"The Village in the Woods"
3.5 star(s), 82 minutes, DVD and streaming
Fans of folk horror rejoice.
First-time feature director Raine McCormack, working from a script he co-wrote, delivers a superior slice of unsettling pagan terror with “The Village in the Woods.”
The set-up couldn’t be more simplistic: Jason (Robert Vernon) and Rebecca (Beth Park) arrive at an isolated village in the woods, hoping to rehabilitate a dilapidated mansion and sell it, all the while pretending that Rebecca is the long-lost heir to the home making a triumphant return to the village for the first time since she was a young girl.
What neither of them know is that it’s no coincidence that Jason happened to learn about the vacant property from a mysterious patron, and the heirloom ring he was given for Rebecca to wear to prove her birthright is much more than just an antique hand-me-down.
While fans of films like “The Wicker Man” and “Midsommar” will immediately recognize the glaring warning signs that should prompt the young couple to flee as fast as they can, including a gaggle of too-welcoming and uber-attentive villagers, thankfully Jason and Rebecca are completely naïve to the danger, which allows McCormack to pile on the dread and tease the ritualistic horror to come.
“The Village in the Woods” is creepy and methodical, but patience is rewarded with a frantic third act that thoroughly explains what’s happening before the deliciously dark conclusion.
3 star(s), 86 minutes, streaming
“Agent Revelation,” a sequel to writer/director Derek Ting’s 2017 feature “Agent,” is the sneakiest kind of sly science-fiction cinema.
On paper, Ting’s film reads like a garden-variety Syfy Channel original that might ordinarily serve as a distraction when you just want the TV on for background noise. But “Agent Revelation” is actually a fun, well-thought-out and surprisingly captivating little movie that will keep you hooked until the final tease of a possible third, concluding chapter.
Ting reprises his role as Jim Yung, a normal dude who was infected by "red ash," an ancient space dust, in “Agent,” and now has been whisked away to a secret underground facility where he discovers that he’s literally a biological unicorn. Whereas the red ash turns most people into frothing threats, Yung’s DNA embraces the dust, gifting him unexpected superpowers.
Once underground, Yung meets Alastair (Michael Dorn, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), a billionaire trying to create an elite fighting team, the ESU or Extraterrestrial Special Forces Unit, to beat battle an alien invasion that’s already placed sleeper agents on Earth.
Yes, none of this is new or original, but Ting deserves kudos for sidestepping the clichés that hobble most movies in this genre. His cast is top-notch throughout. The action sequences are well-orchestrated. The effects are above-average.
It isn’t often that I’m completely gobsmacked by a low-budget indie, but “Agent Revelation” is just that, a revelation, and it deserves to be seen.
3 star(s), 86 minutes, DVD and streaming
Speaking of being gobsmacked, I had zero expectations going into “Polterheist,” a supernatural horror comedy from the United Kingdom originally released in 2018, other than its title made me chuckle.
But, for the second time in one week, I was reminded not to discount movies based on the title or synopsis alone.
“Polterheist” is what happens when a bunch of Guy Ritchie tough guy wankers stumble into “The Conjuring” universe and unleash a vengeful spirit, and I couldn’t be happier to be so blindsided with genuine surprise.
Tariq (Sid Akbar Ali) and Boxy (Jamie Cymbal) have a big problem. As low-level thugs for sadistic Indian crime boss Uday (Pushpinder Chani), they owe a debt that they can’t pay because they accidentally killed the one person who knows where Uday’s missing fortune was stashed. Facing certain death if they don’t deliver the cash, they kidnap a local medium named Alice (Jo Mousley) and force her to summon the dead gangster’s spirit to tell them where he hid Uday’s money.
Writer/director David Gilbank clearly has an appreciation both for classic British crime thrillers and paranormal spookfests, but his secret weapon is Mousley. Once inhabited by the gangster’s energy, Mousley completely transforms into a brutal cockney bastard hellbent on avenging his death at Tariq and Boxy’s hand.
“Polterheist” is a fantastic find that deftly straddles two genres and does justice to both without resorting to gimmicks or falling victim to camp.
"Ten Minutes to Midnight"
2.5 star(s), 73 minutes, streaming
It’s always a thrill to see a scream queen return to headline a new movie, and for many fans, including yours truly, Caroline Williams more than earned her rightful place in horror history playing Vanita “Stretch” Brock in 1986’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2.”
Sadly, her latest, “Ten Minutes to Midnight,” is not cause for celebration, despite the chance to see Williams back in a DJ booth.
Williams plays Amy Marlowe, an aging, hard-rocking, late-night radio host, who is attacked by a rabid bat en route to what she doesn’t know will be her last on-air performance. As her physical condition worsens, and Marlowe is besieged by hallucinations and a thirst for fresh blood, she also discovers that the station’s philandering general manager has replaced her with a nubile newbie named Sienna (Nicole Kang).
Co-writer/director Erik Bloomquist piles on the vampire puns, but he doesn’t know when too much is enough, and despite a brisk and brief runtime, “Ten Minutes to Midnight” quickly drags. That’s a shame because Bloomquist, whether by design or pure luck, actually stumbles into a poignant subplot about the crude sexualization that women of any age can encounter on the job and the cruel, dismissive treatment that women of a certain age routinely face.
To her credit, Williams delivers a solid performance, and that’s really the only reason for her legion of fans to check out “Ten Minutes to Midnight.”
"Bring Me a Dream"
2 star(s), 86 minutes, streaming
There is no denying that Martin Kove’s career has reignited in a big, big way, and rightfully so based on his iconic and masterful turn as John Kreese in “Cobra Kai.”
His presence in “Bring Me a Dream,” a Freddy Krueger-esque slasher film, however, seems more like a chance for him to act opposite his son, Jesse, than to capitalize on his name recognition, given the elder Kove is only in the film for a few minutes total.
“Bring Me a Dream” has its heart in the right place, but writer-director Chase Smith is missing the key ingredients that made dream-centric films like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” so effective, and terrifying.
The first 20 minutes or so is a slog of backstory, bickering and set-up that finds a young woman invading a sorority house retreat and spewing a bunch of gobbledygook about The Sandman, an urban legend that supposedly appears whenever young people smear their blood on a piece of paper, light a candle and then fall asleep to face their worst nightmares.
But once the nightmare sequences kick in, Smith can’t muster anything more original than a former prom queen peeling the skin off her face after discovering a blemish or a lothario jock getting his comeuppance when he bangs the group’s good-time blonde.
For what it’s worth, Jesse Kove, who plays a sheriff’s deputy and the de facto hero, shows he at least has his father’s charisma and screen presence.
2 star(s), 94 minutes, DVD and streaming
Arthur Bretnik, a former detective turned occasional private eye, and his batshit crazy buddy Jimmy Cleats sit out in the southwestern desert every night and spew conspiracy theories on an underground radio talk-show until one night a caller asks Bretnik to help her solve her daughter’s murder.
As played by Aaron Eckhart and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively, Bretnik and Cleats are the kind of characters you might expect to find in a Coen Brothers movie or an absurdist crime novel by Thomas Pynchon, and while it’s great to see them paired together in “Wander,” whether you enjoy the movie or not depends entirely on your patience for cockamamie theories, your belief that there are no coincidences and your passion for way-way-way-out-there characters who frustrate as much as they entertain.
2 star(s), 88 minutes, Blu-Ray and streaming
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never warmed to actor Scott Adkins, whose wooden delivery and blank stare always keeps me from fully appreciating his hand-to-hand combat skills in action flicks like “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Hard Target 2.”
As the titular hero in “Max Cloud,” he’s front and center for almost the entire film, but surprisingly, he’s not the worst thing about this strange science-fiction hybrid.
The problem with “Max Cloud,” aside from the obvious comparisons to better films like “The Last Starfighter” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” is that co-writer/director Martin Owen has no idea what kind of movie he’s making.
“Max Cloud” is about a teenaged girl who is magically transported into an 8-bit videogame world where Cloud and his team have crashed on a remote planet and must battle an alien race and escape before the planet’s surface is scorched by a super-Sun. But Owen fails to make the most of that setup despite splicing together scrolling video game mayhem with live-action brawls.
Owen also fails to give Cloud any depth, which means that Adkins never breaks character or shows any semblance of humanity, which grows tiresome quickly.
And the film just lacks heart and any rush of excitement, two critical qualities that propelled a movie like “The Last Starfighter” to cult classic status.
Also Available as of Jan. 19
Giant from the Unknown This vintage 1958 science-fiction oddity receives the deluxe Blu-Ray treatment from The Film Detective.
They Live: Collector’s Edition and Prince of Darkness: Collector’s Edition Shout! Factory gifts fans of horror master John Carpenter with 4K Ultra HD editions of two of his best titles.
The Climb This buddy comedy about competitive bicyclists has garnered significant buzz and is new on DVD and Streaming.
Bartender: 15th Anniversary Collector’s Edition The cult-status 2006 anime show, “Bartender,” arrives on Blu-Ray in a deluxe boxed set, complete with cocktail coasters and recipe cards, from Shout! Factory.
Dreamland Margot Robbie headlines this period drama now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Streaming.
JSA: Joint Security Area This 2000 Korean thriller is now available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.
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