Review: ‘The Boogeyman’ (2023), starring Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, LisaGay Hamilton and David Dastmalchian

May 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina and Vivien Lyra Blair in “The Boogeyman” (Photo by Patti Perret/20th Century Studios)

“The Boogeyman” (2023)

Directed by Rob Savage

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the horror film “The Boogeyman” (based on a short story by Stephen King) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A 16-year-old girl and her 10-year-old sister experience an evil creature in their home after their mother dies, but their therapist father doesn’t believe his daughters.

Culture Audience: “The Boogeyman” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Stephen King and unimaginative horror movies filled with a lot of clichés.

David Dastmalchian in “The Boogeyman” (Photo by Patti Perret/20th Century Studios).

Dull, dimwitted, and very derivative, “The Boogeyman” offers minimal scares and has too many scenes of people talking about certain horrors and not enough scenes actually showing those horrors. The movie’s last scene is very weak and underwhelming. The majority of “The Boogeyman” is literally a back-and-forth slog of two underage sisters (separately or together) looking frightened in dark rooms and then trying to convince their skeptical father that they’re being haunted. And when the evil creature they see finally does appears in full view, it’s just more of the same type of horror showdown that’s been in countless other horror movies.

Directed by Rob Savage, “The Boogeyman” is based on Stephen King’s short story that was first published in the March 1973 issue of Cavalier magazine, and then republished in King’s 1978 short-story collection “Night Shift.” King’s “The Boogeyman” (which had only three characters) had a much better ending than the formulaic dreck that’s in “The Boogeyman” movie, whose screenplay was written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman. “The Boogeyman” movie adds several characters to give the story enough for a feature-length film. But the additions do not any creativity to the story. Everything is a rehash of many other horror movies about an evil creature or spirit that’s haunting a household.

In “The Boogeyman” short story, the only characters were a psychotherapist named Will Harper, his client Lester Billings and The Boogeyman. The story took place in one setting: Will’s office, during a therapy session between Will and Lester. Will has a wife and kids who are mentioned in the short story, but these other Harper family characters do not appear in the story.

In “The Boogeyman” movie (which was filmed on location in New Orleans), Will Harper (played by Chris Messina) is a supporting character, while his two daughters are more of the focus. The main protagonist is 16-year-old Sadie Harper (played by Sophie Thatcher), a moody introvert. The main location in the movie is the Harper house, where has his therapist office. Sadie and her inquisitive 10-year-old sister Sawyer Harper (played by Vivien Lyra Blair) live there, but Will is a widower in the movie. It’s mentioned that Will’s wife (the mother of Sadie and Sawyer) died fairly recently in car accident.

Viewers know the death is recent because early on in the movie, Sadie is shown at her high school (in one of several scenes that take place at the school), and several students react to her like someone who’s just come back from a brief hiatus. On her first day back at school since her mother’s death, Sadie is wearing one of her mother’s dresses. And (cliché alert) a group of “mean girls” bully Sadie about it near her locker.

The leader of the mean girls is a snooty blonde named Natalie (played by Maddie Nichols), who says the most to make Sadie feel bad about Sadie’s choice in clothing. When Sadie tells Natalie, “You’re being a bitch,” it leads to a tussle, where Sadie gets shoved hard against her locker. The only student at school whom Sadie considers to be a close friend is Bethany (played by Madison Hu), who sticks up for Sadie whenever she can.

Back at home, the Harper family members are dealing with their grief in different ways. Will has become more caught up in his work and more emotionally distant from his daughters. Ironically, even though Will is a therapist who’s trained to help people with things such as grief, he’s avoiding helping his own daughters process their own grief. Instead, Will has hired a therapist named Dr. Weller (played by LisaGay Hamilton) to be the therapist for Sadie and Sawyer.

Sadie would rather talk to Will about how to cope with her mother’s death, but Will tells Sadie to talk to Dr. Weller about it instead. This rejection causes Sadie to feel more alienated and depressed. Sawyer clings to Sadie for emotional support, but Sadie is barely hanging on to feeling like she’s capable of functioning in the way she used to before their mother died. And things are about to get worse when Sadie and Sawyer find out that their house is haunted.

One evening, when Will has seen his last client of the day, a mysterious stranger shows up unannounced at the house. His name is Lester Billings (played by David Dastmalchian), and he asks Will if he could have a therapy session. Will tells Lester that he doesn’t give therapy to a new client without a phone consultation first. However, Lester pleads for Will’s help. Lester looks so sad and desperate that Will agrees to make an exception for Lester.

During the therapy session, Will asks Lester to tell more about himself. Lester says that people think that Lester killed his wife and kids, one at a time, even though Lester says he’s not guilty. Lester says his first child was a baby girl who died of sudden infant death syndrome. Lester and his had two other kids.

And then, the conversation gets weirder. Lester says that he glimpsed “it” before one of his children died of a broken neck. Lester shows Will a drawing that Lester made of the creature that Lester says he saw. Lester says to Will: “It cares for your kids when you’re not paying attention.” By this point, Will has gotten freaked out by this conversation, so he excuses himself, goes in another room, and calls the police to report that a potentially dangerous man is in his home.

Meanwhile, Sadie has come home, and Will tells her to go to her room because there’s a stranger in the house that Will needs to have removed. Will goes back in his office, but Lester isn’t there. A frantic Will searches for Lester in the house. Sadie hears noises that sound like two people are fighting in her bedroom. When she looks in her bedroom closet, she sees Will dead, from an apparent suicide by hanging.

None of this is really spoiler information, because the main things that keep happening in “The Boogeyman” movie are typical “shadows and bumps in the night” scenarios, where Sadie or Sawyer are in dark or barely lit rooms (apparently, the Harper family doesn’t know the meaning of having good overhead lighting), where they hear or see something strange, but when they investigate further, it appears to be nothing but their imagination. When Sawyer and Sadie tell Will, he doesn’t believe them.

Sawyer has a glowing orb that’s the size of a bowling ball, which she uses as lighting in a dark room instead of doing what most kids would do if they’re frightened in a dark room: Turn on a room light. But no, Sadie doesn’t do that. Instead, she rolls this glowing orb on the floor, like she’s a paranormal bowler, but with no bowling pins.

And predictably, wherever the orb stops on the floor, you know it’s going to be right where something “scary” is. Seriously, this glowing orb is not even remotely believable as a toy that most 10-year-old girls would want to have, let alone use as a way to see in a dark room. It’s one of the many phony-looking things about “The Boogeyman,” which lumbers along at a glacial pace and fills up a lot of time showing scenes of mopey Sadie being a social outsider at her school.

As already revealed in the movie’s trailer, when Dr. Lester does some strobe-light therapy on Sadie and Sawyer, the girls both see The Boogeyman, but Dr. Lester doesn’t see this creature. The strobe-light therapy looks like a very questionable thing for a therapist to do to emotionally fragile children. There are long stretches of the movie where Will is not seen at all in the Harper household, even though he works from home. Will’s absence is never explained. It’s just more of this movie’s phoniness on display.

There’s a subplot in “The Boogeyman” about Sadie being an amateur sleuth to find out more about Lester, which leads to some not-scary-at-all flashbacks/visions involving Lester’s wife Rita Billings (played by Marin Ireland). A better movie would have had the creepy character of Lester in a lot more scenes, instead of killing him off so early in the movie. The performances in “The Boogeyman” aren’t terrible, but they aren’t anything special, and they certainly don’t do much to elevate this very drab and slow-paced movie.

“The Boogeyman” was originally going to be released directly to Hulu (and other Disney-owned streaming services outside the U.S.), but those plans were changed after horror movies such as 2022’s “Smile” (from Paramount Pictures) and “Barbarian” (from 20th Century Studios) became hits in movie theaters, after these horror flicks were originally planned to be released as direct-to-streaming movies. (20th Century Studios, the theatrical distributor of “The Boogeyman,” is owned by Disney.) “The Boogeyman” might satisfy viewers who want the most basic, run-of-the-mill horror movie that’s mild on scares. But considering how the movie’s ending is such an inferior (and overly formulaic) departure from the original short story, “The Boogeyman” will just leave a lot of viewers feeling disappointed instead of satisfying terrified.

20th Century Pictures will release “The Boogeyman” in U.S. cinemas on June 2, 2023.

Review: ‘They Wait in the Dark,’ starring Sarah McGuire, Patrick McGee, Laurie Catherine Winkel, Paige Maria, Chris Bylsma and Meagan Flynn

May 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Patrick McGee and Sarah McGuire in “They Wait in the Dark” (Photo by Hanuman Brown-Eagle/1091 Pictures)

“They Wait in the Dark”

Directed by Patrick Rea

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the horror film “They Wait in the Dark” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman goes into hiding with her young son while her estranged female lover tries to find her, and a ghost seems to be attacking this runaway mother. 

Culture Audience: “They Wait in the Dark” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching flawed but suspenseful low-budget horror movies that have some unexpected twists and turns.

Paige Maria and Laurie Catherine Winkel in “They Wait in the Dark” (Photo by Hanuman Brown-Eagle/1091 Pictures)

The horror movie “They Wait in the Dark” is nearly derailed by the amateurish performances from almost all of the cast members. However, the screenplay and direction hold up quite well, when it comes to suspense and a few surprises. This is a movie that seems to be about one thing in the beginning but it turns into something completely different by the end.

Written and directed by Patrick Rea, “They Wait in the Dark” (which takes place in unnamed U.S. cities) is mostly about a harrowing runaway trip taken by a woman in her 30s named Amy (played by Sarah McGuire) and her son Adrian (played by Patrick McGee), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. (“They Wait in the Dark” was filmed in Topeka, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri.) It’s soon revealed that Amy has taken Adrian from their home because Amy wants to go into hiding with Adrian. Amy has decided to go back to her hometown and hide at the abandoned house where deceased widower father used to live.

The movie’s opening scene shows Amy waking up from a nightmare. Amy and Adrian (whom Amy has given the affectionate nickname Bubba) have fallen asleep on the floor of a gas station convenience store. They check into the DeSoto Inn Motel, which is the kind of place where it doesn’t matter that Amy says she doesn’t have a credit card because she can pay by cash. The motel also doesn’t ask for identification from anyone who stays there.

Within walking distance from the motel is an eatery called Nelle Belle’s Diner. Amy and Adrian go there to get something to eat and drink. A waitress named Jenny (played by Paige Maria) immediately recognizes Amy, because Amy and Jenny used to be friendly acquaintances and have known each other since they were teenagers. Amy hasn’t been back to this area in a few years.

When Jenny asks where Adrian’s father is, Amy says Adrian is adopted “because I can’t have kids on my own.” What Amy doesn’t tell Jenny (but Jenny and viewers of this movie find out later) is that Jenny is lesbian and in a live-in relationship with a violent woman named Judith (played by Laurie Catherine Winkel), who will eventually be seen looking for Amy and Adrian.

Amy doesn’t have a car, so she asks Jenny for a ride to the house where her father used to live. It’s also Amy’s childhood home. When Amy and Adrian settle into the house, Adrian asks her if Judith is looking for them. Amy tells Adrian that Amy never told Judith about this house, so it’s unlikely that Judith will find them there.

Why are Amy and Adrian going into hiding? Later in the movie, she happens to see Eric Zalinda, a guy she knew in high school. Eric had a big crush on Amy back then. And apparently, he still has feelings for her.

However, Eric finds out that Amy has been living openly as a lesbian since the last time he saw her. Amy shows him a knife scar that she says Judith gave to her during a fight that the couple had. Amy also confides in Eric that she and Adrian have gone into hiding from Judith.

But strange things start happening at Amy’s former childhood home. An unseen force keeps physically attacking her. And there’s pentagram drawn in chalk on the basement floor. Adrian randomly goes to the basement and lights some candles. But when he does, the basement door slams shut, and he can’t get out until Amy rescues him.

During this tension-filled stay in the house, Amy has flashbacks to her unhappy childhood. There’s a flashback scene where Amy is about 7 or 8 years old (played by Brinklee Wynn), and she is hit in the face by her mother (played by Meagan Flynn), who was apparently abusive to Amy on a regular basis. Another flashback also reveals that Amy’s father (played by John Thomson) went on trial for a crime that might or might not be detailed in the movie. Does Amy’s troubled family history have anything to do with why she seems to be attacked by a ghost?

Meanwhile, Judith is shown on the hunt for Amy and Adrian. Viewers will see how angry and menacing Judith can be in a scene where she’s at a gas station and two truckers (played by Chris Bylsma and Kurt Hanover) mistake Judith for a sex worker because they see her loitering around and going up to people. What Judith has actually been doing is showing people a photo of Amy and Adrian and asking if they’ve seen these two missing family members. Judith tells the truckers that she’s not a sex worker. However, one of the truckers is especially aggressive about propositioning Judith for sex, who shows how wrathful she can be.

“They Wait in the Dark” is bare-bones basic when it comes to visual effects. Some of the acting performances from the cast members are too over-the-top when the acting needed more subtle realism. At other times, the acting is too stiff when it needed to look more natural. Even with these flaws, it’s worth watching “They Wait in the Dark” until the very end, because the last 20 minutes have surprising revelations that make this horror movie fairly memorable and much more disturbing that it originally seems.

1091 Pictures released “They Wait in the Dark” on digital on February 7, 2023.

Review: ‘The Accursed’ (2022), starring Sarah Grey, Meg Foster, Sarah Dumont, Alexis Knapp and Mena Suvari

May 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Meg Foster in “The Accursed” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“The Accursed” (2022)

Directed by Kevin Lewis

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2019, in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “The Accursed” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young woman goes to a house in a remote wooded area, after she’s hired to be a nurse caretaker for an elderly woman, who has a secret: She’s possessed by a demon. 

Culture Audience: “The Accursed” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching cliché-ridden horror movies that offer very little suspense or terror.

Sarah Dumont, Mena Suvari and Sarah Grey in “The Accursed” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“The Accursed” is full of half-baked ideas that are terribly mishandled. The acting is subpar. There’s hardly anything scary about this low-quality horror flick, which has a fixation on showing disgusting things coming out of elderly women’s mouths.

Directed by Kevin Lewis and written by Rob Kennedy, “The Accursed” is nothing but a lazy checklist of the most over-used low-budget horror stereotypes: Are there women (usually young, usually pretty) in peril? Check. Are they stuck in a remote place (usually a house in the woods) and can’t figure out a way to leave? Will the victims be the targets of an evil ghost, demon or serial killer? Check.

“The Accursed” takes place in 2019, in an unnamed U.S. city but was actually filmed n Savannah, Georgia. The movie begins by showing a young widow named Mary Lynn Crandon (played by Alexis Knapp) traveling on a rainy night to a house with her daughter Sadie Crandon (played by Kailani Knapp), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. The house is in an isolated wooded area. Mary Lynn tells Sadie to wait outside, but adds, “Don’t come inside until the screaming starts.”

Mary Lynn knocks on the house door and goes inside after there’s no response. But there’s actually someone inside the house: the house owner. She is an eldery woman named Ms. Ambrose (played by Meg Foster), who asks Mary Lynn: “Commune or curse?” Mary Lynn replies, “Curse.” Ms. Ambrose asks for payment. Mary Lynn pays her with blood.

Ms. Ambrose asks, “What fate for the owner of this blood?” Mary Lynn says, “I want the devil himself to take possession of her, for both to be locked in hell forever.” Ms. Amrose says, “The devil himself never takes possession. He sends one of his legions … and it will be whenever he so chooses.”

Ms. Ambrose gives Mary Lynn a knife and says, “You must take this knife and wait for the point of no return, when the demon has gone too far. Ms. Ambrose then adds ominously, “Are you ready to gaze into hell?” Mary Lynn answers, “Yes.”

Ms. Ambrose drinks the blood, but she doesn’t find out until it’s too late that Mary Lynn gave Ms. Ambrose the blood of Ms. Ambrose. Mary Lynn then says as she stabs Ms. Ambrose: “My name is Mary Lynn Crandon. And this is for my husband Thomas!” Sadie is now in the house. Ms. Ambrose howls at Sadie, who breaks off Ms. Ambrose’s fingers.

That’s about as intriguing as it gets in “The Accursed.” The movie than fast forwards to three months later and goes through the dull motions of the aforementioned checklist. Ally will some become acquainted with Ms. Ambrose in a way that’s already revealed from the movie’s opening scene, which shows that Ms. Ambrose unwittingly put a curse on herself to be possessed by a demon.

Elly (played by Sarah Grey) is a pretty blonde in her 20s who has come back to her hometown to oversee the sale of the house that was owned by Elly’s recently deceased mother, Helen Gamble. Elly’s father abandoned the family years ago, when Elly was a child. Before temporarily moving back to her hometown, Elly was living in Haiti, where she was working as a volunteer for an unnamed social cause.

Elly gets a rude and violent welcome home from a neighbor named Mrs. Dudley (played by Antoinette Van Klingeren), who slaps Elly in the face and scolds Elly for not being there when Elly’s mother was dying. It’s implied that Elly’s guilt is the reason why she takes a job on short notice to be the nurse caretaker of a “comatose” elderly woman who lives in a remote house in the woods. That elderly woman, of course, is Ms. Ambrose.

Elly doesn’t know anything about Ms. Ambrose except that Elly’s mother and Ms. Ambrose used to be acquaintances. A woman named Alma Whitemore (played by Mena Suvari), who identifies herself as being in charge of the Ambrose estate, has contacted Elly to hire her. Elly needs the money, so she immediately says yes.

Elly’s hometown best friend Beth (played by Sarah Dumont) is concerned that Elly is going to this stranger’s home, but Elly assures Beth that everything should be fine. Of course, everything isn’t fine. Almost as soon as Elly arrives in this dark and creepy home, she starts having nightmares about her dead mother.

And then “The Accursed” begins a repetition of showing things coming out of Ms. Ambrose’s mouth on separate occasions, including, blood, bile and a gnarly black hand. It’s mentioned at one point in the story that Ms. Ambrose has a daughter named Dorothy. Where Dorothy is should come as no surprise, because at one point in the movie, it becomes very obvious.

And what about Mary Lynn and Sadie, who were seen the beginning of the movie? Mary Lynn and Sadie show up later in the part of the movie where it’s explained why Mary Lynn wants to avenge her dead husband. It’s probably one of the most unimaginative and predictable reasons why a wife would want revenge.

Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with a horror movie using a well-worn concept, as long as there’s enough in the story and in the cast members’ performances to keep viewers engaged in what happens next. “The Accursed” is just a tedious slog of weak jump scares, lackluster acting and a terribly conceived story. The ending of “The Accursed” is so ridiculous, the only people who will feel cursed are viewers who will feel tricked that they wasted their time with this junk.

Screen Media Films released “The Accursed” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 14, 2022. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on December 6, 2022.

Review: ‘Summoning Sylvia,’ starring Travis Coles, Frankie Grande, Troy Iwata, Noah J. Ricketts, Nicholas Logan, Veanne Cox and Michael Urie

April 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Troy Iwata, Frankie Grande, Travis Coles and Noah J. Ricketts in “Summoning Sylvia” (Photo courtesy of The Horror Collective)

“Summoning Sylvia”

Directed by Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in upstate New York, the horror comedy film “Summoning Sylvia” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with two African Americans and one Asian) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four gay male friends go to a remote house in the woods for a bachelor party, and they end up holding a séance to summon the spirit of the house’s original owner, who was accused of murdering her son in the early 20th century. 

Culture Audience: “Summoning Sylvia” will appeal primarily to people who like watching horror comedies that skillfully blend campiness with raunchiness.

Troy Iwata, Noah J. Ricketts, Travis Coles and Frankie Grande in “Summoning Sylvia” (Photo courtesy of The Horror Collective)

“Summoning Sylvia” is a sassy and hilarious séance comedy, told from a gay male perspective. Travis Coles and Frankie Grande are scene-stealing delights. The unpredictable jokes and gags make this film appealing to people who like comedy made for adults. And at a brisk total running time of 75 minutes, “Summoning Sylvia” is just the right length to prevent the movie from getting stale and repetitive.

Written and directed by Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse, “Summoning Sylvia” takes place in an unnamed city in upstate New York. (The movie was actually filmed in New Jersey.) Four gay male friends in their mid-to-late 30s have gathered for what they hope will be a fun-filled bachelor party at a remote house in the woods. Of course, since this a horror comedy, the house has a sinister history that will cause some terror for these visitors.

The house is owned by someone named Frank (voiced by Wyse), who is never seen but who is heard over the phone. Frank has rented out house for the weekend to Reggie (played by Troy Iwata), the person in the group who has organized this party. Reggie is very meticulous and gets very uptight if things don’t go according to his plans. The bachelor party is a surprise for the grooms-to-be who are expected at the party.

The first groom-to-be to arrive at this gathering is Larry (played by Coles), who is a high-strung people pleaser. When his friends start bickering with each other, Larry is the one who nervously tries to keep the peace. Larry’s fiancé Jamie (played by Michael Urie) is about five or six years older than Larry. Jamie was supposed to be there at the same time as the rest of the group, but he calls Larry from his car to say he is running late because work obligations prevented him from leaving sooner.

Nico (played by Grande) is the most flamboyant and outspoken friend in the group. His fashion choices range from dressing like a grungy club kid to wearing bold makeup and androgynous clothes. Out of all these friends, Nico is the most superstitious and the one who’s most likely to believe in ghosts. He is also very confrontational with anyone he thinks is homophobic.

Kevin (played by Noah J. Ricketts) is the most laid-back of the friends. Reggie and Kevin have a crush on each other and don’t really know how to handle it. Kevin keeps hinting that they should be more than friends, but Reggie awkwardly avoids talking about it. Reggie is a bit of a control freak and probably wants to plan out any relationship that he might have instead of letting it happen naturally. If anything sexual is going to happen between Kevin and Reggie, then Kevin is more likely to make the first move.

During the phone conversation between engaged couple Jamie and Larry, an awkward topic comes up: Jamie has a brother named Harrison (played by Nicholas Logan), a military veteran who recently spent time in Kuwait. Harrison has briefly met Larry before, but Jamie thinks Larry and Harrison should get to know each other better before the wedding. Larry doesn’t feel comfortable around Harrison, but he wants to please Jamie. And so, Larry tells Jamie that Harrison can go to the party.

It’s an invitation that Larry immediately regrets. When Harrison arrives (wearing military camouflage gear), he’s stereotypically macho and homophobic. At first, Nico and Kevin think that Harrison might be a surprise stripper. Reggie is annoyed about this unannounced visit from Harrison. Reggie quips about Harrison, “The crew cut. The camo. What is he? A lesbian?”

There’s another concern that these friends have besides Harrison. Shortly before Harrison’s arrival, Reggie told the other pals that the house they’re staying at has a reputation for being haunted. Back in the early 20th century, the house’s original owner was a woman named Sylvia Lawrence. According to a local legend, Sylvia driven insane and murdered he son Phillip Lawrence (her only child) and buried his body somewhere on the estate.

After some snooping around the house, the four pals find some of Sylvia’s possessions, including items and clothing and photographs. Throughout the movie, there are visions of Sylvia (played by Leanne Voss) and Phillip (played by Camden Garcia) that might or might not be real. These visions eventually reveal what happened between Sylvia and Phillip that resulted in her being accused of killing her son Phillip.

It doesn’t take long for Nico to come up with the idea to have a séance to try to contact Sylvia and ask her what really happened the night she supposedly murdered her Phillip. Reggie is very skeptical about this idea and is reluctant to go through with the séance. Nico snaps at Reggie: “Bitch, do you know how many times I’ve seen ‘Wicked’? Fourteen times! So, do not question my devotion to the dak arts!”

Harrison shows up after the séance has begun. Many hijinks ensue. Nico and Harrison immediately clash with each other the most. However, people with enough life experience can see that Harrison might be homophobic on the outside, but Harrison might be secretly attracted to Nico, whom he sometimes misgenders as “she” and “her.” Harrison tries to act like he’s disgusted by being around these gay men, but he also seems fascinated with them.

“Summoning Sylvia” has plenty of snappy banter and amusing slapstick comedy that enliven the film. However, this comedy also has some social commentary about the divides that can exist between homophobes and the LGBTQ people who are the targets of homophobic hate. “Summoning Sylvia” ultimately triumphs because it’s not a movie that makes gay people the “victims.” It’s a memorable movie that makes gay people the heroes of their own stories.

The Horror Collective released “Summoning Sylvia” in select U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on April 7, 2023.

Review: ‘The Pope’s Exorcist,’ starring Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe and Franco Nero

April 13, 2023

by Carla Hay

Daniel Zovatto and Russell Crowe in “The Pope’s Exorcist” (Photo by Jonathan Hession/Screen Gems)

“The Pope’s Exorcist”

Directed by Julius Avery

Some language in Italian, Spanish and Latin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1987, in Italy and in Spain, the horror film “The Pope’s Exorcist” (based on a real person) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Catholic priest Gabriele Amorth defies a cardinal’s orders not to perform exorcisms, and the priest is sent by the Pope to do an exorcism on a boy at an abbey in Spain that has a connection to the priest’s past. 

Culture Audience: “The Pope’s Exorcist” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Russell Crowe and exorcism horror movies, but the movie’s frequently ludicrous plot and oddly placed comedy make it a substandard horror flick.

Pictured clockwise, from upper left: Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto and Alex Essoe in “The Pope’s Exorcist” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems)

In “The Pope’s Exorcist,” Russell Crowe hams it up as an Italian priest who performs exorcisms. But the jokes aren’t funny enough to make “The Pope’s Exorcist” a comedy, and the exorcisms aren’t scary enough to make it an effective horror movie. It’s just a loud and incoherent mess. The demon-fighting, alcohol-guzzling priest portrayed by Crowe comes across more like a drunk who’s a failed stand-up comedian than a formidable clergy person who is skilled at exorcism.

Directed by Julius Avery, “The Pope’s Exorcist” clearly wanted to make the movie’s title chararacter someone who isn’t a typical exorcist. But all the mediocre and often-cheesy jokes in the film just undermine the scenes that are supposed to be deadly serious. It’s a movie that tries to be amusing and terrifying and ultimately fails at being either or both. Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos wrote the disjointed screenplay for “The Pope’s Exorcist.” The screenplay is based on 1990’s “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and 1992’s “An Exorcist: More Stories,” two of the memoirs of real-life controversial Catholic priest Gabriel Amorthe, who was the official exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, from 1986 to 2016. Amorthe died in 2016, at the age of 91.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” opens with a scene taking place in June 1987, when Father Gabriele Amorth (played by Crowe) visits a family at a farmhouse in Tropea, Italy, in order to perform an exorcism. (“The Pope’s Exorcist” was actually filmed in Ireland.) Father Amorth is accompanied by an assistant named Father Gianni (played by Alessandro Gruttadauria), who mostly just stands by while Father Amorth does the talking and exorcism rituals. The family has a son in his late teens named Enzo (played by River Hawkins), whom they think is possessed by the devil.

When Father Amorth and Father Gianni arrive at the farmhouse, Father Amorth saunters in and takes his time before he gets around to attending to the hissing and convulsing Enzo, who’s in a nearby bedroom. Father Amorth barely says anything to terrified parents Carlos (played by Jordi Collet) and Adella (played by Carrie Munro), who don’t say much to him either. Instead, Father Amorth zeroes in on the couple’s unnamed daughter (played by Laila Barwick), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

Father Amorth asks the girl if she knows any prayers. She says she knows the Lord’s Prayer. Father Amorth tells her that she needs to keep repeating the Lord’s Prayer during the exorcism. The first thing that might go through some viewers’ minds is, “Why would a priest require a child this young to be involved in something this disturbing and possibly dangerous?” Most parents also wouldn’t want to put their child through the trauma of watching an exorcism.

But “The Pope’s Exorcist” wouldn’t exist if people acted realisitically in the movie. Even in the movie’s context of religious faith being more important than facts, too many people do things that look mindless and illogical. At any rate, the exorcism of Enzo looks like an unintentional parody of exorcisms, with the usual snarls and body contortions that are always seen in these types of movies. The expected “demon voice” is heard also coming from the possessed teen.

When Father Amorth asks the demon what its name is, demon replies: “I am Legion. I am Satan.” (The acting in this scene is horrendous.) Father Amorth than taunts the demon by saying if the demon is so powerful, the demon should be able to possess anyone in the room.

And what does the demon choose to do? The demon takes possession of an unlucky wild boar that’s in the room. Carlos quickly shoots the boar. The demon miraculously goes away. Enzo is no longer possessed. And that’s the end of that exorcism. Father Amorth is satisfied that he has completed another successful exorcism.

But not so fast. Father Amorth is later seen going to a stern meeting before a panel of five Catholic clergymen in July 1987. It’s a formal hearing in Rome, where Father Amorth is being reprimanded for performing that exorcism of Enzo in Tropea, because the exorcism was not officially authorized by the Vatican. Father Amorth also has to answer for other unauthorized exorcisms that he performed.

Father Amorth is a wisecracking “rebel” who tries to use prickly jokes and sarcasm to get himself out of contentious situations. He explains to the panel that 98% of the exorcisms he’s called to do aren’t real exorcisms. “They just need a little conversation … and a little theater.” Father Amorth says that 98% of the people he is told are possessed by the devil are people he refers to psychiatrists.

And what about the remaining 2% of those people? Father Amorth dodges answering that question. Most of the panel doesn’t say anything while Father Amorth defends himself. The person who does the most talking on the panel is Cardinal Sullivan (played by Ryan O’Grady), who is in his late 20s and is openly hostile to Father Amorth.

Father Amorth’s only real ally on the panel is Bishop Lumumba (played by Cornell John), who defends Father Amorth. Days before this meeting, Bishop Lumumba told Father Amorth in a private conversation: “Don’t worry, I will defend your faith.” Father Amorth replied, “My faith does not need defending.”

Cardinal Sullivan announces with a smirk that the Catholic Church will formally vacate the position of exorcist. In other words, Cardinal Sullivan is telling Father Amorth that he’s being fired as the Catholic Church’s chief exorcist for Rome. Father Amorth doesn’t accept that decision. Before the meeting is over, Father Amorth gets up and defiantly tells the panel, “If you have a problem with me, you talk to my boss.” Father Amorth then storms out of the room in a huff.

Meanwhile, an American family of three are driving to a dilapidated abbey in Castilleja, Spain. Julia Vasquez (played Alex Essoe) is a widow who inherited the abbey from her late husband Roberto Vasquez IV (played by Santi Bayón, briefly seen in a flashback), who died in a car accident a year ago. The abbey had been in Roberto’s family for years. In the car with Julia are her two children: rebellious daughter Amy Vasquez (played by Laurel Marsden) is about 15 or 16 years old, while obedient son Henry Vasquez (played by Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) is about 11 or 12 years old.

Conversations in the movie reveal that Julia is financially broke and has no income. The only thing that Roberto left for her in his will was the abbey. Julia has decided to relocate herself and the kids to Spain to refurbish the abbey and sell it, hopefully at a profit. It’s a move that Amy sulks and complains about in the movie, as Amy does things to annoy her mother, such as smoke a cigarette inside the church, flirt with the construction workers, and climb up on unsafe places in the abbey.

Julia is apparently so broke, she can’t afford a hotel and is staying with the kids in the priests’ living quarters at the abbey. It doesn’t take long for spooky things to start happening in the abbey, especially at night. A construction worker is severely burned by lighting a flare near a gas valve. (That’s not supernatural. That’s just stupidity.) This injury is enough for the foreman to have his construction crew quit working on the abbey.

And then the inevitable happens: One of the kids gets possessed by a demon. The unfortunate victim is mild-mannered Henry, who has been mute, ever since his father Roberto died. Henry was in the car during this fatal accident, and he witnessed his father get impaled.

But as soon as the demon possesses Henry, the boy begins to talk. And after being silent for a year, the first words out of Henry’s mouth are: “You’re all going to die.” And then he drags his fingernails hard on his face, leaving deep and bloody scratch marks.

Henry is possessed by a foul-mouthed and lecherous demon. While Henry is possessed, not only are his rants filled with curse words and threats, but he also sexually attacks his mother Julia, by grabbing and fondling her breasts without her consent. The demon yells through Henry: “This baby is hungry, you fat cow! You never breastfed me!”

The demon also demands, “Bring me the priest!” When a priest is brought to the possessed Henry, the priest is thrown across the room, as possessed Henry snarls: “Wrong fucking priest!” We all know which priest this demon wants for a showdown.

Somehow, the Pope (played by Franco Nero) finds out about this demon possession. And before you can say, “silly exorcism movie,” Father Amorth is seen having a one-on-one meeting at the Vatican with the Pope. (In 1987, Pope John Paul II was the leader of the Catholic Church. The Pope in “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t act or sound like Pope John Paul II and has only a slight physical resemblance.)

In this private meeting, the Pope sends Father to the abbey in Spain to investigate this report of a boy being possessed. The Pope warns Father Amorth that this particular abbey has been problematic in the past for the Catholic Church. “Be careful,” the Pope tells Father Amorth. “This demon sounds dangerous.”

In Spain, Father Amorth meets the family and the young local priest who has been asked to help: Father Esquibel (played by Daniel Zovatto), who appears to be very pious and well-respected. Father Amorth sees for himself that Henry is indeed possessed. When Father Amorth asks the demon what its name is, the demon snarls, “My name is Blasphemy. My name is Nightmare.” Father Amorth quips, “My nightmare is France winning the World Cup.”

Father Amorth does a lot of zipping around on motor scooters, as if he’s some kind “on the go” exorcism delivery boy. Father Amorth is seen driving his Lambretto scooter for the trip from Italy to Spain. Apparently, the Catholic Church apparently doesn’t want to spend money on planes and trains for Father Amorth’s exorcism business trips. And when he’s not on his motor scooter, Father Amorth is gulping down drinks from his ever-present flask of alcohol.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” attempts to give the story some depth by showing that Father Amorth has a dark past that includes the death of a young woman named Rosaria (played by Bianca Bardoe), who is a sore subject for Father Amorth. The Rosaria character is in the movie, just to show another “supernatural force” on the attack against Father Amorth. As shown in flashbacks, there are other things that haunt this unconventional priest, including his experiences when he was in military combat as a young soldier in World War II.

Most of the action scenes in “The Pope’s Exorcist” are poorly staged and sloppily edited. Priests get thrown around and fall from tall heights in satanic brawls, but these priests emerge with no fractures or broken bones, which would surely happen in fights that are this violent. “The Pope’s Exorcist” is overly enamored with its adequate visual effects as being enough to make this movie terrifying. But it’s difficult to feel any terror when the exorcist is walking around cracking jokes.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” also seems to be making up exorcism rules as it goes along. Father Amorth says that he tells jokes because “The devil doesn’t like jokes.” In another part of the movie, he says the only way to get rid of a demon is to find out its real name. But that contradicts the earlier exorcism scene of Enzo being “cured” of demon possession because the demon possessed a boar that was quickly shot to death. And that exorcism doesn’t make sense either, because the demon spirit could still escape from a dead body and possess something or someone else nearby.

As the sardonic Father Amorth, Crowe seems fully game to lean into the wisecracking tone of “The Pope’s Exorcist.” The problem is that the rest of the cast members act like they’re in a life-or-death, grim horror film. Some of the supporting actors over-act and are just not believable in many of their scenes. “The Pope’s Exorcist” might give audiences some chuckles, but it’s the type of absurd horror movie that’s so bad, viewers are more likely to be laughing at it than laughing with it.

Screen Gems will release “The Pope’s Exorcist” in U.S. cinemas on April 14, 2023.

Review: ‘Renfield’ (2023), starring Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage

April 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult in “Renfield” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures)

“Renfield” (2023)

Directed by Chris McKay

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the horror comedy film “Renfield” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A real-estate attorney, who has been forced to become an indentured servant procuring victims for vampire Count Dracula, finds himself involved in various hijinks with Dracula and a drug-smuggling gang. 

Culture Audience: “Renfield” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Nicolas Cage and over-the-top comedies about vampires.

Pictured in front: Adrian Martinez and Awkwafina in “Renfield” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Universal Pictures)

Nicolas Cage’s campy performance as Dracula is the best thing about “Renfield,” a horror comedy that sometimes gets a little too one-note and manic for its own good. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, and neither should viewers. It’s not a movie for anyone who’s overly sensitive to graphic violence on screen, because there’s plenty of blood and gore, in case anyone forgot that “Renfield” is a vampire movie.

Directed by Chris McKay and written by Ryan Ridley, “Renfield” has a very simple concept that frequently gets muddled with the movie’s overreach in trying to do too much action and comedy at once. “Renfield” is supposed to be a satire of support-group culture and how therapy of co-dependence could be applied to someone who is a “familiar” (a servant of a vampire) trying to get out of a toxic relationship with a blood-sucking employer. However, there are subplots that get tangled in the mix that could have been presented in a more straightforward way.

In “Renfield,” Robert Montague Renfield (played by Nicholas Hoult) is a native of Great Britain who is living in the United States and working as a real-estate attorney. That’s how he met Dracula (played by Cage), who forced Renfield (a bachelor with no children) to become Dracula’s familiar. Renfield is tasked with finding murder victims for Dracula and cleaning up Dracula’s messes.

Dracula and Renfield move from city to city to avoid getting caught. In the beginning of “Renfield” (which has frequent narration by Renfield), Dracula and Renfield have settled in New Orleans. Most of “Renfield” is about a madcap feud involving Dracula, Renfield, mobster criminals and police. A drug-smuggling cartel, led by Bellafrancesca Lobo (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, doing her best Mafia queen impersonation) ends up blaming Renfield for a stolen supply of drugs worth millions.

Meanwhile, Renfield attends a support group for people who are in unhealthy co-dependent relationships. The scenes with the support group meetings are hit and miss. A running gag that gets old quickly is that Renfield shows up and interrupts the meetings at very inconvenient times, usually when someone is in the middle of sharing their emotional pain with the group.

Also hit and miss is the subplot about budding romance between Renfield and a wisecracking New Orleans police officer named Rebecca Quincy (played by Awkwafina), who is trying to prove herself as worthy of her police badge, because her deceased father was a New Orleans police captain who was a well-respected local legend. Rebecca’s serious-minded sister Kate (played by Camille Chen) is an agent for the FBI. Rebecca and Kate have a sibling rivalry that is clumsily shoehorned into the story and is ultimately not essential to the overall plot.

Rebecca and Kate are the only ones who are living in a parent’s shadow. Bellafrancesca has made her bungling son Tedward “Teddy” Lobo (played by Ben Schwartz) her second-in-command. And he’s desperate to impress his mother, but he often fails miserably, because he’s such a buffoon. You can easily predict who will be in the movie’s biggest showdown toward the end.

Character development is not the strong point of “Renfield.” The main characters don’t have much depth, while the supporting characters aren’t too interesting and just exist in the movie to react to the antics or give a few unremarkable quips. Rebecca’s police supervisor Chris Marcos (played by Adrian Martinez) could have been a hilarious character, but he doesn’t get enough screen time to have an impact. The leader of the support group is a sensitive counselor named Mark (played by Brandon Scott Jones), who is written and portrayed as a character to be ridiculed for being a counselor who is immersed in political correctness.

There aren’t very many surprises in “Renfield,” but the movie can deliver some laughs for people who might like this type of entertainment. Hoult plays the “straight man” to Cage’s wacky Dracula. The movie has some dull reptition, but the overall pace of the movie is energetic. Renfield is a mixture of neurotic and empathetic, and Hoult is perfectly fine in this role, but the filmmakers made the mistake of naming the movie after this character. The real star of the show is unquestionably Dracula.

Universal Pictures will release “Renfield” in U.S. cinemas on April 14, 2023.

Review: ‘Malum’ (2023), starring Jessica Sula, Eric Olson, Chaney Morrow and Candice Coke

April 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jessica Sula in “Malum” (Photo courtesy of Welcome Villain Films)

“Malum” (2023)

Directed by Anthony DiBlasi

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Lanford, the horror film “Malum” (a reimagining of the 2015 horror film “Last Shift”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A rookie police officer with a tragic family background is assigned to be the only cop on duty during the last shift of a decommissioned police station that appears to be haunted. 

Culture Audience: “Malum” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “Last Shift” and horror movies about cults and prisons.

Jessica Sula in “Malum” (Photo courtesy of Welcome Villain Films)

“Malum” is not very original, it can get repetitive, and some of the acting is amateurish from the supporting cast members. However, the movie excels at some terrific horror visuals, and the lead performances carry the movie during its weaker moments. “Malum” is a slightly inferior reimagining of the horror movie “Last Shift,” which was released in 2015. The ending of “Malum” is much more predictable than “Last Shift,” but there are unique jump scares and story elements in “Malum” that are improvements from “Last Shift.”

“Malum” and “Last Shift” were both directed by Anthony DiBlasi and written by DiBlasi and Scott Poiley. Both movies have the same concept: a rookie female cop is working the last shift inside a decommissioned prison that is haunted. However, certain aspects of both movies are different from each other. In “Malum” (which takes place in the fictional U.S. city of Lanford), the rookie cop has the same name as the “Last Shift” rookie cop: Jessica Loren. In “Malum,” Jessica Loren is played by Jessica Sula.

“Last Shift” begins with a “found footage” scene of a Charles Manson-like cult murdering young women who have been kidnapped. Viewers later find out that this was a cult known as the Farm Cult, who lived on a remote farm. The cult’s leader was a sadistic maniac named John Malum (played by Chaney Morrow), who was arrested for the murders, along with several other members of the cult.

The police officer who led this group arrest of the Farm Cult was 52-year-old Captain Will Loren (played by Eric Olson), who is hailed as a local hero. But in the beginning of the movie, Will is shown at the Lanford Police Department committing a heinous crime: He murders two other police officers with a shotgun before using the same shotgun to committ suicide.

One year later, Will’s daughter Jessica is shown visiting Will’s grave. Someone shows up at the graveyard who is an unwelcome visitor to Jessica: her mother Diane (played by Candice Coke), who is very unhappy that Jessica has decided to become a police officer. Jessica and Diane have an argument over her career choice and other issues that have been going on longer than before Will died. Diane is an alcoholic, and Jessica (who calls Diane by her first name) blames Diane for Jessica’s unhappy childhood.

Jessica’s very first night shift job as a police officer is to work the very last shift at the decommissioned Lanford Police Department station. A new Lanford Police Department station has already been built and is open. It’s where almost all of the Lanford Police Department staff works. On this particular night, members of the Farm Cult who weren’t arrested have been wreaking havoc around the city, so members of the Lanford Police Department have been busy responding to the chaos.

Before Jessica begins her shift at the decommissioned police station, she gets a very hostile reaction from police officer Grip Cohen (played by Britt George), who is the only other cop in the station when she arrives to take over the work shift. Before he leaves for the night, Grip yells and curses at Jessica, in an attempt to intimidate her. He gets even angrier when he finds out that she is Will’s daughter. Grip asks Jessica what she’s doing working at this police department, and she says she just wants to work as a cop.

The rest of “Malum” shows Jessica having strange and terrifying encounters at the police station. She think she’s alone in the building. But is she really alone? And through it all, Jessica keeps getting harassing phone calls from women who seem to be members of the Farm Cult, because they keep using the Farm Cult’s names for a police officer: “pig” or “piggy.” Eventually, Jessica looks through her father’s former locker and finds something that helps solve some of the lingering mysteries that have haunted her and other people in Lanford.

One of the biggest questions that viewers ask whenever there’s a horror movie about a person or people getting attacked in a haunted place is: “Why don’t they just leave?” In “Malum,” the reason why Jessica stays is because she is determined to prove to people like Grip that she has what it takes to be a brave police officer. She also knows that several people want her to quit the police department, because of what her father did, and she does not want to give her naysayers the satisfaction of having her quit.

Jessica does not excuse the murders that her father committed, but she wholeheartedly believes that there could be a sinister explanation for why he did what he did, since he had no previous indications of ever being mentally ill or inclined to murder. The revelations in “Malum” aren’t too surprising. And the repetition of Jessica seeing terrifying visions and getting threatening phone calls can get a little tedious. However, Sula gives a very compelling performance that makes “Malum” an effective horror thriller for viewers who have the tolerance to see gruesome, blood-drenched scenes.

Welcome Villain Films released “Malum” in select U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on May 16, 2023.

Review: ‘Legions’ (2022), starring Germán De Silva, Lorena Vega, Ezequiel Rodríguez, Mauro Altschuler and Fernando Alcaraz

March 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Marta Haller in “Legions” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Legions” (2022)

Directed by Fabián Forte

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Argentina, the comedic horror film “Legions” features a Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly, powerful sorcerer, who is locked away in a psychiatric institution hopes to reunite with his long-lost daughter to save Argentina from demonic forces.

Culture Audience: “Legions” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching tacky-looking and incoherent horror movies.

Germán De Silva in “Legions” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Legions” tries too hard to be bizarre. The end result is a horror movie that isn’t very scary. The visual effects are also very cheap-looking and tacky. The father-daughter sorcerer storyline isn’t as interesting as it could have been. And the movie’s intentional comedy is often clumsily handled and not very funny at all.

Written and directed by Fabián Forte, “Legions” (which takes place in Argentina) tells the story of a powerful sorcerer named Antonio Poyju, an elderly man (played by Germán De Silva), who has been locked up in a psychiatric institution for many years. He says in a voiceover in the beginning of the movie: “Some people call me a shaman, a sorcerer. I prefer to be called a mediator between worlds. I belong to a lineage of powerful men. My blood is sacred.”

A flashback to 1980 shows Antonio as a young man (played by Fernando Alcaraz) in the Missionary Jungle, where Antonio says he confronted “a very dangerous demon, from the lower levels.” In this flashback, a 16-year-old girl (played by Julieta Brito) appears to be dead on the ground, until a young Antonio blows smoke in her face. She then appears to come to life, and she attacks him.

She says to Antonio: “Sorcerer, I condemn your offspring,” as Antonio throws holy water on her. Viewers later find out that this girl was daughter Elena, and she was possessed by a demon. Did the demon’s curse happen?

A flash-forward to the present day shows that Antonio has heartbreak in his life: Elena disppeared from his life in 1980, shortly after the demon’s curse. Antonio has been looking for her ever since. Another flashback shows that when Elena was a baby, Antonio once found his wife Amanda (played by Laura Manzaneda) with black bile coming out of her eyes and mouth, after she was seen in a trance asking something unseen: “Why do you want to take our baby.”

In the psychatric institution, Antonio complains to a psychiatrist: “I’m surrounded by faithless young people.” The movie then goes on a very dull and weird tangent by wasting a lot of time showing a dramatic play that is being staged in the institution. The play is based on Antonio’s life story, so he is overseeing it and acting like he’s some kind of important director. Other patients in the institution are elderly Roberto (played by Mauro Altschuler), middle-aged Olga (played by Marta Haller) and young Eduardo (played by Víctor Malagrino), who at various times bicker with each other and with Antonio.

It’s enough to say that an adult Elena (played Lorena Vega) comes back into her father Antonio’s life. The spirit of Elena’s dead grandmother Isarrina (played by Isabel Quinteros) possesses Elena and warns Elena and Antonio that a demon named Kuaraya wants to sacrifice Elena on “the red moon’s night.” And then there’s some nonsense about Antonio and Elena having to team up to save Argentina from a demon takeover.

Overall, “Legions” is not the worst horror movie ever. It just doesn’t tell the story in a way that is very intriguing. The acting performances aren’t impressive. It’s one of those horror film that fills up a lot of “jump scare” time with scenes of demon sightings and people with blood coming out of various body parts. The inevitable showdown is a jumbled mess that offers no surprise. “Legions” is ultimately a forgettable horror film among the many horror films about people with supernatural powers who try to stop demons.

XYZ Films released “Legions” on digital and VOD on January 19, 2023. The movie was released in Argentina on December 1, 2022.

Review: ‘The Devil Conspiracy,’ starring Alice Orr-Ewing, Joe Doyle, Eveline Hall, Peter Mensah, Joe Anderson, Brian Caspe and James Faulkner

March 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Alice Orr-Ewing in “The Devil Conspiracy” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“The Devil Conspiracy”

Directed by Nathan Frankowski

Some language in Italian with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, the horror film “The Devil Conspiracy” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An art historian uncovers a sinister biogenetics plot conjured up by Satanists, while the evil angel Lucifer plots his revenge on good archangel Michael.

Culture Audience: “The Devil Conspiracy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching idiotic horror movies that are a mishmash of other movies’ concepts that use characters from Christian teachings.

Joe Anderson (below) and Peter Mensah in “The Devil Conspiracy” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“The Devil Conspiracy” is a bombastic train wreck of a horror movie with an onslaught of bad acting and stupid scenarios. It’s a weak ripoff of ideas from Rosemary’s Baby and Legion, but with the setting in Italy, instead of New York City or Los Angeles. The movie tries to juggle two different stories that are supposed to be connected. The ends result is that “The Devil Conspiracy” doesn’t succeed at telling either story and is just a jumbled mess.

Directed by Nathan Frankowski and written by Ed Alan, “The Devil Conspiracy” shows the first story, which is a battle between the evil angel Lucifer (played by Joe Anderson) and the good archangel Michael (played by Peter Mensah), with Lucifer losing the battle. Lucifer falls from the sky. Michael then puts Lucifer in chains and says that Lucifer will be set free if Lucifer joins Michael as an ally. Lucifer refuses and says he will return as Michael’s master. legions of demons join Lucifer in hell as Lucifer plots his revenge.

“The Devil Conspiracy” then ignores this Lucifer/Michael feud for most of the movie until the last third of the film. The second story is about an art historian named Laura Milton (played by Alice Orr-Ewing), an American. She is spending a lot of time at a museum that has a very special exhibition: the shroud of Jesus Christ, also known as the Shroud of Turin. This shroud has a major role in a poorly conceived biogenetics plot development that is revealed later in the movie.

Before she goes to the museum to see this shroud, Laura meets Dr. Andre Russo (played by Andrea Scarduzio) from Turin University, and she has an awkward conversation with him. Laura pleads with Dr. Russo to reconsider her thesis. He replies, “The last thing Turin University wants to hear is a young American lecturing us on what our great Italian artists believed or didn’t believe.”

Laura then says she doesn’t believe in angels or a dark side of the afterlife. Dr. Russo says they can continue this discussion at his apartment. Laura knows exactly what he means by this invitation. And she wisely declines. It’s probably one of the few smart decisions that Laura makes, because this character is the unflattering stereotype of a horror heroine who makes some very bad decisions.

At the museum, which is crowded with people eager to see the Shroud of Turin, Laura doesn’t have a ticket, but she gets a laminated pass from a priest she knows as a professional acquaintance: Father Marconi (played by Joe Doyle), who won’t be himself for much longer. Through a series of circumstances, something happens that is already revealed in “The Devil Conspiracy” trailer: Father Marconi is murdered in the museum. Archangel Michael then immediately comes down to Earth and inhabits Father Marconi’s body, which is brought back to life with the spirit of Michael inside.

“The Devil Conspiracy” then wastes a lot of time with repetitive scenes of Laura lurking around the museum after it’s closed and seeing strange things that might look scary to her, but actually look like cheap-looking horror movie tactics. A witchy-looking woman named Liz (played by Eveline Hall) shows up occasionally, with and without some cronies, to cause some murders and other mayhem. Laura is then kidnapped and put in a glass cage in a room with three other young women who are also in glass cages: hysterical Sophia (played by Wendy Rosas), tough-looking Alina (played by Natalia Germani) and sensible Brenda (played by Victoria Chilap).

The rest of “The Devil Conspiracy” then becomes a tangled mishmash of science fiction and demonic possession that is so ridiculous and poorly explained, even the characters in the movie who are supposed to believe in what’s happening never look convinced. These characters include Dr. Laurent (played by Brian Caspe) and Cardinal Vincinia (played by James Faulkner), representing the inept way that “The Devil Conspiracy” tries to present conflicts between science and religion. The movie is also plagued with tacky-looking visual effects that are more laughable than terrifying. The film editing is atrocious and just makes the entire movie look even more scatterbrained than it already is.

And some of the soundtrack music is enough to make a viewer’s eyes roll with the corniness of it all. For example, there’s a scene where archangel Michael, while inhabiting the body of the dead Father Marconi, is listening to some songs while driving a car. The songs are INXS’s 1987 classic “Devil Inside” and Real Life’s 1983’s hit “Send Me an Angel.” Yes, really.

One of the worst things about “The Devil Conspiracy” is the very incoherent showdown scene that’s supposed to be the big climax to the movie. Apparently, “The Devil Conspiracy” filmmakers haven’t learned that throwing a bunch of low-quality visual effects into darkly lit scenes does not automatically make a movie thrilling to watch. By the end of “The Devil Conspiracy,” viewers will feel that the only convincing hell that this movie was able to conjure up was the hell of having wasted time watching this junk.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “The Devil Conspiracy” in U.S. cinemas on January 13, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on March 3, 2023.

Review: ‘Huesera: The Bone Woman,’ starring Natalia Solián, Alfonso Dosal, Mayra Batalla and Mercedes Hernández

March 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Natalia Solián in “Huesera: The Bone Woman” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Huesera: The Bone Woman”

Directed by Michelle Garza Cervera

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico, the horror film “Huesera: The Bone Woman” features a Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman’s pregnancy and her sanity are threatened when she keeps having nightmarish visions of her bones breaking and women who can contort their limbs and seem to be agents of death. 

Culture Audience: “Huesera: The Bone Woman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in seeing bizarre horror movies with intriguing stories and striking visuals.

Natalia Solián in “Huesera: The Bone Woman” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” delivers plenty of creepy images and convincing acting performances. Just don’t expect a clear and complete explanation for all of the disturbing incidents in this effective horror movie. The movie’s sound effects are just as terrifying as the visuals.

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” is the feature-film debut of director Michelle Garza Cervera, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Abia Castillo. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, where Garza Cervera won the awards for Best New Narrative Director and the Nora Ephron Prize, an award given to emerging female filmmakers. Garza Cervera is certainly a talent to watch, since “Huesera: The Bone Woman” is the type of movie that will immediately hook viewers into the story and won’t let go.

The beginning of “Huesera: The Bone Woman” (which takes place in an unnamed city in Mexico) has a stunning visual of people gathered at the feet of La Virgen de Guadalupe (a giant gold statue of the Virgin Mary), somewhere in wooded area in Mexico. This statue (which is about 100 feet tall) doesn’t exist in real life, but it was created through visual effects for the movie. Religion and motherhood are major themes throughout “Huesera: The Bone Woman.”

The movie’s protagonist is a woman in her 30s named Valeria Hernandez (played by Natalia Solián), who has been married to her mild-mannered husband Raúl (played by Alfonso Dosal) for an untold number of years. Valeria (who makes furniture in her home shop) and Raúl (who works in advertising) seem to be happily married. But soon, viewers find out that the only strain in their marriage is that Valeria and Raúl have been trying unsuccessfully for a long time to have a child.

That disappointment is about to change when Valeria visits her gynecologist (played by Emilram Cossío) for a medical exam because she’s fairly certain that she’s pregnant. The doctor confirms that she’s three months pregnant. Valeria and Raúl are ecstatic about this happy news and start making plans for their first child. Valeria wants to make a crib for the baby, even though her doctor advises her to temporarily stop doing any furniture-making work while she’s pregnant.

Not everyone is thrilled about Valeria’s pregnancy. One day, Valeria and Raúl go to visit Valeria’s parents Luis (played by Enoc Leaño) and Maricarmen (played by Aida López), who are excited to hear that Valeria is going to become a parent. However, Valeria’s older sister Vero (played by Sonia Couoh), a single mother who lives in her parents’ household with Vero’s two kids, is skeptical that Valeria will be a good mother. Also in the household is Maricarmen’s sister Isabel (played by Mercedes Hernández), who has never been married and has no children.

Vero makes snide and sarcastic comments every time Valeria talks about the pregnancy, such as saying that she thought Valeria would never get pregnant because Valeria was getting to be “too old” to conceive a child. Vero also says that she wouldn’t trust Valeria to babysit or be alone with Vero’s two children: Jorge (played by Luciano Martí), who’s about 10 or 11 years old and Paola (played by Camila Leoneé), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. Why is so Vero so uptight and hostile about Valeria being around children?

When the family is gathered for a meal at the dining room table, Vero tells Raúl why she thinks Valeria won’t have good parenting skills: When Valeria was younger (perhaps when she was an adolescent), she was asked to babysit an infant, but Valeria dropped the child on the ground. An embarrassed Valeria tells Raúl that the baby wasn’t injured, but viewers later find out that it’s a lie.

After this uncomfortable family gathering, Raúl and Valeria are driving back to their home when a woman stops the car to talk to them. Her name is Octavia (played by Mayra Batalla), who was close to Valeria when they were in high school together. Octavia and Valeria haven’t seen or spoken to each other in years. They make small talk, as Valeria introduces Raúl to Valeria.

Octavia looks at Raúl suspiciously and immediately gives off “jealous ex-girlfriend” vibes. And sure enough, later in the movie, it’s revealed that Valeria and Octavia were lovers when they were teenagers. Raúl doesn’t know, and neither does Valeria’s family. It’s implied that Valeria has been keeping her queer identity a secret from most people in her life.

Flashbacks in the movie show that teenage Valeria (played by Gabriela Velarde) and teenage Octavia (played by Isabel Luna) were both in a rebelllious, hard-partying clique that included other queer people. Valeria and Octavia even made plans to move away together after they graduated from high school. However, Valeria changed her mind, and that’s what ended her relationship with Octavia, who seems to still be heartbroken and bitter over this breakup. Valeria later finds out that Octavia, who still has a hard-partying lifestyle, lives by herself and is not dating anyone special.

Because “Huesera: The Bone Woman” is a horror movie, it doesn’t take long for some frightening things to happen. Valeria begins to imagine that bones in parts of her body (such as a foot) suddenly break. She also sees faceless women who contort their bodies in grotesque ways and seem to be coming after Valeria to attack her or do something violent.

There’s a scene where Valeria is looking at the apartment building that’s directly across from the apartment building where Valeria and Raúl live. Valeria is horrified to see a faceless young woman contort her body, climb on the balcony, and jump to her death. Valeria even sees the bloodied and mangled corpse on the ground. But when Valeria rushes to tell Raúl about what she saw, and they both go to investigate, there’s nothing there.

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” can get a little repetitive with the over-used horror narrative of a woman seeing terrifying visions that no one else can see, and then people start to think that she’s mentally ill. However, many of the images in “Huesera: The Bone Woman” are truly unique, particularly in the movie’s last 15 minutes. Fire and water are both used effectively in some of the film’s best scenes, by tapping into fears of drowning or burning to death.

And get used to the sound of bones being contorted or fractured. Not only does Valeria have a habit of cracking her knuckles, the visions that haunt her almost always include the sounds of bones breaking. It might be too nauseating for some viewers, but the movie’s sound design and sound mixing are top-notch for achieving the intended horror. The cinematography by Nur Rubio Sherwell is also noteworthy for how it creates a foreboding atmosphere, amid what is supposed to be domestic bliss for a new mother.

“Huesera: The Bone Woman” blurs the lines between what is religion and what is pagan witchcraft. More than once, Valeria visits a spiritualist named Ursula (played by Martha Claudia Moreno) for guidance and some rituals. Valeria’s Aunt Isabel, who is treated like a weirdo in the family, because Isabel never got married and has no children, becomes more important to troubled Valeria, as Valeria starts to question her own life choices.

All of the cast members play their parts well, but “Huesera: The Bone Woman” would not be as memorable without the stellar lead performance of Solián. Even when the story gets a little muddled, and viewers will begin to wonder why it’s taking so long to explain why Valeria is experiencing all this terror, Solián maintains an authenticity to her character throughout the movie. Valeria is not a typical “damsel in nightmarish distress” from horror movies, which often care more about the murdered body count than the interior lives of the protagonists.

Is there a bone woman named Huesera in the movie? In real life, there is a fairly obscure Mexican folk tale about an elderly woman named Huesera, who collected bones and brought these bones back to life, but don’t expect that to be part of the movie’s story. “Huesera: The Bone Woman” could have done the most obvious thing and made the movie into a ghost story, with Huesera haunting Valeria. However, by the end of the film, viewers can understand the intended message: Sometimes, what can haunt people the most is when they try to hide from their true selves.

XYZ Films released “Huesera: The Bone Woman” in select U.S. cinemas on February 10, 2023. Shudder premiered the movie on February 16, 2023. “Huesera: The Bone Woman” was released on digital and VOD on February 17, 2023.

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