Directed by: Anthony DiBlasi
Run time: 103 minutes
The Lowdown: Extremity, the latest title under Epic Pictures’ Dread Central Presents banner, is one of the best horror films to be released this year.
It’s also the best film from director Anthony DiBlasi since 2009’s Dread, when he adapted one of Clive Barker’s best short stories from The Books of Blood.
Extremity is the story of Allison (Dana Christina), who grew up abused and tormented by her alcoholic pederast of a father. Allison has applied to participate in Perdition, an exclusive, extreme haunt experience that promises to test the limits of her endurance and psyche.
When we meet Allison, she’s on the phone with a sibling, explaining why she suddenly stopped taking her medication. Through flashbacks, DiBlasi establishes that Allison has really never been the same since she finally got free of her father. She’s been in and out of mental institutions, and her capacity for trust and warmth is seriously fractured, as evidenced by flashbacks to her frigid relationship with a girlfriend.
Allison and Zachary (Dylan Sloane), the two participants chosen by Red Skull (Chad Rook), the organizer of Perdition, get a quick taste of what’s in store once they are forcibly taken by Red Skull’s acolytes and transported to an abandoned farm. Once there, DiBlasi introduces the rest of Perdition’s minions, which include several brutish thugs, two deadly femme fatales, and a Japanese social media film crew that wants to document Perdition for fans overseas.
The first few “attractions” are fairly intense, but disjointed. Allison is forced to watch a stripper doing a peep show, but if she refuses to masturbate, the scene changes to show Zachary being beaten senseless. When Allison finally gives in, and touches herself, the stripper is suddenly killed in front of her.
Next, Allison and Zachary are chased through a warehouse maze by an attack dog, which they then see get gunned down.
Is any of this real?
On and on, it goes. Allison is given a Silkwood-style shower. She’s placed in a coffin. Nothing seems to crack her. Then, she’s put in a sensory-deprivation chamber filled with water and barely any room for her to gulp air while swimming.
Red Skull appears, but as his human self, who is named Bob. Bob shares his own story to show Allison how important a breakthrough from extreme fear and sensory overload can be.
Behind the scenes, Allison’s icy demeanor and seeming invincibility to any of the scenarios has the Perdition crew worried. Something’s wrong with her, they tell Bob, who could care less. Bob is in deep debt. He has an estranged wife and a kid. He needs Perdition to go viral. Allison is his best bet.
What happens next is pretty amazing. Extremity levels up in ways that you aren’t expecting, with character-specific reveals that are both genuinely exciting and wholly original.
And before the final 35 to 40 minutes of the movie are over, I’m betting more than one mind will be blown by both the impressive practical effects, the abundance of gore and the wholly unexpected plot twists.
There have been a handful of horror offerings lately to tap into the growing popularity of extreme fright attractions, but Extremity is the first to not only stick its landing, but to provide the proper character development necessary to truly sell its third-act mayhem and leave viewers wanting more.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Extreme haunters.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
The Witch Files (Dark Sky Films, 87 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Imagine if The Craft had been a found-footage film.
Director/co-writer Kyle Rankin (2015’s sassy-fun Night of the Living Deb) takes a cue from 2012’s Chronicle in bringing to life The Witch Files, his snarky-fun and surprisingly effective film about high school witches.
Rankin uses a familiar trope, the over-ambitious school reporter, to provide a legitimate reason as to why so many private moments would be captured on camera. Claire (Holly Taylor, The Americans) is determined to produce something memorable for her school’s media department, so she books time during a detention period to interview other students.
While there, she meets goth-y Jules (Britt Flatmo), rich-bitch Brooke (Alice Ziolkoski), over-achieving athlete Greta (Adrienne Rose White) and domestic goddess-in-training M.J. (Tara Robinson).
Jules is a take-no-shit outcast. She explains how she once shoved a popular athlete so hard he ended up on crutches.
M.J. – He’s like 200 pounds. How did you do that?
Jules – I just believed I could?
M.J. – Are you a Scientologist?
Together, the five young women decide to explore the magic that Jules claims can easily be tapped into by a powerful female bond, or coven. Rankin sets the stage perfectly, and his decision to shoot found-footage-style actually works, allowing the special effects, which are impressive, to surprise and shine because they happen so unexpectedly and often slightly off-center of the camera eye, which makes them seem more believable.
But what elevates The Witch Files is its knack for capturing high school girls just being themselves, insecurities and all. The script is a riot, packed with juicy, catty digs and wry observations.
After Columbine, how crazy is this Jules person?
Can we make Columbine jokes now?
Everything you say sounds like a news teaser: Dining solo, tonight at 11.
Don’t let Brooke pressure you into becoming a witch!
Once their coven is officially formed, through a dark ritual that demands a sacrifice of both hair and blood, each of the five make a wish, only to find that while their wishes come true, there are consequences and a price to be paid.
The Witch Files culminates at prom (of course), and delivers a solid battle-royal between burgeoning witches who have finally learned to harness their powers. It’s better than you might expect with some ridiculously cool effects that work surprisingly well.
BVB says take a chance and check it out. It’s a safe bet you too will fall under the spell of The Witch Files.
Await Further Instructions (Dark Sky Films, 91 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Await Further Instructions is many things – epic, awe-inspiring and wholly original, just to name three.
But the new science-fiction thriller from director Johnny Kevorkian and writer Gavin Williams is also infuriating, terrifying and maddening, albeit for all the right reasons.
Though produced and filmed in the United Kingdom, Await Further Instructions plays like a Trumpian version of reality, the kind of horror story that we here in the U.S. are living every day.
It’s a story about power and control, and the weak individuals who covet it the most. It’s a story about the necessity for structure and order when hope is collapsing all around. And it’s a story about division and racial fractures that have never been healed.
It’s Christmas Eve when Nick (Sam Gittins) and his Indian doctor girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) arrive at Nick’s childhood home, a place he very much does not want to be. His father, Tony (Grant Masters) runs the house like a dictator where only his way is allowed. His mom, Beth, keeps her mouth shut. And his pregnant sister Kate and craggy grandfather (David Bradley, The Strain) are both unrepentant racists who immediately target Annji with cruel, malignant observations.
Before dinner is finished, Nick wants to leave. Annji convinces him to sleep for a few hours. Before dawn when they try to sneak out, they discover that all of the exits to the house, whether door or window, have been covered with thick black cables forming an impenetrable barrier. In each room, a pipe has mysteriously appeared to possibly allow oxygen to flow.
Immediately, Tony surmises the situation and determines without any evidence or fact that the government has quarantined them in their home.
That’s about when the family room TV turns on with a stark message in chunky block letters: STAY INDOORS AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.
Tony immediately pulls his brutish son-in-law Scott to the side, rallying the troops: Can I count on you? We’re men, Scott. Sometimes, we get called on to do things no one else will do.
Nick argues that they must do something. Tony declares that nothing is to be done. The government clearly has the situation under control, given the message on the television, and the family will await further instruction and proceed with Christmas dinner as planned.
Before anyone has taken a bite of food, however, the TV message changes: ALL OF YOUR FOOD IS CONTAMINATED. EAT NOTHING.
Tony immediately cleans the table, ripping plates away from Nick and the others, and throwing it all away. Granddad pulls Tony aside, revealing the monster of a parent that spawned the monster of a parent that Nick has contended with his whole life. Nick is weak, granddad tells Tony, and cannot be trusted.
Await Further Instructions is a full-throttle, blistering rebuke of the conventional structures that humanity has allowed themselves to follow blindly. It’s a horror show of family dynamics run amok. And it’s incredible to behold.
As the television message keeps changing, and escalating, driving deeper divides between family members and guests alike, it’s nearly impossible not to feel your stomach twist in knots at how harrowingly real such a situation might be if it unfolded in real time today with the fear and paranoia and disdain that so many in American society feel.
To give away more would be a disservice, to the meticulously crafted plot that Williams has written and to the taunt direction that Kevorkian deploys, as well as to you, the viewer, so unsuspecting and unaware of what will happen the longer you sit and watch and Await Further Instructions.
3rd Night (Monarch Video, 72 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Writer-director Adam Graveley’s debut feature, 3rd Night, lacks the gory, over-the-top hallmarks of a true Ozploitation entry, but his home invasion thriller, set in a remote Australian orchard, still manages to unnerve, even if it leaves some tantalizing questions unanswered.
Clocking in at a scant 72 minutes, Graveley has to work fast to establish his central characters, Meagan (Jesse McGinn) and Jonathan (Robert Hartburn) Reid, and develop enough backstory to make his audience relate to and care about them. Whether he’s successful will depend wholly on the viewer.
By contrast, the first 35 to 40 minutes of The Strangers is all character set-up and slow-burn atmospherics, which is one reason why it’s considered the gold standard of this particular subgenre.
House on Haunted Hill: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 93 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): In the late 1990s, a new genre-distribution company, Dark Castle Entertainment, was formed by two Hollywood icons, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, along with studio executive Gilbert Adler.
Originally formed to remake cult classic films by famed provocateur William Castle, the company rocketed out of the gate in 1999 with House on Haunted Hill, a gory and funny reimagining of the classic Vincent Price chiller, which featured a top-notch cast, including Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Ali Larter, Taye Diggs, Jeffrey Combs, James Marsters and Peter Gallagher.
Sadly, even though Dark Castle Entertainment continued producing genre films for 13 more years, the outfit was unable to ever top its original trio of releases, including the criminally-underrated Thirteen Ghosts and Ghost Ship, which still features one of the most shocking early mass kills in recent memory.
Trick ‘r Treat: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 82 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): The undisputed king of horror anthologies arrives in yet another collector’s edition, just in time for Halloween. Don’t even ask if it’s worth it. Just pull out your wallet and hand over your cash.
Constantine: City of Demons – The Movie
The Man in the Iron Mask: 20th Anniversary Edition
Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Heavy Trip (Doppelgänger Releasing and Blood Disgusting, 92 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): The Norwegian import Heavy Trip arrives like a blast of ear-shattering death metal, and it couldn’t be more glorious.
The film, essentially a live-action Dethklok, gives much-needed substance to a genre of music and its diehard fans that often are unfairly painted as being nothing more than loud, evil, devil worshippers. In Heavy Trip, the boys in the band are super sweet and ridiculously normal.
Even better, the film chronicles their desperate attempts to secure their first live performance since they have done nothing but practice nonstop for 12 years. They’ve prepared so much for this moment that they also have never written a single original song.
Heavy Trip is loud, raucously funny and unexpectedly full of genuine heart.
Look Away (Vertical Entertainment, 103 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): At first glance, you might not imagine that India Eisley could be convincing as a young high school student struggling with a dangerous personality disorder that, up until the opening of the film, has managed to keep her darker, more femme fatale other half in check and at bay.
But that’s one of the many surprises in Look Away, an unexpectedly entertaining thriller from writer-director Assaf Bernstein. The film eventually runs out of gas before its bloody third act is complete, but it still manages to hold your attention.
Eisley (Underworld: Awakening, The Secret Life of the American Teenager) plays Maria, a privileged girl with a wealthy family – dad Dan (Jason Issacs) is a popular plastic surgeon, while mom Amy (Mira Sorvino, lost in a thankless role) does little with her time.
Maria’s dad expects perfection. He chides her to eat a little more (but not too much to impact her figure), wear more makeup, dress up for school and find a boy to take her to the winter dance.
But Maria has a secret she can’t share – Airam, who may or may not be her twin sister who was born deformed and discarded by dear old Dan, and who appears to Maria whenever she sees her own reflection.
Airam is confident and cocksure. Maria is awkward and aloof, bullied by the other rich kids at her wealthy prep school.
Maria meets Airam while masturbating one night in front of the mirror (There is a surprising amount of nudity for a film about high schoolers).
After a horrific experience at the winter dance (think Carrie without the bucket of pig’s blood), Maria unleashes Airam by ceding control of her body.
As the body count grows, Look Away falls victim itself to the same expected twists that such thrillers always seem to follow, though it does end with a delicious little burst of dark fantasy that makes you wish Bernstein had trusted his instincts more and leaned further into the crazy.