Directed by: Peter Ricq
Run time: 85 minutes
The Lowdown: Imagine if The Evil Dead had started right at the point where Ash Williams chops his girlfriend Linda’s head off, and then ended 85 minutes later with the tease of a possible Shawn of the Dead-style resolution?
Holy crap, right?
Dead Shack, the bloody, bawdy debut from director/co-writer Peter Ricq, is a blast from start to finish, and a wonderful antidote for horror fans feeling zombie bloat.
Essentially, a family-centric home invasion zombie thriller, Dead Shack does a bang-up job of introducing its core characters, including single dad Roger (a hilarious Donavon Stinson), who decides to take his tomboy daughter, wise-cracking son and their male friend, along with his much-younger girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tian), on a camping weekend to a secluded cabin.
The dialogue by Ricq, Davila LeBlanc and Phil Ivanusic is spot-on early on, providing Stinson ample opportunity to land some hysterical asides.
Don’t disrespect your maybe, future step-mother!
Of course she likes sausages. We’re talking about penises!
When the brood stops at a local diner before reaching the cabin, viewers get a look at Lauren Holly, vamping it up to seduce two local Neanderthals. Before long, the two schmoes are back at Holly’s farm, which is where the film opened with its visceral blast of gore, and we see Holly strap into some kickass body armor with a welder’s mask.
Later, the daughter, Summer (Lizzie Boys), takes her brother Colin (Gabriel LaBelle) and his buddy Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood), on an exploration of the woods. Of course, they stumble across Holly’s cabin, and – of course! – she shimmies up a woodpile to look through a window. What she sees – people eating human body parts – makes her recoil in terror. Colin climbs up and immediately falls, alerting Holly to their presence.
Back at their cabin, Roger and Lisa are busy getting drunk and playful. But as soon as he hears Summer’s story about cannibals, he immediately wants to investigate.
Truth be told, this lone segment of Dead Shack strains credibility, even if it’s played entirely for laughs. No responsible parent would take his kids with him to go check out a possible crime scene. Worse, once they arrive and find the cabin seemingly deserted, Roger breaks in and makes himself at home, which again defies logic. He grabs a half-full glass of wine and gulps it down before Summer can warn him that it might be laced, and Roger immediately passes out in a comatose state.
While Colin retreats back to check on Lisa, Summer and Jason try to drag Roger out of the scary cabin before anyone comes home. It’s too late, however, as the undead begin to emerge.
Jason: He’s heavy.
Summer: Yeah, he’s 40 and all he does is watch cartoons and eat. Of course, he’s fucking heavy.
When Colin arrives back at their vacation rental, he goes straight for the bathroom for what becomes a pretty riotous ‘pee’ gag. As he’s being expelling liquid, he sees Holly sneak in and attack Lisa, but he can’t stop his flow in order to run and hide.
From this point, in all fairness, it’s best if you just dive into Dead Shack and experience it firsthand.
The film is packed with awesome practical effects, tons of gratuitous gore and some genuine family emotion. Some characters won’t survive the night. Others might find a possible second (undead) life. But one thing is for sure, by the time the smoke clears and the blood dries, you will have a broad grin on your face at what you’ve just witnessed.
Dead Shack comes highly recommended.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Lauren Holly makes a bad-ass turn.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Marrowbone (Magnolia Home Entertainment, 110 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): For his feature-length debut, writer-director Sergio G. Sánchez dives deep into gothic horror for his period-thriller, Marrowbone, which focuses on a young family without a parent who live in an isolated estate.
While firmly in the vein of The Others, Sánchez makes the genre his own, in large part, thanks to a young cast of recognizable faces, including Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split), Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things) and Mia Goth (The Survivalist).
Though I kept expecting, and hoping, for a heavier dose of supernatural, Marrowbone is engaging and entertaining on its own merits. This isn’t a repeat viewer, but it is definitely worth your time to watch.
Pyewacket (Magnolia Home Entertainment, 90 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Writer-director Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) goes in an entirely different direction for his sophomore feature, moving from wilderness survival thriller to full-tilt occult horror, and audiences are going to love it.
Pyewacket starts off unnerving and disquieting, like a distant thought that worms its way out of the muck in the back of your brain, but refuses to reveal itself, before morphing into a relentless wicked witch nightmare with an ending that will leave you stunned.
As far as premises go, Pyewacket couldn’t be more simplistic. Moody teenager Leah (Nicole Muñoz) resents her mother (Laurie Holden, The Walking Dead) for moving her far away from her high school friends, a collection of loner goths and wannabe occultists.
So, she decides to summon a demon to kill her mom for being so mean and unthoughtful. Just like any ordinary girl would do, right?
Following an impressively detailed and meticulous summoning spell, the first glimpse viewers get, as to whether Leah’s dark designs worked, is a single, thin, black leg that looks like a tree branch darting back behind cover in the forest.
It’s a moment that echoes the shadowy frights of The Babadook, and it’s incredibly effective.
MacDonald isn’t interested in jump scares, though. He’s in this to truly make you soil your pants, and so begins a drawn-out but never tedious set of escalations that hint at the horror to come.
The morning after the incantation, there’s dirt smeared across the tile floor just beyond the back door that’s been left cracked open.
Then, in a random craft store in town, a card, black letters on a white card, jumps out at Leah: Be Careful What You Wish For. Someone Might Be Listening.
Because Leah isn’t a monster, just a rebellious teen girl, she begins to feel regret. Her mom apologizes for riding her ass. A dawning realization hits home: What if…?
That night, loud steps across Leah’s ceiling stir her from twilight. She investigates and goes back to bed. And then we get our first full look at the titular menace: A black splotch near the ceiling of Leah’s room that slowly unfolds to reveal a torso, then one leg before the next extended, even as it sits suspended in air.
Leah wakes up the next morning in the woods, bloodied, and you just know: This is not going to end well.
Pyewacket picks up steam from there, chugging along through a series of reveals as it barrels toward its knee-buckling climax. This is the real deal as far as witchy horror, and it ranks right up there with recent releases like The Witch and Cherry Tree. Highly recommended.
Lowlife (Shout! Factory, 96 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): First-time feature director Ryan Prows takes a Tarantino-esque approach to his debut, Lowlife, which is a raucous, violent tale of intersecting lives that includes a drug addict, his at-wits-end girlfriend and a delusional luchador who believes he is immortal.
Lowlife weathers the usual speed bumps that can grind other debut films to a halt, culminating in a blood-soaked finale against a ruthless drug cartel boss that delivers equal measures of shock and awe.
In the Mouth of Madness: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 95 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): In 1994, director John Carpenter was at the tail-end of a career-defining streak of seven cult classics released over nine years in the 1980’s when he delivered In the Mouth of Madness, a gore-drenched ode to Lovecraft and the power of horror fiction that featured a tremendous performance from Sam Neill.
No one could have known that this would be Carpenter’s last great film, but what a way to go out. In the Mouth of Madness, which tells the story of acclaimed novelist Sutter Cane, is a masterpiece of style and delirious creature effects that never feels derivative. Even more amazing, it offers new visuals to absorb and marvel at with every repeat viewing.
Wildling (Shout! Factory, 92 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Finally, 18 years after the last great werewolf film (Ginger Snaps), German-born writer-director Fritz Böhm gives lycanthrope-lovers a beautiful and bloody coming-of-age story with genuine bite.
Wildling is a blast from start to finish, buoyed by solid performances from Brad Dourif and Liv Tyler, and featuring a star-making turn from Bel Powley as Anna, a young, feral girl raised in captivity and brainwashed with stories of a terrible curse that turns innocents into something far worse, a wildling. Buckle up, boils and ghouls. This one ranks up there with The Howling and An American Werewolf in London as a classic example of how to do a werewolf movie right.
On Chesil Beach
Mac and Me: Collector’s Edition
Bye Bye Germany
Breaking In: Unrated Director’s Cut
The Boxcar Children – Surprise Island
US Festival: 1982 The US Generation
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Blood Clots (Hewes Pictures, 72 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): For the second time in the past two months, Hewes Pictures has released a stellar anthology to rival (if not surpass) the best big-screen offerings in the genre.
In fact, Blood Clots, which offers seven short films spanning a slew of horror genres, including cannibals, zombies and creatures, ranks right up there with Trick ‘r Treat, Tales of Halloween and Creepshow as one of the best horror anthologies ever created.
Seriously, if you love graphic, gory, unpredictable horror shorts, you simply must find Blood Clots on your favorite streaming platform and order it ASAP.
Each short is unflinching and unwavering in its charge to shock, scare and surprise viewers. The first film, Hell of a Day, offers a different perspective on how to survive a zombie uprising. Blue Moon is a fresh take on werewolves that gets a shot of adrenaline in the form of awesome sex gags on the set of a low-budget porno. Time to Eat feels like a classic Tales from the Darkside episode reimagined for present-day. Hellyfish is a riotous send-up of 1960’s-era nuclear fears with deadly creatures that suddenly morphs into a surreal action-movie.
The best of the bunch, however, are Never Tear Us Apart, a wonderful reinvention of the tired hillbilly-cannibal trope, that’s packed with humor and one of the best on-camera practical effects I’ve ever seen, and The Call of Charlie, a subversive take on a dinner party from hell with two uninvited guests getting far more than they bargained for when an actual Great Old One arrives for a special occasion.
Each of the seven shorts takes a well-known horror subgenre and creates something wholly fresh and exciting. The consistency and quality on display throughout cannot be overstated.
Go, now, and rent or buy-to-own Blood Clots. Trust us. It’s just that damn good.
The Forest of Lost Souls (Wild Eye Releasing, 71 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Writer-director José Pedro Lopes’ ethereal and haunting ode to suicide and morbid impulses, The Forest of Lost Souls, is a gorgeous rumination on the human existence that slowly devolves into madness.
Filmed in black and white, with subtitles, the movie begins with an unsettling image, a young woman drinking poison before wading out into water and slowly slipping beneath the surface.
The titular Forest is an actual place, in Portugal, very similar to Japan’s Suicide Forest, and as the film opens, an older man, Ricardo (Jorge Mota), arrives to take a walk and to take his own life. Almost immediately, he encounters Carolina (Daniela Love), a young goth-inspired girl who drops heavy truths, such as when she tells Ricardo that life past youth is nothing but pain, aging and death.
As Ricardo agrees to allow Carolina to accompany him on his walk deeper into the forest, they begin to encounter the bodies of people who visited before them, but never left.
Carolina takes some small souvenir from each corpse, and she photographs each body as a way to remember the ‘lost souls,’ telling Ricardo that the pictures will comprise her own suicide note.
Carolina begins referring to Ricardo as ‘daddy,’ as she tells him that her parents think she is on vacation at a music festival. Ricardo implores her to think more about her decision, even as he remains steadfast in his own. (It eventually becomes known that the young woman at the beginning was Ricardo’s own daughter, who killed herself in this very forest.)
The subtle beauty of The Forest of Lost Souls lies in its willingness to deceive viewers into thinking they are watching one film while, in reality, Lopes is telling an altogether different story, a darker tale focused on a burgeoning serial killer who is still learning his or her craft.
For its slight run-time, The Forest of Lost Souls packs an unexpected punch full of shocking revelations and a killer closing scene.
Euthanizer (Uncork’d Entertainment, 85 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): The Finnish import, Euthanizer, is a pitch-black character study of a man, Veijo (Matti Onnismaa), who moonlights as an angel of mercy for sick and injured pets, helping them cross the rainbow bridge by placing them in his vehicle and pumping toxic gas inside, or taking them into a field and shooting them in the head.
Veijo quietly judges everyone who comes to seek his services as most of his “customers” simply want to get rid of a nuisance animal that has become a daily inconvenience.
But he has a much darker reason for doing what he does, a devious plot for revenge that begins to spin out of control once he meets the lovely Lotta (Hannamaija Nikander), a local nurse who finds herself treating terminally-ill patients.
Lotta awakens a primal longing in Veijo that is both shocking and exhilarating, with her sexual deviancies such as extreme choking, and before long her influence causes a major hiccup in Veijo’s master plan.
Euthanizer is a solid watch. It’s a movie packed with big ideas and meticulous execution, but it’s lacking something.
I went into Euthanizer expecting a more-rowdy, B-movie blast of violent nihilism, something akin to Hobo with a Shotgun, and that is not what writer-director Teemu Nikki delivers.
How you feel about Euthanizer will depend entirely on your expectation, but it’s definitely worth a watch.
Black Wake (Vision Films, 91 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): I knew absolutely nothing about Black Wake prior to punching play on my remote, other than this direct-to-DVD-and-VOD feature starred a who’s who of B-and-C-list stars, like Eric Roberts, Tom Sizemore and Vincent ‘Big Pussy’ Pastore.
So, I wasn’t terribly surprised when the whole thing went to shit almost from the opening scene, despite a healthy smattering of bare breasts and the bizarre creative decision to frame most of the movie from the vantage of different security, surveillance, news media and smart-device lenses.
Black Wake is difficult, at best, to follow narratively. There are zombies who get infected by a contagion that looks like Flex Seal from the late-night, As Seen on TV informercials. There’s also a weird tentacle monster. But, suffice to say, there simply aren’t enough boobs to justify watching this through to the end.
Devil’s Cove (Leomark Studios, 81 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Devil’s Cove is one hot-mess of a crime thriller that starts out being told in flashback testimonials before introducing its two main femme fatales, Toni (Christelle Baguidy), the new black girlfriend of a local hillbilly kingpin, and Jackie (Chloe Traicos), a violent ex-con with a lesbian streak.
The film tries to make points by bludgeoning the audience. There’s a rape, an assortment of racial jokes and several ridiculous discriminatory observations, such as, “They were lesbians. Real lesbians!”
Every time Devil’s Cove tries to embrace its campy, drive-in leanings, such as the crazy stalker ex-girlfriend of the hillbilly kingpin, who lurks outside his house at night, peering in windows with a butcher knife, threatening to kill herself (“I’m really going to do it this time!”), you wrongly believe the entire endeavor might course-correct into a watchable movie. Don’t be fooled. Devil’s Cove is not worth your time.
It Lives Inside (High Octane Pictures, 89 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): It Lives Inside, the latest in a recent string of B-movies featuring a supernatural threat to a newborn, is a frustrating exercise in diminishing returns.
You’ve seen this movie dozens of times before, done much better. From its misleading box art (which features a possessed woman bleeding from her eyes) to its too-slow-burn of a buildup, there’s very little here to recommend unless you are that particular type of cinephile who enjoys watching a derivative thriller only to try and guess everything that’s about to happen before it does.