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New Releases for Tuesday, August 14, 2018

September 18, 2018

The Song of Solomon

Genre: Horror

Directed by: Stephen Biro

Run time: 86 minutes

Rating: Unrated

Format: Blu-Ray


The Lowdown: Please let this be a good exorcism flick.

 

That’s what I wrote in my notes at the start of The Song of Solomon, the latest possession-and-pea-soup demonic exorcism film to arrive in a genre that’s beginning to feel as stale as zombies, vampires and viral contagions.

 

Depending on your personal sliding scale for what makes a horror film ‘good’ these days, I think it’s fair to say that Stephen Biro’s The Song of Solomon, if nothing else, distinguishes itself from a crowded-pack of competitors by pouring on the gore and spending an inordinate amount of time documenting the rote ins-and-outs of an actual exorcism.

 

I can offer this in the way of a warning/endorsement: If you have a soft stomach, meaning if you get queasy at the sight of very realistic gore, then you may not make it to the end of the movie, which is where Biro’s go-for-broke bravado truly shines through.

 

The Song of Solomon starts like any other exorcism flick with a young woman, Mary

(Jessica Cameron), in the throes of possession. We meet Mary and her family as a

counselor arrives to assist the family. He realizes quickly he’s in over his head.

 

“I’m just a family counselor,” he says. “I’m not equipped to handle this.”

 

The church gets involved and we meet our first rock-star priest, Father Lawson (Scott

Gabbey), who lives in a treehouse sanctuary. The Archbishop himself arrives to request

Lawson’s help, and gives him a spiritual weapon in the form of a holy rosary and a

blessed Bible.

 

Immediately, viewers are thrust into the first exorcism, and Biro wastes no time getting to

the wet stuff. Tongues are ripped out, Lawson goes mad and blinds himself, and Mary

waits for the next to arrive.

 

Rock-star priest no. 2 is Father Corbin (Gene Palubicki), who finds himself subjected to

some of Solomon’s best practical effects, including Mary puking up and then eating her

own organs. Corbin is rendered essentially speechless and ultimately joins a growing pile

of bodies in Mary’s room.

 

At this point, in my notes, I wrote: It’s like Return of the Living Dead. ‘Send more

 priests!’

 

The final 20 minutes of The Song of Solomon are simply batshit crazy. There’s a third

rock-star priest, Father Powell (David E. McMahon), who also is personally requested by

the Archbishop, who once again offers a holy weapon for Powell to use to expel the

demon within. There’s also some possible hope for success because Powell, we learn, has

lost his soul following another gruesome exorcism years earlier.

 

It’s hard to properly review the film’s third act without spoiling what makes it so surreal

and so successful. Suffice to say, viewers do learn what the titular song is, and I will skirt

the edge of spoiler-town by saying simply, it’s a booty call.

 

When the dust and blood and broken bones have settled, Biro delivers a surprisingly

what-the-F ending that is very reminiscent of Lucio Fulci’s best work.

 

The Song of Solomon isn’t the best exorcism film ever made (please ignore the box art

blurb that says it rivals and surpasses The Exorcist – it doesn’t), but what it lacks in

originality, it more than compensates for in sheer ambition and an abundance of realistic

gore. If this isn’t the most disgusting demonic possession film ever shot, I shudder to

think what might take that crown, and for that reason, as well as several top-notch

performances by Cameron and McMahon, in particular, it deserves to be seen and

appreciated by horror fans hungry for a new cult classic to champion and recommend.

 

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Gratuitous.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – The Devil, man.

Buy/Rent – Rent it.

 

Pickings (Dark Passage Films, 103 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Quick, name your favorite female-driven revenge fantasy.

 

Odds are, somewhere in your list are Kill Bill: Chapters 1 and 2, Ms. 45 and maybe even a little shot of Sin City.

 

Prepare to add a new favorite title to the top of that list once you’ve experienced Usher Morgan’s fantastic Pickings, a neo-noir-spaghetti-western that isn’t afraid to ramp up the violence or the body count, all while co-star Katie Vincent belts out original Americana songs on stage.

 

Pickings is the story of Jo Lee-Haywood (Elyse Price), a mother and business owner with a daughter, Scarlet (Vincent), who doesn’t know the full truth of her mom’s bloody background.

 

The film opens with a gut punch, a fantastic, dimly-lit interrogation, where Jo questions and tortures a low-level henchman before finally deciding she’s not going to get the information she wants.

 

Jimmy, Jo says, I’m bored. This has been my fucking pleasure. (Jo raises a big handgun) You have fucked with a demon queeeeeen! BAM!

 

From there, Pickings just screams out of the gate with a kaleidoscope of visual and aural revelations. Morgan isn’t just making an homage to the dusty and surreal westerns that marked the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; he has created something entirely new, using the same template but goosing it with the adrenaline rush of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino on a meth-bender. 

 

The dialogue is crisp and razor-sharp.

 

Every scene holds the promise of a major discovery, whether it’s a unique camera angle utilized by Morgan or an a cappella song by Vincent that propels the narrative along or a wild shootout that leaves bodies disintegrated and the walls dripping wet chunks.

 

Pickings takes the premise of Kill Bill and uses that as a springboard to explore the darkest corners of humanity and parenthood. Can bad people find redemption by doing good? Can a child avoid following her parent’s path, or is violence, like eye color, hereditary?

 

About midway through, just as most movies are running out of original steam, Morgan turns the wheel and speeds headlong down a backstory so rich and thoroughly realized that it itself could have been the entire movie, and been just as good.

 

Pickings deserves to be at the top of your must-see list. The soundtrack, available on Spotify, should be on heavy rotation.

 

This is one of those rare treasures that demands a repeat viewing and should be shared with as many others as possible.

 

The Unborn (Shout! Factory, 83 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Truth be told, I don’t think I’d ever seen the 1991 chiller, The Unborn, until Shout! Factory wisely dusted the title off as part of its high-definition cult banner, Scream Factory.

 

But, boy howdy, who knew I was missing out on what is a surprisingly solid entry into the pregnancy horror subgenre that’s largely known for the Its Alive franchise.

 

As directed by Rodman Flender (Leprechaun 2, Idle Hands), The Unborn catches your attention early for several reasons that have nothing to do with its plot. First, the score comes courtesy of iconic New Wave artist Gary Numan. Second, there are two surprise actors in small roles – Lisa Kudrow (well before her days on Friends) and Kathy Griffin, who plays a lesbian fertility expert and activist. And that’s not counting iconic genre veteran James Karen (Poltergeist, The Return of the Living Dead), who plays Dr. Richard Meyerling.

 

The Unborn focuses on Virginia Marshall (Brooke Adams) and her husband Jeff, who have resorted to a fertility clinic as a last-ditch effort for Virginia to get pregnant. Things get weird quickly once Virginia is informed by Dr. Meyerling that the process has taken hold and she is going to be a mom.

 

Virginia, who has a history of mental illness, starts experiencing some disturbing issues, which culminates with her at the hospital where she discovers a pregnant friend on life support, comatose with a genetically-modified embryo growing inside a clear belly chamber where her stomach skin should be.

 

The Unborn doesn’t hold back in depicting the most harrowing scenarios a mom-to-be might face, including a particularly nasty back-alley abortion attempt where Virginia is horrified to see a scuzzy dude with a huge needle shouting, “Put her out now!”

 

By the time Virginia makes it back home, no longer pregnant, she is confronted by Jeff who admits that he conspired with Dr. Meyerling to modify his sperm as part of an experiment. Jeff basically snaps on Virginia after learning she aborted their baby: “It’s a good thing you got rid of it! What the hell kind of mother would you have been?”

 

The third act is basically a blitzkrieg of batshit crazy with Virginia discovering that her fetus survived the abortion and the infant is now stalking her. Thankfully, the special effects, while not perfect, are better than in past creature fetus spectacles, which only serves to elevate The Unborn that much more.

 

This is one delirious cult classic that should not be missed.

 

Higher Power (Magnolia Home Entertainment, 93 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): BVB jumps at any chance to check out an original superhero story, and based on previews alone, Higher Power looked incredible with its tale of an ordinary guy (Ron Eldard) who gets roped into an effort by a super-scientist-possible-bad-guy (Colm Feore) to harness dark matter as a way to stop global destruction from a gamma ray rocketing toward Earth’s atmosphere.

 

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in, and sadly, as directed and co-written by Matthew Charles Santoro, Higher Power never finds the footing it desperately needs to take flight and become more than just a sizzle reel of CGI effects.

 

The way the film is structured, with Eldard’s Joe Steadman receiving orders from Control (Feore), Higher Power comes off like a sci-fi version of 12 Rounds (the woeful WWE-actioner starring John Cena). It’s muddled, overly convoluted and barely watchable at times, which is genuinely disappointing.

 

Return of the Living Dead Part II: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 89 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): There was a trend in the 1980’s whereby several popular films, including The Evil Dead and The Return of the Living Dead, were gifted the opportunity to shoot a follow-up, which basically became a glorified remake of the original with a bigger budget.

 

With Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, fans were treated to a masterpiece of gory sight gags and Bruce Campbell’s glorious pratfalls.

 

With 1988’s Return of the Living Dead Part II, fans basically got a re-do of the first film, with a less-engaging story and several of the original cast (James Karen, Thom Matthews) returning in completely different, yet nearly identical, roles.

 

Despite such seemingly insurmountable hurdles, the second ROTLD is still an enjoyable watch with some clever zombie gags a nice turn by genre veteran Suzanne Snyder (Weird Science, Killer Klowns from Outer Space) in the lead role.

 

Also Available:

 

Lady Street Fighter

The House of Tomorrow

Walking Tall: Special Edition

S.f. Brownrigg Grindhouse Double Feature: Ultimate Edition

The Death of Superman

Seal Team: Season One

NCIS: New Orleans – The Fourth Season

The Suffering of Ninko

What Have They Done to Your Daughters?

 

Now on Video-on-Demand:

 

Show Yourself (Summer Hill Entertainment, 79 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Essentially a meditation on guilt and grieving, writer-director Billy Ray Brewton’s brilliant second feature, Show Yourself, turns into an emotional tour-de-force that should resonate with many viewers the way it did with me.

 

Show Yourself is the story of Travis (Ben Hethcoat) and Paul (Clancy McCartney), two longtime friends who parted ways over a girl, Nikki (Corsica Wilson). When Paul suddenly dies, Travis, now a successful actor, is tasked with spreading his ashes out and around the summer camp where the three shared times both good and bad.

 

Most everyone of a certain age has had to deal with death, but Brewton provides a double-dose of responsibility to Travis, who not only is mourning his loss but who also feels incredibly guilty because he basically stole Paul’s girl and they never had a chance to find closure.

 

As he arrives at a secluded cabin to start his woodland adventure, Travis is carrying around Paul’s ashes in an urn with Paul’s name affixed to the container through a Hi, My Name Is… sticker.

 

Almost immediately, strange things happen. Travis hears strange noises. Paul’s urn appears to have been moved from where he left it the night before.

 

Brewton heightens these moments by interspersing video of Travis and Paul interacting earlier in life, both at the camp where Travis is headed, and elsewhere. That footage helps viewers form an attachment to Paul, who is otherwise just a nameplate on an urn, and to allow us to see past Travis’ grating personality to find the vulnerable human inside.

 

Show Yourself is a slow burn in the truest sense of the word. If you’re expecting a crazy supernatural/paranormal frightfest, it’s best you avoid the film altogether. But, for those who like to be rewarded, there are several genuinely chilling moments sprinkled throughout.

 

The first happens just after Travis spreads some of Paul’s ashes along the lake where they once swam. As framed and shot by Brewton, you watch in surprise that becomes horror as Paul’s head emerges from the water and just stays there, as Travis watches, his face hanging just above the surface long enough to be thoroughly unnerving.

 

Later, in his tent, Travis makes a video call to the director of an upcoming film. Brewton takes a tired trope – two people speaking on Skype only to have one say to the other, ‘Who’s that behind you?’ – and breathes new life into the possible jump scare because of what we’ve just seen down by the lake.

 

The next morning, after watching a video of a prank where Travis shaved off half of one of Paul’s eyebrows, Travis wakes up to find half of his own eyebrow freshly shorn.

 

Such moments work, and work well, because Brewton deftly draws you in, allowing Travis and Paul’s friendship to become real and more than a plot device.

 

The third act also generates some genuine unease with an escalating series of encounters and revelations that culminate with an opportunity for closure.

 

Show Yourself is less of a horror film and more of a cathartic experience for anyone who has ever found themselves in a similar situation. I know from experience how it feels to have the kind of guilt and regret that imbues Travis. It’s raw and messy, just like Brewton’s film, and that sense of authenticity works wonders in holding your attention.

 

BVB says you need to check out Show Yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Inhumanity (Wild Eye Releasing, 90 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Sometimes you come across a movie that is so batshit crazy, so full of ambition and yet so scattered that if you tried to drain off the excess, there’s no telling exactly what would be left.

 

Welcome to Inhumanity, a new serial killer/secret government experiments/police corruption/buddy cop comedy.

 

The film opens in Austin, Texas with a dreaded voiceover and a montage of media clippings. There’s a killer on the loose with five known victims so far. They call him Six Pack Sam, or SXPKSM, for short. The lead detective’s daughter is the latest possible victim. As Six Pack is strangling her, the cops arrive. The raid is botched, but a group of scientists are outside monitoring the situation, waiting to take Sam into custody. Then a rogue cop tries unsuccessfully to kill the detective’s – his partner's – daughter.

 

That’s a lot to unpack before the title card and credits, but don’t fear. There’s so much more to come.

 

Jump forward in time, the daughter is still recovering in the hospital and her father has allegedly committed suicide. The cop who tried to kill her is leading the investigation. These are not the ‘good guys in blue,’ to say the least.

 

Meanwhile, a fat dude playing golf is introduced. He’s supposedly some big drug cartel boss, but all he wants to know about is the detective’s daughter. He dispatches a henchman to follow her.

 

And also, Six Pack Sam is now being held at a mental institution where the scientists, including their leader, a hot evil femme fatale, are trying to reprogram his brain through torture, drugs and electro-shock therapy.

 

The daughter finally gets out of the hospital and goes immediately to her Dad’s grave, where ANOTHER random guy character is watching her from afar. This is in addition to the fat golf guy’s henchman.

 

Around this time, you start hypothesizing: Are they going to make Six Pack even more evil, and then send him after the fat golf guy? Sure, I’m just inventing possible scenarios. It’s like I’m a writer on Inhumanity!

 

Meanwhile, the police chief, who is directing the cop who tried to kill the daughter, and who is trying to scuttle any investigation into the detective’s suicide, is seen beating his desktop computer tower with a bat “to destroy the hard drives,” he tells his wife. I’m no IT wizard, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how you wipe a hard drive.

 

So far, the only believable characters are the daughter, her roommate and Six Pack Sam, who resembles an MMA hipster.

 

Oh! I forgot to mention YET ANOTHER random guy character, this one a true-crime journalist, who ALSO is following the daughter because he believes her dad was killed by cops trying to hide corruption.

 

Next, we learn that fat golf guy is in cahoots with the scientists who are holding Six Pack Sam. This is literally the worst caricature of a drug cartel boss ever. He wants Six pack killed and his brain preserved for study.

 

Oh, and the weird random guy from the cemetery is back. It turns out he’s a drunk and a PI and a former partner to the daughter’s detective dad. He’s also a perve. He hits on the daughter’s roommate. Honestly, every male character in this movie is an asshole and a total d-bag.

 

Now we’re in a hotel room with YET ANOTHER random guy character and a hot dominatrix AND the evil femme fatale scientist lady, who is in full-on vamp mode. She’s mind-controlled this random schlub’s wife and if he doesn’t help her, then she’s going to order the dominatrix wife to cut off his nuts and kill him.

 

Honestly, this is so far the best sequence in the entire film. Inhumanity is like the worst version of Pulp Fiction ever. You don’t care about any of the interconnecting stories.

 

Let’s see, what’s next. Fat golf guy’s henchman chases scuzzy PI and detective’s daughter. Scuzzy PI turns out to be a drug dealer. Bad cop who tried to kill detective’s daughter is buying a bomb. And the random dude from the hotel with the dominatrix is actually the county coroner, and he knows the detective’s daughter.

 

Apparently, everyone in Austin except for the daughter and her roommate is in on the corruption.

 

I should mention that, so far, we’re just 48 minutes in. Inhumanity runs nearly two hours.

 

Oddly enough, there are several good moments that come much later on, including a wonderful little mini-movie within the movie where secondary characters take center stage for about 10 minutes, which is completely undermined by some awful CGI.

 

Hopefully, I’ve told you enough for you to know whether you’re willing to subject yourself to the madness that is Inhumanity. If you make it all the way to the end, please drop me a note and let me know what happens. I gave up with about 50 minutes remaining.

 

 

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