Directed by: Brad Baruh
Run time: 86 minutes
The Lowdown: Dead Night, the awesome new throwback-to-the-80’s creature feature from Dark Sky Films, is a bit like watching a baby taking its tenuous first steps.
You're not entirely sure where it's trying to go, or whether it will arrive at its targeted destination unscathed, but you can't take your eyes off of it.
That’s not a criticism, but more of an observation and a warning to fans that really good things come to those with patience.
Such a disclaimer isn’t always necessary, but with Dead Night, it feels appropriate, if only because of the ambitious and audacious approach that director Brad Baruh and writer Irving Walker take with the material.
Dead Night kicks off with a warm-and-fuzzy familiar sequence set in the woods circa 1961. Two crazy kids have parked to get it on, but just as the zipper is about to go down, there’s a noise out in the dark. ‘I’ll be right back,’ the guy says, which means he’s not long for this world, and sure enough, all kinds of hell breaks loose, culminating with a gory live birth out in the wild.
Cut to present day and the Pollack family – mom Casey (Brea Grant), dad James (AJ Bowen), son Jason and daughter Jessica (Sophie Dalah) – along with Jessica’s bestie Becky (Elise Luthman), are headed to a cabin that supposedly has mystical healing properties because of the ‘magic rocks’ on which its built.
The Pollack clan needs that good juju as James is battling cancer, and no other treatments thus far have worked.
Before they arrive, Baruh cuts several times to a creepy woodland creature (?) chiseling around a strange smokestack mound deep in the woods. (Again, trust us, all will be explained)
Then the camera cuts to a strange lair with an altar built around multiple old-timey TV sets. One of the televisions is playing Inside Crime, a true-crime cable show, and this particular episode is soon revealed to be all about the “Axe Mom,” a woman named Casey Pollack who chopped up her family during a family outing to a remote cabin.
The host of the show is Jack Sterling (Daniel Roebuck, a familiar genre face dating back to the early ‘80s), who leads viewers deep into the bloody tale of the “Axe Mom,” which includes re-enactments of the same scenes you’ve just watched play out in supposedly real time.
And then the show cuts to a commercial, a political ad, for Leslie Bison, who is running for governor. Bison is played by Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond).
Within the span of about 15 minutes, you’ve got the movie, a TV show about the characters from the movie, re-enactments of moments you’ve just watched during the movie and a fake commercial.
Confused yet? Don’t worry, so was I, but it will all make sense in time.
Once the Pollacks and Becky arrive at the cabin, Casey starts teasing the girls about ghosts out in the dark forest.
Just then, the camera cuts to a strange woman standing with her back to the camera, talking on her phone. “I was raised in these woods,” you hear her say. “I will be just fine.”
Back to the Pollacks and Becky. James is headed out to find some firewood. He keeps walking, long enough for Jessica and Becky to sneak outside for a smoke and to catch-up. Just as Jessica has been dealing with her dad’s illness, Becky has been living with her grandmother who is going on ancient i nterms of years.
Suddenly, you realize – where the eff is James walking to? Is he heading for the next state over? You’re in a forest, dude. There’s wood all around.
Once you see the body stretched across the trail, it makes sense. Of course, he’s meant to find this woman and to help her. But who is she? Not really a spoiler alert – it’s gubernatorial candidate Bison, who seems pretty OK to have just been laying unconscious on the ground. She also seems pretty familiar with the cabin the Pollack’s have rented from their good friend Mika, a local Realtor.
Wait a minute…was that Bison we saw with her back to the camera? And was she talking to Mika on the phone?
Back at the cabin, the Pollack clan isn’t quite sure what to make with this strange woman that dad has brought home, especially since she just keeps making herself at home and acting as if this is exactly how things should be.
Truth be told, Leslie Bison comes off, at least initially, like she’s walked onto the set of Dead Night from an entirely different movie, and as played by Crampton, she’s over-the-top and extra vampy in all the best ways. (As a longtime fan, I can happily report that Bison is one of the best roles in Crampton’s career, which is saying something given the iconic slate of films in which she’s appeared.)
It’s about this time that Dead Night explodes like a piñata overstuffed with awesomeness, showering gory greatness all over the screen.
To say much more would truly take away from the jolt and the joy of experiencing Dead Night with as little advance knowledge as possible. Suffice to say, there’s a slew of amazing practical creature effects, a coven of immortal pagan witches, a handful of stellar transitions between the true-crime-TV show and the action unfolding on-screen, a bunch of decapitations and mutilations and a slice of tough love pie that’s as cold and dark and unexpected as the devil himself.
Dead Night is as enjoyable of a roller coaster ride into madness as you’ve likely taken in quite some time. It zigs and zags with intelligence and precision, making the most of every new reveal to ensure maximum WTF-ness.
It deftly weaves together its multiple through-lines in a way that does make sense, and before the credits roll you’ll be marveling at what Baruh and Walker have accomplished, especially once you realize that they’re both first-timers to the big dance.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Sophie Dalah is smoking hot.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – An extra vampy Barbara Crampton.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me! (Shout! Factory, 97 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): As amazing as it is to say, there’s actually a John Carpenter film that BVB hasn’t seen, the made-for-TV thriller Someone’s Watching Me!
Sadly, the film, which came out in 1978 and stars Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau, is limited by the constraints of network television, as well as technology.
Hutton plays a woman who is being tormented by a stalker who keeps calling her high-rise apartment. Over and over and over, he calls.
Maybe we’re just spoiled by today’s cellular technology, as well as people’s willingness to simply ignore any call they don’t want to take, but after repeated scenes of Hutton reacting in horror every time her rotary-dial phone rings and pierces the silence, it’s hard not to think – why don’t you just unplug the damn phone?
The Night of the Virgin (MVD, 100 minutes, Unrated, DVD): We’ve all known one, that poor kid whom fate dick-punched all the way down the genetic elevator shaft until he grew up to resemble the love child of Peter Lorre and Jon Cryer.
That’s Nico (Javier Bódalo), in a nutshell.
When The Night of the Virgin opens, it’s New Year’s Eve, and Nico is on the prowl, out with a group of guys he calls friends but who simply tolerate him because they love making fun of his shitty existence.
At a party, Nico exhibits all the desperation of Dan Monahan’s Pee Wee from Porky’s. He targets the drunkest women he can find in hopes of getting a dance. He gets vomit on his shoes instead.
Then, out of nowhere, she appears – Medea (Miriam Martin), the proverbial Mrs. Robinson in the flesh, and she sets her sights on Nico for a one-way trip to cougar town.
First things first, if you meet a woman named Medea, run. After all, as mythology goes, she’s an enchantress, a murderer and a witch.
But, if you happen to be a virgin and this is the first time a woman, any woman, has ever talked to you, and you agree to go to her apartment, and you find that it’s infested with roaches, that’s probably another huge blinking neon sign to abort mission!
Not Nico. Not even after Mrs. Medea Robinson scolds him and warns him not to step on a single roach or else bad juju will follow.
So far, so good for director Roberto San Sebastián’s debut feature.
If there’s a criticism to be made early on, it’s only that Nico is just way too goofy, like overly so. It’s as if you’re watching a Jerry Lewis horror movie and you keep praying for Buddy Love to magically appear.
Part of you wants bad, bad things to happen to Nico. Part of you feels super sad for his plight.
Things pick up as Medea shares a crazy good story about her time spent in Nepal learning about a particular goddess whose followers were locked in a cave and forced to wait for an immaculate conception, or something, that only occurs every so many decades.
None of this registers on Nico. Why? Because all the blood in his brain has taken a vacation down south. He keeps texting with his so-called ‘friends’ who keep giving him grief for picking the only GILF at the party. Then he drinks some weird liquid he finds in the bathroom, because why not, only to find out from Medea that it’s her menstrual blood and not a drop is supposed to spill.
Finally, the big moment arrives. It’s time to deflower Nico. Only, she passes out, leaving him with a huge erection, which he decides to polish off on her couch with her panties clenched tight in his hand.
So far, so what the ever-loving fuck is happening?
It's clear that San Sebastián is taking the concept of slow-burn to an entirely new level. By the time Medea wakes, Nico is trying to sneak out of her apartment, and you’re actually rooting for him to escape, if only because then something else might happen to kick up the movie a notch or 10 more than its current languid pace.
Oh no, not so fast. Spider has arrived. That’s the nickname for Medea’s boyfriend, Araña (Víctor Amilibia), who begins banging on her door, so much so that Medea and Nico barricade themselves inside.
A bunch of craziness ensues. Medea sticks Nico’s phone up her hoo-hah. She and Nico get into a bruising bout of fist-a-cuffs that leaves a pair of scissors jutting out of Nico’s thigh. Then he goes and spills all of her menstrual blood all over himself after barricading himself in her bathroom.
By this point, The Night of the Virgin has gone from a worst-case-sex-scenario to a hostage drama as Medea is locked inside her apartment from Spider and Nico is locked inside Medea's bathroom from her.
Finally, Medea spills the beans. According to the legend of the goddess that she worships, her blood cannot come into contact with semen unless the semen belongs to an immaculate vessel, i.e., a virgin. Originally, that vessel was to be Spider, but now it’s Nico.
A bunch more stuff happens before finally the film reaches its raison d'être – and that reason for being is so Nico can give birth to a new god, in a matter of minutes, through his navel, no less.
For the first time in like an hour, The Night of the Virgin sheds its training wheels, guns its engine and explodes in an orgy of gore and practical effects, which to be honest are a bit lacking once the actual baby-god is born.
Still, one of the best sequences in the entire movie takes place at this point, and it involves Nico, an umbilical cord and an angry Spider, and the way that San Sebastián frames this moment in time almost makes up for the ridiculously slow build-up that it took to get here.
The Night of the Virgin is not the instant cult classic that it likely aspired to be. It’s painfully slow at parts and drags too much during its bloated middle section, but the chaos unleashed during its third act is enough, just barely, to recommend it for a watch.
Memoirs of an Invisible Man
The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey
National Parks Adventure
Dream Big: Engineering Our World
Now on Video-on-Demand:
The Barn (Terror Films, 90 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): As soon as The Barn starts playing, it’s clear that writer-director Justin M. Seaman is going for a retro-1980’s vibe with his tale of Halloween terror set in 1989.
The cold open, set several decades earlier on Halloween night, is a solid throwback complete with a church full of children receiving a dire warning from the town pastor to avoid the local farm and stick to the designated houses where candy is being dispensed.
Of course, two kids, a young boy and girl, ignore the warning and make a beeline for the barn. The girl confidently steps up to the door and knocks. That’s when three evil figures appear, a boogeyman, a pumpkin king and a scarecrow, and promptly deliver a pickaxe to the little girl’s skull.
Well, allrighty, that’s a good start.
Sadly, things don’t improve from there. Sam (Mitchell Musolino) lives by a very specific code, what he calls the Rules to Halloween. He and his best friend Josh (Will Stout) run a haunted house based on the legend of the three evil spirits that were introduced in the opening.
Sam and Josh hook up with several other high school students and make their way to an All Hallow’s Eve concert by a popular rock band. Along the way, they make a detour and wind up – you guessed it – at the barn.
Here’s the problem: Sam’s rules are great, but he fails to follow them. All of his friends make dumb decisions. And the majority of gore is kept offscreen or rendered in a way that’s it’s difficult to appreciate.
Not even a healthy smattering of bare boobs can save The Barn from being more trick than treat.