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New Releases for Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Within the Darkness and 6:66 PM

Genre: Paranormal Horror/Comedy

Directed by: Jonathan Zuck and Jim Klock

Run time: 84 minutes and 82 minutes

Rating: Unrated

Format: Video-on-Demand

The Lowdown: Two new horror thrillers from Indican Pictures prove that sometimes you have to pretend you’re watching a specific type of genre film for the first time in order to fully assess its merits.

Case in point, Within the Darkness, yet another attempt to capitalize on the paranormal ghost hunting phenomenon that has captivated cable viewers for years.

Austin Barnett (Dave Coyne) thinks he has a sure-fire way to get rich. He throws all his money into producing a pilot called ‘The Paranormal Dimension with Austin Barnett,” which will welcome viewers to a weekly show where he explores supposedly haunted buildings and homes. Accompanied by his girlfriend Lucy (Erin Cline) and camera operator Jesse (Tonya Kay), Barnett targets the storied Hewit House for his first foray into ghost-hunting. Only, to guarantee success and get the green light to work on a recurring series, Barnett and Jesse have rigged the house with a number of gags to make it appear as if the Hewit House is truly haunted.

Everything goes fine until the arrival of professional medium Megan, who informs the crew that maybe they shouldn’t be inside the house after dark.

As directed by Jonathan Zuck and written by Zuck and Cheryl Compton, Within the Darkness sets up a number of interesting subplots that are never fully explored. Barnett is presented as an obnoxious perfectionist blinded by his zeal for fame and money. Lucy and Jesse have an uneasy relationship made more difficult by Jesse’s constant harping on Lucy, which appears fueled by jealousy. And Megan – well, her intentions are revealed in a late twist deep in the third act that doesn’t completely make sense. And that twist is undermined by a second, even more confusing swerve involving Lucy that closes out the film.

While it’s hard to fault a filmmaker for making an honest attempt to create something unnerving, Within the Darkness suffers from a lack of legitimate scares and a convoluted third act that unravels with the back-to-back twist reveals. Whereas other, similar films like Grave Encounters went too heavy on the jump scares and CGI paranormal frights, Within the Darkness can’t decide what it wants to be – genuinely scary, or a subversive eye-poke at the very industry (paranormal investigations) that it’s documenting.

6:66 PM also is about paranormal investigators, only it’s clear from the first few scenes that director Jim Klock and screenwriters Tommy McLaughlin and supporting actor Chad Ridgely care less about scaring their audience than making them laugh.

Klock stars as Daniel, a ghost-hunting investigator, who along with his crew set out to document the strange goings-on at a local house where a serial killer committed some awful, grisly murders.

If you’ve ever seen any of the films directed by Larry Blamire (Dark and Stormy Night or The Lost Skelton of Cadavra), you know exactly what’s coming. 6:66 PM is like a low-budget attempt to replicate an old Abbott and Costello creature comedy. There’s lots of screaming, running through dark rooms from suspected vengeful spirits and silly banter.

The cast (many of whom also appear in Klock’s Massacre on Aisle 12) is game for the spooky shenanigans, but your enjoyment of this kind of low-brow humor depends entirely on what you find funny.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – No. Gore – Minimal.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – That’s entirely subjective.

Buy/Rent – I would watch both trailers before plopping down money to own either title, but a few dollars spent on a VOD rental likely isn’t a bad investment.

Sweet Virginia (Shout! Factory, 93 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): I love me some Jon Bernthal. Not only has he managed to finally crack the code to deliver a proper iteration of Marvel’s The Punisher, he just has that bad-ass, take no BS look of a true action star. In Sweet Virginia, Bernthal stars as a former rodeo champion rider who now works in relative obscurity managing the kind of roadside motel where Norman Bates would feel at home. Bernthal’s Sam Rossi meets a new guest at the motel named Elwood (Christopher Abbott), whom we know from the opening scenes is a cold-blooded assassin. The shifting dynamic between the two men forms the crux of Sweet Virginia, and becomes a slow-roiling pot that viewers know will eventually bubble over into violence. I didn’t love Sweet Virginia. I found it slow moving and unfocused at times. But that’s not to say it won’t appeal to fans of slow-burn thrillers who have the patience to watch placid water slowly start to bubble and boil.

The Post (Fox, 116 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Being a former professional journalist, it’s fair to say that I love any movie that deals with the newspaper industry and shows the importance of having a free press to maintain the necessary checks and balances on government power.

From Ron Howard’s often-overlooked gem The Paper to Alan Pakula’s classic All the President’s Men, newspaper movies exist to remind the general public that not all news is fake, and that often the people in power trying to discredit a reporter’s right to expose corruption have reason to be worried about what such stories might reveal.

The Post, which focuses exclusively on a brief period in history, before the Watergate scandal, when government efforts to hide research on the Vietnam War came to a direct loggerhead with the press’s desire to publish long-known facts, such as the American military’s decision to throw more soldiers into harm’s way to win a war that everyone knew could not be won.

Tom Hanks stars as Ben Bradlee, the storied editor of The Washington Post, shortly before two of his upstart reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, would embark on an investigation that would culminate with President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office.

Meryl Streep stars as Katherine ‘Kay’ Graham, the owner and publisher of The Post, who gained control of the then-struggling newspaper after her husband died.

As directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, The Post makes no attempt to sway viewers from connecting the dots to our current corrupt administration in power. Spielberg frames Bradlee and his rag-tag political reporters as freedom fighters, hell-bent to protect the Second Amendment and determined to allow the American public to make up its own mind about the grueling conflict overseas.

But The Post really belongs to Streep, who does a masterful job of showing Graham’s evolution from a naïve socialite and Beltway party-host to a fearless protector of the press’s right to question authority, no matter the cost.

In this post-#MeToo world, Streep rises to the occasion, refusing to allow Graham to be silenced by the bevy of white male advisors who caution and later condemn her decision to disobey the White House, and Nixon, by publishing the Pentagon Papers.

The Post is an exhilarating thing to watch, especially for anyone who has ever worked on deadline or sat in a buzzing newsroom when a huge story is about to break. It’s not a classic a la All the President’s Men – the Pentagon Papers scandal lacked a clear villain to give the public someone to root against – but it’s an important movie about a critical point in history that feels eerily prescient today, given the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Also Available:

13 Reasons Why: Season One

Basmati Blues

Insidious: The Last Key

Father Figures


Honey: Rise Up and Dance

Heartworn Highways Revisited

Now on Video-on-Demand:

Accident (Well Go USA, 95 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Sometimes, just because something sounds like an interesting premise doesn’t mean that it would actually make an entertaining movie.

Case in point: Accident, the debut thriller from writer-director Dan Tondowski, which is about – wait for it – a car accident where two pretty young women get trapped inside an overturned car after naively accepting a ride to a music festival from two good-looking guys.

If you’ve watched the trailer, as I did, there’s some hints at additional plot details: The car is stolen. At least one of the two guys is not a nice guy. Somebody brings a gun to retrieve some money that was hidden in the stolen car.

But during the 35-to-40-minutes of Accident that I actually made it through, very little of that stuff happens. Yes, there is an attempted sexual assault, which helps facilitate the crash that traps Jess and Caroline, the two young women. But the bulk of those first 35-to-40 minutes is nothing more than bad decisions begetting bad decisions begetting the crash and then you watch Jess and Caroline struggle to free themselves, unsuccessfully, for what seems an interminable amount of time while one of the two guys lays outside the vehicle against a tree, impaled by some rebar through his shoulder.

Maybe Accident improves. I don’t know. I wish Tondowski had done more with his set-up to hold my attention – even a tease to the very-relevant information that the car is stolen, or a scene of a bad, bad man looking for his car.

As it is, I can only recommend on what I watched, and based on that, unless you have a serious car-crash fetish, Accident is not a thriller that has much to offer.

Goldbuster (Well Go USA, 89 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): When is a horror-comedy really just a comedy in disguise?

Well, with Goldbuster, the answer is pretty clear.

While it’s billed as being scary-funny with an irreverent exorcist named Golden Ling, hired to ghost-hunt a dilapidated apartment building; two hapless henchmen who dress up like Samara from The Ring to scare off the remaining residents; and a trio of costumed clowns that includes a vampire, the truth is Goldbuster is essentially a comedy of errors and mistaken identities.

Fans of slapstick humor and visual gags will probably eat this up. Hard and fast horror fans, though, should exercise caution before spending a lot to rent or purchase.

Not to be Overlooked:

Massacre on Aisle 12 (Indican Pictures, 83 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Massacre on Aisle 12 is what might happen if you mashed-together Office Space with And Then There Were None.

Co-directed by Jim Klock and William Mark McCullough, who both play supporting roles, and co-written by another supporting actor, Chad Ridgely, Massacre on Aisle 12 harkens back to the cult classics of the early 1980’s, when movies like Night Patrol would throw all manner of crude jokes at the audience to see what stuck.

On Christmas Eve, Dave (Michael Buonomo) starts work at a local hardware store populated by an eclectic cast of whacky employees. There’s Jack (Ridgely), whose facial contortions will remind you of the late, great Bill Paxton, the assistant manager who spends his days cooking up new narcotic hybrids with Pharms. Tara (Melissa Saint-Amand), the apathetic millennial who works the front counter. Mr. Kipper (Doug Burch), the general manager who’s fond of sizing up new male employees for their work uniforms. And Black Jack (James Aikido Burgess), the token minority employee who works in the warehouse and may be an undercover police officer trying to bust an embezzlement enterprise. There’s also a drunk in-store Santa (McCullough) and his busty Ms. Claus named Barbie (Amber Jean).

The humor is campy and juvenile, but also borderline racist and homophobic, at times, which may dissuade some viewers from watching the entire film.

Still, there’s an audience for this style of horror-comedy, of that I’m sure. Massacre on Aisle 12 feels like a direct-to-VHS offering, the kind of low-budget flick that would have generated plenty of rentals back in the day.

Crazy Lake (Indican Pictures, 80 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a group of friends venture to a remote cabin in the woods on a lake where the locals tell of a troubling legend.

Of course, you have heard this one before. It’s the synopsis for countless scary movies dating back decades.

Clearly, however, there are people who still watch and buy these kinds of movies, which is why as a critic, BVB has to treat each new film as if it’s the first time we’ve ever seen a horror movie where young, oversexed adults fall victim to an overwhelming force of evil.

Writer-director Jason Henne’s debut feature doesn’t stray too far from the established boilerplate. If you’re watching at home, it’s easy to scribble down a checklist of thematic elements and wait to see if Crazy Lake marks a notch in the box next to each one.

Gratuitous nudity and/or random boobs – check.

Token minority member (male or female) – check.

Awkward virgin who gets a two-second makeover into hot girl – check.

Possible ‘roid rage jock – check.

Backwoods hillbilly stalker – check.

But Crazy Lake, despite its insistence on following a tried-and-true horror template, is very watchable, which is a measure of success that lots of similar slasher flicks fail to achieve. Henne is smart enough to deliver what’s expected while still sprinkling in a handful of unexpected moments that showcase some raw talent and the potential in future films to transcend genre contrivances.

In particular, Henne imbues two of his characters, good girl Kristen (Diana Riley) and awkward-but-smart Corey (Matthew Valena) with a depth of believability that is refreshingly on-point. They reminded me of Ginny and Paul, the final couple in Friday the 13th Part 2. Whenever the focus stays on them, Crazy Lake shows at least the glimmer of ambition.

Crazy Lake actually owes more than a debt to Friday the 13th Part 2. Curvy Megan (standout Libby Blanton) and her loutish boyfriend are basically an updated version of curvy Sandra (Marta Kober) and jokester Jeff, the couple that gets double-impaled in bed by Jason.

It’s not enough, however, to just mimic the best slashers of the genre. And there are several artistic decisions that Henne makes that come off as questionable at worse and superfluous at best. Most of these involve early scenes of the group commencing their drunken debauchery, but Henne falls prey to the a-little-goes-a-long-way trap that can plague still-green directors. Here, he allows an extended sequence with a slip-and-slide to go on, and on, and on, and on, and on, until it feels like a softcore commercial for slip-and-slide products.

My main gripe with Crazy Lake is that it doesn’t spend nearly enough time building up its locale, which viewers learn is an area where mental patients were essentially let loose to roam free or their bodies were disposed of in the lake. There’s a ton of potential there that’s never realized.

If you love slasher flicks, regardless of their originality, you’ll want to make a date to visit Crazy Lake. If you hate slasher flicks that don’t bring enough new ideas to the table, keep on driving by.

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