anchoring the dead to Gallagher Hotel.

When Chris, a master thief, and Riley, a contract waitress, get mysterious invites to an exclusive party at the haunted Gallagher Hotel, they discover that there is more at play than simple celebrations.

Hidden truths are revealed, and all hell breaks loose. But the “party” has just begun.

Now, Chris and Riley face their demons as they fight to survive a hellish nightmare full of spoiled secrets, carnage, and vengeful spirits lost to the hotel dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

Will they survive the night? Or will their souls be devoured by the most haunted building in Michigan?

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EXCERPT

Chapter One

She’ll never forget the day she died.

Torches lit up the town square, illuminating scowling and shouting faces. The townspeople launched stones and spit, pegging Trudy’s arms and face as she trudged through the abhorrent mob. She cringed when a pebble struck her cheek. Pain erupted, shooting through her face like lightning striking the earth.

Deputy Hill yanked her arm, leading her through the narrow path the townspeople created. Fists balled, Trudy groaned as the rope around her wrists dug into her skin. Her bare feet picked up glass shards and debris from the cobblestone path as she shuffled along.

She glared around at the angry faces and recognized the men, women, and children of Holloway. She’d done more for them than any God before her. Many of those people owned the very businesses that lined the stone slab she marched across that night. Building and financing the rows of wooden businesses lining the town’s square accounted for half the things she’d done for Holloway. She fed the hungry, made clothes for cold children, and taught woman’s independence. The ever-growing list of the townspeople’s wants was endless. At one point, she didn’t mind the busy work. Fulfilling dreams of the once poor town kept her boisterous and distracted from her bitter reality. Trudy was Holloway’s personal shepherd, making the people her needy sheep.

Hands snagged at her lavender tea gown, adding dirty prints to the blood drops and grime from the beatings in that putrid cell. She glared at the bare-faced man towering over her. The brim of his deputy hat cast a thick shadow, hiding his dark eyes and pale face.

Deputy would miss her. She was sure of it. He got off on the assaults that bruised her face. His heavy fists pounded her bones and scraped her skin until she confessed. And even after her confession, he continued with his evening visits, slamming her body into cinder block walls and passing off open-handed blows to her nose, cheeks, and eyes.

Trudy sighed. A bath with lavender and Epsom salt sounded good for the swelling. She didn’t realize how bloated and purple her once beautiful, fairly smooth skin had become until she passed by the picture window in front of the town’s jail just before they began her walk of shame. Her dark hair matted to her forehead, washed by sweat and blood. Her plump lips were chapped and bloated with bruises.

Even then, her face pulsed with intense hurt. Pain shot through it whenever she winced.

The sea of convictions roared, growing louder as she drew closer to the opposite end of the square.

“Adulterer,” yelled a woman.

“Traitor,” screeched a boy.

“Murderer,” said a pot-bellied man.

Their accusations sent a sickening jolt through her bones. She watched the path underneath her slowing feet, fighting back the tears.

How could they turn on me like this?

REVIEW

The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel is a decent horror story packing in both elements of haunted house (well, in this case, its a hotel) and the ugly side of humans which is what gathers this “elite” group of invites for an overnight stay at Gallagher Hotel, a place not only known for being haunted but with a lot of history. The story itself follows some key characters, jumping between Riley, a woman specially requested to work there who has suffered quite a bit of loss; Chris, a young man who is part of a thief ring however wants to use this as his final job before leaving town and Trudy, the woman who haunts this hotel.

The story itself does pack a lot. There are a handful of characters which all have their own character build and past which determines why they were invited to the hotel. As each of their motives get revealed and perhaps their ugly side, its where the story is at its strongest especially since it reflects on how they essentially get ended. Those scenes are well-executed and in vivid description. However, the main characters do have these disjointed storylines jumping back and forth. It spends a lot of time with each of these characters separated from each other for most of the story however, its almost like a mystery as the group goes through their own visions that pop up to haunt them from their past. At the same time, Trudy’s storyline fills in the blanks with the history of what lead to her death and how she came to be haunting the hotel and how this world of evil works. The balance between executing the lore and the haunted house was where the pacing started to go off in the middle section.

With that said, the story itself blends bits and pieces from stories told mostly in movies and TV. The element of being invited in, a key book to the story, the hotel resembling that of The Shining, some haunted house elements that give off the vibe of that from the recent Haunting of Hill House. Its not a bad thing to pull certain elements and add their own twist. In fact, it has a certain level of creativity as all these elements and atmosphere do blend well together. Its more an observation than a criticism.

Overall, The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel is decent. Horror novels don’t normally scare me and this one wasn’t a pure horror novel. It has some horror elements from the death scenes and how that was described but it is mostly mild (of course, that differs to the reader but I do watch a lot of horror so my tolerance is fairly high). There are some pacing issues in the middle parts but if anything, this is a rather ambitious story as it does try to build its own lore and history to the hotel while adding in this group of characters and exploring their darker side.

Score: 3.5/5

Where to buy: Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

K.T. Rose is a horror, thriller, and dark fiction writer from Detroit, Michigan. She posts suspense and horror flash fiction on her blog at kyrobooks.com and is the author of a suspenseful short story series titled Trinity of Horror, an erotic thriller novel titled When We Swing, and A Dark Web Horror Series. She also writes supernatural and paranormal horror novels and short stories.

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Blog Tour: Egg by Ross Victory (Review)

Welcome to the book tour for short story Egg by Ross Victory!

Egg: A Short Story
by: Ross Victory

Publication Date: October 31st, 2020
Genre: Short Story/ Horror

SYNOPSIS

“Miracle baby” Nakoa Jamar discovers a mosquito bite in the center of his chest on his 12th birthday, which rapidly grows into a Siamese twin. The older Nakoa gets, the more terrorizing his twin brother, Marcus, becomes. Distressed by the changes in their family and unable to bear another scandal incited by Marcus, The Taylors, Nakoa’s parents, research doctors to separate the twins after the boys nearly destroy each other in a merciless fight. The problem is the boys are conjoined at the heart. Separation will kill them both.

Using horror, fertility issues, and Yin and Yang symbolism as the backdrop, Egg contemplates what it means for light and darkness to manifest in the body. Egg explores the limits of love and the limits of hatred while speaking to the ability we have as human beings—the ability to choose

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REVIEW

Egg is a fairly decent story that plays with the idea of life and the good and bad sides used in comparison to the concept of yin and yang when the character ends up growing a Siamese twin from their heart. The reason for this eventually gets revealed in a unique twist that dives into the concept of consequences for getting something as everything is a fair trade reminding me a little of a Chinese book called The Pawnshop No.8 by Zita Law which uses the premise of trading with the “devil”.

Being a short story, it does allow this to be an immersive quick read especially as the story jumps through Nakoa’s birthdays before and after Marcus’ existence. It shapes his personality and who it is but most of all, it focuses on the parents as they witness on the son. Perhaps what gets lost is whether the son’s Yin and Yang situation is the focal point or the parents cause and effect of their decisions and their play in this. That part is a little fuzzy.

It is a short story so to not ruin with spoilers, I won’t say too much. Overall, Egg is a fun read. Horror wise, it has some graphic descriptions perhaps more at the beginning. The concept is unique with Yin and Yang being an angle that could be used more. There lacks a bit of depth but its more the short story length that limits it. The length also leaves the characters all feeling lightly grazed with four characters feeling key, its inevitable. Still, short stories show the author’s skill and writing style. In this case, its a pretty good one with good use of descriptions to bring to life what feels like a mesh of body horror versus psychological.

Where to buy: Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ross Victory is an Award-Winning author and Adult Contemporary recording artist from Southern California. He is the author of the father-son themed memoir, Views from the Cockpit: The Journey of a Son and bisexual-themed Panorama: The Missing Chapter. Ross finds his unique voice by using his story to produce art in written and musical formats. He spent his early years collecting pens, notepads and interviewing himself in a tape recorder. With an acute awareness for his young age, Ross was eager to point out hypocrisies and character inconsistencies in children and adults through English assignments. If he weren’t keeping his English teachers on their toes for what he would say or write next, he was processing his world through song writing and music. After years of traveling

the world and working corporate roles, Ross has developed a special brand of entertainment, inspiration, and media to engage the public at several axis points.

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BITS 2020: Come True (2020)

Come True (2020)

Come True

Director (and screenplay): Anthony Scott Burns

Cast: Julia Sarah Stone, Landon Liboiron, Tedra Rogers, Chantal Perron, Carlee Ryski, Christopher Heatherington

A teenage runaway takes part in a sleep study that becomes a nightmarish descent into the depths of her mind and a frightening examination of the power of dreams. – IMDB

Dreams, nightmares, science fiction and fantasy all come into play when talking about Come True. It starts off on a premise that may feel familiar as its about a teenage runaway who ends up joining a sleep study in order to find a place to stay while making money but at the same time, it helps her look further into her dreams and nightmares. As the study comes to play and it starts to see what the study is about, she starts to get closer to the unknown figure that appears in her sleep. What is reality and nightmare and where does it all draw the line?

Come True is one of the best offerings of BITS 2020 and that has to do with a good combination of everything: visuals, characters, the story and wrapping all that up with a mindblowing ending. The atmosphere creates a building tension. Its a deep question about what is going on with this character and her dreams and how does it all connect which makes it stand out all the more as it creates this looming question. Perhaps what makes it stand out is using one unique situation to build on, giving shape to a more fleshed out situation from it being in the dreams to how dreams a converted into visible elements on screen and then further into how this translates into reality or not. The unknown is the main element of horror and its done fairly well.

These characters and cast are pretty well done also. The character that is the most fleshed out is the main character Sarah, played by Julia Sarah Stone, who experiences this whole situation where is everyone else seems like they just cross by her. However, it never forgets that the main character may be going through her issues but she is still a runaway teenager and she can still have fun with her best friend and find ways to fix her situation on her own even if its an unsettling choice to join an sleep study off some ad for money. She has suffice back story to make the audience care about what she’s going through. On the other side is the researchers who are observing these subjects, including Jeremy, played by Landon Liboiron who seems to be popping up on my radar quite a bit since he was in Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare (review) who is a pretty decent actor and this role is works well for him. Jeremy is also a relatively well-written character. He plays a character that has some unknown motive and creates this connection with Sarah. To be fair, the story focuses on Sarah’s character the most, which is a good direction to not create too many tangents and makes it more complex.

Unlike Anthony Scott Burns debut feature film (review), Come True is definitely a hidden gem. One that carries an intriguing story and a well-crafted atmosphere. Its a mixed genre sci-fi horror that dives into the world of nightmares, dreams and reality, blurring the lines between them. If dreams could be mapped out, wouldn’t that be something, right?

BITS 2020: The Return (2020)

The Return (2020)

The Return

Director (and co-writer): BJ Verot

Cast: Richard Harmon, Sara Thompson, Echo Andersson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Erik Athavale, Gwendolyn Collins, Zoe Fish, Kristen Sawatzky

After the death of his father, a brilliant college student returns to his family home where he learns that the horrors from his childhood aren’t as dead and gone as he once thought. – IMDB

There’s no doubt that based on the synopsis above that The Return sounds like a unique horror experience. However, The Return isn’t quite as generic as it makes it out to be. In fact, its one that starts off with a general horror tropes seen in ghost stories. Creepy dolls, jumpscares, slamming doors: the basic elements of a haunted house, right? Its all wrapped up a college student going back to his childhood home after his father passes away in a questionable manner. With his girlfriend and best friend in tow, they go to the funeral and sort through the house when his long return dredges up something else and eventually bringing him to dig up some things in the past that he has forgotten.

The Return’s first part although fairly predictable in its scares actually manages to build a decent atmosphere. However, the first part is also the weaker part of the film. Not only are the scares fairly familiar haunted house tropes but its really the pacing of revealing this “ghost/monster” (whatever you want to call it) to quickly that messes up a little of the turning point/twist. With that said, it also tries to pack in too many scares in a short amount of time that decreases the scare element. At one point, the “monster” revealed itself over and over again in quick frequency and anything in frequent amounts tends to dull the effective of what its trying to achieve. With anything lurking in the background, the mystery of how its executed is incredibly important and somehow that seems lose a bit of that in the first half, even though the set up was done well enough story-wise.

The second half is much stronger as it consists of a clever twist and at the same time, it has a lot more action of the characters actually being in some kind of peril. The threat is in action a little more. While some reactions were a little silly, the search for what happened to the main character and his lost memory along with connecting all the dots to why his childhood home is haunted does add a lot to making it much more unique and adding in some of the mixed genre elements, in this case a bit of science fiction and time travel.

The Return is one of those movies that might not be really at first glance or even the beginning segment as the setup does feel a little been there done that in horror films however, once the past of the main character becomes more clear and and the things start to build up along with a clever twist, it does add a lot of charms to it. Its not exactly a pure horror film however, its unique because of this and adds a lot of extra points when those other elements come into play.

BITS 2020: Bloodthirsty (2020)

Bloodthirsty (2020)

Director: Amelia Moses

Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside, Judith Buchan

Grey is an indie singer who is having visions that she is a wolf. When she gets an invitation to work with notorious music producer Vaughn Daniels at his remote studio in the woods she begins to find out who she really is. – IMDB

After her psychological thriller team-up Bleed With Me, Amelia Moses’s second film at Blood in the Snow Festival is a psychological slow-burn werewolf film, Bloodthirsty. Feeling a bit like the psychological journey of Raw at the beginning with the main character Grey having these dream sequences of eating animals and going with her girlfriend tagging along to a music producer’s remote studio to create her album, it turns into a journey of self-discovery that unleashes another side of her. Without knowing anything about the film, Bloodthirsty feels like a lot of different horror movies and its the unknown the truly gives the first half a slow-burn but intriguing psychological trip. Both Grey and the music producer Vaughn have a mysterious dark edge. Vaughn seems to be hiding something about his past which comes to light as a final twist at the end.

Its always great to see more directors exploring a werewolf premise. Recent years has seen more of this films show up taking different tones. Bloodthirsty is a more serious story about a girl embracing her true nature but at the same time, struggling to let go of her current things. As she unleashes the beast inside, the main question is what are the consequences. Bloodthirsty grabs the right tone and atmosphere. As its characters are music-oriented, the soundtrack is also distinguishes the gradual changes in Grey’s character from the change in her music and the lyrics. Its a great angle and one of the strengths of this movie. Paired up with the remote setting of the house in the woods, they all come into play to give it an ominous feeling.

Looking at the characters, its a small cast that basically floats between the growing connection between Grey, played by Lauren Beatty (also in Bleed With Me which also questions whether the two stories have some sort of connection as both characters revolve around blood) and Vaughn (Greg Bryk). Vaughn becomes something of a mentor who helps Grey find her musical inspirations and make more music but at the same time, he pushes her into a certain direction to follow her desires and temptations starting from little things like eating meat (a big step for her vegan character). There’s a dark side to Vaughn which sometimes plays a little too heavy which destroys a bit of the subtlety of developing Grey’s character which takes a little more time. Perhaps its that push and pull that gives the pacing a little imbalance. Plus, these two dominant characters also render the two supporting characters of Grey’s girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) and Vaughn’s housekeeper Vera (Judith Buchan) feel a little insignificant except for two scenes respectively that help give the story a push.

Bloodthirsty is a decent horror film. Extra points for taking on the werewolf premise. It has a great setting as well as a good story premise. Lauren Beatty does a decent performance as Grey and same goes for Greg Bryk. Their characters build to the finale. The twist is fairly good although the ending is a little questionable (not exactly to my liking). Its really the imbalanced pacing and some execution choices that leaves me a little less enthused. However, the soundtrack sets the tone really well and a great angle. Plus, Michael Ironside has a cameo/supporting role which is always great to see. Overall, Bloodthirsty is a decent werewolf film but its definitely much more than that as it tackles more of a subtle psychological angle which I do appreciate.

BITS 2020: Bleed With Me (2020)

Bleed With Me (2020)

Director (and writer): Amelia Moses

Cast: Lee Marshall, Lauren Beatty, Aris Tyros

During a winter getaway at an isolated cabin, a self-destructive young woman becomes convinced that her best friend is stealing her blood. – IMDB

Cabin in the woods, cold winter and bunked up for a getaway with a couple and a best friend is the set up for Bleed With Me. The isolation, the single setting and the obligation for the characters to interact with each other builds up through a well-executed atmosphere and tension, wanting or not, its inevitable. As best friends Rowan (Lee Marshall) and Emily (Lauren Beatty)are using this trip to bond, Emily and her boyfriend Branden (Aris Tyros) are there to take some time together where Branden voices his reluctance to bringing Rowan along.

Bleed With Me is shot from Rowan’s angle right from the beginning as she drowsily lies down in the backseat of the car for the road trip. The audience sees what she sees. Its a clever way as her observations and feelings as well as the effects of her blurry sight when she wakes up in the middle of the night keeps the unknown feeling going. As she tells her stories and experiences to Emily and Branden, her character starts to form especially of self-harm issues. Especially since Rowan is set up to be socially awkward especially in this weird third wheel situation as she flails between keeping her distance to give Emily and Branden space but also drinking to try to ease herself and fit into the conversation.

As she starts suspecting that Emily is taking her blood at night and growing increasingly suspicious of her as more cut marks appear on her arm, its a big mystery where the uneasy starts to take effect as it plays on whether she is really experiencing it and Emily has ulterior motives or whether its all in her mind, playing on the psychological horror/thriller element very well. The small cast delivers some good performances, notably Lee Marshall. Although, deliberate or not, Lauren Beatty’s character sometimes feels like its laying the creepy vibes a little heavy, especially when Lee Marshall’s portrayal of Rowan is much more subtle.

Bleed With Me uses its dim setting, the environment and the isolation as well as the character development to give it an unsettling feeling and to keep suspecting between Rowan and Emily. As Rowan explores the cabin on her own and how Emily reacts to certain things, the mystery starts to have a few hints towards what this all is about. While the ending is a tad odd but the sum of its parts and the entire movie before then worked really well together. Using dark settings and low lightings along with her blurry/distorted vision and the horror of the unknown, Bleed With Me is an effectively unsettling horror film.

BITS 2020: For The Sake Of Vicious (2020)

For The Sake Of Vicious (2020)

Directors (and writers): Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshene

Cast: Lora Burke, Nick Smyth, Colin Paradine, T. J. Kennedy, James Fler

An innocent nurse, a tortured maniac and a suspicious hostage face off against a wave of violent intruders as they descend upon their place of refuge on Halloween night. – IMDB

Running at a swift (rare) 80 minutes, For The Sake of Vicious is a revenge action thriller more than a horror movie. Its more of the former than the latter. It starts off quickly with the three character, a nurse playing out like a mediator controlling the situation between two men: a father seeking revenge for his daughter on the man who raped her and the man who he suspects is responsible but evaded his sentence. The tension in the conversation reveals the personality of these characters. Before its resolved, a swarm of masked men come in under command by the man that was seemingly asked by the hostage to come to help. Its unclear how all of this comes into play together. Packed in its single setting and a turn to survival sort of action film, it turns into a non-stop heart-pounding fight scene moving throughout the house as more masked men come in one batch after another. The revenge plot gets a little lost in the action as it loses sight of that angle but turns more towards why these men are asked to attack them.

The single setting of the nurse’s house is a little house with some tight rooms and narrow hallways which gives it a bigger sense of dangerous as the fight scenes moving from one room to the next. The use of the space is explored really well as it uses the items broken to their full purpose and there are some nifty attacks with the tools/weapons that they use. It also helps that the cast did all the stunt themselves which makes it so much more engaging.

The characters also create their own sort of dynamic. As they fight for survival with the infiltration of masked killers and the helmeted assassin (or what I think he is meant to be), Romina (Lora Burke), Chris (Nick Smyth) and Alan (Colin Paradine) end up having to set their differences aside to work together in order to survive and possibly have some resolution to the previous conversation. Lora Burke delivers a stellar performance as usual. Its a different role from her prior roles in Poor Agnes and Lifechanger but one that drives the plot. She finds her strength but still has a side of her that is shocked by the events as any normal person innocently thrusted into this situation would be. Nick Smyth’s role feels a little overacted although it does deliver how his character is very unhinged and troubled and very desperate to get a confession but still has a fight to survive. Colin Paradine’s character is done fine as Alan gets left hanging on whether he is just a shady man or he also is a shady man that raped a child. The verdict hangs in the air since the discussion never finished before the killers arrived giving it that extra thriller element.

Revenge thrillers are always a tough storyline to tackle. In some ways, venturing off from it and focusing on the action, like a dialed down The Raid gives it a lot of style. It makes the revenge plot change direction into something else unexpectedly, making it more suspenseful than if they pushed further with the rape-revenge that could be more emotionally manipulated. This is definitely a decent way to approach this will giving it a little twist. The story gets a little thin because of the heavy focus on the action but somehow, it really does work out to be a satisfying action-packed effectively executed watch.